Mysterium Oceanus: part 2

Mysterium Oceanus: part 2

Individuation and Humpback Whales

Armed with a newfound confidence in exploring the ocean[1] that I have always both loved and been terrified of and this newfound passion for scuba diving, we signed up to do the ‘Sardine Run’ on the Eastern Cape Wild Coast. It is precisely here that things with respect to this aspiration of “becoming myself” grew more interesting.  It’s a long and rather winding story, and it is quite challenging to characterise the mix between my inner and outer worlds that unfolded along the way. Nevertheless, in the spirit of this project and in opposition to my inherent indolence let me do my best. In essence what I am attempting to convey is something objective about the individuation process through my own subjective experience.

The upshot of it goes something like this.

After much enthusiasm, hullabaloo and around six months of planning, the trip to the Wild Coast approached, or, the point of departure approached, let’s put it that way. I detest parsimony, and don’t wish to sound guilty of it, but it – the trip, wasn’t cheap.  Alright such is life, and a man who becomes pre-eminent is expected to have enthusiasms, enthusiasms…[2]  and the nature of such enthusiasms is they are bound to have a cost associated with them. So far so good. However, as the event horizon drew nearer several things went awry.

I developed an overuse injury in my left shoulder, possibly being a little over enthusiastic about my swimming training. An injury that regrettably I am still grappling with at the time of writing. I had to, or at least used this as an excuse to, stop what had been an intense physical training regimen for about eight months prior to this. Not good. Physical training is an essential component of my overall sense of wellbeing. Then, both Alexia and I fell sick, nothing too serious, but enough to demand bedrest for both of us for a week, very close to when we had to depart. And then, tragedy struck. Our next-door neighbour’s young English Bulldog drowned in our swimming pool! I, along with the owner and her very young son, discovered the drowned animal. It wasn’t a pleasant discovery or moment, to say the least. The wailing and gnashing of teeth of the young owner of the bulldog and mother of the young boy with us, was such it attracted the attention of an elderly neighbour -a different neighbour, who climbed a ladder to look over the boundary wall, thinking a murder was in progress! [3]

Now being of a Jungian disposition and Mediterranean genealogy, I would best be described as a superstitious individual. I’m not one to characterise events as arbitrary and meaningless. It was hard not to read this episode with the Bulldog’s tragic drowning in our swimming pool as a most inauspicious omen. Sufficiently such, that I all but cancelled the trip. It was only through some fancy reflective contortions that I was able to retain my commitment to go and dive in conditions where, at least in my estimation, there was a very real risk of serious injury or death. All the more so because we were and are at this point still novice divers.

Over the years, being soaked in psychoanalytic theory as I am, I have developed a life philosophy that sees events such as I am describing – all these obstacles to the planned trip popping up, as a form of unconscious resistance or neurosis. Before you rush to defend me, by citing uncontrollable circumstances, let me hasten to add that this is something of a pattern. I have an unhappy history of planning ambitious trips, voyages and adventures that not infrequently are thwarted at the eleventh hour.[4] I am not alone in this regard. The fashion in which the unconscious will often resist and undoes our best laid plans. That is the nature of the shadow and the unconscious.

With the above in mind and given the investment of time and money that had already been made in the trip, I resolved to persevere.  Somewhat miraculously I was able to get over my flu in a week and just in time to make the trip. I was weakened though and not at my best and so baulked at making the 1500km[5] cross country journey by car, particularly when Alexia who was similarly waylaid with the flu would be unable to accompany us. This left me as the sole driver. My convalescence and shoulder injury made the solo drive seem a bridge too far, more so knowing that I was transporting the most precious cargo of my two teenage boys. Notwithstanding these reservations, flights and car hire in the area we were travelling to were not to be found for love or money and so I was obliged to take on the cross-country drive.

Prior to departing I met with some friends who had recently travelled through that part of the country and warned me of treacherous  travelling conditions. An additional concern was the last 15km of the drive to our destination,  Mpame, on the Eastern Cape Wild Coast, were off road and best made with a four-by-four off-road vehicle. I was told it could or at least had been done with a high clearance SUV, such as the car I would drive[6], but it wasn’t advised.  Suffice to say I commenced the journey with some sense of trepidation.

As it turned out, the drive and the stops we made along the way were more than pleasant. There is nothing like time spent on a long drive to connect with someone. The shared experience and the available attention, without any sense of being rushed, gives the time and interaction a different and more related quality.

We did receive some disturbing news though as we approached our destination. Another party enroute had been the victims of a con followed by an armed robbery. No problem, we decided to avoid the area it had occurred and to be extra vigilant. The roads were good – excellent actually, until about the last 100km, when potholes in the road and frequent speed bumps of various ilk’s became a challenge. Also, no problem, we simply slowed down and drove accordingly. The off-road section though, the last 15km, the one where we were advised to navigate in a four-by-four, was hair raising. Twice we encountered sections of road that seemed un-passable in our car and found ourselves sliding around quite a bit and once almost off the road. This wouldn’t have been so bad though had the road not been winding its way through a populated rural area, where on either side we had local children cheering our efforts, which made one a little self-conscious. I had visions of having to summon a local homesteader to rescue us with a tractor. Despite these minor concerns we made it without any help and reached our destination intact. Such was my delight and relief on reaching the lodge -our final destination, that I warmly embraced our hosts, possibly too enthusiastically, judging by the look on their faces. Anyway, all good, we made it!

