A Near Drowning in Paradise and Memories of 9:11
I was fortunate through the good graces of a friend to spend 7 days in Tofu Mozambique recently. It truly is an unspoilt paradise and I found myself deeply moved by the awesome beauty of the untamed, natural coast.
Tofu is unmediated and naturally quite different to the virtual island experience of a 5 Star Resort. Anyway suffice to say it was breathtaking and for the week that we were there we existed in a sublime almost surreal state of expansive beaches, tropical weather, magnificent ocean and abundant sea life.
On one of these long slow languid days however a wind picked up and the ever friendly ocean turned decidedly nasty. The normal flat calm ocean was torrid with crashing waves and a strong undercurrent.
Perfect conditions for Kitesurfing, if somewhat intimidating for a novice like myself. So it was that I found myself walking along a deserted stretch of beach on the way to join one of the locals for some Kitesurfing.
As I walked along I was deep in thought about the frenetic action to follow once I got to my destination. I was actively imaging and psyching myself up for the session to follow. When out of the jungle emerges a young man. A man who might be described as a free soul unhindered as such by the constants of convention.
This young gentleman in his low hanging, sun bleached, brown, board shorts, with a white bucket tied to his ankle (a floatation device as it turns out to aid visibility in the ocean as used by those involved in active sea rescue; as one would witness on that wonderful show Baywatch, although in this case homemade and slightly more difficult to identify at a glance).
‘Have you seen them!?’ he screamed to be heard above the howling wind.
‘Seen them…’, I replied unsure of who he was referring to.
‘There are two people drowning, I am going to swim out jump up on the weir and point them out if you spot them,’ he said breathlessly before rushing out into the ocean searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack or so it appeared to me.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that sans my corrective glasses which I wasn’t wearing my chances of spotting anyone were not good. Anyway it took me some time to pull myself out of the trancelike state I was in focused as I was on a very specific goal with a very definite outcome.
I kind of had to take myself in hand and say to myself listen although I can’t see anything and I have a gut feeling this may be a farce of some sort, believing that possibly the intrepid lifeguard had been misinformed, I have to put my original mission on hold and get involved here.
So it was that with a degree of doubt I climbed up on to the elevated stone weir and scanned the ocean, with my less than super-sight. Fortunately the drowning duo had been spotted already by a local woman who ran up to me screaming and pointing out the location of the two people involved in the incident. Not too far from where we were.
At about this time everything happened at once. A few more locals appeared and joined the lone rescuer in the ocean, I was now able to correctly indicate where they need to make their way to, and a friend of the people drowning appeared, a young oriental woman.
‘Can you see if there are two people out there?’ the clearly distressed oriental woman shouted at me through her tears.
I thought I could see two people but not trusting my eyesight I was reluctant to confirm it in the fear of giving her false hope.
‘Err..hmm…not sure yet.’
‘Please, please tell me you can see two people?!’
‘Yes I think I can,’ I said relenting to the emotional pressure.
By the grace of God I was correct and in less than a minute the rescuers has swum back to the beach with two people they had rescued. What looked like an arab man and another young oriental woman clearly the friend or sister of the one who had been on the beach?
The man was okay other than being somewhat traumatised by the experience. I surmised that he had swum out to the young woman’s rescue and although able to prevent her from drowning he had been unable to make his way back to shore.
The oriental woman who had just been fished out of the now not so friendly ocean looked worse for wear. They carried her out and she had turned grey in complexion. Within seconds they had her on the beach and being attended to by a local paramedic. Admittedly not the stenotype of a paramedic a short thirty something white man also in board shorts, his hair in dreadlocks, adorned with nipple rings.
Nevertheless he had her on oxygen and was shouting instructions to arrange transport whilst attending to his patient (who was conscious) in what appeared to be a very caring and competent manner.
I stood around with the crowd that had rapidly formed observing the ministrations of the paramedic until i noticed that the young lady in question had lost her cover of her bikini top. And I realised that I had now officially gone from being actively involved in the rescue to being a passive voyeur adding to the unhelpful crowd. At this point I departed, although I heard later that the young woman was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
The Issue of Apperception
My reason for sharing this story with you (other than the fact I have a natural desire to share stories) is to illustrate a key Jungian concept- apperception.
Apperception is the condition of relating to our current perceptions as dictated by our past experiences. Furthermore:
‘ How significantly this colours our experiences in a personal and subjective light and in so doing distances us from what we have a tendency to assume is the objective nature of our experiences.
