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  • jeniferfoster2

A change in perspective

Updated: May 31, 2023

So – last week, I did something different. I dove with a camera. I know – big whoop, Jen! Tons of people dive with a camera. Well, I have to tell you – this itty bitty change, made me look very differently at the things I had been seeing day-to-day. It was like I was seeing everything for the first time again.

I’m nearing my 300th dive. In the scheme of diving, and when you meet divers – 300 is no big thing. I’m met divers who have thousands of dives. But, for me – 300 is a big deal. You see, when I came to Roatan to do my divemaster course, I had the required 40 dives. That’s it. So, in the past nine months, I’ve dove about 260 times. That’s pretty cool. A large bulk of these have been done in Roatan.

When I dive, I generally go to the same spots. I dive along this wall, and enjoy spotting all the fish. A friend of mine explained that when I say “wall” she envisioned a “wall of water.” That is not what I’m talking about. A wall is rather like an underwater mountain. As a diver, I am the equivalent of a bird flying on the side of the mountain, looking at all the life. There are plants, coral, and fish. They span for sometimes hundreds of feet, from bottom to top – and usually (like a mountain) span for a fair distance (it’s hard to judge underwater, but I’m guessing the wall I normally dive is about a half mile long). There are fish as small as the tip of a pin to as big as 10 feet long. (The largest thing I have spotted in Roatan is a reef shark, which was about 8 feet long, or a spotted eagle ray, which was probably six feet across, most of the fish are on the smaller size). Depending on where, you might see fish much larger. For instance, in parts of Mexico, you are likely to see “big” life – life manta rays or whalesharks. I delight in fish. Eagle rays are so graceful, swimming along as delicately as a bird soaring alongside a mountain. I also love things like parrotfish and their toothy grins, or trumpetfish in their long slender bodies hiding amongst the grass. I think grouper are funny, as they always look so grumpy, and jawfish are so cute as they poke their head out of their holes in the sand. I am remarkably bad at spotting small stuff. I am always amazed at many of the divemasters where I work as they spot things smaller than a fingernail amidst a mountain of life. On the second dive that I officially led, I told the boat guests, all of whom were highly experienced divers, that they were far more likely to spot the small stuff than I was, but I would do my best to point out a goby (a very common fish in the Caribbean). My instructor spotted a seahorse, and tried to show me. Even though he was pointing right at it, I could not see it – but motioned for the other divers to come over and look.

I’ve had a few friends tell me that I should try to take pictures when I dive. Generally this goes against my approach to diving. Diving for me is an opportunity to practice meditation. Diving makes me be fully present in my here-and-now. I have to take each minute as it comes, and also be prepared to respond to anything which might present itself. Also, many underwater photographers are obnoxious. I’ve seen people push others to the side in order to get a shot. I have seen people with their hands and fins all over the reef to get a picture (even lightly touching the reef can cause damage because coral is incredibly fragile). I also do not have an underwater camera. Underwater cameras, at least reputable ones, are expensive. The camera that was suggested to me by an expert, is over $800 for the camera, and the necessary casing.

But, there are a few things that have made me step out of “heck no” stance on cameras. One – this blog. Trying to create a blog without pictures is like trying to create a painting with just a pen: it can be done, but is better with more options. Secondly, as much as it personally frustrates me, people learning to dive want to know about photography underwater. Since I am now an instructor, I should likely have SOME experience with photography. Finally, the guy who literally wrote the book (and took almost all the pictures for the book) on Caribbean fish is housed at the resort where I am working. And, he lends out cameras to try. How could I say no to all of this?

So – try I did.

And, well – it has changed diving for me. The first thing I noticed was the colors! Holy smokes! Now – if you don’t dive, you may not realize that as you go deeper in the water, light is absorbed (i.e. it is darker the deeper you go). Consequently, colors are also absorbed. So, first, reds are filtered out, but if a diver is 100 feet down, it would be next to impossible to see red, orange or yellow. But – the camera still sees! Cameras also have filters, you can either put on or are built in, to account for this color absorption. So, I took some pictures of the reef and it was vibrant in greens, reds and orange. I was shocked. You see, I had learned about color absorption in my dive classes; however, over time I had forgotten. It is stunning.

I also suddenly became fascinated by the small stuff. Why? Because I could see it more clearly. The small spiraling coral was alive with fish and shrimps. The camera captured details that I was not able to see with my naked eye. Interestingly, the things that I could see clearly and that I’d been paying attention to, were less magnificent in the camera. Instead of swimming the length of the wall, as I normally did, I stayed in the first fifteen feet: mesmerized by the life and the colors. I also began to understand why people are so terrible with cameras in their hand. All of a sudden, I paid much less attention to where my feet and hands were. I also paid less attention to my depth or air. In fact, I was so distracted by the camera, that when a six-foot-long eel came out of the reef and swam along the side, inches from me, it shocked me so much I almost dropped the camera. I hadn’t even noticed it until it was inches from me.

But, exploring the reef with the camera has made me think about life. We are raised in a family with its own culture and beliefs. We learn to look at the world in a certain way, and understand our life and the world according to that perspective. But, sometimes, those beliefs are not the healthiest. However, it’s hard to recognize that unless you see other ways of understanding things. Sometimes, you just need a change in perspective.

I think in my own life, my first exposure to different ways of living was through friends. I remember sleep-overs where my friends’ families functioned quite differently than my own. School also exposed me to different ways of viewing life. I did a year of volunteer work. That year exposed me to people who thought about life in ways that resonated with me – not because it was so similar to how I was raised, but because it hit on values I found important.

My first real understanding of life being different, however, was in therapy. All of a sudden, someone was challenging my way of thinking on a very basic level. She challenged my beliefs in myself, my world and how I processed everything. It was exhilarating – and terrifying.

The second exposure to life being different than I had envisioned was through travel. I was able to see people who lived vastly different lives than I did. People who put value on areas of life that I had not, but were seemingly quite happy. It was an interesting wake-up call.

The third stretch for me was becoming far more engaged with people who were brought up in very different households than my own. They had different religions, different races, different sexual identities and different ethnicities. It has been invaluable to me to understand that my “reality” in life is most certainly not everyone’s reality. Things that I had taken for granted as being true have proven to be anything but. And, that shake up was hard, but has helped me grow immensely.

So, what is the point? The point is that sometimes we need to step back from our world and look at things from a different perspective. Sometimes that means looking at ourselves differently. Sometimes, that means challenging beliefs we have about our world. Sometimes it means really listening to other people’s reality. Why bother? Because sometimes you can learn that you’re a better person than you’ve been taught. Sometimes you can learn that your neighbors are just different – not better or worse. Sometimes you can learn that you only know a smidgeon of knowledge in a sea of possibility.

So, this is simply my challenge to you, to pick up the camera; get a therapist, travel to other parts of the country or other countries. Sometimes doing so will make you appreciate your own perspective. Sometimes doing so will make you shift your perspective. Sometimes doing so will make you appreciate another view. There is use in all of those.

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