Now it may be helpful before I get to the next part of this story, to inform you dear reader that I am not what one might refer to as an outdoorsman. Camping, roughing it, sleeping under the stars, even caravanning do not feature on my curriculum vitae. I am most comfortable in urban environments, and typically the more luxurious -of course as budgets accommodate, the better.

This accommodation was not that. Whilst its true we were indoors, that would probably be about the best thing I could say about the lodge. Not only austere, but ramshackle. Not only simple, but a little depressing. Particularly so when viewed in the light of the single open prison style globe hanging form the ceiling in each room. A light too dim to read under, had there been a book in sight, but sufficient to reflect in a now somewhat more sober frame of mind on my fantasies of twenty thousand leagues under the sea. There was however, somewhat fortunately, little time for such reverie, as the dive briefing was held shortly after our arrival, and prior to that we had to a do a full gear check at the dive centre.

The evening ended with possibly the singularly most unappetising vegetarian meal I have ever eaten – a vegetable pie with undistinguished and undistinguishable filling.[7] I tried to maintain an implacable countenance whilst eating and simultaneously explaining to the other divers digging in to their much more appetising fare, what it meant to be a “vegetarian” and why someone would make such an odd culinary choice in the land of braaivlies and boerevors.[8] It was a concept they were seemingly unfamiliar with.   When I got to my room, I was all but delirious with fatigue and felt emotionally drained. I would have to think hard to remember another occasion when I felt such a deep exhaustion of body, soul, and spirit. I fell into a deep dreamless sleep, undisturbed by the loud snoring of the party in the next room, clearly audible through the paper-thin walls.

The following morning, I woke with a start to the exclaimed “ohhh fuck!” coming from the next room. This was the standard morning call made for the duration of the week by one of the bachelor party of Indonesian divers staying in the room next door, who, after the day’s diving, were well disposed to enjoying a few whiskeys.

It was an early start, 6.30 AM for breakfast, 7.00 AM in full kit at the boats ready to launch. Ruarc and Teague (my two sons), wolfed down a full breakfast. I, more circumspect, only nibbled on a bran muffin and some fruit. We made our way in the assigned vehicles over the mountain to our launch site – a bumpy ride! Some two hours later we finally launched on the rubber ducks through the surf. Now, launching through the surf on a rubber duck is an experience everyone should have at least once in a lifetime. Its pretty thrilling. Our skipper being rather young, was particularly enthusiastic both through the surf and once we were out, maxing the boat’s speed and testing its limits. This was okay for the most part but racing around the ocean for around six to eight hours, can become tiresome. Like clockwork that first day I got horribly seasick. That evening a few of the other guests took me aside and very kindly ensured I had the proper sea-sick medication for the rest of the week. This was a game changer and the rest of the week I never felt a twinge of nausea!

All of which, dear friends, is told to illustrate, hopefully in good humour, if at my expense, that the trip was not without challenges. I felt so low the first night we arrived and even after the first day at sea, that had I not been there with my two sons, who had greatly anticipated this trip, I may well have abandoned the entire thing and made an early departure. I mean this quite seriously. Circumstances being what they were though, such a course of action did not seem plausible and so I was obliged to grit my teeth and endure it as best I could.

And what do you know, within a day, once I had resolved to stay and accepted my fate, such as it was, not only did I relax sufficiently to start enjoying the experience, but by the second day on the water I was euphoric!

It is immensely challenging to characterise this state of euphoria. It’s the experience of a moment of immersion in and oneness with the natural world, being on the boat on this pristine ocean in spectacular weather, with my two sons, was a feeling of freedom. A moment wherein the normal chronic state of existential disquiet and the burden of consciousness dissolved into something more expansive and life affirming. The realisation that indeed today was a good day to be alive. The rest of the week on and in the water were among the best days of my life. The rumour of scuba diving turned out be greatly exaggerated as the action happens too quickly to kit up and submerge using scuba, which takes a minute. Instead, we snorkelled, which requires a lot less preparation and one can be in and out of the water in minutes, following the action on the boat until it’s time to once again jump in the ocean.

The visibility was good, and at times great. The water was mostly warm, and the experience of snorkelling, well for me at least, so far out in the ocean, was sublime. The highlight though was the marine life. Super pods of wild dolphins – up to fifty in a pod swimming alongside the boat, the air filled with gannets, hunting the sardines in spectacular fashion, diving headfirst into the sea and submerging up to 10 meters! All of these sightings paled though in comparison with the pods of humpback whales we came across and even on one occasion got to swim with. These creatures are indescribably magnificent and being close to them feels like an immense privilege, an oceanic blessing, if you will.

