Tag Archives: diving

What have I learnt?

My eight months in Thailand are nearly over – in two more days I’m flying back to Australia.  I’ve been reflecting on what I have learnt during this adventure.  I’ve learnt things during my time at the temple, on Koh Tao doing my dive master training, at the Rotary Peace Fellowship at Chulalongkorn University, and even on the plane flying over here!  There is far too much to fit into one blog post, but here are 10 lessons that I’ve learnt that will make a difference to how I live my life from now on.

1.  Fit your own oxygen mask before assisting those around you

Eight months ago, as I was settling myself into my seat for my flight to Bangkok, the flight attendant gave this very important safety advice.  However, the advice is useful in a much broader sense in life.  If you don’t look after your own well-being, you are not able to be any help to others.  This connects with another important lesson I learnt during my time at the temple:

2.  Be compassionate to others, and also to yourself

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Dalai Lama

Being compassionate to others is not about pity, and it’s not about only being compassionate to those who are ‘worthy’.  True compassion is that which we feel when we are confronted by someone who we find incredibly difficult, ignorant, rude, violent or evil – it’s about understanding that those people are suffering and their behaviour stems from this intrinsic suffering.  It’s about wanting the best for them so that they have an opportunity to break free from their suffering and become the good person that is trapped within all the bad habits and thoughts they have built around themselves.

Being compassionate to yourself is about recognising that you are only human; that you are not perfect; that you have a lot of potential to improve yourself – and it’s especially about realising that this is ok!  It’s about understanding your own suffering and wanting the best for yourself, so that you can be the best person you can be, and be happy!

3.  Always see the good and rejoice in the merits of others

Encouraging and honouring the goodness of others is really important.  We do not do this enough in life.  We are quick to criticise others, and to notice faults. We may think that some casual compliments are enough to make up for this, but while commenting on somebody’s outfit or hair style is a nice gesture, it’s not very meaningful.

Think about the qualities and behaviours that you admire in others and aspire to develop in yourself, then look for them in those around you. Look actively for the good in others, and let them know that you have seen it.  There is nothing that makes a person feel so truly understood as when another acknowledges something good about them.  It builds a connection and motivates that person to continue with that goodness.

4.  It’s more important to be good, than to be right.

There is an important distinction between good and bad, and right and wrong.  A person may be right, but if they are not good, then they may be right for the wrong reasons, or by accident.  Whereas if a person is good, they may be wrong, but they will be motivated to try to make it right.  A person who is truly good will be right most of the time anyway.

5.  Wisdom is far more important than knowledge

No amount of knowledge in the world is valuable unless the person with the knowledge also has the wisdom to use that knowledge effectively.  Even if a person has no formal education, if they have wisdom they can contribute an enormous amount to the world.  We need to spend time and effort developing our wisdom, not just accumulating more academic qualifications.

6.  The worst thing you can be is unwise and active

The monks taught me that there were four different relationships between wisdom and action:

1.  You can be wise and active

2. You can be unwise and inactive

3. You can be wise and inactive

4. You can be unwise and active

The first relationship is clearly the best.  If you are wise, and you are active, you will do good.  The second relationship is, perhaps counter-intuitively, the second-best option.  This is because, if you are unwise, doing nothing is actually the most sensible course of action.  The third relationship is actually worse – if you are wise and inactive, then you are not doing as much with your wisdom as you can.  The last relationship is the most dangerous – if you are unwise and active, you are likely to do more harm than good, despite your best intentions.

The monks’ teachings were reinforced in our Peace Fellowship lectures on Mary Anderson’s principles of “do no harm”.

7.  Think about how you use the energy you consume

We think a lot about the purity of the food we eat – we take care to avoid artificial colours and preservatives, we try to eat low-fat, healthy meals.  However, the monks taught me that the purity of our food is more than just its nutritional values.  It involves four different factors:

  1. Nutritional value
  2. The origin of the food (e.g. whether we stole or killed for the food)
  3. The mood in which you eat it (e.g. if you eat in a bad temper you might get indigestion!)
  4. The way in which you expend the energy that you gain from that food (i.e. do you use the energy to do something bad, or something good and constructive).

How do you use your energy?

8. Remember to breathe

During my Dive Master training on Koh Tao, I was reminded of the first rule of scuba diving, and of life – always remember to breathe!

I would add to that the notion of mindfulness – and the usefulness of the breath to bring you back to the present moment.  Thich Nhat Hanh has a lovely meditation to use while concentrating on your breathing:  “Breathing in, I dwell deeply in the present moment; Breathing out, I know this is a wonderful moment.”

