Sh*t. The horizon line I take for granted is gone.
Panic rolls in with the waves that toss me. The boat deck sways in an arcing smile that I’m thoroughly convinced is mocking my fear. A forgotten snorkel hangs along my cheek as brine fills my mouth. Nothing in my freshwater training prepared me for the open ocean’s forcefulness.
I know I’m not truly in danger, but rationality isn’t winning here. Bobbing in my dive gear, I’m just a human buoy of reactive nerves. I’m frozen.
I lock onto my husband of two days. My eyes plead. I can’t do this. My fear-riddled ego thrashes.
You’re ready. You’ve trained. You can do this.
No I can’t.
Think of all the time and money you put in.
I don’t care. I’m not sure how, but I’m getting back on that damn boat.
Then I hear him. Put your mask in the water. Again, gently: Put your mask in the water.
I don’t want to, but I look down. And I experience the most radical perspective shift. With my face pressing the water, tossing waves melt into a gentle current. Rays of sun pierce a quiet blue waterscape, and fear instantly leaves my body. In its place flows the deepest sort of calm we humans can know.
I feel foolish once I taste serenity just below the choppy swipes of dueling water and air. I give my partner the okay. We deflate our vests and drift down together.
I delight in the weightless feel and am mesmerized by the exaggerated sound of my own whirling breath. It’s another world below the scene of my near retreat. Floating through ethereal turquoise, we meet grouper, barracuda and rainbow parrot fish. We drift along the ghostly ribs of castaway sea vessels and watch schools of silver fish heed a silent cue to pivot in unison.
This Neptune waterscape offers a rare retreat from gravity, human chatter and general adult responsibilities. We surrender completely to the ocean’s pulse, swaying with the coral and kelp. When we surface, the waves are still churning, but I hold on to the otherworldly peace of the depths.
Looking back, my breath catches when I think that I almost relinquished such soul-drenching gifts in ignorance. Fear overcame my body and mind. Thankfully, loving guidance to look beyond prevailed, and triggered the paradigm shift that opened me to a realm of aquatic bliss.
So often we hear, “Don’t look down.” Yet, sometimes looking down is just what we need. Peace skims just below the turbulent surface, if we are willing to punch through the illusions cast by fear. Fifteen years after my rocky first dive, I am daily grateful for a partner who gently reminds me to shift focus in this ocean of life.
Originally published on Elephant Journal.