Friday, August 17, 2012

Under the surface

Packing for a week on a sailboat in Belize was a straightforward task: bathing suits, cover-ups, a couple of shorts and tank tops, one sundress and flip-flops. Nothing complicated; nothing encumbering.

I love warm water and could flipper over the surface oogling coral, starfish, stingrays and barracuda from above. But what was deep below the surface and down into the unknown threatened me, kind of like engulfing emotions I tend to reject.

Three men from our group posed for a picture with the beginning Scuba instructor. Stepping out of the frame, I resolved to myself, “Uh-uh, not me, no way.” No one wheedled at my decision, which was another relief. And the photo captured their anticipation for the next day’s dive lesson.

Laura, the female instructor in her late twenties, reassured the men that she had been on more than 5,000 dives. “Where would you like to go but have not dived there yet?” I questioned daring to dip my toe in her ocean of intrigue. 

“I really don’t have a bucket list of places yet to dive. However, I do want to see new underwater life that I know from pictures but have not yet experienced. Just the other day, I saw my first manta ray.” Laura’s passion to experience ocean life pinged me like an errant pebble strikes a windshield.

That evening I snuggled into our boat bunk comfortably reading while all my excuses not to Scuba drifted by on the waves outside. However, as I read, another stray object struck the exact same spot on the windshield through which I narrowly viewed life, and a small crack started. I read about two blind men responding to Jesus’ inquiry into what they wanted of Him: “Lord, we want our eyes to be opened.” ‘Open’  got my attention; that has been my word, my passion and my request for the year. Could this Scuba lesson be an invitation for me? Was the crack allowing me to be open to look beyond my limited view…and face the fears, the emotions, and the insecurities that lurk underneath the surface of my life?
Who would have suspected that a tiny crack would let in a whole ocean?
The next day I squeezed into a full-body Lycra suit for our beginning Scuba lesson with Laura and the three guys from our group. We tightened our vests, weighted our belts, tanked our backs, finned our feet, and masked our faces. This outfitted character was most foreign to me. I wanted to bolt. Somehow my flippers kept me planted while Laura provided truth through precise instruction and grace through our trial-and-error exercises in waist deep water.

“Buoyancy is critical, explained Laura. “The ideal is to find that place in the depths where you are not sinking to the bottom nor escaping up to the surface. You are simply suspended underwater.” The tight Lycra bound my racing heartbeat and me together as I fingered the buttons trying to remember which one inflated and which one deflated my buoyancy vest.
Going deeper was painful.
We were to swim on the surface to the dive flag several yards away. The extra weight pulled me down; I gasped for strength. I wasn’t sure if I could make it to the flag. Laura recognized my labored efforts. She reminded all of us that inflating our vests would create buoyancy and allow us to swim effortlessly along the surface. And to think that I could power to the destination with an additional burden of diver’s weights and tank simply by inflating my vest! How many other times in my life do I sink under everyday burdens when all I need to do is to remember to engage an extra source of support?

At the flag together, we were to deflate our vests and descend to fifteen feet. I concentrated on slowing my breaths, and down I went with the others. But the pressure inside my ears was excruciating. I shot up out of the water to stop the pain. This escape to avoid the pain was somehow familiar. Having been coached earlier to stay together, Laura rose after me along with the other men. My confidence felt just as wounded as my eardrums. And I hoped no one could detect tears inside my mask. Laura and each one of the men joined in to explain and demonstrate the right way to clear one’s ears. Collectively I heard a good solution,  “Pinch your nose, capture your breath and try to push it out your ears.”

Before attempting the next descent, I fought to pinch off the trepidation, recapture some confidence and push through giving up. I became intentional about clearing my ears at intervals as we descended to more than thirty feet during the dive.
Buoyancy ­– the power to recover emotionally, like resiliency.
Buoyancy is critical, I repeated to myself. The buttons that deflated and inflated my vest still confused me. Yet I was committed to making the adjustments to my flotation vest to achieve that place of gentle suspension. While Laura smoothly traced the descent of the ocean floor, I bobbed up and down behind her. And I was okay.

Even with the extra heaviness and pressure, this journey that went deep—to the bottom, in fact—released something in me. I watched free-floating bubbles from my breathing apparatus drift upwards as I began to surface in our ascent to the flag.