Pushing Your Limits: Good or Bad?
I shouldn’t be here. If it weren’t for divine intervention or something like it, I wouldn’t be here.
Sometimes things happen to us in our lives that we can’t explain.
Often when we can’t explain something, we default to the principle of Occam’s Razor, the reductive philosophy which says that without answers, the least number of assumptions is best.
Or, after this or that occurred, people explain, “God did it.”
I have experienced this unexplainable circumstance. I am still trying to figure out what happened to me, and why it happened when it happened.
Here is my story.
As a human being, I am curious. As a Scuba instructor, I am an explorer by nature. I like to go underwater and look under rocks and around coral to discover magical, colorful, exotic life forms. The discovery of things in Scuba diving is also a neat metaphor for my theological and existential digging around to unearth ideas to questions that sit unanswered in my mind.
I like to push my limits: What happens if I try this or do that, I often think to myself.
As I approached my 30th birthday living on the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas with hundreds of dives under my belt and in peak physical condition, I had a sense of invincibility. I decided to test my limits by doing a deep dive. Alone. I told nobody of my plans.
Permit me a moment to digress. The feeling of invincibility is both fun and ignorant. It stinks of hubris but also tastes pretty damn sweet. When we test ourselves, we find we can do what we didn’t think we could do before we tried to do them or were afraid to try in the first place. This is testing your limits. This is living. Really living.
Here are some examples from my life:
Jumping out of an airplane. And discovering fear was just an emotion living in my head.
Not eating solid food for 10 days. And discovering heightened energy, taste, and smell.
Shaving my head and bleaching my remaining hair. And changing others’ perceptions of me.
Writing a book. And discovering how writing is fun and cathartic.
Writing another book. And finding an audience while reinforcing my philosophy.
Holding my breath underwater longer than I thought possible. And going deeper to see things that were initially beyond my scope.
Immersing myself in a foreign culture and co-existing in a different language. And making new friends while losing my inhibition.
Distance swimming alone in an open ocean. And becoming one with my breath and other aquatic creatures in their environment. And learning that fear is just another emotion.
Going to graduate school at 50. And discovering that knowledge is power and leads to the desire for more knowledge and there is always more to learn. And learning is fun!
Ending a marriage and living alone. And being fine by myself while enjoying new interests and hobbies.
Swimming from San Francisco around Alcatraz without a wetsuit. And making memories with friends while showing my kids that anything is possible.
Deep diving in Scuba. Alone. And learning a lesson that fostered this essay. That every mistake can also be a lesson. That too much ego is a problem. That our experiences lead to more, better understanding.
Ego challenges us to do things. Fear tells us not to do them. Experience sometimes, usually, thanks us for trying to do those things, while wisdom asks us not to keep doing them anymore the way we did them before.
They battle each other.
They create good stories and meaning from which we draw when considering new challenges.
Do I take the theoretical jump? Is there a reasonable hope for a net? What could happen as result?
I tend to focus on the positive aspects of the outcome not the potential ramifications of the risk. I don’t understand people who focus on the potential obstacles instead of the goal. I never assume that I can’t do something, or that the answer is no. I always try or ask. But, that is just my perspective.
I believe that the confidence we develop in ourselves is often instilled in us by our parents at a young age. They gave us the confidence and the net to feel comfortable taking those chances: And to know what it is like to really live: To give meaning to our existence.
To be audacious.
They say to “plan your dive and dive your plan.” But I had no real plan, except to go deeper than ever before and just experience it. In Scuba Diving, really deep means really dangerous too.
See, the deeper you go, the more toxic the air you breathe becomes because oxygen transforms into nitrogen. Nitrogen is dangerous because it is intoxicating and lethal beginning at 100 feet and multiplying as you get deeper. This toxic but necessary component of air, trapped in your bloodstream can cause bubbles that expand when ascending. They can kill you if you go too fast and the bubbles reach your brain.
Scuba divers should never dive more than 120 feet unless taking special precautions like breathing from a tank of specially mixed air made for deeper dives.
On this occasion, I just went down with regular air in my tank. Again, alone. Not feet first as most divers do when carefully equalizing the pressure in your head every few feet, but headfirst with brazen aggressiveness like a magnetized torpedo being pulled to its unknown target.
Deeper. Faster. Let’s Go!
Past 100 feet in no time.
Past 120 feet without slowing. The soothing feeling began as if I had just enjoyed a large glass of wine. Losing the vibrant colors as light diminishes. Yippeee.
Past 150 feet while kicking my fins to propel my descent. A second glass of wine the nitrogen may have provided. Feeling fine. The auditory sense is now more powerful than the visual as everything I look at becomes a dull tint of grey. Hey now!
Past 200 feet. I’m flying now. The tint of grey has an iron sound. It feels like a Percocet added to the wine. It is getting darker. Whooooeee!
