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.


“Normal” probably isn’t balanced

I’ve had this nagging pain in my neck and shoulder for months, so for the first time ever I went to see an osteopath.

This was his diagnosis: compressed vertebrae in my neck, tendinitis in my shoulder and a slight hip imbalance. He showed me how, when relaxed, one of my shoulders sat about an inch above the other and one of my legs extended beyond the other. Sounds bad, but I’m told that these are actually fairly common complaints. Whilst they may not cause big problems in the short term, over time, the affects could become more serious if left unchecked. In my case, the most likely causes are the high impact and sudden forces involved with kite surfing, and the more subtle, incremental forces of things like working at a computer.

It was quite a surprise to find how far from normal my perception of normal was. And strange how unnatural my body felt being pushed into a more balanced position. I suppose anybody who has a preference between their right and left sides must suffer to some degree and will appreciate how odd it feels to lead with the opposite side. I also found out that whilst I’m right handed, I’m in a minority of less than 20% of people with left eye dominance. [Here’s how to test for yourself]

I wonder how many “normal” things in life are in fact destructively imbalanced either as a result of major shocks or incremental effects over time. Whether it’s your body, relationships, the economy or the environment, I guess the good news is that there are always early warning signals offering opportunities to redress the balance. Perhaps the important challenge is to spot those signals and actively set about getting back into equilibrium.

Is there anything that you’ve thought doesn’t feel quite right but you’ve not got round to fixing?

Here’s a profound and beautiful video featuring someone who’s given this a lot of thought.