“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”
A farmer in the rich Vinales Valley of Cuba. The crew (including Nick) enjoyed traveling the countryside.
Nick, Ashley, Ren and our two guides behind our trust steed, rojo caballo. The car did not have first gear so we pushed it to get it going through the hills.
I cannot motivate myself to write a play by play of our adventure in Cuba.I do, however, think about the trip often and of the lasting impressions it has left on me.The simplicity of the life there was appealing to us, as Americans.As people who are not forced by our government to work in a cigar factory, drive a car, or own a grocery.Although the underlying impression was that the people lived frugal lives we never encountered a moment where they seemed oppressed or poor for that matter.This does not mean they are not oppressed, because they are.But how can someone be poor if they have a place to live and food to eat.The Cuban people are not hungry, we cannot always say the same for the people in our Country.Because they are censored, they do not have access to the latest styles or TV shows, but then again, who needs either of these things anyway.Distractions.We occupy our time with meaningless interests just to pass time, or because everyone else is doing it.
Everyone should come to freedom on their own terms, I do believe this.The Cuban people should find freedom when they are ready.But, they should also be ready for “freedom”.They should be ready to vote for Presidential candidate, who will in turn seem ineffective.They should be ready to have their lives bogged down by a convoluted Democratic process.They will stand by and watch as “freedom” builds hotels across the green mojotes of Vinales.“Freedom” will clip their horses and buggies with rearview mirrors as new, improved cars race by.Be ready Cuba.This being said, I am writing this at a comfortable kitchen table and will upload to the internet without censorship, hassle or restrictions.THAT is beautiful!
What else is beautiful?Toilet seats!
Ashley and Ren with some local spearos.
Later, as I recounted the story of our Cuba adventure over and over I realized that I was glossing over an integral element of the country and it’s people.When people asked, “Are they really poor there?”I would answer with a dismissive, “It’s all in the context, “ and launch into a lecture about lifestyles, materialism and the decline of our culture, family orientation and core value system.I conveniently omitted any mention of the fact that toilet paper is a luxury in Cuba or that there are no toilet seats in most places.A little piece of porcelain or plastic that is, no doubt, not completely necessary.When asked about the toilet seat the people would either doge the question or answer with, “No se.”“You don’t know,” I asked back with confusion.How could they not know that toilet seats are an assumed luxury in America.Actually, the toilet seat is never considered a luxury.It’s a part of the toilet, a part that is always there, faithfully waiting for its next customer.Furthermore, how can they not know why toilet seats are absent from the servicio scenario?
Freedom comes at a cost but it’s one I’m willing to assume.As for the Cubans, they will find their breaking point soon enough.Whether it be a breaking point with a Communist regime or whether it be a breaking point with a new Capitalist system.Hurry and see Cuba now, before it’s not anymore, the land that time forgot.
“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 onhis 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) 😉
Excerpt of Seal Lullaby from the Chapter The White Seal:
“…The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas!”
-Rudyard Kipling from The Jungle Books
The ocean is afflicted with multiple personality disorder.I am sure of itThe disorder is rare and dissociative, where multiple personalities exist in one individual.In a similar way the sailor is afflicted with a personality dichotomy.Less severe than the personality disorder of the ocean, the sailor is constantly trying to strike a balance between the polar opposite conditions of sailing, depending on the ocean.The polar opposite conditions, of course, are love and hate accompanied by pleasure and pain.
One day, the ocean is aggressive.She can’t stand the sight of herself and moans and thrashes all day.She comes at you strong then intensifies, knowing you will, or your boat, will break soon.She whitecaps, the rain starts and she laughs because she knows you want to cry.You hate when she assumes this personality.You know she can better than this but is weak and sometimes slips into this combative state.Part of your brain buckles down and sails the ship to an anchorage (the best part of you does this, which is why you survive).The other part of you doesn’t care of the ship sinks or swims.You vow (silently of course, as not to upset the other crew members) never to sail again.This is the depressive state of the sailor’s personality dichotomy.However, part of you knows this will make you stronger.Again, the best part of you endures.
The next day, the ocean is sweet.She gently throws rolling waves on the side of your boat, flirting.Begging you to come in for a swim in her clear, blue waters.The wind is perfect.You’re heeled on the “sweet spot”, the ultimate heel that allows you to maximize speed and still walk around the boat, genuinely enjoying the sail.Even the dog is quite on this day.He is content to spend the good weather day lying in the sun, rocking to sleep with his people at his side, who he knows are happy too.This personality shift in the ocean brings about the more manic phase of the sailor’s personality dichotomy. You love the sail, you love the ocean, you love the wind, you love your partner, you love the scummy feel of the clothes you’ve been wearing for days.The freedom sets in.
Whether you sail or not, this feeling of freedom is ubiquitous.Physically, your head begins to feel light and your stomach turns over a bit.You’re skin gets cool from your toes and runs up your spine.The hair on your arms and legs stand up and a shit eating grin spans across your face.The grin is so big all your back teeth are exposed to the wind.The cold wind hurts them just a little, and it feels good.You even shift your smile into the wind to feel the freedom on your teeth better.The only thing you want to do is smile even bigger or scream!Sometimes I even get the urge to jump off the boat and float on top of the waves like a lazy river.When the freedom sets in, nothing bad can happen to you, jump ship or not, it doesn’t matter.You may have felt this freedom at takeoff in an airplane (I do every time I fly).You may have felt it at mile 6 if you are a runner.When your mind separates from your body and your body just gives in.At this point, you know your legs and lungs will take you as far as you want to go.Your feet start to float, raising your body off the ground and you can run forever in the clouds (Brian Simpson??).The feeling can come as you peer down the Grand Canyon trying to keep yourself from jumping off the edge.You don’t want to kill yourself, you just don’t want the freedom to end, only flying will make you feel any more free than you are staring over the precipice of the Canyon.The freedom comes when you are affronted with magic.
Now do you know what I mean?The ocean can be a sadistic pig or a gentle mother.The sailor is the massochist, faring the pain because it shares the same foundations as pleasure.As sailors, we manage to forget how wrongly the ocean has treated us, hoping only for the fair days, when the mother is in a generous mood.Through this battle between love and hate, pleasure and pain we findfreedom.