As the decade draws to a close my beautiful Soul is encouraging me to reflect on how very far I’ve come. And I’m called to share this story, “Deep Dive Ascent.” It’s the story of a fateful SCUBA dive that I experienced nearly 30 years ago. I wrote this three years ago as my first attempt at blogging, though I never shared it publicly.
At the time, writing it felt like a monumental undertaking. I was plagued with near-crippling perfectionism and self-doubt. And I recall how vulnerable and tender it felt to write about something so personal, with the intent of sharing it publicly. I was in an entirely different place in all ways—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. It may as well have been another lifetime!
But I also knew that I needed to rediscover my voice. I knew I wanted to heal this disconnect, and I knew I would do this through writing and sharing.
This was before my coaching business, before this web site and blog, before many amazing things that are now my life. And yet I knew, I knew, there was another path waiting for me.
Through this post I honor my brave and wise (so wise!) Past Self, for I was very much in the Dark Night of the Soul when I wrote this, and I had the courage to journey out.
Before you set intentions for the coming year, take time to reflect on how very far you’ve come. Honoring your brave, wise Past Self deepens your love and self-compassion. And this will beautifully illuminate your journey into the future.
Deep Dive Ascent
Water is sacred to me. I’m drawn to it from a place deep within me, a timeless place. I find it to be both intimately familiar and a deep mystery, what it represents, what it does and can do, what it harbors. It’s captivating. And full of opportunity for transformation.
Twenty five years ago, in my late teens, I obtained my SCUBA certification and also an advanced certification. The culmination of our advanced training was the deep dive test, done in an old rock quarry in central Wisconsin. We had to dive to a depth of 90 feet, and prove that we still had our wits about us at depth. The test was to open a lock but we didn’t get the combo until we were in the cold darkness.
There was a collective nervous excitement as we suited up, entered the water and started our descent in buddy pairs down a guideline and flanked by our instructors. As the water became considerably colder, and the visibility more and more limited, I remember telling myself this was all about being about to do deep dives in clear, warm ocean waters. It was a means to much more enjoyable ends.
A couple times during our descent I noticed a bit of water getting inside my mask, just enough to be annoying. So I cleared my mask by cracking it slightly at the bottom and blowing out my nose.
At the 90 foot mark, we all huddled close, gathered around our instructors’ lights, the only source of illumination in the otherwise complete darkness. It felt like we were on another planet. We each waited our turn at the lock.
Water continued to leak into my mask. The pressure at depth increased the flow, making it even more annoying. I needed to clear it frequently. Finally, it was my turn to do the lock. The flashlight showed the combo on a wipe-off board and I looked down to work the lock. Blurry. Looking through water in my mask. Cleared it. Turn to first number, turn to the second number. Blurry. Clear. And turn to the last number. Click, the lock opened. Yep. Wits confirmed!
Everyone grabs the guideline and starts ascending. What’s that faint high pitched sound? I try to open my Eustachian tubes and there’s a bit of relief. But then it’s back, and getting louder. And more painful. And it all just intensifies. At about 30 feet I’m panicking. It’s like someone is blowing a referee whistle directly into both of my ears. I signal to my buddy that something’s wrong. He immediately waves over Paul, our instructor, and I tell him through signs that I’m in pain. And scared. As if he couldn’t already see it in my eyes. Paul signs that he’s staying with me and will help me. It calms me a bit. He partners up my buddy with another dive pair and they ascend ahead of us.
The remainder of the dive was an eternity for me. Because of our dive depth, we had to do a safety stop at 15 feet to clear nitrogen from our bodies. We needed to hang there for about 5 minutes before completing the dive. The entire time I was in excruciating pain, accompanied by non-stop referee whistles. My head felt like it was going to explode. Paul stayed very close to me, physically holding me the best he could, looking me straight in the eyes and signing to me each minute that passed. He was my lifeline.
