“Up on the shore they work all day,
Out in the sun they slave away
While we devotin’
Full time to floatin’
Under the sea”
Imagine with me. You are 18 meters below the surface. All around you stretches blue, endless in every direction. If you wanted to, you could easily choose to forget directions altogether. Suddenly, there is water in your mask. Or maybe in your regulator. Or maybe a cramp in your finned-foot. At the realization of whatever the problem is, maybe you start to panic, suddenly realizing how far away the surface is, suddenly remembering that you are a mammal who requires oxygen to survive. Maybe you are suddenly breathing hard and choppily, or maybe you’re so focused on the problem that you forget to breathe. Either of these reactions is ultimately just going to escalate the situation and present you with new problems. What you need to do in this moment is just stop. breathe. think. breathe. Remind yourself that you know how to fix the problem, that you’ve faced this before, that you can handle this. Breathe. Take whatever steps are required to fix the problem. You’re fine. You breathe; you swim on.
The first rule in scuba diving is to never hold your breath. I guess I like diving because I feel like this, as both a rule and an approach to problem solving, should probably be employed on land as well. Before you panic, before you spiral, you should stop. breathe. Remember all of the things you know how to do. Breathe. Swim on. Breathe.
Because of its focus on breathing, and the constant steady awareness of the fact that you are doing so, diving is meditative. There is an awareness of the oxygen going in and out of your lungs, and of how much of it you are using. Taking a moment to watch the bubbles slowly rise from your mouth and float away, you realize that you have the power to control how fast the oxygen moves into and out of your body. Unlike other exercises that focus on breathing, such as yoga or meditation, diving does not ask me to quiet my mind. I work best and am in my most natural state with my mind whirring. When asked to quiet it, all I can focus on is the absurdity of this task.
With diving, it is easy to forget the world above the surface while still allowing my mind to whir. There is plenty to think about–buoyancy and breathing and air supply and time and depth and direction and nitrogen levels. There is plenty to see and to wonder at–fish and corals and sand and seaweed and the way the light tapers in the distance. Despite all that there is to keep your mind whirring, at the end of it all, you are just…floating…breathing…being. Diving somehow feels like the perfect intersection of the different sides of myself. Moving through the underwater world requires preparation and planning. It requires being intentional and aware. But, it also requires relaxing, trusting yourself, focusing on the moment you are in, and just breathing.
When I surface again, I find myself thinking through the motions and mechanics of breathing, even though I no longer need to do so. It is reassuring to notice the breath going in and out of my body. It is reassuring to remember that I am alive.