‘ And how the conceptual tools (or pieces) of our current mental makeup either allow or disallow us to grasp new concepts.
Relating the Concept of Apperception to the Near Drowning Incident
An objective event occurred – a woman nearly drowned and was rescued.
However let’s examine for a moment (accepting the speculative nature of our examination) what the individual experiences were of the parties involved.
Me: What the hell is this for real? I need to get to Tofu Diving, Evan is waiting for me, not sure how long the wind will stay up. Oh shit I suppose I can’t walk away from this. Is someone really drowning? I don’t see anyone. Is this guy for real looks like some kind of hippie from the sixties….? Emotional State: disconnected, distant, vaguely curious.
Our Intrepid Rescuer: Where are they? I wonder how far out they might be? Current is pulling West will swim out slightly east. I hope help arrives soon. Damn still feeling a little woozy from last night. Okay here goes… Emotional State: Switched on, adrenalin pumping, slight fear.
Drowning Victim 1 (oriental woman): (in a foreign language) Oh my God please save me how did this happen, I don’t want to die, please help me! Consciousness blacks out… Emotional State: Terror, fear of imminent death.
Drowning Victim’s Sister: (also in a foreign language) Please, please don’t le my sister drown. Why aren’t they saving her? Where is she? Is still alive? Oh God please let her be alive. Why did I agree to snorkelling today, I could see the sea was too rough? What will I say to mom if she drowns? Emotional State: Overwhelming guilt and concern, terror but qualitively different for her sisters who faces who own imminent death.
Naturally the above is not meant to be taken literally and is also not meant to disrespect those involved but is merely used as an illustrative example of how widely subjective experience differs.
What is not articulated and is significant to bear in mind is that not only do the thought processes and emotional states differ but the cognition or comprehension differs significantly as well. For example the perception of the sea and its dynamics would have differed significantly between the locals who live with it every day and either me of the drowning victims and any other tourist who happened to be watching.
Some other Examples
On our return back to Johannesburg I had the distinct impression that places I know intimately my home, our street, the local shopping centre looked different. This was confirmed by my wife and daughter who felt the same.
Naturally it wasn’t different but it looked different. We saw it through different eyes. This is an experience which I’m sure most people can relate to coming home after a long break and everything appearing somehow different changed.
For those of us who saw the footage of the first American Airlines plane flying into he first of the Twin Towers, you should be able to vividly recall the sense of the surreal it evoked.
When I mentioned this in a class I teach two people described the experience as:
‘ I thought I was watching a movie.
‘ I thought it was a download from a different dimension, somehow not the property of this reality.
By the time the second plane struck the second tower everything changed and our collective perceptive reality was permanently changed. We now knew it was no longer a freak disaster clearly malicious intent was involved.
Never again will anyone who lived through that experience perceive an aeroplane flying into a building in the same way. Whilst it may still be shocking, it will produce a contextualised reaction because of our understanding of its possibility.
Using the metaphor of a puzzle. We are born with an innumerable number of puzzle pieces, possibly an infinite amount. Nevertheless we can only pick up the pieces allowed by our current apperceptive apparatus.
Over time you and I build two very different images with our respective puzzles.
One of these images is of a wide open landscape with an overarching skyline, pink and golden highlights from a rising sun over a distant horizon.
We both pick up the same puzzle piece- a piece of blue sky.
In the first image it fits into this expansive skyline and has the feeling tone of freedom, connectedness, openness, potential.
In the second image it is a single patch of sky seen through the window of one housed in the high-rise. Naturally here the feeling tone is quite different possibly highlighting confinement, disconnectedness, neglected opportunities.
The same puzzle piece means different things based on the context of our respective puzzles.
Taking it a step further in the first image with the vast skyline there is space for an airship to appear. An airship which offers the possibility of travel to distant shores. So it is when I come across the puzzle pieces of the airship I pick them up and place them in my puzzle which allows for the possibility of an airship to appear.
However in the second image I must of necessity return these pieces to the pile, for the image that I am holding does not accommodate this possibility.
Where Does this Leave Us? (I.e. so what )
It suggests to us the realisation of the subjective nature of our world view and the encounters we are having in the world. It offers the possibility of perception and understanding beyond the obvious and literal one we first encounter.
In a Jungian sense we would say the possibility exists to remove ourselves from the identification with the puzzle. To understand ourselves rather as the source and architect of the image which we apperceive, rather than its prisoner, and that the journey to consciousness has this realisation as its destination.