Learning to scuba dive, and breathe underwater, you are suddenly acutely aware of every breath in and every breath out, and there are pretty dire consequences if you hold your breath.  For me, working with first-time dive students was the perfect reminder about something that I had started to take for granted – how magical it is to breathe underwater.  It made me start to again notice every breath, how deep it was, how the pressure of the water affected the feeling in my lungs…Who’d have thought that scuba diving was so good for meditation!

9.  Always leave a bit of air in the tank

Another important bit of advice for scuba diving and life in general! You never know when you are going to need that little bit of reserve for an emergency!

10.  Don’t waste a moment!

These eight months have flown by so quickly that it has reminded me that there is no time to waste!  If there’s something that you want to do – do it now!  If there’s something that you need to say – say it now! Live every moment to its fullest, learn from everyone and everything around you, do as much good as you can cram into every twenty-four hour period (including taking good care of yourself).

This morning prayer by Thich Nhat Hanh is now the first thing I read every morning.  It reminds me of how I want to live my life, day by day:


Bali: Adventures on the road

After the Potong Gigi ceremony, Ange and I headed off on a road trip around Bali.  Rural Bali is just beautiful, and a stark contrast to the madness of the tourist areas.

We saw some monkeys on the side of the road and stopped to take some photos.  Ange kept a sharp lookout for me to make sure that the big angry male didn’t get too upset with me while I took photos of the mother and baby.

The first night we stayed in Ubud, where we went to a traditional Lembong dance performance.  The Lembong dancers don’t just dance with their bodies, they also dance with their eyes!  The gamelan music was lovely at first, but after 90 minutes my ears were ringing for the rest of the evening.

Afterwards, we lucked upon this wonderful restaurant called Clear Cafe, which had only recently opened and served the most amazing organic food and blended juices.  I was in food heaven!

The next day we headed up north to Pulau Menjangen where we stayed in a beautiful villa near the beach.

We stopped into a local dive shop to ask about diving.  The guy asked what level I was and I told him that I had just finished my Dive Master.  He immediately asked whether I wanted to assist him teaching some courses.  I said that I actually wanted to do some fun diving, not working! He said in that case I would have to find another dive shop as he was too busy doing courses.

We found another dive shop and went on a day trip to Menjangen Island.  I did a couple of dives while Ange went snorkling.  The dives were terrific – I was the only person diving, everyone else was snorkling, so it was just me and the local DM ‘Gede’ under the water.  The dives were beautiful. Both were about 30 metre high walls of coral that seemed to go on forever and ever. The coral was beautiful and the water was crystal clear.  I wished I had a camera with me!

Diving in the shadow of volcanos

Our friendly boat crew

This is the life!

Diving again!

Not the most stylish entry!

Lunch stop on the island

The next day Ange and I did some snorkling off the beach.  Twelve years ago they built the framework for an artificial reef there, and the frames have a low electrical current running through them to encourage mineral deposits.  The reef is really interesting and there were lots of fish.  I kept duck diving down to look more closely and then forgetting that I didn’t have a regulator in my mouth and couldn’t breathe under water!

That afternoon we hit the road again and drove around the west coast of Bali.  Ange’s friends were staying in a villa along the way so we stopped in to see them.  The villa was amazing: five bedrooms with ensuites, an amazing pool, and their own chef and maids.

We ended up staying for dinner (delicious Indonesian food) and then staying the night and having breakfast the next day there before heading back to Ange’s place in Denpasar.

Dive Master

I’ve finished all my training and I’m now a qualified Dive Master!  I can’t believe that I am leaving here in just a few days.  The last six weeks have been amazing!  I’ve learnt so much and also had a chance to relax and almost forget about the real world for such a long time.  I’ve dived at least twice a day for almost every day that I’ve been here, and have met really interesting people from all over the world.  It will feel weird to not dive every day… I am looking forward to getting back to North Queensland and weekends of diving again!

Last night the DMTs went out on the boat for a night dive.  The boat was almost just for us – there were two students and one fun diver, and everyone else was a DMT.  We had the best dive!  We swam with a turtle for a while, and saw big barracuda hunting, sleeping trigger fish (much less scary than when they are attacking you!), a big hermit crab, puffer fishes, spotted rays…

DMT's night dive

On Friday I’m going back to the temple for a week – students are arriving for the next fellowship and I will spend the first three days with them before they head off up to Chiang Mai for the meditation retreat.  I’m looking forward to it, but it is sure going to feel strange being back in that environment after being here on party island for so long.

