James Nestor’s Guide to Free Diving

In his book Deep: Free Diving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves, James Nestor explains how he learned to free dive. For Nestor the process was not as simple as just getting into the water and learning to hold his breath. At first he had a real fear of reaching new depths, and this fear held him back from truly being able to free dive and experience the physical and psychological changes that accompany free diving.  One of his free diving coaches was a woman named Hanli Prinsloo who helped Nestor learn to free dive by helping him connect with the ocean in an almost spiritual manner.  Prinsloo turned to her own story to help Nestor understand how to connect to the ocean, and Nestor shares that story in the book. Prinsloo isolated herself from society in a spiritual retreat focusing on philosophy and self awareness through practices such as yoga and conscious breathing. Recounting one of Prinsloo’s personal trips to Dharmsala, India Nestor writes,


“At the end of her stay, she rediscovered a “stillness” in herself.  it was the same stillness that had first attracted her to free diving fifteen years earlier, but it had been lost in her ambition to keep going deeper.”
“In Dharamsala, I remembered that free diving was all about letting go,” she says. “After Dahab, I was reminded again, that you can never force yourself into the ocean. You do that and” – she pauses – “you’ll just get lost.”


To me, and this was apparent when I first read the quote, the idea of stillness seems to also represent complete self awareness.  Our lives are very busy and rushed, and we often force ourselves into situations that are not always the best. Often times we are pursuing goals both good and bad, and without a moment of stillness we lack the ability to truly reflect on our path and realign ourselves.  When you lose this stillness by constantly seeking an outcome you become lost in what you are doing. There must be stillness as a place for you to stay grounded.


Prinsloo’s story shows us the power of connecting with nature, and also the danger in chasing after goals without thinking of how your struggle for those goals affects you and those around you.  Philosophy and self awareness helped Prinsloo to see that by diving for deeper goals she was missing out on enjoying the ocean that she was submerged in.  I think this correlates nicely with our lives in many ways.  It is easy to become so focused on a single area in life to forget about the world, interactions, and relationships that surround us.  Prinsloo needed a moment to step away from her goals and chaos to understand her true desires and see what path she should follow.

Important Decisions

At the end of his letter of advice written to James Harmon for his book, Take My Advice, Alphonso Lingis writes “Never make any important decision out of depression, a sense of needs, of dependency.” He continues to explain that when you make choices because of fear, those choices typically end up being poor choices.  According to Lingis, decisions that are made during happy moments are decisions that are made with more clarity, and more closely align with your true inner feelings.
For Lingis, when we make decisions because we are afraid of negative feelings or because we believe that it is what is expected of us, especially when those feelings don’t align with our own desires, we end up making hasty choices that in the long run will lead us to more difficult situations.
For me, this has been something that I have experienced multiple times.  There was a point in college where I was not happy and I was uncertain about my future.  I decided to switch my major to business because I was afraid of not finding a job immediately out of college. I was depressed, and scared, and made a decision without truly looking at what I waned and was best for me.  The major only led me further into depression.
What I later learned was to follow a major that I enjoyed and that made me happy. I switched to Spanish and found more ways to become connected and involved on campus. By taking risks and putting myself in situations where I enjoyed what I was doing, even if it was not what all of my friends were doing, I was able to grow in new ways by becoming a more engaging person. I learned to value decisions that aligned with my inner purpose,  despite the fact that those decisions were not easy and would not clearly lead to a job, .
I think that Lingis’ message is to find areas that will help you grow and feel at peace with you inner self.  By making decisions because we are afraid of what the future will hold, we act hastily and make choices that we think will make us happy, rather than making decisions that we know will make us happy.