Breaking, Rebuilding and Learning to Swim

An Introduction To Sherpa & The Shift Ethos

The Great Breaking

Every worthwhile movement starts with a good story, and good stories usually involve a curve ball. 

My curve ball happened on the 22nd of June 2019 while moving my motorcycle. It was a Triumph Bonneville with the number plate “Gaz 22” – dedicated to the memory of Gary, my late younger brother and only sibling who passed away in 2013. The number 22 was his lucky number, and the racing number on both of his motorcycles.

As I moved the Triumph it fell and resulted in me tearing my chest muscle off my upper arm. In the hospital, when I went in for surgery I discovered I had been placed in bed number 22. I showed the nurse the number 22 tattooed on my forearm, and told her about the specifics of the accident. We agreed there were a whole lot of coincidences around the number 22.

Post-surgery I was required to keep my arm across my chest 24/7. I could not move or bathe properly, and I was in significant physical and emotional pain. My situation was also exacerbated by having to care for our 6-month newborn daughter Stevie, the youngest of our 4 children, while my wife returned to work because I was in no position to be the primary breadwinner.

All of this coincided with the collapse of a business I had founded 20 years previously, along with being ousted as the CEO of another company that I had more recently co-founded. As I attempted my first share divestment, I became embroiled in a legal altercation with the other co-founders. 

Physically, mentally and financially broken. 

As I lay in bed wallowing in my own stink, the inner voices literally screaming at me, my wife, who is one of the most insightful humans that I know said something very simple to me, “Let yourself break, mourn your brother, and everything else that you have lost”

…And I broke, really broke – somewhere deep inside myself, and in a way that I had never broken before. Everything had been pulled away. There was nothing left. And after the great breaking, came the great rebuilding.

I was fortunate in part (every coin has two sides and every gift has its curse) to discover that my accident qualified me for workers compensation. I began to rebuild myself physically and emotionally and shortly thereafter, financially.

From Swimologist to Swimmer

As part of the great rebuilding, I finally graduated from being a swimologist to becoming a swimmer. 

What does that mean?

S. N. Goenka, the great Burmese man behind the Vipassana ten-day silent meditation retreat centres that have sprung up across the world, talks about the ‘great swimologist’ in one of his discourses. The great swimologist is the person who has read everything there is to know about the world of swimming. They have watched every great swimmer, attended all the races, studied the techniques and knows everything there is to know about swimming. And then somebody takes him to the edge of the pool and pushes him in.

And guess what happens?

He sinks. Because the great swimologist has never actually swum, never experienced swimming, or done the practical work.

Then, I’d been on the personal development and self-awareness journey for over 30 years. I believe it started in my late teens when I moved to Australia from South Africa, reading books like the Prophet by Gibran, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Tao of Pooh, and The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

I lived in an Ashram during my early twenties, with the rest of that decade spent deep in the world of Jewish Orthodoxy studying to be a rabbi. When the millennium switched from ’99 to 2000 I was in Blackheath, in the Blue Mountains, doing my first ever 10-day silent retreat. Years of courses, therapies, learnings, counsellors, experiences, reading, programs and so on.

The great swimologist.

Consistency & Creating a Life Rythm

What my wife did in July 2019 was take me to the edge of the pool and invite me to swim. She helped me recognise that I was drowning for one simple reason. I had not recognised one important principle: Do the practice consistently.  As part of my recovery, and for the first time in my life, I started to meditate twice per day, every day.

Although I had my introduction to meditation over 30 years prior – through courses, books, the Ashram, had explored Jewish mysticism (kabbalah), Vedic and received my mantra, completed 6 Vipassana 10 day silent retreats, and attended Jasons Meditation for Men Course.

What was missing was a consistent, twice per day practice – the great swimologist.

And now I was sitting twice a day, consciously and consistently, and as a priority. From there, I explored the ‘what else’ – what were the other ‘big rocks’ or practices that had at times, sustained me? My martial arts training, another 30-year journey. My men’s circle, a fortnightly gathering I had attended for 16+ years. The course in miracles, journaling, sharing gratitude, sunrise with the men on a Saturday, physical training and meditating.

As I looked, I discovered that these practices filled my cup, allowed me to serve myself and others, kept me present, enabled me to handle my life situation, and cultivate resilience and capacity.

I coined them ‘pillar practices’ and used myself as a petri dish. From those pillar practices, a life rhythm emerged. It became increasingly clear to me that my power came from consistency, and from expressing all the key facets of my life with integrity. In other words, by being consistent with the man I was committed to being in the world.

Swimming in Community

I had always been deeply interested in personal leadership, human performance, creating a life that worked, optimal health, mission statements, purpose and life meaning, so this was not new.  What was new was that I was swimming for the first time, and as I swam, the experience of swimming, and sharing it with others, created a positive feedback loop called community. 

First emerging as the 22 Movement, and ultimately evolving into the Sit and the Shift, I am now honoured to be working and growing alongside our community of incredibly inspiring men. What has crystallised in that journey of experiencing swimming is the Shift, and the Practise as the vehicle for swimming.

Swimming together, creating lives that work, being people of integrity, making a difference in the world, being the ripple, cultivating internally and being able to withstand. We become beacons, examples of those living the greatest lives that they can, while being with the reality that we remain simple humans – navigating the misery and suffering, and moments of awe and wonder in this life.

Because that is what life is, an ebb and a flow, calm days and rough days.

And in that ocean of life, I now swim.


Mike ‘Sherpa’ Britton