I would be much more sad about leaving here if I didn’t have new adventures ahead of me.  After my week back at the temple, I’m off to Bali for 10 days (hopefully fitting in a few dives while I’m there!), and then back to Bangkok to start my Rotary World Peace Fellowship (the start was postponed for a month due to the trouble in Bangkok).

This is definitely the best year of my life so far – I am so lucky to have these opportunities!

Pitbulls of the sea

Around Koh Tao there are lots of trigger fish just waiting to make life ‘interesting’ for divers.  These fish are big and ugly and have large teeth.  They are also very territorial and so if you get too close, they will chase you away.  They swim fast and can crash into you.  They also bite and have given divers puncture wounds with their sharp teeth.  If you are chased by one, the best thing to do is get on your back and flap your fins in their face while you swim away backwards.  They will often bite your fins and sometimes have chased people up to 100 metres!  Yesterday one of the DMTs was chased by two at once!  I had one follow me and a student the other day, but luckily it didn’t attack.  I hate these things, they are truly the pitbulls of the sea!

Best Pancakes

This is Shy:

He sells the best pancakes, as he tells everyone who walks past.  He sees someone coming and calls out “Hello, best pancakes!  Would you like a pancake?” and if you keep walking he calls out “Come back! Best pancakes here!”

He is stationed with his little motor cart at the end of my lane way every night from about 6pm until about 4am the following morning.  There are quite a few pancake vendors on Koh Tao, but Shy has cornered the market.  He always asks a new customer’s name and he never forgets it.

He is going to be the one I hold responsible for me putting on too much weight while I’m here. Because I walk past him each night at least a few times, he always chats to me.  “Hello Sam!  How are you today?  Have you been diving?  Would you like a pancake?”  Telling him that I’m not hungry or that I’ve just eaten dinner is never a good enough excuse.  He always says that I must have room for a best pancake, and I need energy for diving.  How can a girl argue with that?  Sometimes I tell him I’ll come back later, and then if he sees me walking past later he yells at me “Sam, you came back, for a best pancake!” and he is so happy that I have returned that I feel obliged to stop and buy a pancake!  I told him that he would make me very fat and he just laughed.  My favourite ‘best’ pancakes are banana and nutella or lime and sugar.

Tonight, as I stopped to buy a pancake (again!) he asked where Marcus was.  Usually I am hanging out with Marcus, another DMT from Sweden, and Shy always notices where everyone is and what they are doing. I told him that Marcus was taken to the hospital on Koh Samui today and would not be back for a few days.  Shy nodded wisely and said “yes, Marcus leg very bad”.

All the DMTs here have infections at the moment.  Diving every day and being hot and waterlogged in this climate is good for bacteria.  About 5 DMTs have conjunctivitis, a few have ear infections, and many have infected cuts or mosquito bites.  Marcus had a gash on his leg from falling on the boat, and it got really infected.  It was so bad that he had a fever and was very faint.  The pharmacy here gave him antibiotics but it got worse very quickly and today the clinic shipped him over to Koh Samui, where they have a hospital.  Hopefully a few days on intravenous antibiotics will fix him up.  Luckily, touch wood, cross fingers, etc., I’m perfectly fine and don’t have anything currently prone to infection.

I’m diving tomorrow with a new group of students.  We did skills in the pool today and tomorrow is their first dive out on the reef.  They are a lovely group and very excited about tomorrow – it will be fun!

PS. I passed my physics exam!!!

After a night dive, on the boat with one of the local boys

Relaxing on the floor of "The Fishbowl" next to the dive shop

With a group of students in "The Fishbowl"

Life on the island

I haven’t updated my blog for a while now (unlike my almost daily updates during my time at the temple).  I’ve been really busy, in a tropical island kind of way!  I have been diving every day, mostly assisting instructors with courses.  I have assisted some open water courses and a rescue diver course, and I think I’m helping with an advanced course starting tomorrow.

I love assisting on the open water courses, watching students breathe underwater for the first time in the pool session, and then watching their nervous excitement before that first real dive out on the reef.  I love the look in their eyes the first time we take them down the buoy line and they suddenly find themselves in this amazing new world where there are all sorts of wonderful creatures.  I love the way that they are clumsy and anxious and depend on you so much during the first dive or two, but then they build up their confidence and their buoyancy skills and they start to relax and realise that they can ‘fly’ under the water all by themselves!

