Unfamiliar gear strapped to my back: the bulk heavy with anticipation. We checked each others tanks to make sure we had wrestled them on correctly, rubik-cubed the snorkle on to the mask and spit at the appropriate time and place to prevent mask fog, all in preparation for our first dive.
With anticipatory thoughts of Caribbean resorts, steel drums, warm white sand beach and rum punch, we slid as a unified conga line of bright untanned bodies into bold, icy water. If you live in the north, and you want to learn to scuba dive, you may find yourself at a middle school, facing the cold chlorined water at the shallow end of a pool, colorful triangular flags draped above your head as if to cheer you on.
The instructor explained we would be sitting at the bottom of the pool for five minutes to become accustomed to our equipment and the experience of being underwater. We all looked at each other with excitement and confidence. “We have got this.” After all, this was only three feet of water. No problem. Each person began to lower themselves onto the the floor of the pool and after the hoots and howlers as ice water met belly, we adjusted our masks and settled into the five minute wait. It was about 90 seconds into our underwater meditation when the first diver shot straight up out of the water, followed by another and another, until each participant had bolted upward out of the water, pulled their mouthpiece out of their mouth, gasping for air. We looked at each other with a befuddled look, unclear of what had just happened.
After that first minute underwater, the body reminds you, “hey, your lungs are going to run out of air, you should find some soon.” Following the body response, we forgot the tank on our back and exited our underwater sadhana. We had been holding our breath.
Difficulties in life capture us in a similar fashion. We find ourselves sitting at the bottom of a cold pool, willing ourselves on, the pressure of life pressing in on every side. The desire to jump up and out of the discomfort over takes us and all we can think of is taking a deep breath of fresh air.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like discomfort: preferring to walk out my worries, meditate my misery, or whiskey away the day. While I don’t enjoy discomfort, I am finding the value of allowing myself to stay in the middle of it. To experience as fully as I am able, my sadness, my worry, or my joy. Yes, even joy can be uncomfortable.
As we practice sitting in the discomfort of our situation, (after our initial panic of finding ourself here yet again) we also encounter this strange truth: we can actually breath underwater. It is the teaching of the two arrows we spoke about last week. It is our response to the first arrow that defines our experience.
Discomfort and unfamiliarity got in the way of enjoying our first moments underwater and the wonder of it all. We had what we needed to breath underwater, however our discomfort captured us and sent upward for a breath, when all along “the breath” was strapped to our back. Sitting in the discomfort grows our capacity to handle stress, and strengthens our ability to be resilient. Sometime we meditate or take a walk in the woods: other times we go out for a drink with friends – all ways to bring us balance and centeredness. However when we practice staying in the discomfort little by little, rather than trying to jump out of it, we grow stronger and our ability to handle the stress of life, (even the really tough stuff) grows.
Author Anne LaMott says, “My mind is a neighborhood I try not to go in alone.” Grab a friend, or make a new one and have a seat. Take a deep breath. Remember this week, when you are feeling underwater, breathe. Hold space for one another. You already have what it takes to breath under water.