Needing Less Doing More

Tag: water

Focus

“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) 😉

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The Blues

“…You were only waiting for this moment to be free”

-The Beatles

6 days now in the “Real Bahamas”.  No casinos in Nassau, no cattle boats, just locals.  Let me tell you the first thing you will notice about the island nation.  The water is always four shades of blue.  When the ocean floor is sandy the water is a brilliant Carolina blue.  If you aren’t familiar with Carolina blue, think Tarheels.  If you can’t think Tarheels, you have other issues.  When the floor is grassy the water turns into a darker royal blue color.  Think, Blue Devils…or if you prefer, as I do, don’t think about them.  When the floor is rocky with coral reef, the blue is more turquoise.  A nice transition between the sand and grass.  And when the water gets deep, the blue is a dark, tempting, navy color.  My only wish is that I could swim through each stratification of color and bottle the different blues.  I’m sure with a little food coloring you could sell the bottled blues to the tourists.

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Oreo boy sporting the lobster scarf his Grammy made him.

We are now in Green Turtle Cay, on the Atlantic side of the Abacos, where we have run into luck.  A friend of ours, John Shedd, happens to own a house here.  He has insisted that we take advantage of some solid ground, a bed that doesn’t move and a….SHOWER!  Of course, with some reluctance, we took him up on his offer.  John, we will never be able to pay back your generosity.  So yes, your protagonists have found themselves in another fortuitous situation with access to a house.  Living next to us is the caretaker of the property, Ms. Julie, her husband, and their son David, who happens to be an excellent freediver.  In fact, we managed to talk David into taking us out for a dive, which didn’t take much effort.  The guy has lived on an island his whole life.  His blood needs the water in a different way than the rest of us water mammals.  The island people feel closer and live closer to the water.  If only they could breath it.

We have met a friend here on the island, Nina.  She is traveling alone from New York City, where the water is not blue, and the saltwater content in her blood is just a relic of our evolutionary process.  She is a teacher and a writer who we invited to come stay at the house with us.  She spent the first part of her vacation on Treasure Cay only to find herself on Green Turtle Cay where the non-authenticity of Treasure Cay became immediately apparent.  Treasure Cay is resort Cay.  There are shops surrounding the resort and this co-dependent nature of resort and surrounding shops masquerades itself as a community.  Much like a series of American suburbs whose center is comprised of no less than one Target, a Wal-Mart, Lowe’s Foods, Great Clips, Walgreens, China One Take-Out, Tony’s Pizza, Barnes and Noble, and Old Navy.  A strip mall or two next to a housing development is not a community.  These development situations lead to depression because they lack something.  There is a key ingredient that everyone knows is missing but the ingredient is hard to identify.  The unknown variable is soul.  There is no soul.  There is no artist, musician, assemblage of free thinkers, the heartbeat of a community.  The elements that make up a “downtown”.  Unlike Treasure Cay, Green Turtle has soul.  Green Turtle operates as it’s own collective even when there are no white people around to buy up all the postcards.  The people are beautiful and patronize each other.  They go to church on Sunday, they fish and lobster, they bake bread, they rent houses, they have parties where the whole island shows up (which we were privy to attending).  For this reason, Nina could not return to Treasure Cay, so we invited her to stay on with us in Green Turtle.  I knew she was friend and travel companion material after we both agreed that a perfect breakfast, such as french toast, is ruined when the chef does not use enough egg wash per piece of bread.  A friendship was forged over a detestation of dry french toast.

As I mentioned, David agreed to take the four of us diving.  After the french toast discussion, it was decided that we would eat a nice french toast breakfast on the boat (that I would cook to ensure proper egg wash to bread ratio) then have David pick us up at Nila Girl on his boat for the dive.  I should mention that Ren and I have cultivated a natural circadian rhythm for island time, which we are predisposed to anyway.  For example, this is how the dive morning went:

“Yes David, we will meet you at Nila Girl at 10:00 sharp where you can pick us up in your boat and take us for a little dive.” 

