The Little Things

Fish Underwater
Photo: Petr Kratochvil

“Should I buy a dive knife for the lessons?”

“What do we do about the sharks?”

Without a doubt, these were the two questions I was asked the most when I was a scuba instructor. Learning how to scuba dive happens in three places, usually—the classroom, a swimming pool, and in the ocean or a lake. I worked in South Florida, so it was the ocean for me and my students. Most of them were boiling over with questions about sharks and boats and fish. And the knife, always about the knife.

There are lots of little details that can divert your attention along the way from clueless beginner, through “I know enough to be dangerous”, all the way to competent open water diver. But these are not the point. What kind of depth gauge did you get? Is your suit 3mm or 6mm, shorty or full? When I clear my ears, my face feels funny. All relevant at the time, but all very irrelevant to the whole point.

Paying attention to small moments may sound easy, but it takes respect, imagination, and curiosity. —Robert Maurer

People would travel from all over to the generally warm and calm water of South Florida for a relaxing vacation, so it always surprised me to learn how they imagined a scene from James Bond, or a SEAL Team mission. They soon learned that diving is more like a kid blowing bubbles in a bathtub than a soldier swimming with a knife in his teeth. It is fun and exciting to see all the colorful fish and coral, and to visit what seems like another world. But somewhere in their minds they’re thinking fun and adventure means use my knife and choke-hold underwater spies, which of course, it doesn’t.

Scuba diving Indonesia
Photo: Ilse Reijs

After putting some time in, you realize the trick to having a fun and successful dive is to chill out, see cool stuff, and stay safe and comfortable.

Of course, our expectations and preconceptions can paint a picture that’s very different from the reality of any experience. This is one reason why most people don’t like change—for most, they like things their way, the way they expect or imagine.

At all times, the true warrior has to expect nothing, but be ready for anything. —Kato Kiyomasa

When you can breathe under water, there’s no hurry. Of course, there’s no email, no iOS 8 Tweet-nado, and no electronic annoyances either. Nothing to distract from the effortless floating, the colorful coral, the fish, and the sound of your bubbles. The little things are everything. The little things are the whole point.

But the vacationers and new students would sometimes come all loaded down with their expectations - their idea of what should happen, and what they should see, and how it should feel. And the gap, between the reality and the expectation, was usually a disappointment to them. The beautiful scenery and warm water and sunshine just wasn’t quite “what they imagined”, and it often left them wanting.

Others would have an open mind about it all. They focused on the little lessons and the gear and the techniques, and of course, the bubbles. Since they had no set expectations, no agenda (and no thoughts of buying a dive knife), they were free to enjoy the moments as they showed up. They loved learning how to clear water from a mask just because they could blow more bubbles and have more fun.

We could all do with a bit less expectation, a little less premature judgment, and a whole lot more bubbles, sunshine, and fish.