I always have some fear when I swim out the first time, after an absence from the Sea. I love the Ocean, but depths frighten me.
It is especially unnerving because right now I can’t see anything; this is not the clear brochure blue Caribbean but a slightly marshy seaside with a muddy floor. The waves stir everything up and visibility is about what I expect in a blizzard, except with coral heads and parrotfish suddenly materializing in front of me. We have vague directions to the little reef (“About 200 yards North off the dock of the house with the barking dogs”). We periodically stop, pop our heads out of the water and pull our facemasks up to squint at the shore. The waves have a different idea of which way we should be heading, and disagreeing with them is tiring. The water is choppy and not really that warm. I tread water and try to untangle strands of my hair from the clasp that holds snorkel to mask; I hear them rip. I yank the mask down, lower my head, and swim. The snorkel sometimes offers air, other times, salt water. My breath sounds amplified, loud and fast: Darth Vader having a panic attack. I feel both claustrophobic and exposed. I try to relax and slow my breathing, which only makes me realize how not-relaxed I am.
I feel simultaneously afraid, foolish for being afraid, and afraid of showing my fear. Are fish like tigers? Can they smell fear? I feel like turning around and swimming back for shore, back to where I can see what’s coming at me.
I’m tired. I float for a minute, facedown, bobbing. My limbs relax. My back is warm then cool, warm then cool, as small waves come between flesh and sun. Out of the gloom a 5 ft Eagle Ray soars by in slow motion. My head turns to follow its glide. The waters swirl, then I am alone again.
I stop breathing for a moment. Silence rushes in my ears. This is what being a priestess is like.
I have spent so much time gazing at the surface of the Waters. It is mirrored. It’s all the same Ocean, but there is a lot of publicity about the clear places where you can see below. I never seem to end up there. I always end up in the obscure, muddy parts, where the light bounces off the surface. There’s only one way to know what’s there. I wade until the ground drops out from under me and I’m forced to swim. Any given directions are vague, meaningless once I’m on on my way.
I paddle through a vast and murky Sea, not sure where I’m going, not sure what I’ve come to see, not sure I really want to be out here at all.
Immersion is a constant caress, both distant and intimate. Invisible currents carry me along; I fight against them, wanting to go my own way. I am beneath the surface, but barely. There are unimagined depths below. I do not understand the nature or intentions of the deep, or what may dwell there. The speculation chills me. I long to see, but fear the encounter. Things seem to appear out of nowhere and I am startled by their grace, their belonging to this place. I flounder around, awkward and scared; my tension only makes it worse. Insight is only a byproduct of exhaustion. Be still and listen. Nothing can give me the release I am seeking; I have only been struggling against myself. I am more water than flesh: I am made of the substance I am immersed in. I have been gliding farther into myself, into my own Waters. I am the deep.
My breaths are the waves beneath the waves. Movement is effortless. The depths I fear are what bear me up.