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Scuba Zen

Over the July 4th holiday, my husband and I visited one of our favorite places on earth: St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Most travelers go to  St. Thomas instead, and maybe take a day trip or two to St. John by ferry. The views on those two islands are breathtakingly gorgeous, but St. Croix is quieter and less touristy. It feels more like…home.

Usually, we scuba dive on the North Shore of the island, where the seas are choppier, and you’re likely to see this:

Caribbean reef shark swimming against the background of the reef

©2012 David P. Nyffenegger. All Rights Reserved.


Reef sharks are less common in the calmer waters off the island’s West Side, where we dove this trip. Although we didn’t see any sharks, we did spot some dolphins at the surface, including a mother and calf. We also saw lots of stingrays, eels, and turtles, including a hawksbill.

But cataloging the sea life doesn’t really capture why scuba diving is such an amazing experience.

Writers like me live in our heads. We’re continually pondering and plotting while driving our cars, standing in line at the grocery store, even mingling at parties.

Scuba diving forces you to live in the moment.

You have to be aware of your position in three-dimensional space—not just to the right and left, to the front and back, but also up and down. Otherwise, you can plow into another diver or worse, a wall of coral (which, besides being painful, also damages the reef).

You have to watch your gauges—depth, nitrogen level, air supply. You have to control your breathing, because that controls your depth. You have to keep an eye on your buddy, to make sure he’s okay.

For veteran divers like me, all this becomes second-nature, much like driving a car. But unlike driving a car, you never go on auto-pilot. With so much sensory stimulation, you’re constantly aware of your surroundings. Enjoying the pretty tropical fish. Maneuvering around the barrel sponges. Scanning for cool stuff.

Queen Angelfish and Sea Plumes

©2012 David P. Nyffenegger. All Rights Reserved.

When you become immersed in the underwater world—not just physically, but mentally as well—you experience a feeling I call scuba zen. You become one with the reef. You’re not just an outsider visiting,  but a marine mammal in its natural habitat. With a flick of a fin and an inhale of breath, you work your way along the reef, checking crannies for lobsters, searching the broad expanse of sand for garden eels. You glide weightlessly through the water. The crackle of coral and the gurgle of bubbles fill your ears.

For that hour or so of bottom time, the reef is your whole world. There are no deadlines, no worries, no responsibilities (well, okay, you have to make sure your equipment doesn’t fail and your buddy doesn’t drown, but usually that’s not a problem). You have no choice but to experience the world in all its color. To come face to face with wild creatures on their terms. You’re acutely aware of how small and vulnerable you are in that vast sea—but that’s okay, because you’re part of the sea. And if you’re lucky, that feeling stays with you once you’re back on land.

Humans don’t own the earth. We’re of the earth. We owe it to future generations to be good stewards. We also owe it to ourselves to be aware of the beauty of this planet God gave us. It’s magnificent. Among all the deadlines and worries and responsibilities, we should take a little time each day to experience that zen with the world around us. To live in the moment. To notice the little things. To be aware of our breath as the sweet air of life enters and leaves our bodies.

In this always connected world of ours, it’s good to disconnect from our devices once in a while so we can reconnect with nature. It soothes our minds and nourishes our souls. We all need some of that in our lives.

What do you do to relax? Do you have a favorite hobby that helps you lose yourself and forget your troubles? 

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