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  • Writer's pictureIan Lees

Ontology and Scuba Diving

By Ian Lees

I wasn’t thinking about ontology when I let the air out of my buoyancy vest and slowly descended into the murky waters of Sydney Harbour. The current pulled at my scuba gear and I could hear the heavy drawing of my breathing through the regulator. My knees touched the sandy ocean floor as I huddled with my diving group led by our instructor.

It was then I felt the claws of panic start to grip my throat. I felt trapped, unnatural. I tried to breathe to relax but the breaths were short and urgent. I felt like I was drowning. My body wanted out. I gave the thumbs up sign to be dive instructor which meant I was going to surface. He followed me up. As soon as we broke into the open world of air he told me straight.

‘If you are panicking now, I won’t be able to accredit you.’

I felt frustrated that I couldn’t seem to control my feelings of panic. I really wanted to be able to do this. I really wanted to be able to say to people.

‘Look at me, I am nearly sixty years old but I can scuba dive.’

‘Give me one more try,’ I said.

So down we went again, descending into the hazy water. I could feel the water pressing in on me. I pushed myself to keep going. I told myself to just relax and slow my breathing down. But everything in my body was screaming, this isn’t working! Get out now! Again, I gave the ascending signal to my dive instructor and we made our way to the surface again. My scuba diving career was over.

I swam along the surface back to the beach and struggled to stand up with the weight of all the gear. Finally, I was upright and slowly lumbered my way up the narrow street from the beach to the Dive School bus. I ditched the gear and then sat in the gutter with tears of disappointment welling up in my eyes. It was then I was surprised. A wave of relief flooded through my body and I knew in that moment that I really didn’t enjoy scuba diving and I actually didn’t want to do it again. Sure, I was frustrated but as the day wore on and I headed home I felt strangely stronger and proud of myself.

To get the full significance of that moment, it’s important to understand a bit about a learning I have been carrying from my early life - to be safe and okay I must ignore my own Way of Being and comply with the priorities and opinions of others.

One of the most important things I took out of the Ontological Coaching program was the realisation that I had learned to live in the assessments of others. I have spent decades of my life striving to do things that I assessed other people thought were useful and important. I have supressed my own real desires and opinions and tried hard to be agreeable. I trained hard to not listen when my body would tell me, through a yawn of boredom or the quiver of stress and anxiety, that particular activities and contexts were not good for me. But I would ruminate and eventually build the case against myself that I should do these things or I should stay in that situation.

This time, scuba diving didn’t work for me so I just stopped doing it. No analysis, no wondering what anyone else thought, no conversation with myself about how I should toughen up, in fact, no thinking or assessment at all. Just a straight path from the experience of my body to action that took care of my concerns.

I didn’t think much of that fleeting, very non-thinking response. But over the next week I could sense something had shifted in me. In that moment in the water, I had acted on what my body told me and it had felt really good. Now I found myself at work speaking and acting with a more visceral spontaneity. And it felt good. I have started to work from home more regularly because that is where I naturally gravitate to when I want to do thinking and writing work. I just did it. And it felt good.

Scuba diving opened up to a new Way of Being for me. That experience reminded me again that I do know what does and doesn’t work for me. I don’t need to over analyse my feelings, desires and preferences. The ontology of scuba diving has helped me to trust myself more and let my body lead me into a healthy way of life.

** Some follow-up questions for your own reflection

  • What significant events have you experienced from which you have labelled yourself as a “failure”, or made unhelpful negative judgments of yourself?

  • Thinking about one or more of these events, what are the opinions and standards of others have you been judging yourself from?

  • What do you really want for yourself in some areas of your life and how will you take your authority to act responsibly from your own standards to bring these about?

  • How will you begin to listen to what tour body is telling you about what is most appropriate for you to be doing and not doing?

Ian Lees is an ontological coach and facilitator, as well as a writer. He can be contacted at

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