Updated: Oct 25, 2022
The most effective way I can think of to free yourself from anxiety is to cultivate the peace that comes through daily meditation practice. We are all looking for freedom from fear and anxiety--the truth is that we can cultivate that awareness through a proven practice, such as breathwork and lovingkindness meditation, two yogic techniques that helps calm and strengthen body, mind and soul.
Here are two chapters from my book, A Fish In Water Athirst on the subject of applying simple meditations while active! These practices really do help to reduce anxiety and stress while building self-confidence and a deep sense of well-being! I hope these chapters hope you to understand that dedicating oneself to daily meditation practice is anything but static and boring!
Pole Diving in Waikiki
The sparse bamboo groves of Lake Walensee, in Switzerland, are dwarfed by the massive stands one is bound to encounter on the island of Waikiki. Hawaiian bamboos grow to a height of eighty or more feet in parts of the Islands. It is easy to find poles to dive with in the Hawaiian Islands so long as you don't mind shimmying up some of the mature trunks in order to reach a dry branch. You see, picking the slim bamboos that grow near downtown apartments can get you into trouble! At least, that’s what I discovered one afternoon while walking to the beach, looking for a pole. Attempting to pick a desiccated bamboo near the Regency Hotel, I was accosted by a guard who didn’t have much of a sense of humor about my pole-pilfering. I guess he didn’t understand that I was merely removing one of the Regency’s dead trees—an eyesore!
I had recently lost two of my roommate’s poles—slender five-footers that had been sitting in a corner of our apartment, begging for employment. I had been out past the breakers with them. My hooks had been caught up in some soft corals. As roaring, crystal clear waves passed over my head, those poles had been wrenched from my grip—on two different dives. It only took a little while for my roomie, Charlie, to notice that they were missing.
I picked two similar poles to replace the old stash. Standing at the beach, I managed to forget about everything. The sun was high overhead. The waves were docile. And the fish were finning in their coralline home. I put on my fins and mask and began to swim out toward the reef, passing a flat that often holds mature turtles. As I made my way slowly toward the first drop off, I spotted several schools of juvenile reef fish flitting in and out of the rocks and fluorescent sea fans. There were orange tangs. Snappers. Sergeant majors. Triggerfish. Trumpets. And plenty of bright corals holding eels and unicorn fish.
Soon I was out deep where the larger schools play hide and seek with each other. I held my pole in my hand, which was rigged with eight feet of line, a small stainless-steel hook, and a heavy split shot. My bait was a strip of raw fish, which I took from a plastic bag held in my sock, under my flippers. Feeders were already starting to respond to the smell of fish seeping from my bait bag. I reached in, slid out a raw fillet, placed a portion on my hook above the water and then carefully returned the left-over fillet to its hiding place. I watched schools of triggerfish soar by like birds in the sky as I lowered my mask below the waves. Their rapidly undulating pectoral fins quivered in greeting, stimulated as they were by the smell of raw fish.
These large homebodies, eager as they appeared, proved pretty wise. They would stare at the baited hook, swim up to it, note the line, and swim away, picking up any tiny pink smidgeons that may have drifted out of my bait bag. However, I managed to catch several small parrotfish—they always seemed hungry.
Exploring farther out, I noticed some heavy bonefish which strutted along clad in bright platinum scales; they disappeared just as rapidly, shooting like arrows through narrow caverns toward the pale sand which hid and fed them.
Barracuda hung together in tight rows too, staring, their bony heads and toothy grins sagging with so many ripe teeth. They would dart and flit sometimes, but usually they hung like long swords—or short steel daggers—rippling in the ever-moving currents, barely breathing. Disappearing. Deeper still, manta rays would sometimes become visible, swimming beneath me, waving their speckled bodies in friendly semi-pelagic salutations. They looked like small boats to me—like dories or skiffs. That far out, divers could find huge grouper. Maybe sharks.