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Ren and David with their bounty.

Bermudian accent: “Ok guys.  No worries if I am 5 or 10 minutes late.”

“No David, see you soon!”

10:00 arrives.  The cast of three + Oreo are on Nila Girl, having just arrived.

“Oh hey David.  We have just managed to put the french toast in the pan.  Breakfast will take at least 15 more minutes to prepare, 20 to consume, then we have to suit up.  That’s Ok though right?  Does not your life revolve around us?”

“Oh sure guys, that’s fine.  It’s Sunday and all I want to do is wait on your American asses and then show you all my special diving spots even though the weather is not favorable.  You know us Bahamians, too nice to say no to you demanding devils.”

“Oh David, you’re the best!”

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There’s nothing attractive about pics of dead fish, however, lobster are absolutely delicious!

That’s exactly how it went before we managed to make our way onto David’s boat for the dive.  He first took us to a spot for lobster…which proved to be fruitful.  The spot was not an extraordinary dive as it was pretty shallow with sporadic coral life.  We managed to scrape supper together in about an hour in the form of 11 lobsters, one NC sized.  I’m not bragging, I’m just recounting the facts.  This may sound like an absurd number of lobsters but rest assured, the meat is already consumed.  The second dive spot was special.  It was the kind of dive people pay big bucks to go on.  An underwater playground of fish, sharks, and four humans.  We pulled up to the spot and left all fishing gear in the boat.  It’s not the kind of place you take from.  Leave only fin splashes, take only pictures kind of place.  We anchor in about 20 feet in sand and swim over to the reef.  At this point we are offshore and are in an area just inshore of the reef where we are completely protected.  The depth at the reef was about 30 feet.  The four of us cruise along, checking out the fish, blah, blah, blah.  The spot was good and the reef came all the way to the surface of the water, creating almost surf-able waves.  However, I was hoping for a little more.  I was hoping that we would go somewhere where I could fly.  That’s when I saw David and Ren swimming through a break in the reef.  I finned over to the break that reminded me of the Oracles from The Never Ending Story.  Each side of the reef wall towered above me.  You enter the “other side” through a huge crevice in the towering reef.  As I swam through the crevice, I looked down to see the bottom drop out from under me.  The 30 foot bottom gave way to 80 feet just on the other side of the Oracle.  This is 80 feet, Bahama style.  Meaning, you could see blades of grass and grains of sand on the bottom.  Looking down the 80 foot drop, a Bahamian reef shark swam by, followed by a school of Bermuda chub. 

Damn it!  There is no way, other than through video (come ON Ren!) to convey the feeling of being suspended over deep water able to see the bottom below.  It would be like jumping off an 80 foot building but not falling, just riding the wind, floating like a bird.  My first instinct was to fly.  This is how I do  it:

I nestle myself back over the reef which is protruding through the surface of the water in some spots.  So I’m suspended in one or two feet of water.  I tuck back in the reef so I cannot see over the edge.  Then, in a sudden burst of energy, I pull myself past the wall of the reef as fast as I can, hold my breath, and soar over the edge of the reef into 80 feet of nothing.  I “jump” off the edge of the building and free fall down to the sandy bottom.  This is the only way I have learned to fly without growing wings, which i have been trying to do for some time now.

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On Doc Shedd’s porch, chilling and grateful for his generosity.

After my flight I look up at Nina and she says something striking.  She says, “This is so beautiful  I don’t even know what to do!”.  I almost cry when she says this because I know exactly what she means.  When your heart fills up completely full and there’s not room for anything else without it overflowing.  It fills with gratitude.  To whom?  Who knows.  For what, everything I just described to you.

Needless to say, we finished the night off with a few Budweisers, some lobster rolls with Thai sauce, lobster tails with red curry sauce and vegetable brown rice.  And yes, Oreo ate lobster too.  In fact, he has a special bandana made by his Grammy Nancy that he wore just for the occasion (see picture).

To learn to fly, contact us at [email protected]  🙂

New Years in The Dry Tortugas Part1

“Isn’t she lovely?” 

