Journey into the Deep

My husband and father are part of organising a men’s gathering in November, the theme of which is “Journey into the Deep.”  My dad used his experience in the Navy to name and navigate some of the challenges of such a descent – whether it be in the outer world, or into the depths of ourselves.

I found his words resonant and helpful in the leadup to my Vision Quest (next week!).  Wanted to include their practical richness here!  May they help you reflect on your own descents into the unknown…  (Check out the gathering: Menergy!  And pass the word on!)

These thoughts come from my own experience as an ex-Navy ships diver in the 70’s and 80’s. “Journey into the Deep” has so many analogies with my experience of that time.

To begin with, mindfulness is an important word. I had to be aware of the condition of my equipment and the environment I was entering. I was trained to disassemble the air regulator and demand valve for repair and regular servicing. I filled the air tanks. I was aware of the lead weights I needed, the state of my wet suit, that I had a knife strapped to my leg to get me out of underwater tangles, that my medical checks in my diving logbook were in date.

I remember my first dive. I went down with an experienced Navy diver who watched my every move. I learnt every diving signal and had to pass that test with no error (or a second and final chance was offered).

I remember the thorough training for all forms of life threatening emergency. I knew that if I lost orientation to follow the direction of my bubbles and only at the pace of the small bubbles, to manage my assent.

I remember clearance diving at night under Station Pier in preparation for the Queen’s Royal Yacht and seeing nothing once I disturbed the mud at the bottom. We had to do that to search for “devices” left there by who knows. I remember feeling my way around and being vaguely aware of the glow of a pier light through the muck. As I ran my fingers through the mud, I searched for anything unusual and was engulfed by a great darkness as a result. It was a time for keeping your head and not letting anxiety creep in.

I remember when I became dizzy and disoriented with nitrogen narcosis and held on to a part of a sunken vessel at 120 feet. I was down there looking for a missing diver. I prayed to God who I assumed could be down there with me.

I remember the fun in a Sydney Navy recompression chamber when I could talk like Donald Duck. I remember the freezing water that thrust its way in under the wet suit like icy spears (Navy wetsuits never fitted that well) and I remember the green ginger wine we all shared after a dive to warm up.

Scuba diving is dangerous if not done well. I know of numerous peacetime Navy deaths that happened while I was a Navy Reservist. Role modelling with the inexperienced was an important and vital task. Our Petty Officer managing our dive was the coach who had to be unquestioningly obeyed. We were a team. We were men who could share some pretty edgy stuff.

Resurfacing was also carefully managed so as to allow the dangerous nitrogen to return to the lungs. There are many analogies of going deep and being carefully decompressed from the experience that have strong echoes for our gathering.

I’m struck by the need for support, wherever we’re travelling.  How helpful it is to have others who have gone before us.   Fellow travellers who light the way with their stories, calming us with the knowledge that the depths are where we find our secret wild hearts…