How do we face fear?
That rising tension in the chest, the mind tightening, the clam up of the body, the building resistance to all that is physically present in front of our eyes and the mental swirls that seem to magnify the stress of the moment.
To face our fears. Fear is such a deep seeded emotion, it’s a gift in reality, our senses interpreting the environment we find ourselves in, computing the dangers and risks, allocating resources to the assessment against all previously known instances to ascertain if we are prepared and experienced enough to face this looming situation unfolding unexpectedly in front of us, or, all around us.
As a young boy aged around 10, one of my strongest memories is being on the farm with my cousins, in the days that the game of ‘stacks on’ was a type of fun physical play amongst friends in a rowdy wrestling kind of way.
Until, as the smallest, you find yourself on the bottom of the stack, five or six bigger bodies piled on top of you, that feel like 15 or 16.
Immobilised from the weight, pinned to the ground with everyone layered on your back, ribcage and sternum pressed hard into the floor. Unable to breathe.
The air squashed out of you on the last exhale, the constriction of the mass on top preventing an inhale, not even a gasp or whisper possible to mutter a grievance or desperate plea to get those bodies off.
The tension rising, stuck under this heap, heart racing now as the fear permeates every cell of the body, time seemingly going on forever, mind chattering quickly trying to work out in vain how to escape this oxygen-less predicament, chest crushed so heavily that breathing has been disabled and stopped.
Fighting for clarity and giving in to the hopelessness, enclosed in panic, the wait drew on. Stillness of breath ensues, what air remains in this being crushed to the floor, running out, faster and faster. Suffocating.
After minutes that felt like hours, signs from on top of me, at long last the fun was ceasing, bodies above began to clamber differently, sliding off and easing the pressure on my listless limbs. The angst in my torso easing in parallel with the alighting of heavy weight above it. Cheek pressed upon the ground, the fast strong draw of air into the lungs finally bringing safety and release of total ensconced terror.
Still for a moment, the rush of adrenaline raced through arteries, the mind briefly gathered senses, slowly getting up onto all fours, emotions overwhelmed in every fullness and all I wanted to do was to disappear from that hellish scene and run as far away from every connection with it.
Over 10 years ago I discovered the beauty and peace of freediving, diving underwater on a single breath of air, and for the last 7 years taught hundreds of students as an instructor.
To some the idea of diving on one breath brings about all the panic and terror of that 10 year old boy pressed into the ground, unable to breathe, ‘controlled drowning’ as my friend Jesse likes to refer to it as.
Then you might think, why would you ever want to hold your breath if you’d had such a traumatic experience without air. Be it stacks on, near drowning, a wave hold down, asthma attacks, or being winded in the chest through sport?
Contrary to most who seek to overcome fear, the journey was not about putting myself into the staged fear, forcing myself to face the trial of restraining ones breath, or staring that fear in the face with the same fear generated as a 10 year old.
It was a slow process. By learning to hold my breath I could explore the underwater world of Port Phillip Bay with just a mask, snorkel and fins. The simplicity of that unrestrained joy through marine adventure was captivating.
Ducking under in the early days, snorkelling around, sometimes it felt as if I could be under there forever, there was no sensation holding the breath, just a pause between them, serene and calm, a stillness inside. At other times the urge to breathe would be like a raging furnace, exploding inside, terrorising the mind with desire to escape the stress and tension, and gasp for air.
LEARNING TO FREEDIVE
It was much more beautiful than that. It was never about fear. It was about looking inside and understanding this self. Slowing right down, allowing space for my true self to show up.
This led me to learn freediving in Greece, Egypt and Italy, with World Champions that could freedive deeper than 100m under the sea on a lungful of air.
The path was not one of overcoming though. I was never motivated to suffer through the process of facing fear, dominating it, evidencing my strength by forcing my way through the fears.
It was much more beautiful than that. It was never about fear. It was about looking inside and understanding this self. Slowing right down, allowing space for my true self to show up. To remove judgement, to remove any question of what was good or bad, or good enough. Reserving criticality for how I was opening myself up to the learning experience, and whether I was surrendering in fullness to the guidance afforded me.
The hardest part was letting go of my own self expectation, this innate sense that is indoctrinated into us through education and competitive sports or other competitions, to be the best, to strive for goals, to achieve a record, to get the best marks, to be on top, to win whatever the cost, to be shamed in losing, second place winner first place loser kind of thinking.
There is no winning in self. There is only growth. And growth occurs in steps, whether from the outside each of those steps is considered success or failure, it’s irrelevant, it’s all growth.
There was no fight, no tussle, no effort to reach it, it just flowed.
My second training day in Greece I found a beauty inside that in 30-something years I’d never known before.
There was no fight, no tussle, no effort to reach it, it just flowed. I gave in to the steps of relaxing, holding my breath, and diving underneath the surface into the big blue of the Mediterranean. But I didn’t see anything at all, only blackness all around me. My eyes were closed and as I slowly kicked with my nice long ribbon-like fins, I followed the dive line down, down, down, feeling the water caressing my cheeks and the pressure growing upon my chest as the force of water outside compressed my body the deeper I went.
At the bottom, I paused, righted myself upright and just waited in the abyss, my mind at peace, body limp and loose, neither rising nor falling, just being.
The inner glow generated within in that moment was beyond any exaltation I’d known before. It engulfed me, a total acceptance of all that was within, and all that was without.
STRIPPED TO THE CORE
On one breath there’s no conning yourself into thinking you’re better than you are, it is a discipline of truth, of honesty with everything that makes you who you are.
No fear to face. Something much more profound and wonderful to face. To face myself, stripped back to the absolute core of being. On one breath there’s no conning yourself into thinking you’re better than you are, it is a discipline of truth, of honesty with everything that makes you who you are.
And it’s in that bare truth that you welcome everything that you see, if you’re prepared to look.
Fear is that gift, lighting up the pathway to inner truth and acceptance.
Rising slowly to the surface, the buoyancy increasing my speed as I merely float upwards completely effortlessly, I sense the pressure relieving and the light becoming stronger.
Exiting the underwater world, I open my mouth and slowly draw in the sweet air deeply into my belly and chest, as if to reconnect with the earthly world. I open my eyes and allow the inner glow to restore my place at the surface, free of tension, mesmerised by the inspiring life opening up between the space of two simple breaths.
That single dive to 18m deep, it was the one that changed my entire life, removing the fear of facing Self and accepting whatever was there.
Thanks for visiting.
Take a Freediving Course with Marlon and Find Peace on One Breath
PADI Basic Freediver Course
Learn the ancient art of diving on one breath, personalised and tuned to you and your dream of swimming freely with marine life underwater.
Surf Survival Breath-Hold Course
Develop surf survival breath-hold skills that will save you in a hold-down situation, and not just one stressed hold, but repeated hold-downs.
Filmed on breath-hold (freediving) in Bass Strait, VIC, Australia. Water temperature approx 12c, no wetsuit, swimming wild.
Filmed: @nikonaustralia Nikon AW130 compact camera
Edited: @adobecreativecloud @adobevideo
Freediving Gear: @tusadiving Panthes Mask and IQ1204 Dive Computer, @continuum_fins custom carbon fibre fins