-Stevie Wonder

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Meeting up with the Filer’s was a huge treat!

Leaving Big PIne Key, we set our sights, and sails, for Key West.  That place was an adventure in itself and I will come back to that.  All you need to know for now is that we got our fill of beer there, and liquor, and wine.  Key West was just a stopping point between Big Pine and our real goal, the Dry Tortugas.  With some luck, we’d even make it to the Dry Tortugas  just in time to intercept some Wilmington friends who were planning a day trip to the small Key.

Nila Girl and her inhabitants (Ren, myself, Oreo and possibly a small rat, who may have stowed away in Big Pine) raised sail early morning on December 29th.  Since Tay Filer and family were going to be in the Dry Tortugas on December 30th we were really pushing it, in true Ashley/Ren fashion.  Why get somewhere on time maybe even with time to spare when you can get there by the skin of your teeth, often inconveniencing family and friends who are more punctual than you?  It is a flaw I hope we can correct in the future.  Too late for this trip though.  So we sailed all day and through the night.  The wind was down so we fired up the engine for a few hours, technically on December 30th.  Our original plan, on leaving NC, was to never run the engine unless coming into port or if emergency requires.  This plan is only valid if you are not sailing on a schedule.  Something we still have not accomplished except for a few days at a time.  The sails were up and the engine roared until about 5:00 am.  We cut the engine and silently advanced.  Stealth like, but not really with Dinky (our inflatable dinghy.  Our car essentially) flapping around behind us!  Quiet Dinky, damn you!  Garden Key of the Dry Tortugas is home to Ft. Jefferson.  An old Civil War era fort which looks particularly menacing in the middle of nowhere, just standing there, cannons pointing right at you.  Union soldiers ready to board your boat, raping and pillaging.  I digress, it is easy to let your imagination get carried away in the lee of the fort.  So, like I said, Quiet Mr. Dink!

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Nila Girl had the Dry Tortugas to herself.

Approaching a shoaled complex such as the Dry Tortugas at night is not an easy feat.  It’s hard on the nerves.  This was evident on our boat by the presence of all three crew members on deck.  One armed with a Q-beam (me), another at the helm (Ren) and another licking his crotch in anticipation of landfall (Ren…I mean Oreo).  Daylight began to break which was a welcomed friend!  Not to mention a breathtaking sight as the red-orange sky rose on the east side of the fort, illuminating the ancient red bricks.  The fort is dotted with open air windows from which watch was kept and cannons were aimed.  The dawn poured out through these spaces and reflected on Nila Girl and our grateful faces.  It is funny how much a sunset, sunrise or blue moon come to mean to you when you’re living on a boat.  Without DVDs, Netflix, or anything but books and some writing and chores, the sky becomes an awesome form of entertainment.  I have managed to see three green flashes on our adventure during sunset.  Before this trip my grand total of green flash sightings came to a whopping zero, in fact, I kind of doubted their existence. 

We picked up the channel markers and easily sailed to the east side of the fort where we dropped anchor (silently of course, who knows who’s in the fort watching).  A few anchor dropping chores were done.  These chores include putting the engine on Dinky and taking Oreo to land ASAP.  He deserves a trip to land whenever we are somewhere to manage it.  Ren is in charge or Oreo and I’m in charge of getting everyone’s breakfast ready.  Did it, ate, then decided to lay down for a nap since we had sailed through the night.  But.  However.  Captain Ren was banging about the cockpit getting all his dive gear ready.  At our first sight of “Caribbean Blue” water since leaving NC, he was not about to pass up a dive for a much needed nap.  Truth be known, neither was I.  It didn’t take much to rouse me and before I knew it, Oreo was cashing in on the nap and Ren and I were in the water, swimming with a ~200 lbs. goliath grouper!  I can sleep later!

