Among the most humbling reasons why I have chosen to make my living underwater is the renewed focus on being centered.
What does this mean exactly? Well, to start, I can’t help but mention situational awareness. Day after day of simply walking down the street, one will inevitably cross paths with someone who is not at all aware of their personal space. Perhaps they are blocking walker traffic on the sidewalk, do not notice an oncoming bicycle, or even cross the street without looking both ways. Underwater, this is complacent behavior. We are subject to forces beyond just gravity, and given that, our situational awareness must be at a heightened state at all times, particularly when doing more than a leisurely underwater swim.
Second, is management of our own well being. Being dependent on equipment for life sustaining breaths presents us with a challenge to be responsible at all times. New divers are trained to utilize ‘the buddy system’, where a second diver could be a go-to in an emergency. As diving skills increase, and more complex dives are undertaken, redundant means to bail oneself out of various equipment failure are learned. In many cases, a second diver can do little, if anything, to render assistance, and at this point may even become a liability. Responsibility of self is critical for incident avoidance. This includes everything from properly maintaining equipment, to maintaining a fitness regime (both mentally and physically) that parallels the level of activity you are undertaking.
Just a few years ago, various ‘solo diver’ training programs were put in place. These provide training in the skills necessary to be largely self-sufficient underwater; this includes understanding the proper equipment and emergency management procedures to carry things out while mitigating risks. They DO NOT however guarantee that you, the diver, are capable of ‘self-reliance’. This comes only with experience.
There are certainly benefits to venturing beneath the waves by yourself. For me, the solitude is my time free of distractions…no cell phone, email, traffic, etc. It’s a time to freely explore a world that I can, at least temporarily, call my own. It’s a time that washes away fears and anxieties. It’s my time for reflection, and a time to find the art of self.
In the coming months, I’ll be authoring a series of Blog posts discussing autonomy in the underwater world. This includes discussion of a few field demonstrations both above and below the water which will highlight basic human needs, survival skill sets, and the psychology of taking this to alien environments – for short term visits, and more permanent settlement. The process of solo undersea exploration will be discussed as an analog for various other types of exploration.