I didn't dive at those depths very often—the deeper valleys—forty, sixty, eighty feet deep, half a mile off the beach, were crystal clear most of the time. But it took a lot of swimming to get that far offshore, and the fish were not easy to spot. Eight to thirty feet of water was usually deep enough. I typically managed to catch-and-release a few jack, triggerfish or parrotfish in these, my favorite inshore fishing grounds.
Even though I lost a lot of poles, I had learned how to find good ones by climbing the mature bamboos, picking a long-dead branch from near the ground. I didn't try to take Charlie’s—or the ones which grew rich and resplendent at the Regency, anymore. Pole diving is a uniquely simple sport, one that helps guide the diver to deeper concentration and happy meditations, even while practicing fishing—underwater. It kept me out of trouble, too—most of the time.
The Silent Witness of Many Reefs
Pole diving gets you moving, helps you stay focused and brings you face to face with many unique marine creatures—not all of them fish. The pole diver knows the joy of diving where there are myriad coral species, waving purple and red sea fans, unique sessile reef organisms, slow moving bivalves, univalve conchs— and cowries. Plus, some beaches hold a good number of intrepid turtles and playful porpoises.
Often, while making my way through shallow water—whether pursuing fish or just cooling off— I would bump into slow-moving turtles munching on sea lettuce or finning, nonchalantly, through the warm water. There are times when turtles avoid divers, but they often remain approachable while feeding and resting. Occasionally, you can get within inches of a feeding turtle.
Diving and fishing are contemplative sports. While kicking along, it is easy to fall into a rhythm, along with the diverse creatures that call this thin brine home. I use simple meditations and prayers when I dive. One of my favorites is a common prayer I learned to love as a monk, or a bit before my life behind cloister walls began.
Studying mantras and meditation, I would sometimes practice the repetition of one of the earliest prayers of the Church, the Jesus Prayer, which has several variations: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” or St. Faustina's version, “Jesus, I trust in you,” are two of my favorites. Synchronizing the prayer with the breath (which seems easy to focus on while breathing through a snorkel), I would often become absorbed in just the first Word, “Jesus.” Other times, all words dissolve as the heart expands to embrace the divine presence. With devotion and meditation come a merging with the silent witness of many reefs, and of all environments.
Moving along the reef, protected by the divine Name and Power, I often find myself bumping into friendly creatures—groups of docile turtles, rippling shoals of ruminant goatfish, and curious mantas seem to enjoy the benefits of my meditation, too. They often remain to eat or rest nearby while I practice my simple mantra-yoga. Perhaps most memorable of all, for me, have been encounters with large turtles and mantas, at close range.
One jetty I frequented in Oahu performed double duty—it served as a platform for fisherman and also as an access point for surfers. Only a few divers explored it carefully but the ones who did would sometimes be rewarded with sightings of huge green turtles. The granddaddies reach a reported maximum size of just over two-hundred kilograms. Hawksbill turtles are also visible near shore; they may grow to over one-hundred-and-twenty-five kilograms. Natives refer to these friendly sea turtles as “Honu,” and they are “Honu-rable!”
A ten minute swim from the jetty brings you to a deep trough that is often full of small turtles. They seemed to share a family resemblance—perhaps they had been born in a clutch, or on a local beach, together. I often noticed the turtles resting on the bottom as a group (almost, as one organism!), laying on the large green rocks of the trough, three to six meters below the bright waves. The turtles would wedge their flippers into small crevices in the rocks so that the current could not dislodge them while they lay digesting a meal, or dreaming half-hidden, animal dreams behind glazed eyes.
While pole diving, I saw fewer turtles, partly because I was focused on finding feeding schools of fish, and partly, I suppose, because I did not appear as gentle when armed with line and hook. The vibrations that one sends in any medium are magnified by intention. I have found that, with practice, simple prayers and meditations become spiritual skills that guide the soul to peaceful encounters in all environments.
Please enjoy reading this book in its entirety!