Ask most freedivers what made them want to begin diving and they usually tell you something similar. It was for the high, the rush that comes from a successful dive, or the feeling of taking your body into a space that it's never been in before. The list goes on. What about the total silence though? Cassandra Cooper explains.
For me it was different, my experience with freediving started outside of the water because it was the quiet that drew me to freediving. Freediving platforms are a quiet place. Peaceful. It has to be in order for us to stay alert, aware of our fellow divers, and quickly detect any complications. When you are about to begin a dive, moments away from your final breath, all the world's noise, all the worry that it brings disappears. A peace often settles over you and time passes without thought. For that moment, you feel completely present. The peace you experience isn’t a permanent state. It exists in moments that are fleeting. We experience this when we are doing a task that requires complete focus. Every day we all experience these moments of peace. The trick is to learn about our own silence so that we can embrace them.
For centuries, freediving was reserved for the select few communities in the world who began freediving as a means of survival and resourcefulness. It was for those who have created makeshift diving gear and have adapted to their underwater hunting and gathering environment for thousands of years. These freediving pioneers would search for resources including sponges, fish, crustaceans, and pearls in remote communities all around the world.
Nowadays, freediving courses and practices have become widely available and are taught all over the world. The connection between silence and diving has fascinated many. In its simplicity, the pursuit of managing the silence in diving can be understood by the most casual observer. Understanding how our minds react to this new environment is a large learning curve for many who are introduced to the sport and desire to disappear into the blue void of peace, flow, and silence.
Everyone seems to be moving at a faster pace with busy social calendars, adding to the noisiness of life. Collectively, our lives are becoming fuller, leaving little space to allow the mind to rest, be calm and restore. Living in this world that is continually getting louder, there are many of us who don't regularly make the time to sit in a space where we are able to be quiet and still. Most of us aren't even aware of how much thinking we do and often when we are on autopilot, that voice in our head becomes increasingly louder and more powerful. When can we stop to revive and have some silence?
Now more than ever, we can see how the average person can struggle with the silence that comes from freediving. For someone's first time on the line, they discover a place where they can get that sense of space and calm that is lacking in everyday life. The silence that comes from being immersed in a dive is powerful and requires some form of understanding. Often thoughts can become more controlling and dominating, emotions more intense. It can feel almost like your thinking brain is sucking up all the energy from your entire body. The less attention paid to the thinking mind, the softer and dimmer the thoughts become, and more room can be made for silence and stillness.
If the chatter in most people's heads were to be inherently calm, reassuring, and empowering, then each dive would feel incredibly uplifting. Unfortunately, many of us start freediving with our minds being on the defense. The chatter of doubt, judgment, and uncertainty of your own performance can quickly take over.
We often talk about presence when we talk about the mental state of a freediver on the line. Unlike other activities we do in our day, we immediately feel when we lose presence during a dive. Even self-talk will consume our precious energy, so we truly have to confront where our mind goes for the entire duration of the dive.
The beauty of freediving is that we have no choice but, to be honest with ourselves. The fact is, you can't pretend to have a quiet mind, it just doesn't work. Making the time for mental training is certainly the most challenging part of the routine since in freediving, how we feel becomes transparent.
If you put yourself in the future, anticipating the end of the line or getting anxious about the duration of your freefall, you are no longer present and may not have a pleasant dive. The same goes for dwelling on the past during your dive. If you had something go wrong at the surface, perhaps you were fiddling with a piece of equipment or rough surface conditions. Letting that go of control of your external environment can protect your headspace. If we dwell on the past or live the future then we lose control over the present moment. In silence, you become aware that you have the freedom and power to choose the types of thoughts you wish to entertain and encourage, and the thoughts you wish to ignore and diffuse. In silence, we attempt to let all thoughts pass through. It's not a fight to empty the mind.
People ask me all the time how I began competitive freediving. But the story I tell often does not include what I believe gave me the most edge as a beginner freediver- my relationship with silence. As I went further into training I felt pretty comfortable on the line right away. My learning style is strongly visual so being able to watch and minic whoever I was learning from made each session full of information and things to improve. I was lucky to overcome any major mental blocks I experienced as my depth and times for my dives increased. I felt safe on the line and discovered that if I had any particular gift for this sport, it was a mental one. The ability to keep my calm in times of heightened discomfort during a dive.
The truth is that before I began freediving, I had been dealing with chronic pain for 6 years. It controlled my life and I wasn't comfortable talking about it with many people at the time. It’s a condition that behaves similarly to how a migraine does. Stimulation of any kind exacerbated my discomfort and it was unclear to doctors what was causing my pain. During these years I spent a lot of time accepting the fact that there was no escape from my own body and learning how controlling my mind didn't just aid me in coping with the pain, but changed my mind entirely. Still, in the beginning, I had no thought of becoming a competitive diver or even attracting much attention for what I was doing. Being surrounded by such talent it felt pompous to compare what I was doing as a diver to the accomplished freedivers in my community.
Sometimes, like myself, you may find yourself careless and allow your mental training to slide to the bottom of your list of important things to do. Some of your excuses might be, that you have no time, you've got too much to work, or that you already have too much self-care to focus on. It could even feel like life’s just too good right now, you're fine so you don’t need it! Then, out of the blue, A sudden wave inevitably comes along, taking you by surprise and plunging you straight into the mouth of the uncontrollable mind once again.
One of the ways of beating this challenge is to change your whole perception of mental training. Start by viewing your practices as an integral part of your daily routine, just like eating a healthy meal or working out. Treat your mental health with the same sense of urgency that you would physical health. Tune your mind to integrate this training into your daily regimen. In a way, I find that regular practice actually gives me more time to accomplish my daily routine because giving myself time in my own mental space aids in becoming more direct and focused for the rest of the day.
Try to acknowledge the presence of this lack of patience when it arises. By recognizing feelings of impatience, you prepare your mind to effectively face all kinds of other issues well outside the world of freediving. This builds confidence in the process and gives you space to be farsighted and see that it is just an emotion you're feeling. It does not reflect negatively on your progress.
Feeling good after your freediving session can be inspiring, but it can also be a big obstacle if you expect to always have the same experience. We always strive for good vibes in every session, but don’t let this overshadow your daily practices. Speaking from my own experience. There will be days when your dives are smooth and blissful, and days when you’d like to throw all of your equipment out the window. As you continue diving, the odds are that you will reach a point where your mind will finally settle into a calm space. This could happen during a training session or even while practicing at home. When you reach this level, you might decide to shorten your mental training thinking that you’ve effectively achieved what you set out to do. It is with consistent practice that you sink into your calm and enhance your clarity as well. It is in this state that you can experience the vast benefits of silence in freediving. Silence and freediving come hand in hand. Together, they are a powerful team.