Past 250 feet. Total freedom. Supersonic. Numb yet blissful. Muscle relaxer to boot? Why not, it feels so good! Where am I? Nothing to see, no reference point, the abyss below and above. That’s what I am talking about!
Past 300 feet. Sight becomes a blended dimension with other senses — all deadened yet simultaneously and confusingly heightened. The sound of my breathing reverberates ominously in my brain like Darth Vader gasping behind his mask before evildoing. Morphine must be coursing through my bloodstream. I am invincible. Still descending. The darkness is calling for me like a lullaby sung to a sedated, sleeping baby.
Come to me now. She hums. Let’s embrace, softly, slowly, sleepy. Hold me. I feel the warm embrace. We are together now. In harmony and peace. aahhh.
Past 310 feet. Nothingness. Blacked out? Maybe. No memory of reading my depth on my gauge or knowing where I was. Maybe back in the womb? Nurtured. Safe. Thanks, mom. Comfortably numb. Pink Floyd. Dark Side of the Moon. Come see me, feel me, touch me, stay with me… she continued to melodiously sing. Darth became higher pitched like frozen icicles of steel being inhaled in harmony with Enya while they tantrically embraced. OMMmmm…
321 feet. Snap! Maybe? Or a boom without sound. What did I hit? Nothing physically. But. Something definitely stopped me. Yet something else was still pulling me further down. The tug of war is tied here and now. Deep enough my subconscious must have told me. But there was no real, conscious thought activity. My brain was flooded with stimuli that only sent my body messages of bliss. Surely this is heaven.
Somehow, something, not an external voice, told me that was enough depth. Yet, I had no real cognitive ability to discern between good and bad decisions. Fascinated, yet barely conscious, I listened to and watched the bubbles from my breath rise as if they were separate life forms. The sound tickled my eardrums.
But they were singing a different song now. Follow me they may have said. Without really knowing how or why, I decided. I turned upward, lifted my head and my body followed. My feet decided to do a slow dolphin kick which generated an upward ascent.
What triggered my action? I can’t explain, even to myself. What happened here? Somehow, I was ascending without having any awareness of a decision.
Something in me chose life.
Or something around me stopped me from going deeper.
Or something called me up. Reversal of the magnet that pulled me down?
I have no idea.
300 feet. I can see that my bubbles are going up. That must be the correct direction. Follow the bubbles, I must have thought. I can barely hear the melody now. Other thoughts began to formulate. But I couldn’t make out the verse.
250 feet. Can’t go up faster than the bubbles, I barely remember telling myself. My computer says I need to stop for a while and let the nitrogen escape my bloodstream. I casually glance at my depth gauge. Ooops. I forgot about the increased consumption of air at depth. I am starting to get low on air. Need to stay here at this depth for 10+ minutes? Why? Is everything okay? Not sure. Uh oh?
200 feet. Still quite inebriated but now also starting to realize the consequences of this unplanned dive. Need another safety stop for 10+ minutes. My air is getting frighteningly low, and I still need two more decompression stops before I can surface. Shit. Reality is penetrating the numbing cloud of tranquility.
150 feet. I look up to where I hope the boat is floating and see no other divers in the water. Where is the boat? Did I drift? Never thought about that. Fuck. I am an idiot. I don’t have much air left I and need 15 minutes more underwater before surfacing or I will be facing a certain nitrogen embolism. Trying to shake the cobwebs from my brain. Nervous and now wide awake. Decisions. Try to comprehend the implications, I am now more clearly thinking.
100 feet. Another decompression stop is required. The gauge is pointing toward almost zero air left in the tank. If I go up too fast, I could get the bends and die, if I run out of air, I die. Anxiety building to fear. Try to relax. Breathe slower. Be smart.
50 feet. Looking up, freaking out. Each breath receiving less air. 5-minute decompression stop required here. Now. I see the boat above me but have no way to communicate with the divemaster on the boat. I need more air. I am going to run out. Yes. I am a total idiot. So close but yet so far. I am a goner. Will I be missed?
15 feet. I arrive at the final safety stop. My tank is empty. I am fucked. Sorry mom. I need to stay here for 3 minutes for the final safety stop.
Amazingly, as I suck the remnants from the empty tank, I look up and see a fresh tank of air with a regulator attached is being lowered from the boat to my position. I reach for it, jam it in my mouth and deeply suck that first glorious breath from it with gratitude as I reflect on the crazy dive and my good fortune that mitigated my stupid decisions.
What made me turn around at 321 feet? How did I get this lucky?
Where was God when this happened to me?
Was this a Divine intervention?
Did God, as a separate being, intervene and save me at 321 feet?
Or, was God always with me and just activated with a loving nudge to ascend?
Was there some unfinished business in this life for me?
What do I do with this new gift of life? What did Jesus do when he turned 30?
Share learning from experiences to help others.
Try not to do stupid stuff anymore.