I first wrote the beginning of this posting after a night dive a few months back. It was a very unpleasant episode, but being a person that likes to explore both my feelings and experiences I have thought about the event, discussed it with a few people and incorporated part of it in a novel I’m working on.
First, just to explain briefly; – I love diving! I have been an active diver for many years. I’m a certified Divemaster, I have over 300 dives, and am very relaxed under water. In fact people laugh at me cause I use so little air on dives. “Are you sleeping below the surface?” they ask me. I’m never as happy as when I’m diving, and it’s my life!
Night dives, though, see that’s another story. It’s not just that I dislike night dives, I’m scared shitless. I have done a couple, never really enjoyed it, but a few months back, in Bunaken, Indonesia, I decided to test my limits and go for the adventure again.
Bunaken has some of the best dive sites in the world. I have visited the island several times; love diving there and in this area there is also a pretty good chance of seeing the Spanish dancer. A creature I have been dying to see for years.
A Spanish dancer is a big, mostly nocturnal, nudibranch, a seaslug, and it gets its name from the bright red skirt it is flapping around in the water as it performs a dancelike swim at night.
I was so ready for it!
So, I’m in Bunaken, the famous animal was spotted not far from where I was staying on the previous night, and I decided to yet again face my fear of diving in the dark. Time to put an end to the stupidity I thought, telling myself that there is nothing more dangerous down there at night than in daytime.
So my diveguide and I went out on the boat as dusk embraced the island and dropped in to the pitch-black water. A stunning sunset watched over us. This was going to be just fine, I decided.
But as the night got darker and we got deeper and deeper in to the abyss, something did happen. I started to shiver. And not from being cold, but from fear. Not a rational fear of being in danger either, just an uncontrollable fear I couldn’t really explain.
I held on to the guide for my dear life, his arm probably blue from my grip, and pointed my torch at the coral wall. If I could just focus on the fish, my breathing and the beautiful colors it’ll be ok, I thought. Hopefully we’ll see the Spanish dancer and it will all be worth it.
To cut a long story short, we didn’t see the Spanish dancer. Instead I freaked over a couple of jumping lobsters, started to cry and with my nose running, clogging up my mask, I chickened out and had to abort the dive.
End of story.
At this point I couldn’t care less about the Spanish dancer or any other dancer for that matter. I had to get out of the water. Now!
Back on the boat the chuckling crew took us in to shore as the guide tried to understand what happened. “You don’t have to tell anyone that you got scared,” he said.
I probably didn’t, but his words made me realize something. I wasn’t embarrassed about what had happened. I had tried to face my fear and failed. So what, I thought. We are all afraid of something and sitting by the table later that evening, telling everyone that I had cried underwater, didn’t strike me as something to hide.
It dawned on me that fear is something we always have to deal with. That it is something we have always had to deal with. It’s a necessity of life. Without fear we would never have survived as a human race, it has kept us away from danger and taught us what to avoid.
But today most of us do not have to deal with real fear of being killed by wild animals. Instead, I believe, fear is in an ancestral way pushing itself towards the surface through other channels. We are afraid of inadequacy, scared that others will think we are incompetent, not smart enough and so on. Society demands that we must assert ourselves, be our best versions, and conquer both nature and our inner barriers.
I believe we have a need of being afraid of something; it is deeply rooted in our genes. Whether we are scared of travelling the world on our own or that a newfound love doesn’t feel the same way, being afraid is part of who we are.
And in our world of more modern traumas, there are also other survival mechanisms to it, so how do we deal with it then?
“Welcome it” an old woman told me, “take it as a sign that you are human, that you have feelings. But then let it go. Let the fear live its own life, not yours.”
“Welcome it? But does it not then prevail?” I asked.
“Not if you don’t let it. You have the means to control it. Face your fears and learn from the experience. You don’t always have to conquer your fears, but don’t let them conquer you either.”
Wow, what inspiring words, I thought, that’s really something to live by.
Needless to say, however – I’m not going on another night dive.
As I never saw the Spanish dancer I had to get a picture from someone who is a bit braver than me, so thanks to my divebuddy Kimmo Koivisto from Finland that provided me with the picture above.