These weeks have been wild and beautiful. Head over heels amazed by Playa del Carmen where I now am until this Friday. There’s been a lot leading up to departure - and I’ve been a bit off but excited to share the latest adventures with you all.
So to wrap up, I was originally going back to Latin America for two art residencies. The first one will take place in Antigua in Guatemala, and honestly I’m still reflecting upon the objective on my project there. But it will definitely be around women (what a surprise), in particular the artistic women I’ll meet in Guatemala. More on that next week. The second residency will take place as far ahead as in March 2023 in Atacama in Chile, where I’ll join an expedition in the beautiful desert.
So to go back again a few weeks, I’ve been preparing in Copenhagen. Much of that was seeing some friends for the last time in a while, taking care of my work and just enjoying the city before leaving. Since my residency isn’t until this Sunday, I figured I’d get “close” and visit a dear friend in Mexico. Just as I arrived, she informed me she’s stuck in Belize, and so, I had so much time alone. It was kind of frightening, since I’ve been so intensely with people as long as I can remember - and I don’t know if it’s been obvious through my channels, but I haven’t had my very own place for a very long time. Getting a hotel room was so worth it but scary in the sense of suddenly having all this time and silence, you get me? It’s taken a week to get used to, and I dig it. I’m also pleased that my friend will join me later in Guatemala, so we’ll unite - and I guess there’s always a reason for whatever happens. The universe is on our side.
So, I discovered Playa by myself and strangers that became friends.
This is tha place I’ve felt most normal in a long time. A relatively new city with lots of nomads, travelers and other water fanatics. My friend had encouraged me to sign up for the AIDA beginner’s course, so I can start training my free diving. I figured why not? It’s about time for me to go under water anyway and shoot my own reference photos.
So here’s my experience with PranaMaya in Playa del Carmen. I’m not writing this as a shoutout to the diving school but as a fundamental experience for my artistic progress. Although they do deserve a shoutout - they deserve a BIG shoutout for their authenticity, presence with the students, lightness around the sessions and very much their acknowledgement of each student’s process. Big big applause from me.
So anyway. After a day of theory and some breath holding practice, I had learned that relaxation is the most important part of diving. Go figure! Relaxation and presence with absolute no activities is one of the most difficult things for me to do - or rather, be. Especially after a long time of heavy outside stimuli and noise. I couldn’t hold my breath very long, nor in the water, when we started practicing. Slightly de powered, I accepted the current state of skills and went home. The day after, we went to the first denote, I’ve ever seen. So I didn’t know what a cent was until seeing one. We have all seen a ton of them from beautiful travel pictures, haven’t we?
So to copy paste from Wikipedia (cus I’m not in school anymore, haha!) a cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater. The regional term is specifically associated with the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, where cenotes were commonly used for water supplies by the ancient Maya, and occasionally for sacrificial offerings. Absolutely beautiful glimpses of paradise.
But in spite of its beauty, I was scared to get into the water. Thoughts went wild in my head as the instructors put out the buoys and prepared our first real session. I couldn’t see bottom, I couldn’t see fish. Were there even fish? I’d heard about a crocodile - how big was it? Were there seaweed? Would I get stuck in something, would I get sucked into something and lose my breath? Where was the bottom and so on and so on. Over the past few years in painting the water element, I’ve been both amazed and scared. I’ve been very aware of my mixed feelings especially around the ocean and very captivated by my father’s everlasting words that water is life. It’s nothing but life, and still I’m scared about, well, something. On my first dive with the buoy, I couldn’t slow down my heartbeat. I could hardly breathe through the snorkle, and it felt so odd containing all this stress, because there was more than enough air and all the safety I could get.
I was scared someone would put a hand over the snorkle so I couldn’t breath, like when we were kids and teasing each other. I was scared that the stinger that stung me in Australia would find me again. I was scared of being pulled down, like when I fell through ice as a kid. I was just so scared, and after a meter under water, I went back to the surface for more air. I had barely been down for a second, and I was panicking.
