18 Meters Under the Water’s Surface

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Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. This untaught skill that comes already programmed into our brains from birth is undeniably essential to life. The more I take myself out of my level of comfort the more ways I realize the full power of breath.

This weekend I got my PADI Scuba certification to dive up to 60 ft, which may seem a little futile given the landlocked state of Colorado that I live in. Apart from my upcoming trip to Thailand where I plan to dive, I felt a little bit in a personal rut, and needed to push my boundaries once again. This week’s boundaries? Overcome the fear of confined and atypical spaces.

When you think about it, scuba diving is unnatural. Humans should not be able to descend into the deep depths of the water for hours at a time. The basic principles of science confirm that humans are land dwelling beings. We need fresh air, not some compressed version that we inhale from a tube. But the best thing about science is that it seeks to revolutionize life and question our limitations. Through it technology now allows us to break out of the human shell and become semi un-human, if even temporarily. Scuba diving helps make humans amphibious.

I love the water. If I believed in reincarnation (not saying I’m opposed to the belief) a part of my energy and matter must have once been aquatic. And that of a salt water variety as the ocean is my happy place. I love the smell, the sounds, the movement, even all that extra sand that creeps into your ears for days even after you are over 100 miles proximity from it. But even with all that love for the water, scuba diving scared the s@#% out of me.

Maybe it’s because  the “fun” of scuba diving was never really taught, simply because of the time crunch of the program I was in. Everything was, get under water and deal with the worst case scenarios. You are out of air, grab your buddie’s extra air supply and swim up to surface! Quick you are out of air, do an emergency descent! Somebody kicked your mask off, swim around and try to find it and then clear it!

Clearing the air from my mask was the hardest part of scuba diving for me. It’s one of the most basic skills to have underwater and for some reason, doing this drill made me hyperventilate. A good portion of that had to do with the fact that I did not breathe properly: breathing in through your mouth and out through your nose.  I blame meditation for teaching my self conscience to breath in and out of my nose, especially as a stress relieving mechanism.

In this mask exercise, having my ability to see underwater taken away on top of everything else made me panic. I breathed how habit would have it and in this scenario where where my mask is slightly ajar, water rushed up my nose. As a result I started choking, forgot how to breath, and had a panic attack that made me shoot for the surface.

That’s a terrifying and potentially very dangerous scenario if on an actual dive. Thankfully it was training and a fully licensed professional was there to help. My instructor was great but he made it very clear, “You go to the surface once on your own, okay. Twice, go home, I can’t pass you.” Safe to say I came very close to not passing. Several painful swallows of water later and I realized all I needed to do was just breathe. In and out, repeatedly until I was calm. Funny how I needed to breathe to get my mask cleared, but I needed to breathe first to be able to do it.

In the end I passed, but not without a life lesson to go along with it. When you get into your own head about something it’s really hard to get out of it. As meditation taught me, always come back to breath. Need to re-focus or gain your footing, find your breath. When you put yourself in uncomfortable situations, which I highly prescribe and subscribe to, it’ll be your saving grace.

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