Since I was a little girl, I would enjoy the shows featuring the magnificent submarine world. I always thought “One of these days I will scuba dive.” This was until someone told me how complicated and dangerous it could be and my Fearful Self decided to scratch it off my list. I figured that watching it on TV and snorkeling would do it.
Two months ago, I had the opportunity of visiting a place of grand beauty with all my family: Akumal, Quintana Roo, also known as “Land of Turtles.” Snorkeling in this place is amazing because our hotel- Akumal Beach Resort – has a coral reef right in front of it, so when you snorkel you can see sea turtles, rays, corals and colorful fish.
I was really having a wonderful time watching all this when my brother Miguel said:
-Would you like to go scuba diving? You can go to an introductory class that allows you to go down and figure out whether you like it or not.
Right away I remembered all the dangers and possible complications… what can happen if you go down too fast, if your ears hurt, if your lungs explode… BUT I was seeing such beautiful creatures while snorkeling that my Not-So-Fearful-Self said: Why not? And with that, it was decided, I would take the class the next day.
The introductory class, a 20 minute video and some more minutes of practice, ended up being a bold review of all my fears. Basically they explain what to do if your oxygen mask is removed by accident under the water and how to get water out of your mask. In my previous snorkeling experiences I had swallowed enough salt water that just to think that the same thing could happen to me under the water and that I had to solve it right there gave me a stomach ache.
Practicing in the water only made things worse. To begin with I had to get into a long wet suit, standing on my bathing suit in the middle of a group of people that were either helping me or looking at me. I think that almost any woman over 40 understands perfectly how embarrassing this was! Once I was ready with all my equipment- that is sooo heavy- we walked into the sea until the water reached my shoulders. That day it was windy and the water was a little bit turbid. And… practice, practice, practice!
Basically I had to repeat what I saw in the video. Putting on your oxygen after losing it, and getting the water out of your mask under the water. To be able to do this, I had to kneel so that the water would cover my head. Then I had to take off my oxygen, let it go, and recuperate it. I have to admit that I have been thinking a lot about this particular exercise. I was TERRIFIED of taking off my oxygen, which is kind of ridiculous since all I had to do to get out was to stand up. Even if my mind was clear that there was no danger at all, my body would not take off the oxygen. It was then that I started to think about fear and how it paralyzes me.
Alejandro, the Italian instructor, was VERY patient with me. I would not take off my oxygen, we would come up, he would tell me what I was supposed to do again, I would tell him that I understood but just couldn’t do it.
Then I listened a tiny voice inside of my head: “Realize that this is a fear you chose. You don’t have to go through it, you can quit anytime.” From that moment this became my mantra: youcanquitanytime-youcanquitanytime… and once I was comfortable with this I started following Alejandro’s instructions little by little. I had the first exercise down and now I had to practice getting the water out of my mask under the water.
First trial and all the water went through my nose. I realized that this was THE minute to quit. I have to add that I didn’t mention the red and grey buttons to inflate or deflate a vest and float or sink as desired. Plus the fact that underwater you can’t speak and have to rely on hand signals. So watching the oxygen, the mask, the red button, the grey button plus the instructor’s signals seemed overwhelming! I could never guess if the red button was to inflate or deflate and this really made me nervous. A little bit tired of not having fun at all I said:
-Thank you Alejandro, I am done!
-What? You haven’t even started! How can you know if you like it or not?
Oh God! On top of everything he wouldn’t let me go! Ok, so I decided to keep going knowing that if I really wanted to quit I could do it anytime. I finished the training and I was able to execute everything I was supposed to, but I could never figure the red/grey buttons. We came back to the beach where Miguel was waiting for us to go scuba diving. When we got there they told us that because of the wind we could not go scuba diving that day. (There was a loud YESSSSS!!!!!! Inside my head), this said, I was free, I would not have to go back and scuba dive.
Alejandro apologized for the weather and told us to come back the following day. I though “no way” but thanked him for his patience. I also thanked Miguel for inviting me and explained to him that scuba diving was not my thing and that I didn’t want to go back the next day. Calmly he said:
-WHAAAAAAAAT? YOU DID THE MOST DIFFICULT PART ALREADY AND NOW YOU ARE NOT GOING TO SCUBA DIVE?
We went back to the hotel, I forgot the whole thing and went back into enjoying my vacation. Scuba diving was again off my list and I was glad.
The next time I went snorkeling I saw so many beautiful things that I told myself I HAD to scuba dive. I told Miguel, he told Alex and we were set for the next day. This time I was wiser with my wet suit election and chose a short one. No hassle, no trouble, no shame. However I was still as afraid as the first day if not more. I almost had to drag myself step by step, making Miguel impatient by telling him a zillion times that I didn’t know if I should do it or not. However I followed through the motions, got my equipment and got in the boat.
When it was time to jump off the boat I was still trying to figure out if I could do it or not. I was all fear. I was afraid of having an anxiety attack underwater and rushing up to the surface as you are not supposed to do!
So I jumped. Once in the water Alejandro told me the plan… we would submerge slowly, holding onto a rope. He would ask (with signals of course!) if I was ok, I would decompress my ears and we would go down a little further.
I could only do this once and then like a cat that falls into the water I was up in the surface! I breathed like if it was my last breath. Alejandro with no more patience in his eyes asked me what was wrong and I simply said: “I can’t, I am afraid.”
Breathing for patience, him, and for courage, me, he said: “We will try one more time, you are going to look at me in the eyes and you are going to breathe.” He didn’t give me a choice. Even though I know that if I really wanted out that was my last chance.
We went down again. Slowly, looking into his eyes, thanking God for this man’s patience. He would check on me and we would go further down.
I am not going to say that my fear disappeared instantly. I would not let go of my oxygen or my mask. In the healing work of Paul Ferrini that I have been practicing, he invites you to BE with your fear, instead of denying it, avoiding it, or looking for its positive side. So I practiced being with my fear compassionately, breathing into my heart, becoming aware of that safe place where I know that everything is all right.
I started relaxing as I centered in my breathing and as I started to enjoy the beauty of the submarine world. There is no need to say that the experience was worth all my fears. It would be unrealistic to try to describe with words my experience, but I will give it a try.
Scuba diving was for me like a moving meditation. When you are under the water there is a different rhythm, slower, gentler. Visually you start noticing the wonders of this world, with its own rhythm… giving you time to enjoy every image.
Your own movements are different, subtler, paused and more harmonious. And as far as your audio experience, it is just amazing! The only thing you can hear is your own breathing. Scuba diving is in way a “mindfulness” practice where you are aware of every breath, every image and every movement. When you scuba dive you live in the here and now. It is just an extraordinary experience!
And just as I was enjoying every second it was time to go back to the surface. I lost track of time, but I was told that we were under the water for 42 minutes. 42 magical and wonderful minutes! I will be forever thankful to Alejandro for pushing my limits a little bit. And thanks to Miguel, my dear brother, who invited, motivated and accompanied me, and brought scuba diving back into my list!
I am also thankful for the lesson… What if these optional fears- the ones you can just quit- are life’s opportunity to practice how to go through your fears? Being with my fear was the key to go through it and overcome it. I hope that this practice, that I decided to do, will make it easier for me when I am faced with a real, inevitable fear. Thanks for reading!