From an outsider’s point of view, freediving is complete madness. I get it. Observe any other sport, climbing, running, jumping, or throwing something, the objective of the investment seems obvious. To an untrained, and uneducated person, an Ultra-Marathon through the French Alps appears easy to digest. Go from point A to point B. Okay. Freediving is a unique sport, and we only get a glimpse of that uniqueness when we see freedivers doing deep free-falls. Everything else can simply be understood as fancy snorkeling. People will get that. They will relate to it. Seeing a human body sinking rapidly (i.e. at 1-1.2 meters/second) like a stone down to the bottom of the ocean changes that perspective.
Reaching the point where the body is negatively buoyant, and gravity continues to pull it further down. The free-fall is what deep freedivers seek. This is where everything changes for us. I don’t know any deep freediver who hasn’t had difficulty explaining, to a friend or family member, the attraction in this pursuit of depth. "It’s quiet, it’s calm, you’re flying, you’re weightless", there’s really no otherworldly issue to consider during these seconds. You’re you, not who you want to be, or you think you are, you are just you. Now where the mind goes in all of this is entirely unique, every experience is different, every thought, every doubt, and every concern changes from diver to diver.
"Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum". Descartes, a famous enlightenment philosopher had a strong influence from ancient Stoicism. "I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am". The process of the mind is a constant analytical one. The mind is constantly absorbing data via the senses, prioritizing the data, and making decisions. This is how you survive. To doubt your environment is to question it. It’s to think rationally about it and then acknowledge your presence there. This is good. Only if you acknowledge that you do not control the external factors in life. This is the premise for Stoic philosophy: control your perception, direct your actions, surrender to the outcome.
You control what you perceive. This I believe is a key to deep freediving, and why some freedivers have gone to such depths: they forced their minds to believe that in fact, they are not deep at all. It is subjective, it is perception. “Deep” is what? It’s relative of course. Deep can be 10 meters for some human beings scared of water, shallow can still be 100 meters for other trained divers. If you let the mind believe you are deep, and thus associate the “idea of deep” with danger or trouble, then you’ve lost it. Not physically, nothing has changed there, mentally you lost the dive, the battle, or the fight if you will. The mind must be “tricked” to believe you are not deep, you are simply going to a place you have gone before. A familiar place. A place where no alarms or questions are triggered by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), also known as the subconscious “flight or fight” mechanism.
Surrender to the outcome, surrender to the external. When you free-fall, the external sensations are all you have: the flow of water flowing over your face, the light dimming in the corners of your vision, the sound of nothing. You are not in control of this, surrender to them, surrender to the external physics applied onto your body. You only control the internal, the internal mechanism of the mind, the internal calm, peace, awareness, and fluidity. That’s all you have to do, surrender to the outcome of your circumstances, control your perception of yourself, and then a touchdown, you reach the bottom.