I went scuba diving today. It was pretty cool. The experience I had was just an “intro to scuba” kind of thing, a chance to “get my feet wet” (pun intended) in the sport. We dove in a specially-designed swimming pool at the local dive center and stayed in the six-foot section, so it hardly counts as scuba “diving.” More like “swimming around underwater breathing through a tube.”
All of which got me thinking, as I sat on the bottom of the pool with my inner-ear pressure equalized and my breath coming in Darth Vader-like rasping breaths: I think Maslow was on to something. Food and water comes before a nice car, and a dry place to sleep comes before the motivation to pursue a doctorate, and the freedom not to get blown up in your sleep comes before the freedom to crusade for environmental causes. Ever had a toothache? That stupid tooth consumes your entire life ― you can’t even think clearly enough to watch American Idol, and we all know how much brain power that takes. It’s the same thing with air, only worse. Enclosed in that scuba mask, stiff rubber valve clenched tightly in my teeth, my own heartbeat pounding in my ears, I became incredibly aware of how important air is. It’s a stupid thing to say, of course, as anyone who’s ever been choked can tell you (been there, done that too), but your mind gets a chance to wander a bit six feet under water.
And hey. I bet Abraham Maslow never went scuba diving, so maybe I’m the first one to add “air” to his silly little hierarchy.
At any rate, scuba diving was a blast. The first five breaths or so were kind of panicky, and the sense of neediness towards my breathing regulator never really went away, but it was an incredible experience. The mind-paralyzing obsession with air eventually diminishes enough for you to realize how glutted with sensation and sensory input we are here on the surface. There’s no such thing as background noise underwater. No visual distractions (it helped I couldn’t wear my glasses). We couldn’t even move fast ― the “underwater Frisbee” was comical, a slow-motion parody of normal human locomotion.
Underwater, everything matters.