I often push myself to be brave, to take risks, to plunge into the unknown. I don’t want to live my life in fear. This philosophy has governed many of my decisions over the last few years. Moving countries, leaving jobs, deepening relationships, doing handstands. And, as in the case of last Sunday, going scuba diving.
I am not an underwater person. I have no desire to commune with dolphins, fish and other marine life. When people tell me they think manta rays are beautiful and that they want to swim with sharks, all I can do is scratch my head and grimace my face in bewilderment.
I do love the beach and having a swim in the surf. There was even a period of my life where I considered myself to be quite a narly boogie boarder. But I have never felt entirely comfortable in the ocean. Maybe it was too many beach dumpings as a child. The completely disorienting type – when you are swimming for what you think is the surface only to reach out your hand and grab sand. Or perhaps it was the reoccurring childhood nightmares of tsumanis. In any case, to me the ocean is vast, powerful and not to be messed with.
Admittedly I am not a strong swimmer. I loathed swimming lessons as a child. Particularly, the year when despite having grown I hadn’t gained enough skills to move into the big pool. I had to repeat the course in the mid-sized pool, with my knees knocking against the bottom.
So it is then, that apart from one time in my teens at the Great Barrier Reef, I have gone my whole life without having an inkling of a desire to submerge myself under the water with a tank strapped on my back.
That being said, I was feeling quite excited at giving it a try during our stay in Sri Lanka, especially considering that my instructor would be Roberto. My friend Sanj had also inspired me with describing it at very calming and like a moving meditation.
I gave myself a pep talk the night before about how it would be no problem for me as I am used to connecting with my breath and breathing deeply. Although the idea of breathing just through my mouth did have me a little concerned. I started trying to practice in advance.
Getting ready was fun. I was particularly pleased that the wetsuit that was the best fit was hot pink. The training in the confined area went reasonably smoothly and then we were on the boat headed out to a rocky outcrop beyond the surf break for my first open water dive.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to remain as in the “calm and centered” zone as I had hoped. Basically, I panicked. To my defence, the conditions were poor, almost no visibility, a strong current and I had some problems equalising my ears. The plan was for us to descend, about six meters, holding onto the anchor rope, then we would go for a little swim, with Roberto holding my tank. The first few times we tried I held on frantically to the rope and refused to let go. The next few times I managed to let go and swim for a bit but after just a few minutes would sign to Roberto that there was something wrong and motion for an ascent.
There wasn’t really anything wrong, except for the very unnerving feeling that I couldn’t see anything ahead of me. I didn’t feel comfortable swimming into the unknown. Which is funny, considering in reality, this is what I do each and everyday.