In his book Deep: Free Diving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves, James Nestor explains how he learned to free dive. For Nestor the process was not as simple as just getting into the water and learning to hold his breath. At first he had a real fear of reaching new depths, and this fear held him back from truly being able to free dive and experience the physical and psychological changes that accompany free diving. One of his free diving coaches was a woman named Hanli Prinsloo who helped Nestor learn to free dive by helping him connect with the ocean in an almost spiritual manner. Prinsloo turned to her own story to help Nestor understand how to connect to the ocean, and Nestor shares that story in the book. Prinsloo isolated herself from society in a spiritual retreat focusing on philosophy and self awareness through practices such as yoga and conscious breathing. Recounting one of Prinsloo’s personal trips to Dharmsala, India Nestor writes,
“At the end of her stay, she rediscovered a “stillness” in herself. it was the same stillness that had first attracted her to free diving fifteen years earlier, but it had been lost in her ambition to keep going deeper.”
“In Dharamsala, I remembered that free diving was all about letting go,” she says. “After Dahab, I was reminded again, that you can never force yourself into the ocean. You do that and” – she pauses – “you’ll just get lost.”
To me, and this was apparent when I first read the quote, the idea of stillness seems to also represent complete self awareness. Our lives are very busy and rushed, and we often force ourselves into situations that are not always the best. Often times we are pursuing goals both good and bad, and without a moment of stillness we lack the ability to truly reflect on our path and realign ourselves. When you lose this stillness by constantly seeking an outcome you become lost in what you are doing. There must be stillness as a place for you to stay grounded.
Prinsloo’s story shows us the power of connecting with nature, and also the danger in chasing after goals without thinking of how your struggle for those goals affects you and those around you. Philosophy and self awareness helped Prinsloo to see that by diving for deeper goals she was missing out on enjoying the ocean that she was submerged in. I think this correlates nicely with our lives in many ways. It is easy to become so focused on a single area in life to forget about the world, interactions, and relationships that surround us. Prinsloo needed a moment to step away from her goals and chaos to understand her true desires and see what path she should follow.