snorkel portrait by: Grace Lichtner
The more I test out the waters of this month’s mission, the more I realize that I am still just skimming the surface. There is so much to learn under each layer of this task. I am taking my time though allowing myself to sink in, trying on new skins and breathing in unfamiliar patterns. I am finding it both uncomfortable yet sometimes surprisingly helpful and illuminating.
I have been practicing the suspension of my own beliefs and understanding of the world. I’m letting go of what I know to be true for a moment and learning about other people’s truths, hopes, fears and dreams. Experiencing these vantage points, or perspectives has proved to be a worthwhile adventure.
It’s hard to explain the exact different ideas and revelations that I am having with this experience without talking about the specific people who I am spending time with and interacting with. However I feel that its important to refrain from revealing any personal information about anyone else other than myself on this blog, so I will try to describe in a physical sense what it feels like to practice diving into to someone else’s territory.
As I said before, I am taking things slow this month, not rushing over or passing by what lessons may be learned from trying out this simple exercise. The best way I can describe my process is by comparing it to my recent snorkeling expeditions.
Before coming to St. Croix, I was not very confidant with my swimming abilities in the ocean. Being surrounded by unpredictable currents and a plethora of foreign creatures in the sea can be anxiety inducing. Even here in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, the wide open blue under the sea can be a welcoming or frightening place, depending on how you look at it. What is that moving over there? Is that beautiful creature a barracuda or box-fish, a sand dollar or a sting ray? Looking down over the conch shells, spikey sea urchins and massive brain coral makes me feel like I am flying over rugged surreal landscapes. In a place without maps, I use the coral reefs and the sea fans as navigational clues to chart my path below. I watch the fish swim in schools; they make me think of flocks of birds flying in formations in the sky. I often forget if I am looking down or up in this underwater world.
But I am becoming more comfortable! Each day, I’m less anxious tipping my head under and venturing in letting the colors calm me. It is certainly a different world under there but the more often I visit the more similarities to my world I find, than differences. I am starting to understand what the creatures around me are, what they do, how they move, what they eat. Instead of fearing them, I am respecting them and am impressed and intrigued.
Knowledge was not the only adjustment I had to make though, I also had to make some physical changes – the first being my breathing. In order to fluidly adapt to this new environment, I had to stop breathing in the way that I knew how to.
Every day I wake up and start to breathe and I don’t think about it. But wearing a snorkel mask changes a few things. You no longer can breathe in or out of your nose. It doesn’t take long to train yourself to breathe in this new way – but I must admit it does take time for it to feel comfortable or normal. I recommend walking around one day wearing a snorkel mask for a few hours and see what it does for you. Besides making people think you’re a bit nuts, it might help you focus on your breathing.
I also noticed pretty quickly that in the water, I had to change my pace and depth of my breath. I needed to balance my swimming speed, allow myself to float and slow my breath down. Gasping for air only left me with a mouthful of saltwater. And kicking furiously only scared the fish away. I needed to become more relaxed, fluid and calm, if I was going to properly experience this new environment. I needed to use my spy training skills stop thinking and start sensing! This is what helps me become invisible allowing me to float effortlessly and unseen taking in all my surroundings but not rippling the water with my own fears and intentions. After all – I am only an invited guest in these waters. In a place as pristine as this, I don’t even want to leave footprints.
The snorkel expeditions have allowed me to, stay connected with my comfort zone, (the air-breathing world above) while at the same time inviting me to experience the water-breathing world below.
Now the only question left now is when will I be ready to stop skimming the surface? What preparations are needed to be ready to dive in fully. I don’t think any actual scuba lessons are in my immediate February future but if there ever was a place and time that I would be welcomed and comforted in the underwater and unknown territories it would be here in these beautiful virgin islands. I am finding St. Croix to be the perfect place to open the mind and heart to new ways of thinking, breathing, and believing. I am sure the next few weeks will help prepare me for my big dive.
Sending lots of love to all my readers and to the island of St. Croix on this Valentines Day!