An Earth Day meditation: We will not fully understand who we are until we let go of the myth that we are separate from everything else in creation. And, to dispel this myth, we need to dive deep.
No other woman in history knew this truth so well or lived it so authentically as Natalia Molchanova.
Reputed to be, perhaps, the greatest free diver in the world, Natalia Molchanova mysteriously disappeared into the Balearic Sea, near the island of Ibiza, on August 2, 2015. On a glorious day, taking a break from the instruction she had been giving to two novice divers, Natalia decided to do a solo recreational dive to about 35 meters. It was not a difficult dive, but she did not return. Several days later, all who knew her would accept the unacceptable, believe the unfathomable, and hear the unthinkable from her son, Alexey – “It seems,” he said, “she will stay in the sea. I think she would like that.”
The first woman ever to exceed 100 meters in a free dive, Natalia Molchanova’s 41 world records and no less than 23 world titles, covering the full range of the free-diving art, only begin to tell the story of a remarkable person and remarkably well-integrated life.
Natalia Molchanova was one with the sea.
In an obituary published in The Economist, entitled “The Deepest Dive,” the writer speaks of the wondrous and necessary connection Natalia Molchanova found and formed with nature: “It often seemed strange to Natalia Molchanova, as she dived down and down through the blue water of the Mediterranean or the Red Sea, that the fish did not notice her. Sharks hovered, but they did not approach. Schools of small fish flickered past unconcerned. She noticed one day, however, that a little band was imitating her: swimming not from right to left, but up and down vertically, following (as she was) a long rope let down from the surface.” In the sea, she knew how to become one of its magnificent creatures; a creature the fishes recognized as familiar, if not as one of their own.
Natalia Molchanova was one with the earth.
A formidable free diver and fierce competitor, her students and colleagues were quick to point out that she was also a very gentle and compassionate person, intensely human – ever smiling, joyful, open, and able to listen – always believing and knowing that she could learn from others. She lived totally without fear and with the greatest possible measure of grace. I love this remembrance shared by a friend. Natalia Molchanova enjoyed playing with children and, maybe even more so, she enjoyed the play of children. She liked getting down on her hands and knees, digging in the dirt with them. Entering their world of pretend and of simply being. What allowed her to enter their world, however, was something greater than imagination. She could, as she had done so many times before in her free diving, suspend the parts of herself that were, quite literally, the clumsy encumbrances of “living on the earth’s surface” and, more metaphorically, of “living only on the surface of things.” The special focus and different way of seeing she developed for beneath the waves, she also practiced quite well above. She called it freeing herself from “surface fuss.” Natalia Molchanova would say that in diving she was “for the most part out of [her] mind” – in a different state of consciousness that allowed her to experience the wholeness, oneness of life.
“Free diving is not only a sport,” she remarked, “it’s a way to understand who we are. When we go down, if we don’t think, we understand we are whole. We are one with the world. When we think, we are separate. On the surface, it is natural to think, and we have [much] information inside. We need to reset sometimes. Free diving helps do that.”
I like to think that Caroline Center’s values – values that apply equally to people and to all creation – are our special way of resetting and free diving when life on the surface feels over-crowded and fragmented. Compassion. Respect. Integrity. Diversity. Responsibility. And, more.
Free diving is an art and a talent – a gift – that not many of us will practice, no matter how long we live. It’s only fair to note, however, that Natalia Molchanova did not step away from “surface fuss” and into the sport of free diving until she was 40 years old – appropriately, having acquired the “age of wisdom.” Many more of us, who are thinking seriously about the integrity of creation and of our place in it, may also become seekers of our own special way of free diving. Natalia Molchanova helps us envision what that might be like by suggesting that it’s like comparing “walking on the treadmill” to “walking deep into the forest.”
Natalia Molchanova’s life was a rich one, albeit too brief. In addition to being the best free diver in the world, she was a wife and mother, a teacher, researcher, author, poet, free diving equipment designer, and the developer and creator of free diving instructional and training materials.
On this Earth Day and beyond, here’s wishing for the land-lovers among us our own unique deep walk into the forest and an ever-deepening sense of the wholeness of creation. For those of us who are more at home in the world under the waves, may the sea beckon us to oneness. And, for all of us, I offer this poem from Natalia Molchanova – because whether we are creatures of surface, sea, or space - all of us are made of light.
I have perceived non-existence
The silence of eternal dark,
and the infinity.
I went beyond time,
time poured into me
and we became
I lost my body in the waves
Becoming like its blue abyss
And touching the oceanic secret.
I am going inwards
What I am.
I am made of light
I peer intensely
The depths reveal a breath
I merge with it
And into the world emerge.