Breathing underwater

Try this when you’re next in the bath. Put your head back into the water until your ears are submerged. Listen closely, and you should be able to hear your own pulse.


I love being in water, but when I was learning to dive there came a point which I found slightly traumatic: the bit when you have to fill your mask with water and clear it by breathing through your nose. The fear of that exercise alone made me want to give up and get out. But once I’d got over the panic and relaxed into it, I wondered what all the fuss had been about.

It’s hard to imagine that a few million years ago creatures emerged from the sea and made the transition to land, but it seems as though the magnitude of the challenge facing us right now is not dissimilar. And it feels almost hopeless, sometimes, when you see how destructive our behaviour can be.

Last week there was a strike at the local council and none of the bins were collected. Walking around town, I was struck by the sheer volume of rubbish we produce and how most people continued to just dump it in the street. In places, you couldn’t even walk along the pavement for exploded black sacks. Some people even decided to take the opportunity to dump a whole bunch of other stuff that they wouldn’t normally, like old mattresses, armchairs and builders’ waste. It seemed like a very visual expression of separation:  “That’s someone else’s problem”. At work, a similar phenomenon manifests in the attitude that says “I’m here to do my work and then I go home”. The idea of “our work” can seem alien, let alone “our relationships” at work.

On a personal level, people can find it hard to connect all the different aspects of their personality and stop acting in a way that’s self destructive. Take for example people’s struggle with dietary issues. The doctor explains what will happen if you don’t change. But sometimes it’s too hard to break the routine and step outside the comfort zone, even when the consequences are staring us in the face.

I’ve been working with an exercise designed to help you reconnect aspects of your subconscious (you can find details in Debbie Ford’s “Dark Side of the Light Chasers”). It involves finding different ‘characters’ who represent your different aspects. The way the exercise works is that you first need to take yourself into a relaxed state of mind. Then, imagine yourself in different settings where you find different characters. For example, passengers on a bus.  More recently, I found a character in an unexpected location: underwater. This type of exercise is not something I’m terribly familiar with. It is an exploration into the unknown. But it feels like an important one.

Anyway, I think the reassuring thing is that the reality of a challenge is rarely anything like as traumatic as the anticipation. The fear of approaching the edge versus the aliveness of taking the plunge.

Looking forward

I had this vague idea that everything after my first memory is consciously retrievable. Of course that’s not true. There must be plenty more I don’t remember than I do.  So then I worried that I’d lost a part of me.

Perhaps that’s the reason why we record so much stuff, particularly now the technology in our pocket makes it easy. To remind ourselves.

So let’s imagine that it were possible to recall (or record) everything. Would that be a good thing? Well, perhaps not the painful stuff.

OK, so how about if we edited out the painful stuff and remembered just the good experiences? But then we’d have an unbalanced and unrealistic perception of life. It may be that we do subconsciously attempt to erase unpleasant experiences already.

In any case, even if we do have the capacity to remember everything, we simply don’t have the time to spend going over it all again, let alone going over other people’s memories. It would be like an interminable holiday slideshow!

So do we need to worry that “forgotten” memories are lost? Probably not, if they are accumulated in our unconscious, adding to who we are.

That seems quite reassuring. More so if you accept the idea of collective unconscious: that in some small way, all our memories are brought together and carried forward through generations.

On that basis I’m going to focus even more on looking forward, and not get too panicked if I didn’t shoot off 1,000GB of photos and videos at every event!

To finish with, here’s an incredible and humbling thought: the “umwelt” – mentioned in a recent debate about the power of the unconscious mind. A quote from David Eagleman:

“We don’t have a strong grasp of what reality “out there” even is, because we detect such an unbearably small slice of it. That small slice is called the umwelt.

…the electromagnetic spectrum visible to us is less than a ten-trillionth of it. Our sensorium is enough to get by in our ecosystem, but no better.”