From 2005 to 2009, I divided my time between serving customers at the dive center and guiding them in the Big Blue. Being back in central Europe at the moment, I know more than ever that life is infinitely better the more ocean I have around me. Things shift back into perspective. And I am reminded of what is truly important. Apart from being a universe of boundless beauty and tranquility, underwater is also where I began to see more clearly…
Watching coral reef life became the perfect metaphor of human daily life. For example, tiny fish who defended their territory taught me how important it is to stand up for yourself no matter how giant the opposition may seem. The myriad of reef fish and other critters in all colors of the rainbow mirrored the infinite diversity of life on land… of human life… Nothing was perfect. Life was even cruel, unpredictable.. Yet to a neutral observer like me, hovering motionless only a few feet away, observing quietly, this was the most delicate and beautiful web of individuals I had ever seen.
Then, there was the interaction amongst divers. Developing a stronger sense of self first was crucial to being able to take care of others.
When I became an instructor, teaching underwater taught me even more about life. The SCUBA instructors’ mantra “stop, think, act” turned out to be great advice no matter the situation or environment. Because, when something goes wrong during a dive or in life, it’s never just one thing but a multitude of smaller and bigger difficulties and challenges that need to be addressed and navigated. Prioritizing is key. Step by little step, we remove one obstacle after another and what seemed insurmountable at first all of a sudden becomes manageable.
The perfect moment. Sunshine. A group of delighted scuba divers whom I had guided throughout the morning. Jackfish. Chilli Sauce. Sand as soft a velvet. Palm Trees. A blazing azure sky and turquoise sea all around us.
I enjoyed myself. Enjoyed to guide, coach, and drink in our surroundings with all my senses. It didn’t really matter who we all were that day. Social status, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation and all those things tending to divide us, gave way to simply breathing in the untainted tropical air and enjoying life together. Just for a little while, yesterday and tomorrow became so insignificant as to be non-existent.
“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.” by Werner Herzog is the quote I chose for the beginning of Paralian.
Because this is life. No matter what our backgrounds.
There is no sleep without dreams. No growth without challenge. No clarity without ambivalence. No happiness without heartache. No light without darkness. And thankfully so. Were life more easy, foreseeable, and bearable, we’d be the poorer for it. It is an intricate balance, monster and all…
“During my early years, we would go to the North Sea every summer for a long family holiday. I was enchanted from the first moment I laid eyes on the dark blue endlessness. My senses were alert and I felt intensely alive. Nowhere else had I felt so invigorated. Every cell of my small body tried to absorb as much of the beauty around me as it possibly could. I breathed deeply, tasting and smelling the salty air. It seemed to be dense and alive with the power of the ocean.
The sand dunes rolled softly under my feet, making me feel rested and at home. Rabbits bounded around the tall dunes, sea gulls screamed and fiercely defended their territories. Sometimes, when we stumbled unawares into a nesting ground, we had to fend off the enraged birds by wildly swinging our umbrellas. Hildegard would be terrified, Konrad, amused, and I, delighted at the sight of these huge birds as well as the exhilarating sense of adventure. At low tide, we hiked far out into the mud flats, my young soul inquisitive about every tiny worm and crab we encountered. The mud flats felt like frozen velvet, for the North Sea water temperatures were cold even during the warmest months of the year.
Discovering the ocean changed my young life. I threw myself into the cold churning waves, balloon-like arm floats encircling my tiny arms. Goose bumps quickly covered my entire body as I savored the taste and the sensation of a living entity enveloping my body. My soul felt rested and at home while at the same time sensing danger and fragility. Whatever might happen to me in the years to come, I would always draw solace and strength from the ocean. I had discovered the love of my life.”
Time to jump in and enjoy being in my element for a couple weeks……… hovering in the deep blue, riding the currents, and gliding soundlessly (except for Darth Vader like noises from my regulator) along coral reefs, in search of elusive creatures.
I came face to face with my first Mola Mola in Crystal Bay off of Nusa Lembongan in 2007. After this photo was taken, the large fish swam past us close enough to touch. I looked into its eye which was easily the size of a small plate. What I saw in there had me spellbound for a moment. An abundance of soul, curiosity, kindness, and wisdom, as old as the ages.
So now I’ll be offline for a bit, off to see if I can find this big guy again (or another one of its kind). All the best to all of you! I’ll be resurfacing beginning of May 🙂
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I have always been drawn to water. Any body of water. Oceans mostly. Wanted to immerse myself. Dive in. Explore and discover.
But, as I grew up, I developed a spastic in my legs and couldn’t learn to swim properly. Later, becoming more and more aware of being stranded in a wrongly-gendered body, I felt too shy to take off my clothes and take the plunge. Until my 30ieth birthday it was all trial and error, climbing one obstacle after another. Searching for myself, slowly changing my body so I could truly become one with it, inhabit it, come home to myself.
After my gender reassignment surgeries, I gathered all my courage. Away with the shirt on hot summer days. Exposing ugly scars that looked like tectonic plates had clashed and created a whole new set of tender, jagged mountain ranges in the process.
At 31, during one stormy October week, I learned to scuba dive in the Mediterranean Sea.
One year later, I took swimming lessons, claiming the revitalizing, unpredictable element like I had always dreamt of doing.
In the years that followed, I left everything I knew behind. I lived barefoot on a Maldivian island, spent hours every day in the water – first as a snorkel guide then as a diving instructor. Every fin stroke brought me closer to my true self.
I hovered underwater. Weightless. Effortless. Aware. In the moment. Most of all: Alive.
I navigated pumping currents with the elegance of an adolescent dolphin. I helped people overcome their fear of the deep blue. Taught hundreds of students. Grew as a diving instructor until I finally even trained instructor candidates. Travelled the world. Then went on to coach performers underwater for ‘The House of Dancing Water’ in Macau – back then the biggest aquatic show on our planet.
Bottom line: Live your life. Own it. Dive deep. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do (least of all yourself). No matter how impossible or hopeless something seems at the time, no matter how daunting the circumstances: You can. You always can.
The biggest treasure underwater lies in the shallow depths of the coral reefs. And in the simple joy of softly gliding along weightlessly, being just one more unassuming organism within the endless depths. I love the wild beauty underneath those waves. The myriad shades of turquoise and blue. The diversity of ocean life all around me. Everything, big and small. Most of all the small critters you only see if you dive in slow motion, all your senses tuned to pick up the tiniest movement or irregularity around you.
We called this little Frogfish Pinocchio. He sat in his sponge for several months. On this particular dive, I watched him for sixty minutes as he braved the currents that shook his chosen home. Spreading his foot-like pectoral fins. Balancing himself so delicately… with a split that would have made Jean-Claude van Damme proud. I returned several times. We kept blinking at each other until, one day, he was gone. Instead, other mysterious creatures took his place. The oceans. A neverending source of wonder and, for me, a lifelong love affair.