I recently told this to myself whenever I put my wetsuit on or had my goggles dipped in the water. It was funny, though. The one place that I feel home and at the same time terrified the most is water. Even when swimming in a pool filled with people or diving with familiar buddies, the excitement of seeing weird aquatic life or blue clear water has always been teamed with the fear (and, oddly, hope) of dying.
In fact, I experienced several ‘accidents’ when I had my joy in the water. Drowning in a public pool in my first swimming class in elementary school, drowning (again) in the southern beach of Bali, intoxicated by high level of blood nitrogen in a dive trip near Jakarta and lastly, two dives with choked throat in Bali and Ambon.
If I got quick helps in the first three accidents, the last two happened silently.
In Padang Bai, none of my dive buddies knew that I talked to myself, “This is it” and just let myself wander mindlessly. I remembered giving up breathing because, I found out later, my regulator valve was not properly sealed. My bad – and do not do this – was not doing STA – stop, think and act – but instead thinking about my last breaths. With the last long breath, I laid myself on a sandy bottom under Pertamina Jetty, watching two coconut octopuses creating new life while I was giving up mine. That was until my blurry sight caught a face staring at me from the distance; my dive guide, signaling a question whether I was okay.
I gasped, having my senses back and trying to suck air from my mouthpiece. Failed. But my fingers gave a reflect okay sign to my guide, only to watch him glided away. There I was, holding the tiny air that remained in my lungs while trying to get my mind back at work. I reached the knob in my regulator valve and tried to turn it open. Losing my orientation, I couldn’t decide which one was clock wise or anti clock wise. Until finally, with the last energy in my hands and fingers, the valve was opened and a stream of air rushes into my throat and lungs. An extended life.
Nobody knew what I had that day; nobody but Mrs Marco, a lady healer who giggled and said how stupid I was to gave up life so easily. The truth was, I did not think. My eyes, the only sense organ was probably still working, was too occupied watching marital ritual of the two octopuses while hypnotized by their sharply staring eyes.
If that one was not even close to NDE, the last one I had was just yesterday, in a morning dive in the first Saturday of December 2017. My dive guide told us that it will be a 30m dive, with mild to strong current and cold water. Not my favorite dive scene, I thought. But, I braved myself to reach the speed boat. Still, thinking about potential death ahead.
To be honest, the dive was not too bad; I’ve been in worse dive scene before. What more, I saw five pygmy seahorses tucked in a pink sea fan. While carefully studying the seahorses, I heard a whisper in my ear, ‘Death’. I looked right, to my dive buddy, a Japanese guy I barely met that morning. He stared at the seahorses, so I was sure it was not him. Five seconds and another whisper entered my ears, ‘You are going to panic and die.’ This time, I knew for sure it was my mind playing tricks to my ear. I ignored it, only to find my throat choked itself, blocking air from entering my lungs. I could suck air from my mouthpiece but they seemed to stop somewhere in my throat.
Unfortunately, it happened when everyone was busy with the pygmy seahorses. I remembered what happened in Padang Bai. I closed my eyes and do the STA. But this time, I felt a burning sensation around my skin. The heat seemed like melting my arm muscle that was trying to move the regulator valve. When I hastily reached the valve, I realized that it was working properly. It was my mind telling my throat to block the air.
I looked up; glorious morning rays entered the water and lulled me. That was until when my dive guide patted me on my back. I gave him an okay sign, knowing that I was not. But suddenly, my throat cleared off. The crumpled air in my throat suddenly blowed into my lungs. The burning sensation disappeared, bringing back the cold from the water.
I crawled on the seafloor to find the other dive guide asking if I was okay. This time, I gave her a firm sign with a half smile. I was relieved.
The following evening, I meditate on the burning sensation. I remember my guru told me that when awareness is released from its physical host, a strange sensation usually occurred in one or more of the sensing organs. Probably, in this dive, because I closed my eyes, I sensed the burning all over my skin.
Did I feel sorry having this experience? No. I thought about making this as my last dive, marking ten years of spending my time diving. Do I want to return to the water? I would like to do so, believing that life started and will end in the ocean. At least mine.