Ontology and Scuba Diving
By Ian Lees

I wasn’t thinking about ontology when I let the air out of my buoyancy vest and slowly descended into the murky waters of Sydney Harbour. The current pulled at my scuba gear and I could hear the heavy drawing of my breathing through the regulator. My knees touched the sandy ocean floor as I huddled with my diving group led by our instructor.

It was then I felt the claws of panic start to grip my throat. I felt trapped, unnatural. I tried to breathe to relax but the breaths were short and urgent. I felt like I was drowning. My body wanted out. I gave the thumbs up sign to be dive instructor which meant I was going to surface. He followed me up. As soon as we broke into the open world of air he told me straight.

‘If you are panicking now, I won’t be able to accredit you.’

I felt frustrated that I couldn’t seem to control my feelings of panic. I really wanted to be able to do this. I really wanted to be able to say to people.

‘Look at me, I am nearly sixty years old but I can scuba dive.’

‘Give me one more try,’ I said.

So down we went again, descending into the hazy water. I could feel the water pressing in on me. I pushed myself to keep going. I told myself to just relax and slow my breathing down. But everything in my body was screaming, this isn’t working! Get out now! Again, I gave the ascending signal to my dive instructor and we made our way to the surface again. My scuba diving career was over.

I swam along the surface back to the beach and struggled to stand up with the weight of all the gear. Finally, I was upright and slowly lumbered my way up the narrow street from the beach to the Dive School bus. I ditched the gear and then sat in the gutter with tears of disappointment welling up in my eyes. It was then I was surprised. A wave of relief flooded through my body and I knew in that moment that I really didn’t enjoy scuba diving and I actually didn’t want to do it again. Sure, I was frustrated but as the day wore on and I headed home I felt strangely stronger and proud of myself.

To get the full significance of that moment, it’s important to understand a bit about a learning I have been carrying from my early life - to be safe and okay I must ignore my own Way of Being and comply with the priorities and opinions of others.

One of the most important things I took out of the Ontological Coaching program was the realisation that I had learned to live in the assessments of others. I have spent decades of my life striving to do things that I assessed other people thought were useful and important. I have supressed my own real desires and opinions and tried hard to be agreeable. I trained hard to not listen when my body would tell me, through a yawn of boredom or the quiver of stress and anxiety, that particular activities and contexts were not good for me. But I would ruminate and eventually build the case against myself that I should do these things or I should stay in that situation.

This time, scuba diving didn’t work for me so I just stopped doing it. No analysis, no wondering what anyone else thought, no conversation with myself about how I should toughen up, in fact, no thinking or assessment at all. Just a straight path from the experience of my body to action that took care of my concerns.

I didn’t think much of that fleeting, very non-thinking response. But over the next week I could sense something had shifted in me. In that moment in the water, I had acted on what my body told me and it had felt really good. Now I found myself at work speaking and acting with a more visceral spontaneity. And it felt good. I have started to work from home more regularly because that is where I naturally gravitate to when I want to do thinking and writing work. I just did it. And it felt good.

Scuba diving opened up to a new Way of Being for me. That experience reminded me again that I do know what does and doesn’t work for me. I don’t need to over analyse my feelings, desires and preferences. The ontology of scuba diving has helped me to trust myself more and let my body lead me into a healthy way of life.

** Some follow-up questions for your own reflection

Ian Lees is an ontological coach and facilitator, as well as a writer. He can be contacted at




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