Life seems to deal in a quantum way, in whole units.
Spending time underwater changes your perspective on life. It may sound trite to say that it’s peaceful under the sea, or that diving to the depths brings me to my own inner depths, but it’s very true. Since I’ve been diving, I find I’ve become much more philosophical about certain things. I think that is one of those things that happens to people who venture into extreme environments. I’ve heard that mountain climbers experience a similar phenomenon. Whatever the reason, I find myself thinking about what we can learn about life from the principles that we use to stay safe on a dive.
- Don’t hold your breath. This sounds like a no-brainer, but there is more to it than you think. While diving it is dangerous to hold your breath, particularly while ascending from a dive, because air expands as pressure decreases. To use up that air and avoid overinflating the lungs, divers must breathe out slowly while ascending. Holding your breath while ascending can result in pulmonary barotrauma.
In everyday life, holding your breath for a few seconds will not actually cause injury to the lungs, but I have learned that taking time to breathe slowly and deeply on a regular basis can be surprisingly beneficial to one’s physical and mental health. I’ve found that when I dive regularly, the slow and steady breathing that I practice during the dives comes naturally to me on land as well. You would think that breathing slowly would slow me down in everything that I do, but it doesn’t. I find that breathing slowly makes me more focused and less volatile. When unexpected things happen, such as my computer suddenly crashing, I stay calmer than I used to and I can resolve problems faster. I’ve started to practice taking deep breaths whenever I am in a crisis or am trying to meet a deadline. Slow and steady really does win the race in life; slow, calm, focused actions accomplish more faster than rushing around does.
- Use the “buddy system.” Hikers and most outdoor enthusiasts know this rule as well as divers do. Maybe you think it is unlikely that anything will go wrong, but if anything does, you will be glad to have a buddy to help disentangle you if you get caught in something, or to share your air supply if something goes wrong with your equipment. A buddy is essentially an emergency back-up person who can help you when you need it.
In life, we all need an emergency backup person. In fact, it is even better to have an emergency support network of friends and family. None of us would survive our childhoods if we did not have some kind of emergency support network at some point in time. But adults need support too. Friends and family not only can feed and shelter us when we are completely broke, but also provide emotional perspective when we go through life’s traumas. It may be hard to cultivate a support network, or even find a diving buddy, if you are shy or very introverted. However, it is important to find a way to stay in touch with family and friends even when you do not much feel like it. You may not realize it, but your family and friends rely on you for emotional support as much as you rely on them, even if you are the strong silent type.
- Check your equipment. The reason you might find yourself in need is that things do go wrong from time to time. Not only can you get entangled, entrapped, or hit your head during a dive, but equipment can get old and coroded and therefore, malfunction. Having a buddy is one way to prepare for an emergency, but another way is to check your equipment before you dive to make sure that it is functioning properly. If something isn’t working, it’s better to find that out on the surface rather than when you are 150 feet down and getting ready to make your ascent.
Like breathing deeply, checking my equipment regularly is a dive habit that I can’t (and don’t want to) break, even when I am on land. I find that since I’ve been diving, I have become much more careful about car maintenance, changing the filters on the furnace in my house, and even backing up the data on my computer. I think I’ve avoided several crises that would have caused unnecessary stress in my life as a result. We don’t realize how dependent we are on technology until something breaks down or the power goes out.
- Plan your dive and dive your plan. If you are certified as a diver, you probably recognize this phrase from your diving certification class. When you are 100 feet down and taking pictures of a coral reef, it’s not the time or the place to change your diving plan. It’s not that easy to communicate complicated changes of plan to your buddy (of course, you are always diving with a buddy) when you are underwater.
In life, I find that I like to have a plan. It’s not that I don’t appreciate spontaneity, but I just happen to get better outcomes when I make a plan and follow it. While traveling, for example, I plan where I am going to stay overnight and how I am going to get there. I even plan how I will get from the airport to my hotel, especially if I am going to be in a strange city or in a country that I’ve never visited before. I plan how much money I need to bring along, plus a little extra for emergencies. At work, I plan how I will spend my day. I always make a list of things that need to be accomplished, and I have an idea of how long each item on my list will take. I try to leave a little extra time in case something unusual happens. The thing I love about planning my dive, or planning my day, is that it takes away much of the stress that I would otherwise experience in life. I hate stress. It makes me break out in a rash, gives me a headache, and causes my blood pressure to spike. I just don’t need that. Do you?
- Ascend slowly and with control. If you’re not a diver, you may find this puzzling. But even in an emergency, divers coming up from the deep need to ascend slowly and continue to inhale and exhale slowly and evenly (as noted above), in order to reach the surface with healthy, uninjured lungs. It doesn’t matter if you see a shark, have a cramp, or if you suddenly remembered that you left the stove on at home. You have to ascend slowly. Panicking will only harm you.
In everyday life, breaking into a panic won’t usually injure our lungs. However, it is still very rewarding to keep your calm. As in diving, breathing slowly and steadily helps as well as moving slowly and with control. One of the best assets we can have in life is the ability to stop and think, assess the situation, and determine what needs to be done. Then, you can proceed steadily and do everything that you need to do. Staying calm is almost always your best hope of resolving the situation, no matter what kind of emergency you are facing.
As I look back at these principles, they may sound a bit conservative, especially for you risk takers out there. But I really do believe that in life, as in diving, preparation and calm readiness is the key to success. Expect the unexpected and when the unexpected occurs, you will be ready.
Jacob Mojiwat is passionate about sharing the wonders of scuba diving with others. He is the owner of AsiaDivingVacation.com. His dive company takes divers diving in Sipadan Malaysia as well at other Asia dive destinations.