FREEDIVING IN RECOVERY: Breathless Meditation
“Until now I never thought I’d have the lung capacity to hold my breath for longer then it takes to chase the dragon”
Freediving in Recovery By Rebecca Illing
My name is Rebecca and I am an addict… and a freediver. There is very little I seem to know as time goes by. But, I wish to never forget I’m an addict and the water is one of the greatest tools I have in recovery to heal and quieten this loud mind.
As I sat staring out at sea. I was under the impression I was in the most serene idyllic place my eyes and mind had ever seen. This was a short-lived moment interrupted by David, (my soon to become freedive mentor), “wow! Your mind is so loud!! How do you relax?” somewhat offended by this comment understandably I shrugged him off. After all its MY mind and I’m stuck with it thank you very much!
I’m not alone in the noise. … this is my mind and I have found a new way to deal with it.
Two years ago my life changed. The comment above became, and still remains, one of the keys to two of many recent impactful realisations. One, I’m not alone in the noise. Two, this is my mind and I have found a new way to deal with it.
For those of you who are not familiar with freediving, essentially we hold our breaths and go into the pool or sea and swim down as far, long and deep as our bodies and minds permit. The term freediving is very much associated with the competitive sport which makes most of us look at the divers competing as super humans with extraordinary special powers. This may well be not too far from the truth!
Photo Credit: Karim Iliya for What Took You So Long?
In fact freediving has been practiced perhaps as far back as ancient Greece. It was the only method available to gather food from the sea and other resources such as pearls and sponges (Greeks already used sponges for bathing) – there was obviously no breathing equipment available in those times. We can also trace freediving back 2,000 years to the Ama divers in Japan who still continue to dive without oxygen tanks to collect pearls from the sea bed!
For me it’s become a lifestyle – a breathless meditation.
Freediving offers the opportunity to gently encounter challenging aspects of oneself. The water seems to be a bed for the noise in our heads to lie down and rest on.
Until now I never thought I’d have the lung capacity to hold my breath for longer then it takes to chase the dragon. I guess I finally put my old skills to good use.
I came into recovery a broken woman. Drugs and an eating disorder had brought me to my knees. What’s keeping me in recovery today is the addict mind I hear everyone talking about.
This mind works fast, gets overwhelmed easily, it’s in constant fear. But this mind is me! I struggle to keep up. I get angry and frustrated and I want to change the way I think and feel. The old methods of escapism don’t work anymore. So how does freediving play such an important role in my recovery along side the 12 Steps?
When we want to go and play in the water we take a friend with us. A buddy. We are there to support one another in our dives and make sure we get to the surface safely. It’s important to observe each movement and listen to the silent language spoken only when diving. Something happens to us when we immerse our bodies in the water.. as soon as the head is under.. immediately it’s sedated by this sensation.. with a snorkel in the mouth you breath in and out.. nice, long, slow breaths.. looking down into the blue there is a sense of excitement and urgency within.. now you want to duck dive and get down there quickly.. but your buddy gently places his hands on your shoulders.. they drop.. and you begin to feel more relaxed.. the more chilled and sleepy you are, the better the dive. Most importantly the more connected and tuned in to yourself.. the more powerful the experience becomes. Intimate.
” …your mind is telling you all kinds of things “you’re crazy”, “you can’t do this”, “Oh now you think your a fish!”
Photo Credit: Karim Iliya
Meditation and yoga can really contribute to anyone wishing to become more relaxed and aware. But the dive itself is the most intense form of meditation I have encountered so far. My understanding of meditation centres around the idea of becoming more present in ‘the now’ and quieting the chattering in our heads, ideally to be free of thought. One simple way of doing this is to focus on our breathing. Ah, but that moment just after an inhale, just before an exhale… that moment!! Is magic! It’s present. I want to hold onto that moment for just a little more time.
Freediving is about being suspended in between breaths. To prolong the hold.. that in between state.. Why? To have fun! So you can go down and play, with fish, coral, people; and be with yourself!
The idea of being with yourself can be terrifying if left with that busy, loud mind. But very early in recovery some wise old timers told me to be kind to those noises in my head. Allow the wounds to speak.. not be paralysed by the fear that kept me hostage.
There is something about the guidelines my mentor David gave me about freediving that I can’t help but find so relevant to recovery. When you reach a place where you feel you have to come up from a dive and your mind is telling you all kinds of things “you’re crazy”, “you can’t do this”, “Oh now you think your a fish!” and all the other endless insecurities stored inside.. Of course there’s a need to be wise and move slowly towards the surface. However, there is also chance to pause in the mind and negotiate. This negotiation has been a gift! To talk and share honestly, swim out of the superficial and dive into the intimate.
Today my heart and mind listen, I’m teachable. Today I live. With all the beauty, love, insanity and imperfections inside and out. The gift I wish to share with you is how I cope. See this as an invitation.. to explore our minds and get vulnerable in and out of the sea.. Freediving welcomes you. You and your mind are not alone.