Inspect the ruins: On emotions, non-reactivity, and freediving
Sometimes I see the King of Cups as the ideal version of myself.
Immediately, I feel mastery over emotions. Non-reactivity. He remains undisturbed by the ever-changing ocean; in his view, there is equanimity in both its violence and its placidity.
There is no judgment of the ups and downs of the sea. All is welcome in the emotional landscape. When you are the entire ocean, one temporal storm is such a small thing, really.
This is definitely a practice. The ups and downs of my life have been extremely volatile lately.
In a way, all the meditation I've done has helped smooth out my relationship to my emotional landscape. At my best, I can be in the rough waters without getting swept away. At times, I can wait them out until they pass, without reacting to them. This only gets better with practice.
I can also be in the perfection of the warm, gentle tropical ebbs without forgetting there is still something for me on the shore. Non-attachment. Sometimes the things that feel so good can be just as sticky. (Here, I particularly think of things like codependency and addiction.)
There is a part of us beneath the emotional landscape that stays constant and steady, like the bedrock of who we are. I think everyone has this, although they may not always be in touch with it. I think people find their anchors to it, sometimes in the form of whatever constant they rest on in their lives, i.e., job, home, family, community, etc. However, we don’t all have the same anchors, and sometimes the anchors grow rusty or break.
At the moment, I am left only to rest on myself—my own bedrock, like the platform of the king's throne. I find myself wanting to rest on the external, but the King of Cups only needs himself. He can engage with others and be present with them, but he is also his perfectly self-contained vessel.
This card reminds me I do not need a lifeboat, and I do not need an anchor because I am the lifeboat, and I am the anchor.
I think of freediving—how I quite literally am my own vessel in the water when diving.
It all started when I spent three weeks on Oahu last summer. We went diving on the North Shore and swam out until the people on the beach we departed from looked like ants on a faraway hill.
I had never conceived of walking into the ocean with nothing but my body, not fearing distance. Of course, I wore the freediver’s uniform of a wetsuit, fins, goggles, and a snorkel.
Actually, I didn't even have the proper fins on that day, and I still managed to swim that far out without fear. (I did get seasick and throw up on myself twice, however.)
We saw two manta rays in the water, and we chased one so we wouldn't lose it. The distance from the shore was irrelevant. I felt true joie de vivre being totally present with the manta rays and wanting nothing more than to continue to be around them. Just me, three friends, and two mantas in the open ocean.
One of the manta rays we saw that day, captured by my friend on a GoPro
What I didn't know is that mantas are as wide as a car IRL and swimming with them (just above one, it below me, me at the water's surface) had this strange effect on my consciousness that felt like a portal to some ancient world.
What stands out to me here is how unafraid I was. There was a ten-year stretch in my upbringing where I’d often go to the beach, usually Zuma Beach in Malibu, but would not swim in the water. People would ask me why, and I’d respond, “Because there are dead bodies in there.” (I can maybe chalk this up to some past life trauma but that’s not the topic at hand.)
That changed the year I lived in Florida, a ten-minute walk to the magical Sarasota Bay on the Gulf Coast, which was full of dolphins and silly fish that would awkwardly flop out of the water all day long. Living there changed my relationship to the ocean.
That day in Hawaii, any remaining hesitation, worry, or restraint evaporated...because there were fucking manta rays, and I was swimming with them! At one point, I was so far from my friends that it was truly just me alone with this wild, peaceful creature. Totally connected
The ocean felt alive and so did I. It didn't feel separate from the land. It wasn't a foreign world, it was simply my world that day.
I think this is akin to the landscape of emotions that can often be so intimidating to dive into.
I received a reading from someone recently, and she pulled an interesting version of the Tower card from The Trippin' Waite Tarot, which I'm now seriously considering buying.
This Tower was underwater, and her interpretation and advice was to “dive down and inspect the ruins.” I immediately wrote that down.
Right: A Tower underwater from the Trippin’ Waite Tarot, stolen from somewhere on the internet
The ruins inside oneself
I did the bulk of my freediving training in cenotes in Puerto Morelos, a part of the ‘Riviera Maya,’ as branded by Quintana Roo's tourism industry. It felt like diving into the literal ruins of Mayans, as they considered the cenotes a portal to the underworld. I never forgot this as I swam in them.
The Mayans were suspected to have performed human sacrifice at these sites, and my dive instructor once found a skull at the bottom of a cenote.
In a way, every descent on a breath hold feels like inspecting the ruins inside oneself.
When diving, one mentally contends with the overwhelming need to breathe and the body’s impulse to survive that urges one to return to the surface as quickly as possible.
This survival impulse applies not only to breathing but also in working with our own emotions. In this era, in our post-capitalist world, the way we manage our emotions is interpreted somatically as essential to our survival as is breathing.
What depths within ourselves do we neglect in pursuit of survival?
Freediving is a training not only in technique and safety but in working with our minds. A friend of mine described it as being very “deconstructing.” Plus, it’s fucking fun and takes you to unseen worlds both in the physical and into one’s own interior.
There is an undoing that takes place, and it’s a training in finding freedom from the unconscious pulls inside us. When we exhume what was once unconscious, it’s like witnessing the mind move in slow motion, and therefore, one is able to disentangle the unconscious narratives piece-by-piece. (This can happen in meditation, also.)
The three cenotes I dove in
What I’m inspecting
I’m still in the process of diving and inspecting the ruins. It’s like an underwater archaeological dig. I think of T. S. Eliot:
“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”
I attempt to piece together the fragments to make sense of them, to make sense of my fragmented psyche. But it cannot be done from the level of the fragmentation. The fragments cannot reconstitute themselves—perhaps they should not be resuscitated at all.
It feels like pain is a guidepost. Don’t want to feel this anymore? Look at it, just look. No fixing, just seeing what’s there. Inspect the ruins—that doesn’t mean collect them, that doesn’t mean piece them back together.
Maybe it’s not so important to make meaning of them rather than to simply take inventory.
Change doesn’t happen by believing something is broken. It happens like an epiphany. And epiphanies are a sort of grace—they happen in a striking moment of clarity, not from something one can contrive through an attempt to fix something believed to be broken.
Feeling reborn after three days of diving; Dino, my friend and instructor, pictured in the background