“Notice where you feel the rising and falling sensation of the breath most strongly.” I summon the voice of Andy Puddicombe, founder of the blockbuster meditation app Headspace, as the air from my oxygen tank fills my lungs and slowly floats my body toward the water’s surface. When I breathe out, I watch as the air bubbles escape from my regulator and I hover closer to the bottom of the reef, where I spot a yellow boxfish hiding behind a patch of swaying purple coral. Fifteen metres underwater, I have to surrender to my breath – it’s now in charge of my every move. Inhale, rise; exhale, descend. Repeat.
This is my first time scuba diving in more than a year, and I’m nervous: We’re at the Watamula dive site in northern Curaçao, and the current on our first descent is strong. But I trust Loys Leso, an unflappable instructor from local outfitter Go West Diving, who guides our group of five. Sitting outside the hurricane belt, Curaçao is home to one of the most beautiful fringing reefs in the Caribbean – though like much of the region, it has been affected by coral bleaching. There are nearly 70 dive sites, and the island’s underwater landscape teems with marine life, ranging from ferocious barracudas to languid manta rays to dushi angelfish (that’s “sweet” in Papiamentu, the local creole language).
I first fell in love with scuba diving while travelling solo across Southeast Asia, where I jumped off tiny boats to swim among Mola mola fish and hammerhead sharks twice my size. Years later, the sport took on a deeper meaning after a bad breakup forced me to move back in with my mother in the twilight of my twenties (deep breath). Suddenly home in my childhood bedroom, I began dabbling in meditation: Every morning, I practised observing my thoughts with curiosity instead of my typical judgment. As I felt the calm of my slow breaths, worlds away from the social–media circus and distractions of my life, the similarities between meditation and diving jumped out at me. And I longed to go back to my happy place under the sea.