Those who are close to me today know how much I love scuba diving.
In fact, I adore it.
The feeling of spaciousness, aliveness and gratefulness I get from being 100 ft under water, observing a world I’m physically not designed to be able to see, ranks among one of the most unique things I’ve ever experienced.
But few know how much I used to be afraid of the ocean.
Is it safe to swim with sharks? As a kid this question was too much for me to answer. One of the nightmares I remember to this day was about great white sharks, which I started having recurrently after learning about them at school.
I would stress the hell out of swimming above rocks, algae, or deep water where anything could emerge without me knowing. My mom’s fear of sharks coming out of no where, mimicking Jaws, didn’t help.
Is It Safe to Swim With Sharks?
This fear only dissolved when I started scuba diving. The very first time I went diving with bull sharks, I spent all of the boat ride on the way to the dive site wondering what the hell I was doing, with my heart racing at 200 miles an hour.
The instructions were clear: if we were lucky enough to see them, they would swim towards us, and all we had to do was not move and remain calm. They would swim away.
That’s what the instructor promised, at least.
Well, as soon as I got in the water and descended, waiting patiently on the sandy bottom, I felt calmer than I ever had. After a few minutes, an imposing mass appeared out of no where, majestically undulating towards me.
Simply watch it.
It will swim away.
Obviously, since I’m here to tell the tale, it did.
What I Learned After the Encounter with Sharks?
- What was most extraordinary was how calm and peaceful they seemed. I had been taught how dangerous and scary they were, but seeing them so close completely changed my perspective of them.
- Creating any sort of resistance to the shark — escaping, making abrupt gestures, getting too close, would have been disastrous, but simply acknowledging its existence and letting it be until it went away was the experience of a lifetime.
- Fast forward to last February, where I got to go diving in Kona, Hawaii. Our dive master took us to a cave where sharks are known to hang out at. We swam toward the dark cave, and all of a sudden, there they were: 5 white-tip sharks swimming in circles. We settled in our front-seat spot and simply enjoyed the show.
I know I hold fears, but I don’t often make the trip down to observe them.
I typically stay at the surface, in paralyzing suspicion they might attack.
But when I dared to dive deep into my inner ocean, enter the cave, and turn the light on, with the sole purpose of observing our fears without trying to hush them away, claiming back the power I have over my own mind.
When I keep the light off on them, I can get scared because I know they’re looming but not sure what they’ll do.
When I turn the light on, and observe them from a distance, I can create the detachment I need to recognize their purpose and make friends with them.
Sharks taught me that having fears is natural, and not always rationale (sharks are not as dangerous as you might think), but valid and valuable nonetheless.
They helped me understand that the goal is not to be without fear, it’s to befriend our fears to the point where they’re not stopping us from doing what we want to do. It’s accepting the fear of public speaking, and doing the speech anyway. It’s accepting the fear of losing oneself, and falling in love anyway. It’s accepting the fear of being judged, and being bold in owning our stories.
The goal is not to negate our fears exist, but simply learn to look at them with more ease and from a distance.
It’s not always about wrestling with our fears, as much as it is to acknowledge them for a moment, and swim back to the surface, confident that they won’t follow us to bite our leg off.
Some fears end up dissipating, as we expand our comfort zone and realize that the shark we were so afraid of is actually completely harmless.
Some don’t, and they remain a signal to know what our inner child needs extra support in.
Regardless, our fears can become our most intimate friends — our partner in crime to design the life we want for ourselves. So long as we give them a chance to be seen.