Mostly my job in those early sessions is to be a support person for the students, to keep an eye on them, to help them with any equipment problems, and most importantly to stop them from crashing down onto the coral or from shooting up to the surface.  It’s exhausting work, because I’m constantly swimming like crazy to catch one of them who’s sinking or floating upwards, and just when I get them under control, there’s another one shooting off somewhere!  It makes me laugh sometimes when the students are looking around because they can’t see me, and they get all worried, and eventually they remember to look up and they see me floating above them!  They forget that it’s a 3-dimensional world down there!

The rescue diver course is the most fun to assist.  Two DMT’s assist the instructor on this course. Our job is to simulate emergency after emergency for the students to respond to.  This includes emergencies on the surface (e.g. a panicking swimmer), under the water (e.g. an entangled diver who is out of air) and also emergencies on the boat (slips and falls, etc).  I assisted a course with Marcus, another DMT, last week and we had so much fun!  We went up to the top deck of the dive boat, put ketchup on his leg and pretended to have a fight.  I was screaming at him that he was a ‘cheating bastard’ and I pretended to push him down the stairs onto the lower deck.  The students were not quite expecting that!  They had to treat his ‘wound’ and splint his leg.  I also managed to knock him unconscious (not really!) so they had to figure out what to do about that.  The whole time I was yelling abuse at him and getting in the way, not making their life easy.  Marcus was trying to appear to be unconscious while he was laughing.  After that, the instructor told me quietly that when the exercise was over, I was to run at Marcus and start hitting him and get him to throw me off the boat.  That was hilarious!  I had to pretend to break my ankle and they students had to lift me into the boat with ropes.  I haven’t laughed so much in ages!

During the underwater sessions there were a few moments when my simulated panic was very nearly real panic!  Marcus and I were told to clip our BCD waist belts to the buoy line under the water to simulate entanglement and to buddy breathe on his octopus (spare regulator) as I was supposedly out of air.  The students found us and tried to pull us apart so that each could take one of us to the surface, but when they pulled us apart, Marcus’s regulator was pulled out of my mouth.  We anticipated this would happen, and what I was meant to do if the student didn’t notice, was to find my own regulator quickly so I could breathe.  The only problem was that the student was holding me so tightly (to try to control me) that I couldn’t get to my regulator!  The instructor, luckily, keeps a close eye on things, and swam straight over and gave me her spare, and then showed the student what was happening. Phew!

This week the new DMTs had to do some of the skills assessments, including an 800 metre timed swim out to the buoy line and back.  One of the guys was talking up his swimming skills and saying how he had been training and wasn’t going to have any problems with the swim.  I knew I could swim the distance, but I am quite unfit at the moment, so I wasn’t sure I was going to do a good time.  Anyway, we all set off from the beach, right in front of the dive shop, with people watching from the deck.  One of the guys beat me to the buoy, but only just, and they other was a fair way behind me.  I decided I was going to knock myself out on the swim back and managed to beat both the boys!  It was hilarious!  As they arrived back to the beach, one was complaining about a problem fin, and the other about his awful snorkle.  I just laughed and said that men always blamed their tools!  After that, I was given honorary ‘boy’ status and I’m now ‘officially’ allowed to hang out with the boys.

I’ve passed all my theory exams so far, but I have one left…physics!  Arghhhh!  I worked through some of the practice problems with one of the guys yesterday and it was a nightmare.  He studied physics at uni and tried to explain it to me in basic terms, but some of it just didn’t make any sense to me!  I’m going to an extra class today to see if I can get my head around it before doing the exam.

It’s going to be really hard to leave here and go back to the real world.  This life of diving, eating, chatting and sleeping is really easy to get used to.  I am having such a wonderful time and I am incredibly lucky to be here.

Life is great!

Dive Master Training

Due to the situation in Bangkok, the Rotary World Peace Fellowship that I was due to start on 5 June at Chulalongkorn University has been postponed for a month.  This means I have some time to kill and so I have decided to stay here on Koh Tao for another month to do my Dive Master Training.  I have rented a bungalow for the month and have started the training.  There are lots of theory classes and theory exams, but also lots of practical dive skills training.  It’s great fun!  There are about 20 DMTs (Dive Masters in Training) at this resort from all different countries and everyone is very friendly.  I am having a ball!

Today I walked into the main town on the island, only about 15 minutes from the beach where I’m living but it felt like an eternity in 40 degree heat!  On the way I saw this sign, which is kind of interesting(!):