In The Zone

What does it take to be a good diver? More to the point, what does it take to be able to dive at all? Let’s first tackle the obvious. Diving does take some physical ability, not much, but some. Other recreational sports such as tennis, skiing, racquetball, etc, demand greater physical conditioning and skill than diving, but being in reasonable shape and having adequate swimming skills is necessary one is not required to possess a degree in quantum physics to dive, but one must be able to understand the rules of breathing compressed air while at depth. Finally, good old common sense is still the most valuable asset one can possess when exploring beneath surface of the ocean.

Okay, lets say you signed up for a scuba course, bought the gear, have a good instructor and have every intention of becoming certified. Like any beginner you would approach diving as you would most conventional sporting activities with the attitude, “you show me how to do this thing called scuba diving and I will do it.” You might struggle with the mask and snorkel on the beach dive and feel “out of your element ” for a time but will probably dismiss this feeling as a part of your initiation process. After your first dive in the ocean these feelings could well be intensified. Perhaps a little anxiety appears, or you are pushed to the edge of real discomfort. These reactions are not uncommon, generally most people new to the ocean are going to feel uncomfortable for a time. Yet these harbored feelings are often viewed as a kind of weakness or even failure on the part of the new diver, one that is often difficult to shake. Thus the struggle to adapt to the ocean begins, and the journey to become a good diver becomes apparent.

When we human beings submerge into this new environment, the sensory tools which we depend on for our safety and well-being in our air-bound earth-world; hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and vision, become dulled, less effective, and in come cases virtually useless. Thus it is quite natural for our bodies to react with strong feelings of vulnerability. To ask our bodies to make this radical jump and feel perfectly at ease and comfortable under the water after a half dozen dives is unrealistic.

If the new diver’s sense of vulnerability was all he had to deal with under the water the acclimation to it would be simpler than it is. But there is a kicker in this mix that makes initial entry into the ocean a bit more difficult than it should be.

Since childhood we all have been building a belief system about ourselves and the world around us. We were supplied with information on subjects in which we did not or could not have a direct learning experience. One of these was the ocean. Even if you lived near the water, much of your early information was incomplete and fraught with fear. We were told to watch out for the waves, be careful of the rip currents, there are big sharks out there etc, etc… Soon we were entertained by stories and movies of dangerous sea creatures and mysterious oceans that hid them. The ocean has always been one of the great unknowns and unfortunately, our culture loves to speculate about the unknown in terms of danger and death. Danger sells in our society and we are barraged by it. Bottom line, from childhood to adulthood we have been conditioned, in varying degrees, to regard the ocean as a potentially dangerous environment.

When new divers first experience the ocean often times these dormant fears spring to life, fueled by the vulnerability the body is feeling. Together this combination produces tension, fear, and anxiety, leaving the diver silently stricken within.

Okay, fine, you say, all that is very interesting, but I already dive. What has it got to do with me being a better diver? Actually it very much has to do with being a better diver. For us to be free in the ocean, to dive to the limit of our potential and to function as effectively as we can underwater, we must deal with this rather unique phenomenon, this conspiracy of negative beliefs combined with our body’s strong sense of vulnerability.

Everyone who dives, particularly the beginner, needs a place in the ocean to comfortably learn what it is all about; to debunk the old belief system, and give the body a chance to become accustomed to the constant movement, the weightlessness, and the limited vision; a place that feels safe and secure where the diver can experience the ocean on his own terms. This place is the Comfort Zone. (CZ)

CZ’s are as varied and unique as the individuals using them. They can be found anywhere from an oversized tide pool to a quiet cove of still water. The key element is how the individual feels about that particular space in the water. It has to be a place where the diver can thoroughly relax and enjoy herself. The idea is to let the body and mind get to know the ocean.

All you need is a mask, a pair of fins, a snorkel and a wetsuit if the water is cold. When you are relaxed and comfortable your body is functioning at its best and thus is acclimating to the environment.

The negative belief system of the ocean cannot be triggered under these conditions and will fall away, being replaced by direct, firsthand ocean information. Occasionally you will have to monitor your progress, “am I comfortable, its this where I want to be, am I having fun?” If your answer is no, as it sometimes will be, then you can assume you have drifted out of your CZ. When this occurs go back to where you can answer those questions in the affirmative.

A couple of tips. Stay in your own CZ rather than another diver’s. If you wish to dive with a buddy, then stay in the CZ of the least experienced diver. Through free diving in your CZ you will soon have a clear idea of your strengths and limitations in the water. The better free diver you are the better scuba diver you will become.

It is difficult to generalize how long this acclimation process with take. Each individual has their own timetable; for some it will happen quickly, for others perhaps several years might me needed before the body can regard the water as a friend and no longer feels vulnerable. Speed is not the issue, enjoyment of a unique environment is. As your body adapts you will discover the unfolding of a sense of freedom within yourself and this will encourage you to begin to explore new ocean territory. Your CZ will expand (and sometimes contract) as you grow as a diver. Eventually you may come to the place that is your limit, and anything beyond that limit is uncomfortable water. Recognize it and stay within your limits.

As a new diver your CZ is a point of beginning, as an experienced diver it is the area where you function best; where the ocean wilderness opens up to your clear eye, where nothing shadows your view or restricts your movements. The good diver knows the ocean he can operate in; he knows where to look and what to look for. He travels through this remarkable world with the relaxed ease of just another ocean inhabitant. The CZ can take you there, whether you are a beginner, or an experienced diver. Rediscover what drew you to the ocean, it is a magical world filled with mystery, beauty and abundant life that lies hidden just beyond the door of anxiety and fear. Find the key that opens that door. The CZ is that key.

Carlos Eyles

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