“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
At this point, most of you know, or have an idea, that Ren and I are avid freedivers. I have filled our blog posts with accounts of our spearfishing excursions. Ren has taken countless pictures and video of the underwater world. We have shared most of this media with you, right down to how the fish, lobster or crab was transformed into a remarkable meal, by our standards (the description of the meal not without pictures). However, I have failed, up until this point, to really describe what freediving is and what it has come to mean to us. I have taken for granted that you all understand, on the same level as we do, the healing and transformative characteristics of the deep blue. I have assumed that you already know that I am a competitive freediver and there is physical pain associated with our sport. By virtue of the fact that our blog page resides on our website, which is used to conduct our freediving instruction business, you must have noticed that we are pretty serious about holding our breath. But why? What’s the appeal? I will attempt to describe, using words, the sensation of freediving which, if you have never tried, will be a lot like trying to explain the colors red and blue to a blind person. I will do my best.
All day, we, as people, struggle to balance our thoughts. Lists of duties, groceries, bills are constantly circling in our heads. As we sit in traffic, seething over the jerk who has his music too loud, breathing as shallowly as possible to reduce the inhalation of exhaust, we form a headache. Then we get pissed at our spouse for requiring that we stop by the grocery store, for what again? Oh yeah, some veggies for supper…and beer, yes, beer! There we sit, in traffic, with that headache, red-faced with anger and still one more stop to make. LIfe sucks sometimes! Very little about this every day scenario connects to us on the inside. We forget about the moment we are in because we want only to escape it. We want to be transformed to a time in the future, vacation, supper time, whatever, or a time in the past, breakfast this morning, five minutes ago before turning on to the interstate. But there is something missing. There’s is something liberating about focusing only on the moment, nothing else. We are missing the liberation, daily.
This is not to say that you will begin to enjoy every moment you are stuck in traffic just because you are trying to live in the now. But what if being stuck in traffic wasn’t such a big deal anymore because you habitually engage in an activity that is so focusing and freeing that it actually makes you a happier, healthier person? What if, by practicing this new sport, you become stronger and learn to breathe deeper so that you stop developing headaches? What if the sport requires you to eat in a way that minimizes colds and any kind of sinus and chest congestion you battle with? What if every time you practice the sport you are rewarded with a very powerful new sense of self-confidence, having performed better and pushed your body further than the time before? Through freediving, I have found focus and liberation from life.
There are four distinct elements of freediving that allow the metamorphosis to occur. This is, there are parts of freediving that transform you from a sickly, stressed-out, shell of a person to a full-feeling, strong, confident person. The most essential element is the only tangible element of the group, water. Although you may not freedive, you have probably experienced the calming nature of water at some point, unless you are already dead. You have watched the sun flash green on the red horizon with your mouth gaping open (do it again, please!). You have spent time with your camera and dog at the beach in an attempt to immortalize the serenity you’re feeling through art. You have sat in the bow of your boat, rocking gently down the river, hook and line bobbing in the water. Who cares if you catch a fish? The only sounds are the movement of the water and the crack of your can as you pop open the first beer of the day.
Water. We spend nine months in the womb where we are immersed in fluid. Water constitutes 60-70% of our bodies (as adults). Our blood has a base of both salt and water, like the sea. It makes complete sense that there is an innate feeling of calm when affronted by water. We feel weightless in water, a polar difference from the constant assault by gravity, and our daily routines, that weighs us down. When we enter the water, our bodies undergo physiological changes allowing us to “become water”. Whether you swim in the ocean every day or haven’t been in liquid since the womb makes little difference to your physiology. We are water mammals and our bodies know it. When in water, our heart rates decrease dramatically. A blood shift occurs, focusing the body’s blood volume into our cores where our hearts are. Just these two physical changes make us feel at home in the liquid environment.
Another element of freediving that helps to complete our transformation is the silence of the sport. Once we plunge into the deep, we can no longer communicate with our clumsy, complicated language. A language we use to relay misinformation to each other, causing misunderstandings. There is only one way to interpret the gaping mouth of the shark or the watchful eye of the barracuda. In the blue, there is no talking, none that we can understand anyway. We are our animal selves, relaying information to the surrounding fish, not with our tongues but with our core. Our surroundings sense our intentions (through electrical impulses) and we are either welcomed or shunned in their world. Through silence, we can communicate much more naturally and wholly than we are able to at any other time. This revelation reminds me of a time when Ren and I were once watching a homing pigeon. Ren narrated every move the bird was about to make and in perfect synchronicity the bird circled above us (to get his bearings) and in less than a minute plotted a course homeward. “Wow!” I exclaimed. “Too bad we don’t have that power, huh Ren?” “Actually we do, we just don’t use in anymore.” In the same way, if we “listen”, we are still able to communicate to our underwater cousins through perfect silence.
Transformative element number three is most apparent to me while competitively diving. Finding your focus is the only way to “fly” while down there. Freedom comes as your day washes away in the water and your thoughts and energy are focused entirely on the moment. Eli Manning could not be his best, could not throw a Superbowl winning touchdown if his mind wandered to the past or future. He gets sacked if he finds himself wondering about the TV interview he has to do later or the Netflix movie he forgot to mail back. He thinks only of the ball in his hand and relies on his training. He “becomes” football and nothing else. In a sport where you are willingly plunging to the deepest depths you can achieve, walking the tightrope between consciousness and unconsciousness, and reserving just enough to bring yourself back up on one breath, the liberation of intense concentration is found. Each part of the dive is broken down into its smallest parts so that focus is maintained through each smaller part of the dive. You’ve felt it before while driving too fast on a motorcycle, up at bat during a baseball game, shooting a free throw, you’ve felt it. Here, in the deep, you can be completely alone. With practice, you may even learn to enjoy the exercise in meditation.
The last element of the sport that facilitates and completes the metamorphosis is the physical pain. Along with the intense psychological pleasures associated with freediving comes pain. How can you have white without black? Part of the pleasure comes from defeating the pain. If you have ever hiccuped with your mouth closed, you have experienced a contraction, a self preservation mechanism your body has evolved to ensure that you continue breathing. While holding your breath for long enough the respiratory muscles team up against you. They push and pull with increasing force to get air into the lungs. The pain is not physically intolerable but takes a lot of mental fortitude (or stupidity as some people may call it) to ignore. In a freedive, you are denying the body one of its most primal needs, to breathe, and the body will fight you to get the oxygen is strongly desires. It is a powerful feeling to be able to overcome pain with mental endurance. Learning to find a connection between the mind and body in order to push further and harder into the depths. The mind overcomes the physical pain the body feels. Now, you are water.
Next post, back to fun stuff about our trip (more pictures too) 😉