On the last hot weekend in summer this year, I went scuba diving. Back when I was a freshman in college, there was a class where we had to make a how-to speech. The speech could be something we had experience with or it could be something completely new, perhaps something that we wanted to try.
My speech was on scuba diving. I researched the steps to becoming certified, interviewed a local scuba instructor, and bought a book on diving. After I gave my speech, my classmates asked me about my experience diving. They were shocked to learn that I had never been before.
In fact, I had a sort of fear of the ocean. Growing up, my family would take annual trips to Destin, Florida where we would rent a condo on the water. My cousin and I would alternate between the beach and the pool. The ocean was the first time in my life I was able to open my eyes underwater, and it mystified me. As a fifth grader, my dream was to become a marine biologist. I loved the ocean, but I would never venture farther out than I could touch the bottom with my toes. I was also jumpy whenever a clump of seaweed brushed up against my leg.
My love-hate relationship with the ocean continued, and my dream of being a marine biologist was lost at sea once I learned that I truly hated science in school. My dream became to live in Japan. The day I got my email from JET about my placement, I was ecstatic. I was placed in a city by the sea.
My apartment has a view of mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. However, life got busy and a walk to the beach seemed counter productive. My brain tends to want me to only do things like studying, learning, writing, and so I have never been one to talk a walk for the heck of it. However, stress builds up after all that going going going, and I have recently learned that I need to slow down and enjoy nature.
At an AJET event that a committee I was on hosted, I won a live auction to scuba dive. Although at the time, I was terrified at the prospect of doing it, I knew in my heart that it was something that would tear me away from my comfort zone and bring me closer to the trailblazing, independent person I aspire to be.
Typhoon season rolled around, and my trip to scuba dive was postponed many times. Secretly, I was almost glad to postpone the trip a few times, because I didn’t feel at all prepared to face my fears. But the day of scuba came at last, and I took the train to Shikanoshima, where my scuba guide picked me up.
We drove out to a little cove and I was instructed on how to put on all the gear, including my wet suit and my tank. Then we waded out into the water, where we practiced the basic breathing and mask clearing skills needed to go further out and start our dive. At this point, the fear of drowning and the fear of the unknown, what lay ahead of me in the ocean, was as palpable as the waves that occasionally knocked me off my footing. The exercises frustrated me, and at times I thought of giving up and going back. But eventually, I got it and we were cleared to leave the shore, out into the great vast sea.
Once under water, I concentrated on my breathing. Since I’m not certified, my guide handled all the important adjustments to my tank and regulated my buoyancy so that I floated like an astronaut in space. Actually, I learned that scuba is the closest feeling to walking on the moon. We drifted out and down and soon I was amazed at how well I was doing. I tried not to concentrate on the fact that I was deeper and farther out than I had ever been in the ocean before.
It wasn’t long before we came upon coral and seaweed and we saw tiny schools of fish. Assuming they would bolt at the sight of foreign objects in the ocean (ha – I’m foreign even underwater) I reached out to them. But the amazing thing was, they weren’t so much scared as curious. We got close to so many different kinds of fish, and even saw a stingray and a tiny blue dory.
Eventually, I forgot about the world. I concentrated on my breathing but most of the time I forgot about that, as well. There was no talking, only hand signals, which was an amazing sense of freedom. I talk all day and even when I’m not, my brain is going at 200 mph. But under the water, I was relaxed. I had no one to impress, no task to complete. All that mattered was floating along, looking at the sea floor for fish and shells.
We dove through narrow towers of rock and coral, and we reached out and felt the sharpness of the stone and sand, the smoothness of the seaweed. I learned something amazing while I was diving. I learned that nothing above land we stress over really matters. I started to think, ”Why stress yourself out about things you don’t know will happen? Just live and try to be the best you can or do the best good you can.” I also realized that I need to take time for myself to find peace. I can’t help others if I am always worrying about measuring up to impossible standards.
Conquering my fears under the ocean helped me achieve a zen I hadn’t yet found in kyudo. Going back to my dojo and shooting again, I now find that my aim is stronger and I’m more relaxed.
Going underwater taught me that the things I see on the surface that look terrifying or impossible are really just things that I haven’t accomplished yet. It doesn’t mean that I won’t get there. It just means I need to remind myself to take things one step at a time. People are the same way. Sometimes we just look at the surface of someone’s life, only seeing the top layer, and we fail to see everything they are hiding. It’s so easy to look at someone else and get jealous or angry that your life isn’t as ‘good’ as theirs seems to be. It’s easy for me to get mad at myself but forgive others. A tactic that has helped me lately is realizing that I wouldn’t put all the pressure that I put on myself to succeed on my best friend.
I’ve always read analogies about the ocean, but I never understood the lessons that it held for me until I dove in to see it for myself.