My new years resolution is to become an amphibian. Notice I did not say “become amphibious”, I’m not talking about visiting the water more often. I’m talking about growing a tail fin and joining a fast disappearing specie.
Until the last couple of decades the amphibians have been winning a diversity battle, staying ahead of the industrial age extinction curve by staying diverse. Unfortunately, as outlined in the book “Extinction In Our Times”, those fortunes have taken a radical downward turn. Amphibians are dying off at a pace unmatched by any other specie on the planet. Its difficult for scientists to pin down exactly what is causing this global extinction, safe to say industrialized mammals like me and you have a lot to do with it.
I’ve felt the calling of the amphibious self for many years. Not just to spend time in the water, but to open deeply to the shift consciousness that comes with total immersion in the open water of the great Pacific. In this age of tragic decline in global diversity, its high time for some of us to adopt ourselves out to the threatened communities we’ve impacted so heavily. Think of it as a kind of Peace Corp. for non-humans. Time to sign up and go native.
First off lets begin with a very specific definition of what it means to be an amphibian:
- You will spend one part of your development in liquid or on solid ground, and then spend the majority of your life in the other element.
- Though you are descended from the very first vertebrates to move from the oceans to land, you have never fully severed your ties to the liquid world. You return again and again to fulfill the cycle of your own life.
- You may go through a complex metamorphosis process throughout your life, becoming a different being at every stage.
- You may face extinction in the very near future.
Amphibians are shapeshifters throughout their existence. They inhabit the space between worlds, as the shaman does. Never out of water, though they may live in soil, they never fully disconnect from their liquid home. They are emissaries from an ancient time when the alchemy of the elements gave birth to never before seen forms of life, erupting like spring bouquets from the frothing edge of creation.
The figure of the Selkie in Celtic culture occupies a similar space, perhaps its an amphibian overlooked by scientists unfamiliar with its company. Returning to the land to mate, the Selkie moves from its seal life to its human life. It may live out the rest of its days on land as a human, but its longing for the Ocean never leaves. It cannot still the currents that move its spirit no matter how stayed its daily life becomes.
The seals stopped visiting me in my dreams when I got fitted for my new wetsuit and took my monofin back to the pool to start training again. The Selkie, combined with movement techniques and Core Shamanism are my way back to the ancient alchemical world amphibians call home.
Monofins are rarely seen in the US – there are no manufacturers of fins large enough to assist in free-diving. These large, single fins allow you to swim by gently undulating, resulting in a remarkable amount of propulsion for a minimal amount of energy. My first monofin Ocean dive left me ten feet down before I knew I’d descended at all.
Pool training is a little silly with a fin so large. If the lanes are too close I create currents that lift those swimming next to me almost out of the water. This could be partly due to the fact I got the stiffest, biggest monofin made – the long distance fin. At first it felt like trying to drag bags of concrete over molasses covered mountains. In the end my martial arts training saved me.
All I needed to know to free-dive I learned from my Japanese sword teacher. “Ebrything is breath,” he would say in broken english. He taught me to extend my mind to the tip of my sword so that it expressed its greatest cutting ability. Over time I learned to breathe through the full length of the blade, extending my presence even beyond its cutting edge.
Now I make the fin a part of my body. I stretch and soften, extending my consciousness beyond my finger tips and fin at the same time. You have to soften, in response to the stiffness of the fin. Of course you also have to start recognizing it as part of your Selkie body.
Controlling your breath (called Apnea training) is also key to free-diving. After warming up without the fin I build up submerged laps in the 25 yard pool: one lap, two laps, three laps – maybe today four. I push off gently, trying not to focus on how far I can get before breaking the surface. Stress burns oxygen, hurry creates stress. Relax, reach, and flow – let my new tail set the pace. These are the days of tadpole training.
As the laps grow longer I pause more in between to meditate and catch my breath. I let my arms drift with the memory of ocean currents. The rhythm of the ocean is the source of the rhythm of our breathing, the pulsing of our hearts. When I flow forward into the water I curl around the pattern of waves my body knows. My pulse slows as I contain my breath, but its rythm continues.
I’m discovering that creatures who breathe on land but spend long periods submerged, never really stop breathing. Movement is breath. Heartbeat is breath. Holding your breath does not mean cessation of breathing, you’re just internalizing it.The amphibian grows stronger every day. My wetsuit will be finished soon. I love my new tail.