Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Silence is like free diving

I remember the joy and excitement of snorkeling as a teenager off the stony and steeply shelving East Beach at Selsey. It is a stormy coast and hosts a lifeboat which when summoned slides from its boathouse on the end of a jetty to rescue 'those in peril on the sea' on the often difficult waters that lead in to the ports of Portsmouth and Southampton past the Isle of Wight. I can visualise those grey skies and seas now and the bite of the pebbles on calloused teenage feet.

Launching from the groyne and staying down as long as possible until the air burns in the lungs it was often possible to surprise bass and other fish taking cover from the strong current and then chase them through the seaweed as seemingly effortlessly they sped away into the green murk churned by the waves and then blowing out the air from the snorkel and resting on the surface.

Free diving seems more risky, expelling the air from lungs and plunging as deep as one can to the verge of drowning. I have never done it. However I have tried the technique of breathing out all the air from the snorkel before diving to reduce buoyancy.  The thrill of this is that if anything goes wrong you have sunk yourself.

Swimming below water can be noisy but there is that silence that surrounds it, the silence of concentration and the feel of the water pressure on the body. With practice and young lungs it possible to swim for longer under water.

Silence is like this too as with attendance to the body and breath one sinks into a new realm and sometimes a wordless, attentive still inner silence can be entered into for long or short periods and in this time is often telescoped since sometimes time seems to stop still and sometimes one surfaces to discover hours of clock time have passed. Just as when one is under water, sound recedes or is changed and becomes less immediate and more remote.

Silence is like that elusive grey fish that swims away through the seaweed.  For a few moments I am a seal, a dolphin an adolescent young man. I am one with the water, a selkie in spirit.


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  2. Hello Nicholas! I loved your imagery in this post, especially the seal/selkie. It connects with imagery I've worked with for dreams and prayer... I'm thinking, though, of the times when I feel less like a beautiful, elegant sea-swimmer and more like the beached seal, blubbery and ungainly. This is my element, the only place I can breathe. I can't chase the grey fish of silence here, only trust that God will find me here. Ah, but it's on the beach that the seals sing! (I've heard them on Holy Island...)