My Prayerful Life: Water
I had my first (non-psychedelics-induced) profound spiritual experience in early October 2009. It was still summery in Okinawa, the southernmost part of Japan. My older sister, her husband and I flew in for a diving holiday to see the manta rays. Both my sister and my brother-in-law were experienced divers, so I was going to be trained up before we went to the Manta Scramble, a hot spot for manta rays twenty minutes out to sea.
It was my first time in Okinawa, and on the remote island we chose to stay I was enjoying everything the Okinawan culture could offer, the sunshine, the unspoilt tropical landscape that had never been built over, local shrines off the beaten track, exotic fruit and fruits of the sea I had never previously tasted, the beautiful lull in the local accent, local folk songs, and the native symbolisms that were built into the architecture I’d only seen on TV. The vast sky above me that seemed so low reminded me of my time in Australia. I felt distinctly at home.
Looking back, there was a precursor to the profound experience I was just about to have. I saw cloud like energies swirling above a rooftop, and again in a field of grass near the light house. When I pointed it out to my sister, she asked me to stop because I was freaking her out. It didn’t scare me. I reasoned that it could just be mist of some kind.
I seem to have an ‘epiphany’ when I am feeling the most ‘raw.’ I came to Okinawa with a swollen ankle that throbbed, and my ex-husband’s lawyer was threatening to spoil the leisurely fun. I was downcast from not being able to dance, which was a big part of my identity then, and I was faced with a real risk my bank account could be emptied out.
While my fellow travellers waited snorkelling, I went into a four-metre-deep part of the sea with my diving instructor. He was a local islander about ten years older, tanned with a full head of sun-bleached, salt-dried hair. He was professional in a way that made me feel at ease, which was nice because I was going to dive with him in tandem at the Manta Scramble.
The instructor taught me the hand signals before we went into the water. Once we were under water he communicated to me with a magnetic drawing board. Toward the end of the training session, suddenly I became overwhelmed with claustrophobia. I’d never been claustrophobic before or had an episode since. I panicked and spat out the mouth piece for the oxygen tank. I flapped my arms and pointed a finger up to the surface (a wrong signal for this purpose), pleading with the instructor to take me up for air. I started swallowing sea water and the panic just got intense. It was fear of death in its purest.
All the panic that seemed to last forever could have only been a few seconds. My instructor gestured to me to calm down with the palm of his hand. No, he would not let me quit. When he put his hand up for the second time and looked into my eyes, time stopped. There was something in the depth of his gaze. All of a sudden, all my fear drained away. I trusted this man with my whole life, and I was wanting to surrender for the life of me. I was overcome with what could only be described as unconditional love pouring into me that seemed to flow from his eyes. I felt myself expanding; I was becoming the warm comforting ocean that enveloped me, and him. This was exactly the first moment of ‘rapture’ in my life.
My arm swung back almost automatically to find the mouth piece to put back into my mouth. We carried on like nothing happened to finished off the training. When we finally came up, I saw the familiar faces of my sister and her husband smiling. They weren’t to know what I had just experienced. I wasn’t ready to tell yet, I was too dumbfounded. The dry land felt different now. In fact everything felt new.
The sea was choppy that day and I was worried I’d be thrown overboard while we headed for the Manta Scramble. My diving instructor kept his professional distance during the boat ride. Once we got to the spot, he extended his gloved hand with a warm smile saying, ‘Shall we?’
Yet another profound experience was waiting for me under water. This time it was nothing to do with the instructor. The marine ecology of the area was such that colonies of corals looked like vibrant planets in a blue universe, with hundreds, if not thousands, of different kinds of fish ‘flying’ peacefully along the ‘space highway.’ It literally took my breath away. My mind went totally blank while my senses tried to get a grip. My soul knew I was in utopia. This was the very first time I went to ‘the gap.’ When I came to, I was so awe-struck that all I could manage was to laugh under water. Big bubbles floated up joyously from my upturned mouth.
We didn’t have to wait at all to see the manta rays. The strong sea current of the day had made the water slightly murky, which helped to bring out the cautious manta rays. They probably didn’t see us holding onto the coral underneath as they glided above us like elegant space ships. My heart was bursting with gratitude to behold such magnificent beauty.
The sun was beginning to tilt when we got back to the harbour. My sister led us into the building of the diving school to sign us off and to say thanks to the people who looked after us. She had done this before.
We found my instructor outside just as we were leaving. My brother-in-law and I said our thanks, following my sister’s example. He smiled, returned his thanks in a customary Japanese way with a bow, turned around and went on his way. I just stared at his back, his grey wet suit, and bare feet.
And just like that, the shortest ‘summer love’ of my life ended. Leaving only the sweetest memory I still love to recall from time to time.