Recently I traveled to La Paz, Mexico for the sole purpose of swimming with whale sharks. When we arrived, you might imagine my disappointment to discover that the wind was blowing too fast and strong to do it safely.
In fact, we read in the local news about a group of expats that went out against the coast guard’s advisement. Their boat sunk and 27 divers were rescued.
After three days of waiting on the weather, and on the morning of our departure, the winds died down enough to reopen the ocean sanctuary. We were elated, yet had a short window to experience it! We boarded a small tour boat, camera gear in hand, ready for our leisurely swim with the gentle giants.
The waves were still fairly rough, the boat tossed about, and days of churned up sediment caused poor visibility. It took us forty minutes to spot our first dark shadow in the water. With many anxious tourists in a similar situation, a group of full boats followed the few whale sharks that were spotted. Each boat took turns with a maximum of five swimmers at any given time.
“I’ll bring you up in front of the shark,” our tour guide, Eduardo, said. “When I say jump, push off into the water and you’ll be on top of him instantly, so you need to immediately start swimming alongside him.”
“OK, now get ready!”
We awkwardly maneuvered in our fins to sit over the side of the boat, each with a camera in one hand and the other holding tightly to the boat’s bars to keep from falling off.
“Now! Go, go, go!” yelled Eduardo. “Swim, swim, swim!”
I jumped off the boat and was immediately disoriented as to which direction the shark was. Until I looked down. He was under me! And HUGE!
I began furiously kicking my legs to follow him as I held my right hand out with the GoPro. Within milliseconds he blew past me and disappeared into the murky waters.
What just happened? I thought.
We swam the choppy waters back to the boat.
“You have to swim with him,” said Eduardo.
Yup, got that part. Thanks. I thought.
Back on the boat, I realized I was in such a rush to jump, I forgot to turn on the GoPro. Doh!
“OK, get ready,” said Eduardo. “I’m coming around him again.”
We returned to hanging our legs off the side of the boat. My heart was pounding and I was still out of breath from the first attempt.
“Go now! Jump! Go!” yelled Eduardo.
Jumping in, I looked down and he was right beneath me again. I held my arm out to capture a picture. Despite my best kicking effort, I couldn’t keep up.
Once back on the boat, I ditched the GoPro. I was here for the experience, screw getting any pictures. As Eduardo started to catch up with the shark for a third time, I told myself I needed to slow down.
As a fellow coach Terry DeMeo once told me, “There is always a leader in any energetic exchange.”
I was letting Eduardo’s frenzied energy and my own panicked fear of “missing out” spin me into a tizzy.
Thankfully, I have the tools to bring myself back to myself, the present moment, and that amazing experience.
As I put my fins back on and prepared to sit on the side of the boat, I focused on slowing down and deepening my breathing. I acknowledged the excitement I felt in my body and observed what that physically felt like and where.
“Ok now! Go, go, go,” yelled Eduardo.
Without my camera, I swam freestyle along side this beautiful creature. I intentionally kept my breathing long, slow and deep as I found a swimming rhythm.
Keeping pace, I admired and noticed the details on his skin. How his white spots looked like they’d been made by dotting a much-used paintbrush with the bristles creating smaller dots at the edges. I examined the way his five gills, that were the length of my arm, opened and closed. I looked down at his right fin, directly below me, and noticed it was the size of my entire body. I noted the ridges along his back like the ripples waves make on a sandy ocean floor.
As I admired this immense, elegant and gentle animal, I managed to slip into his draft stream. Swimming was no longer laborious. And I felt a connection to him…like we were one.
Time slowed down and it was nothing short of spectacular. I was in love with this whale shark!
Then my thoughts interrupted: You’re getting too far from the boat and your people.
As I popped my head up to see where I was in relation to them, the shark quickly moved out of sight. Connection lost. Sure enough, I was quite far from the boat and my husband, who had been yelling, “Come back!”
Neither my husband nor our guide had managed to keep up and had been bobbing in the waves waiting for me to lose steam. This experience is not credited to my swimming skill (although it helped to have free arms), it’s due to three simple practices:
- Slowing down my breathing
- Feeling into my body
- Becoming curious and watchful
If you’re finding that this holiday season has you feeling rushed and frenzied, it’s the absolute best time to become still and present. Practice the above three steps and my hunch is that time will slow back down to an even pace, and you’ll enjoy the magical experience of the holiday season more.
If you’d like one-on-one coaching on integrating these three steps into your daily life to relieve stress, let’s talk!