Just four days ago, my husband and I drove south from our home in Flagler Beach, Florida, towards Key West. As we made our way along a thin stretch of highway that connects an archipelago of islands I started seeing ads for scuba diving adventures.
I had always fantasized about diving, but the thought of it also terrified me. My slight fear of the ocean coupled by my experiences getting sea sick kept it from ever becoming a reality.
Yet somehow, out of my mouth I heard myself say to my husband: “Let’s go scuba diving.”
The terrified, wimpy-self in my head thought, Are you crazy? We don’t scuba dive.
But bold me pressed on, “Come on…Let’s do it!” I said out loud, convincing my husband .
After all, everything else in my life lately has been about letting go, facing my fears, why not do this one too? This trip to the Keys was a bold move in itself as we were leaving the kids longer than we ever had before and I knew my husband, celebrating twenty years together, had issues to resolve that would certainly come up during this trip.
When Shawn gave me the okay I called a Key West based scuba diving outfitters called Try Scuba Diving, Key West and scheduled our trip. The next day we met these three great guys, our guides: John, Stephan, and Peter.
The boat was neatly organized with a row of vests, air tanks, flippers, and such. On the boat was a sweet German couple who were visiting the US, bounding from adventure to adventure on a Florida whirlwind trip. Our guides created a mellow, happy mood that instantly put me at ease.
However when the boat pulled into the bay, I panicked wondering if the motion sickness meds had time to take effect, but the skies were crisp and blue, the water calm and emerald green. The summer breeze blew against my face and within moments I had forgotten to worry about sea sickness. I was perfectly fine.
We stopped in the shallow water…just four feet deep to try out the vests and tanks and learn the basics of diving. I settled myself down in the water and found myself at ease breathing through the tank.
We got back in the boat and headed to our official dive spot for the day. I was ready to go. We plunged down into the water and suddenly things didn’t feel so easy. There had been a storm the night before so things were a bit cloudy—maybe with 15 foot visibility. We could still see plenty, but it wasn’t the picture perfect, crystal clear Jacques Cousteau moment I imagined and I felt a little closed in.
I was in an alien world. I could not speak, ask questions, or even really communicate through facial expressions. Nothing was real. Nothing went by the rules of this world, not even the way I propelled myself through space. It was life with completely new guidelines. And although it was exciting on some levels, my scared, control-freak self constantly wanted to take the reins and swim back up to the surface.
At one point during my initial panic I noticed my diligent guide was pantomiming to me, his hands going slowly up and down over his chest like a Tai Qi master.
“Breathe,” he was telling me. I understood!
Instantly I let myself relax and feel my breath. It wasn’t so bad.
As time passed and I learned to regulate my buoyancy with my breath I started to feel as if I had some control. Although that scared little voice in my head was still chatting away, I found a way to turn her volume way down.
The fish were cool. I even saw a giant crab and a turtle…but that wasn’t what this trip was about for me…this time around it was about mastering my fear of the unknown and most importantly letting go of my need for control.
When I realized we had made our way back to the anchor of the boat, I saw our guide give us the sign for “up”. I felt my heart sink.
No….I want more! I thought. But sadly this trip was over.
On the boat ride back my husband and I looked at each other and smiled, high on our fantastic underwater adventure.
“When are we going to do this again?” I asked and together we discussed the logistics of getting our kids out scuba diving with us next time.
Something happened on that trip to the Keys. I found gold, but it wasn’t in the form of a coin at the bottom of the ocean, nor was it in a “mermaid moment” where I felt completely free and alive swimming about.
Instead I found gold in the work, in the effort of calming myself, finding my center. The gem of my Key West trip came from the struggle, from that little battle I had with my terrified ego, who wanted nothing more than to swim to the surface and hang on for dear life to that boat.
My treasure came from refusing to give in to that dark, timid side of myself and instead, nurture that piece of me that whispers: “everything is alright” “have faith” “you are safe”.
Just as I had anticipated, in spite of our wonderful water adventure, the car ride home with my husband, brought up a lot of the relationship grime, that I knew we had to deal with.
As we talked I noticed that many times in my relationships I’ve wanted to flee—just like I did in the ocean. It’s as if I want to say, “Alright. I’m done with this shit! Bring me back to the boat. This is too hard!”
But now I’m wondering if I can treat my relationships more like I treated that dive. Don’t feed the fear…instead listen for that other voice, the one who loves us unconditionally who is there whispering in her sweetness- “Do not fear. You are okay.”
I tell my daughter from time to time that the bravest people aren’t the ones who go out and do things fearlessly, but the ones who are scared and do them anyway. I think I’m one of the brave ones. (As are you!)
Bravery comes in all forms, whether its in getting in a boat and diving deep under the water, or looking at your relationships head on and acknowledging the ways you may struggle with your capabilities as a good friend, a wife, a parent, a lover.
Sometimes the treasure isn’t in a tangible object like a shiny coin, but in Love itself. The bounty comes from making the choice to not swim for the surface, but instead to stay deep down, even when things feel scary.
Today and every day I take a dive into the ocean of my own heart, and whatever darkness, whatever murkiness I uncover I keep on swimming, because I know from my depths everything is okay.
Keep on swimming.