When it was time to ascend, and I finally surfaced, it was glorious. The referee whistles instantly vanished. The intense pressure dissipated. I felt human again. And to be in the air, and the sun. It was splendid. Everything felt so vibrant. I had truly emerged.
We’d been down notably longer than anyone and as we swam to the edge of the quarry I could see the worry on their faces. Paul and the other instructor led me out of the water, and helped get my tank off my back. They asked lots of questions. I told them what I had felt. But that it was gone now. I only had a sense of fullness in my sinuses, like a bad head cold. In comparison to what I’d just experienced, it was completely tolerable.
Then, they let go of my arms. And I toppled directly over like a freshly cut tree. My equilibrium was totally shot.
I had suffered middle ear barotrauma. My left middle ear cavity had totally hemorrhaged, but I escaped the most severe damage of a perforated ear drum. My right ear also hemorrhaged but less so. Most likely, my mask wasn’t completed sealed from the beginning. Best guess is that I had a wrinkle in the strap across the back of my head, so the mask wasn’t tightly sealed around my face. As water leaked into my mask, and I kept clearing it, I eventually become congested while at depth. So, when I ascended, my Eustachian tubes were blocked and they couldn’t equalize the pressure. Divers call a reverse squeeze. Which sounds peculiarly affectionate. I assure you that it’s not!
It would take several days until I felt balanced while walking. I had to regain my sense of equilibrium. It would take a few weeks to completely recover. Turns out, it would take me awhile to get my wits together.
Out of the ocean of my life experiences this event recently surfaced in my mind, crystal clear. And I can see it as a deeply meaningful metaphor for a transformational journey.
Whether of our own volition or in response to circumstances we wouldn’t choose, our inner wisdom – our natural wisdom — is prepared to guide us during transformation. This wisdom draws us to things that are beyond our current understanding, enabling us to explore the depths and take ourselves beyond our comfort zones. For many of us this desire is borne from a yearning for greater connection to something far bigger, more elemental, than ourselves. And a yearning to share ourselves completely with it. Our ability to start the journey is often based in thinking that we’re prepared because we’ve read about it, or practiced some of the steps before. But this is our intellect talking. Transformation is not an intellectual journey.
As well-prepared as we believe ourselves to be, we are bound to overlook things that impact our journey. Some of those things may seem insignificant at the outset and become big things when we’re under pressure. These things may start as an annoyance and evolve into something very important, oh, like a slightly wrinkled mask strap. They may be also be the beautiful gifts that we each carry with us and too-often overlook, like courage, compassion and resilience.
The journey of life is anything but linear. We would do well to increase the strength of our connection to our natural wisdom. It serves as our internal compass guiding us the direction to go. Changes of course and transitions may be painful, they may rattle our senses, they may even leave us discombobulated for some time. But, when we listen and stay connected to our natural wisdom, we know each next step. We know the direction to go. Our spiritual, emotional and even physical lives depend upon it.
But we cannot do this alone. Most importantly, we need each other. It may be just one person. One other soul. One person to witness our struggle. To acknowledge our pain, and to break the hardest parts of our journey into tiny steps that are tolerable, achievable and that move us forward. This may be same person throughout our journey and they may be well aware of their role – a family member, dear friend, coach, mentor. Or, if we are open to experiencing it, different people may appear to us for each step. We under-value the impact of the simplest of gestures – a warm smile, a kind look, a heartfelt thank you.
Each day, we are all bearing witness to each other’s transformative journeys. We are all in a position to help each other during our deep dive ascents, and in whatever happens once we emerge. Let’s commit to listen to and learn from each other more deeply. Let’s ask powerful questions and encourage expansive thinking. And let’s create the space to support each other in strengthening our connection to our natural wisdom.
Are you ready to journey out of your Dark Night of the Soul? You are so brave and you are so wise. It’s time to reclaim your natural wisdom. I invite you to apply for a free Breakthrough Session. Let’s chat and learn if we’re a good fit. You deserve a guide on your journey and it would be an honor to serve you.