A little story about how mindfulness tools support me to cope better with stressful situations and how I have developed greater confidence and self belief as a result.
I met my husband 5 years ago. Ever since I've known him he's been passionate about scuba diving and trained as an instructor last year. I always said I could never ever scuba dive. Why? Well: I am scared of deep water, not a confident swimmer, have a phobia of drowning and also have asthma, so can get anxious about my breathing. Not a good recipe for a successful scuba diver!
Most of us have our own versions of self-limiting beliefs – about what we can and can't cope with, and what we can and can't do. “I could never go to a dance class”, “I could never learn to swim”, or more day to day challenges and stresses: “I can't face going to the supermarket today”. My scuba diving story is just one example of how mindfulness can help to deal with challenges and stresses.
Last year I decided to push myself a bit and face my fears, and did a “Discover Scuba Dive” with Hidden Depths, the club my husband dives with. For many people this little taster session “try dive” is quite a basic and straightforward thing to do, but for me it was terrifying. Just putting my face underwater and breathing was a huge step. There were some underwater skills I was shown to potentially do during the session: getting a bit of water in the mask and clearing it, and taking out the regulator then putting it back in and clearing it, but I was convinced I wouldn't be able to do any of that, and just had a go at swimming around in the shallow end, near the side of the pool so I could come up at any time. Patient dive master Wendy was there with me, calm and reassuring. As the session went on, I had an interesting experience: while part of me was very frightened, another, bigger part of me was able to be calm and steady, and be with the fear. I could focus on my breathing, which is essential anyway in diving! Breathing steadily, calmly, slowly and continuously was familiar from my meditation practice. Towards the end of the session, as I just stayed with my fear and continued to swim around, something in me just switched and I suddenly knew I could do all the skills. And... I went ahead and did them! Even throwing the regulator away and recovering it, clearing it and breathing again! I shocked myself and was very happy to have overcome such a seemingly massive obstacle of fear.
Fast forward, after a couple more try dives, I decided to do the PADI Open Water course with my husband, who qualified as an instructor last year. I went through the same kind of process with the skills I had to learn, feeling fear, and at each stage practising breathing with it, allowing it to be there but not letting it overwhelm me. It was a primal, fearful part of me, like a terrified meerkat that was convinced I would die - signalling Massive Threat! Danger! Red Alert!
I gave myself time to acclimatise to each new task, and allowed myself to repeatedly fail. Struggling to do it, failing, recovering, and trying again. One skill I really struggled with was fully flooding the mask with water. I was convinced water would shoot up my nose and I would drown! Just trying to do it would send my body into a panic and I would pop up to the surface of the pool, spluttering. Over time - with persistence, I got to the point, towards the end of the course, where I could be on the bottom of the deep end, take my mask off completely, swim the width of the pool – still on the bottom of the deep end – and put the mask back on and clear it.
Throughout the course, I experienced many powerful thoughts saying “I can't do this!”, “I am no good”, “I am not going to come back next time”, “why am I even trying?”, etc. I was able to be with those thoughts, feelings of fear, beliefs and ideas and tap into another part of me that was more steady and grounded, and more patient and encouraging, that just said “let's try again, let's keep going and see what happens”.
So in the end, practising a lot of persistence, patience and kindness with myself, and with a lot of patience and skilled teaching from my husband, I completed the course! Here I am below with my PADI card as proof – a hard won piece of plastic! To qualify, I completed my final 18 metre dive in the sea in Spain in June 2018.
Mindfulness gives us tools to deal with stressful situations more constructively, build self-confidence and self belief, live more fully and discover what we are really capable of. Fancy learning more? Contact me to book into my free taster session at GL11 Community Hub in Cam, Gloucestershire, on Wednesday 26th September 2018, 7-8pm – for the 8 week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course starting in October. Read more about the course here.