Last semester, over the course of about five days, I studied for and successfully tested out of the mid-level Quantum Mechanics I class being offered at my school. No, not Modern Physics, the sophomore physics that only glosses over basic wave mechanics, I mean masters-level QM. It’s generally a course reserved for senior-level students, and even then its generally considered one of the more grueling classes, mathematically.
For those five days I felt something I had never been able to completely experience before. It was absolute focus on a single goal, without distraction from other classes or responsibilities. For five days I gave myself totally to a single vision, and allowed myself to become enraptured in the subject I was studying. I had never done anything quite like this before.

It’s no accident that, only a few months beforehand, I started swimming again after years of neglecting something I had enjoyed in my youth. It was after having read “The Path of Zen” by Alan Watts, and I decided that, instead of tabulating the time I had spent every session in the pool, or the number of laps I had completed, I would instead merely swim until I was completely and totally exhausted.

It’s an extremely powerful experience when you don’t plan out something like this beforehand. It changes the entire feel of the sport: whereas beforehand the NUMBER of laps you have done becomes important- you work for the number, you sacrifice for the number- to swim until you cant swim anymore makes the entire focus not about your plan, but about understanding your self, and understanding what you know you can accomplish
I know this sounds sappy, but its far more cerebral than I am suggesting. Something I learned when I was studying Hegel: freedom isn’t merely the ability to do something. Freedom is inextricably tied into knowing what one is even capable of doing it. That’s why we enter into society, not because of the so-called “social contract”, but because society shapes not only the person we are, but the person we think we want to be. Howard Roark doesn’t even know what architecture is without seeing man’s attempts to make shelter for himself.
Swimming taught me something far deeper than merely belief in myself. Through swimming I came to the realization that I am capable of anything I set my mind to, and that, inevitably, if I value success more than anything else, it will require a focus equivalent to that which I am developing every time a step into a swimming pool. It’s not belief: belief is unfounded. I have knowledge- I know- that the potential lies within me to do anything on which I place my focus.

I got an A, by the way.


*America, and, by extension, American Psychology, is built off of our bias toward Locke. Our bill of rights does far more than merely numerate the political freedoms we have, it shapes the way in which we believe those freedoms to be manifest. Perhaps the federalists were right to insist that our freedoms remain implicit. Once we see that symbol of “freedom of the press” or “freedom of speech” we suddenly interpret that in the Lockian light: infinite freedom to say whatever we want tempered by the environment we are in and the expectations of the content that the environment entails. What it creates are systems that continually define their rules by the worst offenders: schools that make draconian expression laws and expand their punishments to unreasonable proportions in an attempt to leverage some semblance of control, and people who are continually feeling controlled and limited by the societies they need in order to live the quality of life they have.


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