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Navigating Depth: Scuba Diving & Therapy

This photograph was captured by Durga Menon

A conjecture that one can make about self-analysis or engaging in psychodynamic work as a practitioner would be that ‘the known gives meaning to the unknown, and the language created when delving into the unknown gives us access to a deeper self-knowledge.’ The idea of scuba diving left me in touch with a myriad of emotions that remind me of what it means to engage with a psychic realm that seems unknown. While it is easy to stew in the list of unknown factors that can easily impact ‘how well’ or ‘how poorly’ a dive can go, the curiosity to explore left me dwelling on a few questions and qualms. I sat on the metaphorical shore of my mind, ‘an in-between’ whose stillness was comforting while I entertained a dilemma – should I dive or rest on the shore?

The process of getting ready for a dive is similar to building the readiness to embark on a therapeutic journey along with the guidance of a trained therapist, or in my case a scuba diving instructor. A part of the readiness includes having the money, an oxygen tank, and a supportive, safe, and kind instructor who you can trust your breath and be with. Similar to self-work, there is time to identify whether you can trust the waters of a therapeutic space session after session, as does scuba diving. In my case, the comfort of being able to see clearly through these crystal blue waters I swam in gave me a sense of what I may encounter below, and what I could anticipate if I wasn’t sure about the depth.

Diving in islands is a common activity for locals who have access to the beauty of the underwater flora and fauna. The levels that one has access to as a newcomer to diving are – snorkeling, shore diving, and deep diving in that order. Snorkeling reminds me of our conscious awareness (the memories and thoughts we readily engage with without the concern of moderating air pressure or assessing our breathing). You are allowed to paddle and swim with a snorkeling pipe and goggles near the shore. Shore diving (a 6-meter to 8-meter dive) requires you to float gently above the water with an oxygen tank and nozzle that you wear as a bag pack, so you can flip over into the water once you’re deep enough. My shore dive experience included feeling minimal pressure in my body, amidst an epiphanic moment where I felt a deep sense of synchrony between my mind and body through rhythmic breathing. Below the waves, the stillness of the water remained starkly calm in contrast to the fish and coral that moved gently against the undercurrent of the waves. In retrospect, it was in this moment that I discover my deep fondness for scuba diving as an eye-opening endeavor that left me rolling in psychic interpretations and self-reflections by the time I had resurfaced.

The shore dives remind me of how easily we can access the surface if we need to adjust our bodies to the air pressure when we feel unsettled and cannot carry the capacity to go deeper. Psychoanalytically, I am reminded of how easily we can access our psyche in a slightly unfiltered manner through dreams. While dreams don’t threaten us with the depths of how less we may know ourselves, it can pique one’s curiosity to delve a little deeper into self-analysis. The excitement of accessing parts of myself through the shore dive left me intrigued enough to venture into even deeper waters. I liken this to the child-like curiosity of playfully deconstructing what dreams are trying to tell us on the morning of.

The deep dive ranges between 11 to 18 meters. The unique stressors that I think were particular to the deep dive were testing my capacity, and staying under darker waters amongst flora and fauna that I imagined would be ‘strange’ and ‘unfriendly’ compared to a shore dive. I felt conscious of maintaining communication between my mind and body to stabilize as I acclimatized to the air pressure one meter at a time. The language that I was able to construct through my shore dives gave me the sense of readiness to explore waters that seems similar yet unknown to my experience. The doubts that I encountered didn’t have long to trickle in, once I was gently slid off the boat into yet another deeply quiet turquoise blue pool that seemed so removed from the shore (i.e. conscious awareness) yet as familiar as shallower dives (i.e. subconscious associations).

The boat journey back to the shore left me in awe of my capability to stay. This very ability reminds me of some of the moments when one may think of dropping out, declining, or terminating therapy. This may be an indication of where you are in your therapeutic journey, accompanied by the struggle and uncertainty of navigating the ‘in between’ territory that resides between two realms of consciousness. This in-between can be visualized as a balance between feeling curious yet deeply preoccupied and anticipatory about what a deeper dive could reveal. The time period between the shore and the deep dive echoes a similar anxiety that is provoked by the jittery newness of transitioning from one space to the other. Anticipating one’s depth and capacity is a self-reflective muscle that begins to take shape and form after a few dives whether it’s in the sea or into one’s psyche. Our capacity to feel and think deeply as well as build a body with new organs that can oxygenate us through difficult revelations and therapeutic conversations can leave us either wanting to connect more or frantically disconnect to resurface.

One of the most essential parts of staying underwater through this dive was knowing that I was not alone. Before the dive, I was briefly taught to communicate while I was in the driver’s seat through underwater signs. I was encouraged to immediately inform if my ears were in pain, if my breathing nozzle was filling up with water, or if I was feeling stable to go deeper. The divers gave me techniques so I can help myself whenever I could or communicate if I needed to resurface or swim closer towards the sea bed. A few days of diving allowed me to embrace how my mind and body could touch its potential in a short span of time through the safety and trust I built while feeling held, contained, and guided.

This experience has embedded the visual metaphor of water as an energy force in me. Water carries its own rhythm and personality – its movement, depth, stillness, and tranquility. Scuba diving acts as an experiential metaphor of how accessing our inner psychic depths while feeling moved and held calmly, allows us to gently evoke emotions that reside in each realm as we go deeper from one level of conscious awareness to the next.


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