Where have you experienced a disconnection of soul in your life?
How have you been brought back to center by an unexpected encounter with the sacred Other?
How did your soul learn to breathe again?”
I am not a diver, but living at the beautiful Gulf Coast, I have a number of friends and acquaintances that do. There is a joke about I heard someone tell about himself having difficulty relating to his wife’s spiritual conversations. He called her a “deep diver” and himself a “top floater”. Kirk Squires writes this week about diving deep and the impact it had on his soul. I found myself holding my breath as I read about his experience of Divine Stillness in the dark silence of the ceep.
“In my 30s, when I started to enjoy a significant degree of professional success, I discovered my soul paid a heavy price for it. I was seeking initiation into the hallowed halls of those who had arrived at the pinnacle of their careers — an all-too-common narrative for those driven to succeed — but the grace of God allowed an irksome disturbance in the field of my awareness. One day, I woke up grumpy, and I remained so for several weeks. My stellar professional performance slipped, and soon I found myself in my superior’s office. At a complete loss to relieve the confused expression on her face (and mine), I could offer no satisfactory explanation. It felt like a low-grade fever that wouldn’t break. A series of additional humiliations resulted in the conscious reconsideration of my soul’s deteriorating condition. I came to realize that I was an achievement addict who thrived on the attention and approval of others. Once I could honestly admit this, a painful truth emerged: I was exhausted, disillusioned, and empty. The shine of my promising career quickly faded. I had nothing left to give. Sometimes, our ego must shut down before the soul can get its due. My soul had been trying to get my attention for quite some time, but it was buried beneath my ego-driven performance and denial. God knew my soul needed something much different if I was going attend to it. Diving the Wall An invitation appeared in the form of a scuba-diving excursion on a Caribbean cruise some friends invited me to take with them. As an introvert, scuba diving was an appealing option for someone not inclined to “get his extrovert on” with a full boat of party cruisers. Little did I know the scuba excursion would serve as one of my life’s most profound spiritual experiences. We made two dives that day. On one dive, we swam with a dozen Caribbean reef sharks. Although they’re not a dangerous species, it certainly got my attention. The other dive took place atop of what’s affectionately known as “The Wall.” The Wall is where the Continental Shelf abruptly meets shallow water in a severe and sudden dropoff. Nothing prepared me for what I would experience when I swam from the warm and safe shallows over the rim of The Wall. A massive dark abyss opened underneath me — an enormous hole disappearing into absolute nothingness. For the first few minutes, I was completely unnerved by The Wall. Oddly enough, it was far more intimidating than diving with sharks. As I drifted further from the relative safety of the reef over the menacing abyss, my Ignatian imagination kicked in with what can now be described as desolation. I simply knew that a hideous sea monster would emerge from the depths, clasp me in its tentacles, and drag me down to my demise. Or worse, that The Wall would swallow me whole as I became just another small morsel that failed to satiate its voracious appetite. Divers, beware … Another unusual sensation seized me as I realized that I was breathing too rapidly. Hyperventilation is no friend to divers for multiple reasons — nausea, disorientation, and running out of air chief among them. Fortunately, my training prepared me well, and I was able to get my breathing back under control. It took significant focus and energy to do so, but the alternative wasn’t very promising. Close Encounters of the God Kind I started to adapt to the environment and center into the experience. Although “monkey mind” still assaulted my thoughts, it eventually gave way to an awareness of the rich stillness in which I was immersed. As I floated weightlessly through the water, all I knew was an incredible quiet, a reign of silence but for the breath and air bubbles pulsing through my regulator. It was a silence I’ve rarely experienced even now. It was very thick. It felt as if it held me. As the silence encompassed me, I started to perceive an extraordinary solitude and peacefulness — one that accepted and befriended me. Although I don’t recall my thoughts from that time, I remember feeling that a mysterious Presence was inviting me into conversation with itself. Here, in this foreign and unnatural habitat for humans, I somehow felt strangely welcomed and embraced. I began to trust and revere that Presence and its all-encompassing silence. I felt that I was indeed “floating in holy ground,” and I wanted to remove my flippers, wetsuit, mask, and tank. Whatever this Presence was, it knew how to welcome strangers — or at least those who remain long enough for a true encounter with it. My air gauge told me it was time to conclude the dive and return to the surface, but I didn’t want to leave. No matter how badly I desired it to be otherwise, my lungs weren’t gills. What About You? I had experienced an intimate otherness there in the depths of The Wall. It was majestic invitation, benevolent visitation, and divine revelation. What began as an intimidating and unnerving adventure became an awe-inspiring, profound, sacred encounter. It was simultaneously a terrifying and sublime experience where I touched the eternal present. God knew exactly what it would take to reconnect me with my soul. It’s not something I could have manufactured or others could have engineered. My soul was sick, and the prescription was far beyond what I could have imagined: descending into the hands and heart of God in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Where have you experienced a disconnection of soul in your life? How have you been brought back to center by an unexpected encounter with the sacred Other? How did your soul learn to breathe again?”