The only other way that we can escape the surface is down underwater. And swimming and other aquatic sports, they don't really cut it because you're always staying on that interface at the boundary level. And swimming - you're raising your limbs to take advantage of the fact they move quicker through the air than the water. Free diving is the only fully aquatic sport, where we're completely submerged below the ocean, enveloped in something other than gas and without a tank of gas on our backs. It's unencumbered immersion; it's the only true way to escape the surface. And it turns out below the surface is a pretty cool place to be, right? I mean, 95% of our planet's ecosystems are down there underwater; we evolved from the oceans 530 million years ago. It has seahorses, red-lipped batfish, dumbo octopi - everything you want.
But here's the thing: it's not just our planet that has a surface layer, we have this kind of surface boundary in our minds that separates the rational, conscious mind from the subconscious below, and we dispend most of our lives above that boundary in this ethereal, untethered medium of rational thought, while below, there's a quiet, deep well of subconscious. It has its own activity, of course, down there, but it all happens without our awareness - we can't see into it, we don't know what's happening, but things come out of it. We don't know how deep it is, but we've never been to the bottom of it. And we can dive into that subconscious sea in the same way that we would free dive into the physical ocean of our world.
Of course, the physical origin of our species traces back to the ocean below the surface, and in the same way, our minds have evolved from below the surface, from the brainstem up, adding parts and building above the surface into rational thought and awareness. So it's not just the free divers, then, who go below the surface, anyone who practices meditation or mindfulness or even takes mind-altering substances is taking trips below into that still sea. And sometimes I almost feel like a free dive. You know, I almost feel like I'm cheating or taking a hack or a shortcut because your environment in a free dive is already a still ocean. You know, a hundred meters down, you can't think about politics or laundry or whether you said the right thing. All of that belongs to a different world that you've left behind up there on the surface. You become stillness immersed in stillness, and in that void, what is revealed is, I believe, one of the most beautiful experiences: It's an awareness of presence and presence in awareness.
It's pure consciousness; it's the one thing that we may never ever be able to explain with science. No matter how deep you go, of course, you've still always got to come back up. And I left you guys hanging down there in the dark depths, about to tackle that long swim back up to the surface - sorry about that. But this is going to be the most physical part of the dive - you had that free ride down, and now you're going to have to pay for it on the way back up.
This is where it all begins: Have you gone too deep? Have you stretched that umbilical cord to the surface out too far and to the point where it's snapped in two and now you don't have enough oxygen to come back up? Stop. You need to stop that right there. Thoughts themselves are brainwave frequencies that consume oxygen in their creation,
and negative thoughts, they breed like gremlin rabbits until they swarm all over your mind. If you panic here and now, you'll consume all the rest of your oxygen in a flash;
instead, you can count the strokes, give your mind something to do in the same way you would give a baby a pacifier to suck on. One stroke. Two strokes. Three strokes. Three strokes - how many more strokes to go? No, don't start that either.
Again, you cannot have any expectation or point of arrival, there is only this stroke, this kick, this now, this now, this now… Suddenly, your thoracic muscles contract, expanding your ribcage - it's a involuntary breathing reflex, trying to suck air into your mouth, but your mouth and your glottis stay clamped shut while you're underwater, so no water passes; and instead, your diaphragm is yanked up under your ribcage - it's kind of like a punch in the gut, saying, "You need to breathe … soon." Don't look up though. You still won't be able to see the surface. And if you look up, you'll break your streamlining as well as stretch out your trachea, which is being kind of collapsed by the negative pressure. This is the most delicate and dangerous part of the free dive, so it's when your safety divers come down to meet you and escort you through those final meters.
The light is returning finally, and with it, so is your buoyancy, allowing you to glide for longer on each stroke as the air in your lungs re-expands. Finally, the surface comes into view, and for those last moments, you enjoy the sensation of flying through liquid. You're about to wake from this dream, from this journey below surfaces, below the waves and turbulence of thoughts, you're about to return from a realm of pure consciousness, and when you do, when you suck in that first breath, you will do so not just as a terrestrial hominoid returned to its element but also, equally, as an aquatic mammal coming up for air.
Take a breath now - taste it as if it were your first, and hold on to that awareness of the depths as you return to life above the surface. This is why I free dive.
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