Holding on to the buoy, bobbing gently up and down in rhythm with the waves. Beneath me a freediving line, disappearing into the darkness. Somewhere below is a white disk, my depth marker, where I have to get to.
I saw it last time I dived but it was too far: 3-4 meters that I couldn’t make. Pressure on my abdomen pushing up my insides, tension on my torso and head, and the need to breathe. And above me a mountain of ocean: I had to ascend.
Yet back on the surface, the instructor, who was by my side all through the dive, told me that I wasn’t out of breath. Earlier, while training at the pool we saw how I was able to hold my breath so much longer. It’s the mind playing tricks. The aversion to discomfort, the associated fear, the rising CO2 level making me think that I need to breathe. And indeed, when I surfaced I was short of breath, but not desperate. “Be with it,” he tells me, “be with the discomfort. Imagine it as an embrace of the ocean. You know you have oxygen, you know you’re fine. See if you can stretch it a little bit more.”
So now, up on the surface, I’m preparing for my next dive.
Gentle breathing. Prolonged exhale. Count of 3 on the inhale, count of 6 on the exhale. Not deeper breaths, just longer. Lower your heart rate.
Know that when you’re down there and the discomfort creeps in, when the diaphragm contractions begin, trying to make the body breathe, that you’re ok.
In a very short time I will be down there. I can’t believe it.
Five more gentle breaths.
Now the penultimate: full inhale, full exhale.
And now a deep full breath: belly first, then chest, head back, fill the mouth, roll the head forward packing that little bit extra air in the lungs.
Now head in the water, arms out, two kicks to straighten the body along the surface, fold the arms and upper body down, legs up in the air, sink down and begin the descent.
The head is facing the diving line, two inches away. Don’t look down – tension on the neck burns oxygen. Strong smooth kicks, one hand pinching the nose, equalising continuously.
Freedom, letting go. I can see the surface above me disappearing away. Below is the diving line, also disappearing - into the void.
Keep going, it’s ok.
Discomfort creeping in on the belly – it’s ok. Keep going.
I need to breathe – it’s ok, keep going.
How far down am I? How much more to go? It’s ok, keep going.
Convulsions in the diaphragm.
I must stop. I need to breathe - now.
Yet I have so much height to ascend before I can. And going down I’m only making it worse.
But my instructor is next to me. Some logical part of the brain is telling me to have faith. It’s ok.
And in this fight between fear and faith, animal instinct and logic, logic prevails. Somewhere among this all-encompassing aversion to my “now” – the nausea, the pressure, the impulse to breathe – flickers a candle flame of logic that has not been drowned out. I gaze below. I can see the white disc. I’m nearly there. Against all instinct I kick to it, somehow in a mind-state of relative calm. And just as I’m about to reach it, the ocean floor appears below, bright – actually bright – sand, rocks, seaweed, a large urchin skeleton. How crazy, how impossible that below the darkness lies a platform of light.
I've arrived. I turn around. Somehow I’m now more comfortable. Somehow the insanity has transformed to just a discomfort. I know I’m going up. Now every second is getting me closer to home.
Head again horizontal – optimise oxygen consumption – now face to face with my instructor. The wisdom in his eyes is nourishing.
The diaphragm convulsions are pulsing like waves. However, now they don’t seem to take over my whole body. I feel a smile in my eyes.
I’m in the last part of my ascent now. The water pressure has reduced enough for me to be buoyant. I can now stop kicking and float up. The legs are relaxed, the whole body is relaxed, fluid, aligned. Some bubbles escape with a convulsion. They linger by my face and drop below me - I’m rising faster than they are.
It’s very bright now. I see the surface, the beautiful wavy landscape viewed from inside the world of water, where the ‘depth beneath the waves’ is the sky.
And I’m out.
Exhale. Inhale. Applying the “recovery breaths” we were taught, steadily increasing the blood’s oxygen content.
Having stretched the boundary of the impossible that little bit further.