Besides the diving, the rest of the week was filled with laughter, fun and games in the evening, along with bonfires on the beach. Possibly the first week I have spent completely off the web in many years, . The experience was such that it allowed me to shift my consciousness and access a state of mind, previously unavailable to me. I was opened to vistas of experience and being not previously accessible. This idea has been with me as long as I have been doing this work on the psyche and on individuation, how each step one takes in shifting consciousness opens up a new vista of being.

It isn’t to say the nature of my experience was somehow unique, it wasn’t, or at least not anymore so than any experience is unique to itself. Rather what I am attempting to highlight is as powerful and valuable as consciousness is, it can also constellate a prison of the mind. Our state of mind and consciousness traps us in a particuler way of being. This is what I think Jung and the Romantic Philosophy that seeded his thinking is alerting us to. That outside and beyond the circumscribed border of our consciousness, our sense of identity, and our phenomenological worlds, is a vast natural space with limitless possibilities, and it is this space we denote in Jungian psychology  with the term “Collective Unconscious”.

We are all capable of exploring and experiencing this cosmos of being both within and without, if we open ourselves up to such possibility. Its not always easy, its definitely not comfortable, but its available to each of us if we allow ourselves to go there.

We left the Wild Coast richer and more alive for these experiences, with very precious, even sacred, memories. The drive home was a much more relaxed affair, We even toyed with the idea of stopping and spending a few days at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, that we drove past. We didn’t stop, my younger son Teague being the voice of the Über-Ich and admonishing us to return home. The fact that I seriously contemplated such a spontaneous stop on the way though, affirmed a shift in my state of being, a relaxing of my default chokehold on myself and my life, confirming my sense of just how transformational the journey had been. It has also led me to a much greater fascination with the ocean, life on the ocean, and with whales. I am currently reading Melville’s classic American novel Moby Dick. I will end my Mysterium Oceanus narrative on this note, although I pray  that in good time I will have more and even greater stories of oceanic exploration and Insha’Allah, individuation, to share with you.

Until we speak again,


[1] See part 1 of this story, Mysterium Oceanus: part I

[2] See if you can identify the film this line originates from – before Googling it!

[3] These neighbours with whom our property shares a wall and a servitude area have somewhat incredulously been the protagonists of yet another, much more outlandish, although less tragic, encounter. I wrote about this on my personal Facebook profile when it occurred and hesitated to share the post here, but feel it in some oblique way comments on the current post, so will share the story here,

[4] I am reminded here of one of the best (and worst) such examples of this that I know of. This involved the husband, Manfred, of my mother’s best friend, Bubbles. Anyway, the story goes that he and a friend, Hans, planned to ride a motorcycle from Kitwe in Zambia to the northern most point of the African continent. This was a lifelong dream of his. After a year of planning, they finally departed on the epic journey, only to be involved in an accident a few miles from home in which Manfred’s partner for the journey was killed. Hans died in Manfred’s arms. That was the end of the journey and of the dream. – I thank Manfred’s daughter, Lynne Latter Kropman, for clarifying these details.

[5] 900 miles

[6] “SUV” – Sports Utility Vehicle, the vehicle I drove was the Volvo XC40.

[7] I had requested a vegetarian diet for my stay there, which strained credibility with the abundance of meat and seafood available, but nevertheless was admirably catered for despite this first rather underwhelming dish.

[8] Barbeque, and the renown local sausages one typically ate at such occasions.

Share this post

Comments (9)

  • Guy K Reply

    Sharing your adventure and its concluding commentary is wonderful and helpful. Your writing placed my imagination inside and along for the ride.

    August 4, 2022 at 4:00 pm
  • Etel Harris Reply

    Stephen fascinating account of your experience. So good that you did not give up and carried on your hero’s journey. What an amazing example of resilience and perseverance that you showed your sons. Very proud of you. xxxx

    August 4, 2022 at 4:12 pm
  • Molly Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful and enlightening tale. I’m on a little adventure as I write, so I intend to read your post again when I get home. I hope to stay haunted by your description of the “strangle hold” and imprisonment of consciousness in the hopes of lessening its grip. How wonderful to see a whale we’re I to succeed!

    August 4, 2022 at 4:18 pm
  • ymilse rangel Reply

    What an extraordinary story of initiation. Thank you for writing your thoughts and into my awareness.

    August 4, 2022 at 6:03 pm
  • Gabriel Reply

    Incredible Journey, thank you for sharing Stephen!

    August 4, 2022 at 7:24 pm
  • Birgit Reply

    Thank you for sharing this experience Stephen! As always your words opens my mind to go in new directions. Today – just what I needed. Thank you 🙂

    August 5, 2022 at 8:00 am
  • Syl Sabastian Reply

    Well written Share. 🙂 <3

    August 6, 2022 at 2:07 am
  • Cara Snyman Reply

    Well done Stephen, and thank you for sharing. It filled with me with more than of a tinge of envy… I have yet to conquer my fear of water and be one with my deep love for the ocean. In the next decade I will get there (;

    August 9, 2022 at 8:02 am
  • welma Reply

    Thanks for the sharing Stephen.

    August 11, 2022 at 9:58 am

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *