SCUBA Diving's Life Lessons

Diving isn't just great adventure, it's a chance to commune with the Great Universals and enhance our total life experience.

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in Over The Edge, September 1994

The invention of scuba equipment brought to humanity the opportunity to travel in and experience our planet's last great unexplored dimension. Scuba and human physiology still limit depth and duration of dives, but with some 72% of the earth's surface covered with water, an avid diver will never be wont for a new place to dive. And when we dive in the enticing and wondrous realm beneath the waves, we leave most everything behind that makes up who and what we are on dry land. However, life beyond the water column, back home on terra firma, can and should be beautifully enriched by our aquatic experiences. For not only does some 90% of all living matter inhabit the marine world, but many of life's lessons can best be learned there as well.

Central to the scuba experience is air (it's implied in the name, after all). What all divers want is maximum bottom time, generally achieved through more efficient usage of a finite amount of air. The method, then, for increasing dive time is the practice of Maximal Return for Minimal Investment.

We breath less on scuba by exerting less and stressing less, by being more calm and centered. This is the ancient principle of "waste not, want not" in action here. Don't waste a breath, a heart beat, a calorie, or a drop of body water, and you won't be wanting them. Simply put, if we're not efficient divers, our dives will be short and less productive. The same goes for life on land.

This diving efficiency is developed with mindfulness of our body's movements and functions. Breath can be controlled and fluidity of motion can be achieved. This in-water awareness training leads to graceful movement, extending our bottom time and empowering us to look and act less like invaders of the marine world when we're enjoying it. Then our marine cousins will feel less colonialized by our presence and perhaps be more willing to share the secrets of their world.

Marine creatures don't fight gravity like we do on land; they move three-dimensionally. And when we dive, we're weightless as well for a time. But this doesn't have to end when we head home and again bear the weight of the world on our shoulders. It's a fact that toddlers shrink an inch or more when they start to walk; that's gravity in action, but awareness of this can lead to a physiological response. So think of this life lesson literally and metaphorically: let diving teach you postural awareness, graceful movement, and how to evade as much as possible the deleterious effects of gravity; likewise, remember that you've never seen a wrinkled, stressed out porpoise, either. We're not crippled and physically inhibited in the water, so we needn't be on land. Simple.

But there's more, and pardon me for the pun: diving teaches us to go with the flow, literally. Surge goes as deep as half of a wavelength, but it goes much deeper in teaching us beautiful truths about life on earth. There's no need to swim against the direction of surge current, for a diver knows that "this, too, shall pass." Simply wait a few seconds, perhaps anchoring yourself by holding onto a rock or kelp stipe, and the flow will soon go in the desired direction. (I like to think of "conservation of momentum" at these moments.) Also, ever notice that if you just free-float and let the surge go back and forth, back and forth, that you'll keep returning to the same central spot? Life is like that for some. Our surroundings may ebb and flow, but one stays centered either way.

The oceans are also the great metaphor of the human body in a wider sense. That's because it's no coincidence that the body, like the surface of the earth, is made up of roughly 72% water. We are water creatures on a water planet, with nothing more intimate to our survival than the precious fluid. Diving presents unique physiological challenges to our bodies, thus serving to bring our awareness and attention to water. For instance, dehydration is integral to the diving experience due to inhaling dry, compressed air and exhaling humid air (our normal breath), as well as the cold water diuresis that naturally follows from the heat superconductivity of water. In turn, this inevitable increase in dehydration slows the release of inert gases in the bloodstream, a condition all divers wish to avoid. The life lesson: water is the elixir of life; don't neglect it or take it for granted. Stay super hydrated in and out of the water column and you'll live and move better.

It's stating the obvious that diving encourages a deeper appreciation for the marine environment as well as the interconnectedness that exists between the oceans and the land. This lesson comes closer to home when a diver falls ill from water-borne human pollution. Wise divers recon their virgin dive sites, searching for spewing sewage pipes, factories, and other sources of nasty toxins and poisons. But how many divers use this awareness, and justified fear, of water pollution for more than choosing a safe dive site? Joining Greenpeace or the Cousteau Society is only a small step in acting on this life lesson. Let your horror at even a single piece of human trash defiling the seascape remain with you back on land. Then do something about it. Action, not words.

Earth is one great biosphere, a living organism in its own right. And when we use diving to open up more of this living world to us, we are presented with yet more opportunities to learn about life and life's lessons. I would even go so far as to say that the oceans expect us to learn these life lessons in return for the privilege of visiting the watery realm. So strive to dive with awareness, intuition, elegance, and grace. Your diving enjoyment will be magnified exponentially, and so will the dry time when you're not diving, but instead have your feet planted on the ground. Keeping one foot in the ocean, so to speak, keeps the portal open to life lessons about the Great Universals. Don't blow that opportunity anymore than you would your precious air supply.