Spirituality in Lifeguarding
When a friend asked me: “Would you take the same life journey again?”, I answered, “Yes, absolutely.” He smiled and asked: “What single word would you use to describe your life, considering your 65 year-long career in water safety, at every level from a tower lifeguard to an Administrator of a Lifeguard Department?” I said, “Spirituality.” He was puzzled. I explained that, to me, spirituality in lifeguarding is expressed in two ways; as means of self-fulfillment and, to manage crises. (1) Self-fulfillment: My life as a lifeguard was my karma and dharma. Karma means “action” (all actions have consequences). Dharma means “right behavior” or “duty” (we all have a social obligation). My years in the ocean made me a good water man. I took the beach lifeguard test. My journey as a professional lifetime lifeguard had started. Thus, 65 years later, I reflect on that word, “spirituality”. My lifeguard involvement has been a “spiritual awakening” for several reasons. It provided an impervious sense of inner peace (which I found daily, supervising my area). It gave me true happiness, no matter what occurred in my life. I felt as one with everyone and everything. I had a fulfilled and meaningful life. I developed a higher shift in consciousness and understanding as I got older and the new experiences that gave me insight to issues yet to be experienced. I felt unconditional love for all living beings. I found my true self and path. I did something with purpose. As the years went on, my senses became even more acute. Lifeguarding gave me a sixth sense, the ability to transcend the most basic human senses. If something might- or was about to- happen, an alarm would go off to concentrate on the unseen, the unsuspecting. That was my lifeguarding alarm, and as that subsided, I would fall back into my mental guardianship of those within my zone of responsibility. When you finish the day and the crowds are leaving, you realize that the day was spiritual, because you contributed to making the day serene and safe. I feel we can only really live completely by performing good deeds. (2) Managing Crises: When a water rescue or resuscitation is unsuccessful, a spiritual lifeguard can remain calm and support the victim's relatives with greater sensitivity. An 11-year-old boy had a near-death experience from drowning. Years later, as a paramedic, he said that he has resuscitated countless patients and watched them go peacefully, even those that committed suicide. He could not explain that when he was resuscitating a patient, he was calm in knowing he would not be able to bring them back every time (Holden & Avramidis, 2015). Another lifeguard, whose 84 years old swimmer died by heart attack, after 50-minutes of CPR/AED attempts, reported that he managed to calm the almost inconsolable wife of the old man at the hospital, only when he supported her with spiritual words (Avramidis, S, Personal communication, June, 19, 2017). Summary: Spirituality is an emerging field of interest closely linked with everything. Lifeguarding is not exemption. In the future, more focus should be paid on that by the lifesaving organizations, that will strengthen our profession. References: Holden, J.M. and Avramidis, S. (2015). Near-Death Experiences While Drowning. Texas, USA: Eagle Editions - University of North Texas.
Citation: Burnside, B. (2017). Spiritually in Lifeguarding. In: Avramidis, S. (Ed.). Conference on Near-Death Experiences while Drowning (p. 17). Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA: International Swimming Hall of Fame