“Well, that was a waste of a dive! Maybe next time.”
You’d be surprised to hear another diver say this they exit the water. Yet sometimes we hear divers complaining because there were no sightings of the main attraction that day; the whaleshark or hammerhead, turtles or the giant manta rays that are on their bucket list. On this occasion those creatures were going about their life in some other part of the ocean.
It’s funny, because while that diver was disappointed, you felt grateful. While they spent every minute of the dive waiting for something to show up, you saw what they missed.
So, what you were you noticing?
Maybe you looked closely at the coloured patterns on the tiny nudibranch. Perhaps your mask leaked when you laughed at the little drama played out by the hermit crabs squabbling over empty shells. Or you let yourself be mesmerised by the flashes of a shoal of fish. Even when there was “nothing to see” you watched the kelp sway in the current or the shapes in the rock and sand. You stared up at a watery ceiling, watching as your bubbles flowed to the surface.
You were there, and you saw what was there. You were experiencing one of the major attractions of scuba diving: simply being present. Being aware of what is happening right now. Every dive is an opportunity to leave behind distractions on the surface and focus our attention on the stuff that matters.
Two ways diving encourages us to focus on the moment
Firstly, we need to be aware of the situation for our own safety, we monitor our air supply, stay close to our buddies and control our buoyancy to stay at the right depth. We may also be navigating or performing other tasks. That means our attention is already directed to what we are doing. When our human minds wander off into a future that may never happen some of our precious attention is taken from what we are doing. To operate in the underwater environment, we need to be focused. We need some sensitivity to our position, to manage ourselves in a way that we avoid crashing into things and each other.
Secondly, there is an unfamiliar world to explore, our senses are filled with new sights, our brains are stimulated by making sense of what we see. It leaves little room for our everyday worries… until our minds get caught up on expectations for the dive itself.
Of course, we all want to see the mola mola, or dolphins, or the dugong… it was the photo in the brochure we travelled here to see. There is nothing wrong with looking out for such spectacular sights. The difficulty comes when we get so attached to that goal, we lose contact with the richness of the present. Finning like crazy chasing things we may never see.
When we slow down, we get to notice what is here. We can appreciate how wonderful and crazy it is that we can even be hovering in this underwater world, in this way diving helps us to be present.
Sometimes, looking for that one thing means missing out on everything.
Keep your mind on the dive, and dive in the moment.
Dr Laura Walton is a Clinical Psychologist and PADI IDC Staff Instructor with a fascination for the psychology of diving. Visit scubapsyche to learn more about our behaviour as divers.