I take a deep breath in and invert, diving down into the water. The sounds of voices and waves gently lapping vanish. My sense of touch becomes universal, my body completely enveloped by water. The lack of other stimuli highlights the brilliant colors of the reef below me. I slowly kick my fins, back and forth, forcing myself to descend at a controlled pace while my buddy watches me closely from the surface. Thirty feet below me, there is an opening in the rock surrounded by small fish. I approach it, and hesitate. Beyond the opening, there are twenty-five feet of tunnel with coral on all sides of me, and no way to come up for air. I weigh my options. Turn away, make an excuse, and say I’ll do it next time, or push myself through. After a few seconds of wavering, I move forward and enter the tunnel. All of the tension washes away. It’s over now, because there is no turning back. I have to finish.
As I swim through the water, I look over to the side and see a Gray Angelfish, beating its pectoral fins, and staring at me, fascinated. I pass it, and begin to feel the urge to breathe. I ignore it and concentrate on the beauty of the tunnel, all the while kicking my fins. Not only is it a unique place, teeming with sub-tropical life, but I am seeing it from an unnatural point of view. Part of its beauty is the idea that I am in a place that humans do not belong, a place where I cannot survive more than a couple minutes. I do my best to get lost in this feeling.
I get yanked out of my trance as my hearing snaps on again. I hear a gulping noise, as I involuntarily attempt to breathe. It happens again, and again, as I near the end of the tunnel but I feel secure knowing my limits and that I’m being closely monitored by my instructors. I see light pouring through the hole, and slowly swim out. As I begin to ascend, I force myself not to try to breathe, and spin in a circle, a small school of yellowtail snapper catching my eye. My lungs plead for oxygen, but I slow down even more, barely moving, pushing myself to relax and enjoy the last few moments of this experience. A few bubbles escape my lips, and they trickle upward, racing each other to the surface. I take my last few kicks and break the surface. I am greeted by the sounds of the waves and the smell of seawater. I fully exhale, completely emptying my lungs, before finally taking a deep breath in.