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Mindful : April 2013
lesson. I noticed that, yeah, while my mask was full of water, nothing else was threatening. I was still breathing. It was a big shift for me: I chose to stay with exactly what was happening, a nd this has really helped me in the water. My biggest scuba diving experience so far was three years ago in Australia, at the Great Barrier Reef. I was still pretty new to the sport, and I found myself diving with a g roup of people I didn’t know. Even my dive pa rt ner—he wa s Thai—didn’t speak English. There was a lso a gale-force storm starting. It was so bad, actually, that authorities closed the reef for three days right after our dive. As the boat was driving out, I thought, “This is it.” I noticed the fear beginning to climb up from my gut to my chest. When the boat stopped and we all put on our gear, I could feel the intensity building. The waters were incredibly turbulent that day, there were very strong winds, a nd we had maybe six feet of visibility once we got underwater—it was very In Tahiti 10 years ago, while at an introductory scuba diving lesson, I real- ized how much my fear could take over my experience of things. Still, scuba interested me, so I sig ned up for a certifi- cation course in my home city of Austin. After taking the written test, I suited up, jumped in the pool, and felt a wash of panic. My heart was racing, and I was breathing hard. Because I was breathing so fast, I found myself either floating to the sur- face of the pool or sinking to the bottom. I was totally frustrated. At one point I popped out of the water, ripped off my mask, and threw it across the pool, screaming, “I’m sick of this—I hate this!” I kept at it, though. My next test was staying underwater for 30 seconds, sharing my breathing apparatus with a partner. I went down and almost imme- diately my mask flooded with water. In that moment I realized I had a choice: go back to the surface and start all over, or tolerate it and graduate to the next tough diving. Once we started down, I had a strong moment of panic. I wanted to push up to the surface and get out. I told myself I had to accept this feeling. Then suddenly, things shifted: on a sec- ond, deeper dive, fa rther a long the reef, visibility improved. The colors were ab- solutely amazing. I saw a three-foot-high cla m with bright blue tentacles that we all took turns putting our hands into—I felt it actually clamp down on my hand and then open up again. I watched sting rays glide by and I hovered above some of the most beautiful coral I’ll probably ever see. If I’d let my fear rule the day, I would have missed all that. My next plan is to dive off Australia’s other coast, near Perth. There are whale sharks there. I can’t wait to see more. ● April 2013 mindful 29