We are all drawn to the easy path. It’s usually the one straight through our Comfort Zones and I think I take that way to work. For much of our every day life it is our habits and routines that allow us to function, switching us to autopilot and saving brain capacity for more challenging tasks. We literally don’t think anything of it.
But what happens when we get to set in our way and don’t wish to leave our comfort zone? Such an act can seem pretty threatening when we’ve convinced ourselves that the comfort zone has become the security perimeter and to step outside may threaten our own survival.
Here’s an example. I recently completed my Open Water SCUBA certification. There were six sessions of the classroom and pool, culminating in a series of five dives in Porteau Cove. Here in British Columbia where the water is usually only around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, they strongly recommend that you take dry suit training at the same time. Unlike the wetsuit best used in the tropics, dry suits allow us to dive when water clarity is the best—over the winter. Dry suits have seals that keep the water away from your body and you add air from your tank to create an insulating layer.
We didn’t do too much diving during the open water portion of the weekend. We mostly demonstrated the various skills we had learned and practiced in the pool: regulator recovery, locating and using an alternative air source, removing and replacing our SCUBA gear in the water. The skill that made the biggest impact on me was mask removal. Early in the morning of our second day, we donned our gear and swam out to the far buoy. At the marker, our class of seven descended, landing on the seafloor at about 55 feet below the surface. We staged ourselves along the line marker that kept us from getting lost as we turned up the silty bottom, then as the instructor signaled to us, we had to take our masks right off our heads and then put it back on and clear the mask of the water.
There is nothing more counter to your personal survival when you are at that depth then to take off your mask. You are essentially blind, even with your eyes open. The cold salt water that now enters your nose makes you hyper aware of your environment. Human reactions are amazing at times like this. As we performed this skill, the instructors were well within arms reach and gently held the regulators to our mouths because the first instinct for some people is to panic and spit the regulator out.
In those first few seconds of the shocking cold water, it becomes a mental game. You force yourself to be completely present in the moment. If your training has stuck, you can draw on it.
“Ok, just do it.”
“Mask off, to the side.”
“Oh god cold water, cold water.”
“Mask back, stretch the strap.”
As I apply it, I start exhaling through my nose to clear the mask. With a quick tip and another blow, everything returns to normal. I did it, and boy was I proud of myself.
Over the course of the two days, I felt extraordinarily blessed. I’d surface from the dive wearing at least a third of my weight in equipment and have to walk up a set up stairs and then across the parking lot to the cars. Strangely enough, I felt most tired after the first dive. As the day wore on and we resurfaced again and again. It all got easier.
The sun broke through at the end of the first day and the world was a spectacularly beautiful place. Pushing myself outside of my comfort zone heightened my senses, and replaced the day’s anxieties with a profound sense of wellbeing I don’t think I could have found in my old comfort zone. I highly recommend it.
Many thanks to Monty and Matt our instructors from Ocean Pro Divers. They prodded and motivated with amazing patience. It was amazing, thank you!