This was so stupid, I thought. I’d been far below water in several swimming pools. Why was I scared and out of air after one tiny meter? My instructor asked about previous traumas, and I said I guess I have a few. Alright then, he said. Our goal today is to get you comfortable in the water. It just great you’re here. I felt comforted, but still, a lot needed to be cried out. I was so emotional. I had no idea what a meter below the surface would bring up in me. But he also affirmed to me, that water is a vulnerable element. It brings out depth in us, and it’s a wild thing. I felt that, and I felt acknowledged. That’s what great instructors do in the process.
I took my time, before I went back in, and I threw away all the new found ideas I’d gained around free diving. Ideas that I should get to a certain depth or breath hold. Instead, I should just enjoy it and get comfortable in it. I relaxed in the surface between my turns, and dive by dive, I got more relaxed and also more curious. When Steve, the local little crocodile swam by for a visit, I couldn’t believe it. I guess he just wanted to hang out and bring the smiles on all our faces.
By the end of the day in the cenote, I had lost my fear of the water and the animals there. I was more than okay - and I was so curious to get further down. I did, but after a meter and a half, my ears stopped me. I couldn’t equalize the airways anymore. And if there was one thing I’d learned, it was that I shouldn’t risk breaking my ear drums. Damn, I thought, because now, I really wanted to go all the way and discover more.
As the problem repeated itself, I got more and more frustrated. My instructor started asking very specific questions regarding my equlization, and I had a feeling he was suspicious. Okay, he said. You’re one of the few people with smaller tubes in the ears. Your airways are too small. Have you had problems equalizing before? I thought about it. I’d always been partly deaf after a trip to the summer house with the pool because of all the diving. In airplanes I’ve frequently cried out of pain in the ears, because I couldn’t get the air out. I’ve scuba dived a bit in my childhood and remember it being very painful in the ears a long time after. Yeah, he said. The pressure under water is 10 times harder than in an airplane. So there are two things you can do. One is very rare, and I’ve never heard of anyone doing it. But you can get an operation. Or, you can train your equalization every other day and hopefully be able to go further within three to six months. I was surprised, yet relieved that it was an anatomical issue and not a lack of perseverance. I took it with me, still slightly frustrated, but resolved with some acceptance. In the night, I watched YouTube videos on equalization, and it didn’t seem like I could do what other free divers do so easily. Well, I’d have the certificate anyway, I thought, and I just ought to practice if this is really something I want to experience more of. Because to my surprise, this sport has grown rapidly on me in a few days.
On our final day, we went to a denote with a smaller surface, but with great expansion underneath it. I’d been practicing new equalization techniques, and I wasn’t so afraid of the new environment. I did a few dives and felt comfortable. Eventually, I had such a joy with the water and the beautiful light underneath it, that just putting my head under relaxed me within a few breaths. I duck down, and I reached three meters, before my ears stopped me. I could see from the look on my instructor’s face that he was happy with the progress. Three meters this time. Amazing. I loved it. By the end of the day, I’d accepted the limits of my body. I’d also accepted that I wouldn’t get the AIDA 2 certificate without reaching 12 meters, but I’d get AIDA 1, which allows me to free dive anywhere in the world and improve at my body’s pace.
In our last dive before leaving, I figured I might as well have fun with the few meters my body would allow. As I reached my limit, I wasn’t ready to go. I did some spins around the line and twirled around. I could dance under water! That didn’t require any specific depth - I can dance anywhere! And so I did. I pinned around and did some loops. I had the most wonderful time, until my breath was out, and I went back up and faced smiles everywhere. I’d reached my acceptance and peace - but furthermore, so much excitement for the next many many dives.
I think the importance in this story is that outcomes aren’t usually as expected. Desires come and go, and I love them for it, but the real goals in life comes with splashes of frustration and fear to kick off our perseverance. And perseverance is a skill I’m truly proud of having in all areas that inspire me. I’m so challenged in free diving, but I’ll take it, because I found a new activity that not only inspires my artistic work but also encourages me to feel my body in a thousand new, intense ways.
I hope you got something out of it, if not for the videos.
Thanks for joining my underwater experience.
Lots of love,