In an obscure night
Fevered with love’s anxiety
(O hapless, happy plight!)
I went, none seeing me
Forth from my house, where all things quiet be
-St. John of the Cross
I love the supremely coincidental moments of life–symbiosis, I believe they call it. While waiting in the client lounge at the Subaru dealership yesterday, I indulged myself in the May issue of Sunset Magazine. For anyone who is unfamiliar with it, Sunset is the Magazine of the West and, for me, is like pouring over my life fantasies in an all-in-one escape package. One day I too will be featured in it, but in the meantime, a great Hawaiian diver was the main course in this issue.
Before this article entitled, “Going Deep,” I had never heard of Kimi Werner. A professional chef from Hawaii with mixed roots, Kimi grew up on Maui with a red-headed father who took her free diving with him to hunt for food. In Patagonia’s film, Fishpeople, he claims that it was a matter of either bringing her along on these trips or finding a babysitter. Sounds a little less romantic with that dose of parenting reality, but little did he know that she would not only enjoy these underwater dives, she would also take to the sport like, well, like a fish to water.
Kimi gained the title of US National Spearfishing Champion in 2008 and didn’t always see this as her life’s path. In the Sunset article, she explains a dive a couple of years back that would change the course of her life. This was the moment when Kimi hit rock bottom (or ocean floor) in her life and after some silence down there, resurfaced with a much clearer head and a new cause celebre. Come to find out, Kimi was appearing that same night at Patagonia for the screening of Fishpeople. I had the good fortune to meet her in person there and ask her more about this pivotal submersion.
In that beautiful Hawaiian way–unrushed and singsong with a distinct mix of accents from a place that sits remotely in between the East and the West–Kimi very calmly took the microphone and exposed herself in front of the crowd of 200 water enthusiasts. “I went down that day and stayed down until my mind stopped talking. Once it became silent, then I stayed until it became clear[…] Not to get too sappy, but it was a very low time in my life and things needed to change.” She stayed underwater for 4 1/2 minutes on that dive–holding her breath.
What struck me about Kimi’s story was how similar it is to the yogic way of dealing with discomfort and pain in life: go internally and use the breath to find calmness of the mind. Kimi is so unassuming as a person that I don’t know if she realizes the depth of her experience and its relationship to ancient teachings of nirvana, which makes her story all the better and more authentic. So, what did she do after this moment that changed the course of her life?
Kimi’s realization was that she wanted to hunt in the ocean to live sustainably and feed the ones she loves. Being a chef, she saw the joy it brought to people to eat her food when they heard the stories of the catch, knew the hands that caught it and the local waters it came from. Just like the Hawaiian Islands themselves, Kimi was tapping into the heart of simplicity, honoring the land and sharing stories, food and time together. What she found in the depths of the ocean was the strength to live for what she enjoyed most in life.
The Dark Night of the Soul is a much talked about spiritual experience that causes many a person to turn his/her life around after a silent conversation with the divine. I am not sure exactly what Kimi was going through before that awakening dive, but now she travels internationally to promote sustainable fishing and has taken free diving to places as far off as Antarctica.
We are all so afraid of identity failure in these competitive times, constantly faced with the paradox of unlimited choice and the pressure to “be someone.” We are afraid of losing our self-definition and all that we have worked hard towards in life, but it seems that we already know from a pretty young age who we are and what we like. Once social pressures have steered us away from this knowing, it usually takes a dark night for people to grow outside of their perceived boundaries and hone back in on center.
Countless stories of self-realization show us that once we surrender to being lost, needing guidance and then, turning inwards for the answer–in the dark, alone, scared and unknowing–then the whole world opens up to us with answers. When we come back up for air is the time to put into action the information we found, no matter how simple it might be. Even the act of catching fish can become a life’s crusade.
Learn more about Kimi at: http://www.kimiwerner.com