Dreaming of my days traveling and exploring the oceans. Like here in Palau, getting ready to submerge for a night dive with one of my best friends. Underwater, you are profoundly yourself. You rely on your skills, on the integrity of your mind. There are no doubts. There is only peace and focus. Your buddy and you are side by side, enveloped by the sea. Trusting each other. Living intensely in the moment. Together.
One of my favourite moments. All is quiet on the boat. The divers are basking in the sun whilst I am in my own creative space, visualizing the landscape underneath the waves… to bring it alive on a chalk board for the dive site briefing. I loved calling everyone closer around me, telling my boat-full of enthusiastic divers what wonders of nature I hoped to show them that day. I loved how at one I felt with myself and with the ocean all around me. Over the years, the daily hours in the sea shaped my body as well as my mind… I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. When I guided my divers, I loved to see everyones’ eyes sparkle with a vividness that only comes from pure bliss and fulfilment. Life is simpler down there. Politics, egotism, posturing, stereotypes, assumptions… they all disappear when we are far out of our element, yet surrounded by beauty.
This picture was taken in 2005, right after I arrived in the Maldives. I stayed and worked there for four years. When I was ready for new adventures, I left…
I am grateful for all experiences I’ve had since. However, to this day, I treasure every minute I spent in the Indian Ocean as a dive guide and instructor. I always will. I found myself back then, found a healthy sense of self and understood that it was ok to be exactly the flawed, slightly clumsy, and beautiful human being I am. A large part of my heart will forever remain linked with the ocean. I miss it on every single day I can’t immerse myself in the deep blue or the shimmering turquoise of a sandy, tropical lagoon. In the sea, especially underwater, is where I am complete and at peace.
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.
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.
A long-awaited vacation is coming up… this exhausted author urgently needs two weeks of sunshine and ocean! But before I head out, I wanted to extend a BIG THANK YOU to all of you.
These past 10 days, you’ve all helped so much to push my Bored Panda story.
Because of your support, your multiple shares, likes and up-votes we’ve managed to reach 10’000 people so far!!! That is incredible. I’m humbled. Thank you for caring and being there!
It seems it still wasn’t quite enough to reach the numbers Bored Panda requires for a featured story. But it doesn’t matter. We did our best and got farther than I ever dreamed possible. People are still looking at the page as we speak.
I received countless messages, ranging from heartfelt thank you notes for sharing my story, to people seeking advice, to others writing scorching hate mail. Well, as a professor of mine used to say, “Nice doesn’t cut it. Only if people either love it or hate it have you truly touched a nerve.” It seems we have. And I’m glad we did. Together, I believe, we’ve made a little bit of difference.
So now Paralian is packing his bags to go underwater for a little while. Gliding stealthily amongst reef fish and predators like I used to – at one with myself and the world. I’ll be exploring new territory. The Red Sea is calling. Can’t wait to dive into its cerulean, invigorating depths!!!