Dinky was ready for action so we decided to crawl in and go exploring while we were still brimming with excitement.  We soon realized that it was terribly hard to pick out an appropriate dive spot.  To remedy this situation, we got out of the dinghy and drug it behind us.  First stop, underneath a sport fishing boat that was anchored near us.  Underneath that boat, seven goliath groupers!  These groupers were the puppy dogs of Garden Key.  They chilled underneath boats looking for handouts, and who didn’t have the heart to give some to them?  Not us!  A guy from the boat we were hanging with the groupers under gave us a little jack he had caught earlier.  I attempted to, ahem, feed the grouper but chickened out.  The mouth on that thing was pretty huge and who knew if he had good eye sight or not.  Like an old dog, he may misjudge the end of his treat and the end of your hand.  Confusing where one begins and the other ends, the dog chomps your hand a bit.  I didn’t want to risk this from a 200 lbs animal.  But Ren did.  Before Ren knew it, the grouper skillfully chomped the fish, and looking down we realized, he left Ren’s hand.  Phew!

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Just a cool shot.

Moving on we dove a few more spots.  Colorful angel fish and tangs swarmed the huge coral colonies that littered the rocky bottom.  We picked out two huge NC sized lobster and three lionfish (which are delicious to eat and make great ceviche).  The lobster were hanging out in front of their rock crevices.  Not in the holes, outside catching some rays I guess.  One reached his antenna out as if to shake my hand.  They were not afraid of us, that was for certain.  As we were on a reconnaissance dive we did not bring our animal harvesting gear so the spot was mentally marked.  We were to return later after a visit to the fort to collect our lunch.  Good thing we decided on a recon mission first because later when we reached the fort, and had an interview with the park ranger, who bum rushed us as soon as we got off our dinghy, it came to light that spearfishing and lobstering are strictly prohibited in the Dry Tortugas.  In fact, you are only allowed to hook and line fish within a mile radius of Garden Key.  There goes lunch, and dinner, and breakfast the next day… 

We had collected Oreo after our dive, changed clothes and planned on making an afternoon out  of land exploration.  Our buds were supposed to be arriving by seaplane sometime that day.  We had already seen two seaplanes come and go and the ferry arrive with a horde of people.  No sign of any other North Carolinians.  This place was also the first place where we found a  nice beach to hang out on.  Taking advantage of this fact the three of us spotted a nice place in the sand and relaxed, letting the warm sun burn our poor little bodies (which I wish it was doing right this minute.  A cold front moved in and I’m freezing right now!).  After a few hours we got hungry and decided to go back to the Nila Girl and rustle up some grub.  But wait!  What’s that noise…a seaplane!  Leaning against the dock, we waited in anticipation to see if our buds would emerge from the awesome plane.  The plane circled around the fort and touched down in the water between the same channel markers Nila Girl navigated early that morning.  We watched the pilot run across the water and back the plane up right next to the beach.  This guy was good.  The small plane swung open her doors and people began pouring out.  We saw three children, two girls and a boy, jump to the sand.  Uh oh, our friends have two girls and a boy.  We saw a slightly chubby guy handing bags to the kids.  Ren pointed to the guy and said, “That’s him.  That’s Tay.  I can hear him from here”.  Now Tay works out a good bit.  I see him often at the UNCW pool swimming laps with Mr. Bob Berger.  This is how I got to know Tay.  I took one look at the gut of the man Ren pointed to and said, “Nope.  Give Tay some credit will ya?”  Underneath the plane were two more man legs.  Also, I saw the legs with a stance just like Tay’s!  Yeppers, our friend’s arrived.

They only had two hours to check the place out, not enough time, but we ran through the fort, reading this, questioning that.  The children earned their junior  ranger badges (they will thank their Mom later for making them do that at all the national parks they visit).  The visit ended with a quick snorkel.  Ren and I got to spend some time  with some NC-ians and also  left with one cold can on Lipton iced tea, a blueberry muffin and two, one serving sized containers of cream cheese.  Who scored?  We did! 

After their visit, it was back to the boat for some three hour late lunch and that nap I thought about earlier in the day.  The Dry Tortugas proved to be a place where we decided to stay three whole days.