Angus, our daughters, and I set off late morning to go snorkeling. Angus had been researching what to do while visiting Oahu by watching YouTube videos about it, and one of the bloggers recommended snorkeling at China Walls. This is a popular swimming spot and quite easy to get in and out of the ocean when the swell is flat, but that wasn’t how it was on the day we went.
We heard later that the large swell experienced in Hawaii during our visit was from currents all the way from Tahiti.
China Walls is a flat rock formation that creates a ledge looking out over the ocean. It is commonplace to find surfers there when there are waves, and there were plenty of waves when we visited. The surfers must have been skilled because they were catching waves only a few meters from the rock wall. With the huge swell, they would catch a wave and then quickly cut left to avoid crashing into the rocks. It was exciting to watch and the girls got some good Tik Tok footage.
I didn’t realize that snorkeling was only an option on a calmer day so I surveyed the turquoise blue ocean and the rock ledge looking for a place to jump in. Getting in looked easy, but I realized due to my lack of upper body strength it was going to be hard to pull myself up out of the water, especially with the waves relentlessly crashing against them.
I expressed my concerns to Angus and he said absolutely and unequivocally it was not a day to go swimming there. I was still somewhat naive and wondered if it would be possible. We had only recently arrived and I was eager to go snorkeling. It is one of my favorite activities. I love the peaceful feeling of floating in water with all noises muffled and becoming immersed in a foreign world of colors and shapes. The sea life often seems undisturbed by a large looming object floating in its presence. I love how fish swim in formation and shift and turn in synchronicity as one. It reminds me of the interconnectedness of all things and how there is so much more to communication than language.
The water was calling me and Angus could tell so he said to me, “Look at that woman trying to get back in. See what a difficult time she is having.”
When I looked over I could see she was experiencing my exact concern. She was having challenges pulling herself up onto the ledge from the water. The waves were crashing and pushing her up against the rock ledge, but when they subsided she was pulled off the ledge and swept back into the sea and she had to start all over again.
As we watched, Angus and I realized she was really in trouble. Angus immediately set off to get help from someone with a surfboard. As soon as Angus departed, the woman's partner realized she needed help too so he headed down from his sunbathing spot on the rocks to the ledge. He looked like a tourist with pale white skin contrasting against his red swim trunks.
The rescue attempt did not start well. On his way down, he slipped flat on his back on the incredibly slippery orange seaweed that was on the rocks. His crocks went flying and he went splat on his back. A passerby saw the mishap and asked if he was okay. He jumped up and assured him he was. And even though this passerby was an extremely strong and fit-looking young man he didn’t mention that his wife was in distress and ask him for help.
I was keeping my eye on his rescue attempt and wondering how long it is going to take Angus to get back with a flotation device. I yelled to let them know that he was doing that, but they couldn’t hear me from where I was sitting.
As the husband got to the ledge and stretched his arm out to his wife, she immediately pulled him in to the water. At this point, I started to get up and look to see who else was around to help. Fortunately, Angus returned with a skinny teenage boy in yellow surf shorts with a white surfboard with a blue stripe running down the middle. The boy told the muscular guy who had just passed the husband what he was doing. With now both of them in the ocean, the muscular guy took charge. I heard him say later this was the fourth time this had happened that day.
He sent the teen back for another flotation device and threw the surfboard into the water. While he was waiting for the teenager to return a huge wave came in and landed the couple on the rocks. The husband was able to clamber up before getting pulled out again. His wife wasn’t so lucky. She slipped back into the water and started to panic. Fortunately, she had the surfboard now and was able to hang on to it while waiting for the rescue flotation device.
I could hear the muscular guy telling her that as long as she could float she was okay. My adrenaline had kicked in as I was watching all of this unfold. I could feel my heart beating hard against my chest and my vision was narrowed. Angus and I know someone who died in a similar situation. Back in the ’90s, our yoga teacher asked if one of his visiting students could stay with us in LA. He crashed on our sofa for a couple of nights and then left for Hawaii. A week later we heard the sad news that he had drowned after being swept off some rocks.
The air felt electric as I observed this situation unfold.
Even though my nervous system was on high alert, I felt reassured by the calming words being shared with the woman. The muscular guy was not panicking. The teenage boy returned with the long yellow flotation device with a rope attached to it. The device was thrown to the woman and she was easily pulled safely to shore.
What struck me as unusual is she didn’t thank anyone for their efforts. She rushed up the beach to her colorful beach towel and dried herself off. Her husband followed in swift pursuit doing a better job of avoiding the orange seaweed this time.
My heart rate settled back to normal, but I felt quite tearful. I saw the thin line between life and death and how easily and quickly it can be crossed. I felt the miracle it is that any of us are alive and grateful for the generous help of those present. Life felt more fragile, but also sweeter and more precious from witnessing the kind efforts of those involved.
I figured that the woman was probably really embarrassed and overwhelmed. That is why she didn’t say anything. I thought about how she didn’t yell for help when she was struggling and realized how easy it is for our conditioning to get in the way of us taking care of ourselves. I am guessing that her instinct would have kicked in at some point if no one had noticed her difficulty. But conditioning can be strong. Strong enough to put us in peril.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending, and it reminded me that it is okay to ask for help. It is okay to reveal when I am struggling. It is okay to not be able to do something alone. It is okay to accept the support of someone more capable and experienced.
My conditioning may tell me not to show my vulnerability. My habitual thoughts may make me feel self-conscious and embarrassed about my struggle. My self-judgments may cause me to behave toward others in ways that are unkind or ungracious.
But I am not limited to my past programming, I can also listen deeper and follow the aliveness within me. I can let that free-flowing energy drive my behavior and experience the freedom of being myself. I can break free from the prison of my judgmental thinking.
This is possible when I see the difference between fresh thought and habitual thought. Seeing the difference helps me to ignore unhelpful thinking. This isn't always possible, but I can be on the learning curve of seeing the difference more and more clearly.
I encourage you to look at your willingness to ask for help in your life. Is there anywhere you are trying to go it alone when support would be beneficial? Are you gripped by conditioned thinking that tells you if you ask for help you're weak? Is it embarrassing for you to have your struggle seen? Are you telling yourself it is just your thinking so get over it?
This is not the wisdom of the heart.
Listen to what your deeper knowing has to say. Listen to your Self. Listen to the truth within.
It is a worthwhile direction to look in and to be your guide. Truth slices through conditioned thinking like a hot knife in butter. It effortlessly dissolves misunderstanding. It doesn’t require hard work and effort. It just requires waking up to see it. It is the solution to the suffering caused by limiting beliefs. And all it requires is a willingness to get reflective and to listen.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In this season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate a private couples’ intensives retreat program that rewilds relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilding Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.