Ocean of Self: An ocean diver explores the nature of consciousness

Ocean of Self: An ocean diver explores the nature of consciousness

by Mark N. Spencer



Published in Religion & Spirituality/Other Eastern Religions, Nonfiction/Politics, Nonfiction/Social Sciences, Religion & Spirituality, Nonfiction

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Book Description

Mark Spencer explores the nature of consciousness and spirituality from the point of view of an ocean diver who regularly experiences the silent realms of his own awareness through the practice of meditation. Ocean and diving themes provide metaphors for exploring the notion of a universal ocean of consciousness which underlies and gives rise to our individual waves of consciousness. Part autobiography, part science and part philosophy, this is an uplifting book that conveys the major themes of unity and empowerment.

Sample Chapter


Some memories pull you back again and again. It’s like being drawn to certain pictures on a wall, down a corridor that represents life’s journey.

In one such picture, I was 10. My grandmother had taken my younger sister and me on a ferry journey across the harbour from Circular Quay in the busy commercial hub of Sydney, to Manly on the north side. Manly was a fun place for a young boy. There were fun rides, visits to what was then called the Manly Aquarium with its display of menacing-looking sharks, stingrays and turtles, the surf beach a short walk away and the busy activity of ferries, boats, swimmers and tourists on the harbour. Leaning over a stone breakwater near Manly’s ferry terminal, I looked down onto the shimmering, opaque surface of Sydney Harbour, and wondered what mysteries lay hidden underneath. I knew there was another world down there out of sight and mind to most terrestrials.

A desire to know what lies hidden beneath our normal superficial view of things has prevailed throughout my life. As a boy I was always the young scientist, day-dreaming about owning a laboratory, doing important experiments and making discoveries. But I never became a scientist. Instead I pursued a career in clinical dentistry, following in the footsteps of my father and his father before him.

I did, however, plunge into the mysterious depths of the ocean as a dedicated diver. I learned to scuba dive in 1974, and pursued it with enthusiasm. My friends and I would – in the early years of diving – plunge ourselves off ocean rock platforms to enter and exit our ocean playground. Often, as an exercise – without scuba cylinders and wearing only protective wetsuits, fins and gloves – we would jump off the rocks into the heaving ocean and then allow the waves to deposit us back onto the rock platform. We would even hold hands and do this in unison. Bad timing or a bad choice of wave gave us some bruises, but it was all fun and all part of gaining confidence in the sea.

Before long I was taking a camera to record what I saw while diving and learn more about the creatures I came across. I soon acquired a taste for the adventure and discovery associated with undersea exploration, and sharing these discoveries with others through my photography became a lifelong passion and a parallel vocation with my professional life as a dental surgeon.

I would eventually see these photographs published in respected journals like those of the National Geographic and Australian Geographic societies. Photographic assignments and sponsored diving projects (mainly through the support of the Australian Geographic Society) gave my diving career extra focus and the ability to engage friends in teamwork towards a satisfying goal.

As my familiarity and confidence in the ocean grew with experience, I was soon introduced to shipwreck diving, which usually meant diving to greater depths. At first, we would explore scuttled hulks or genuine wrecks using compressed air breathed from a single scuba tank. Then, as we descended further – to explore even deeper wrecks – we wore two tanks for the extra air we needed at depth, and also to allow time for the inevitable decompression stops needed to avoid the bends.

I would soon extend my skills to freshwater cave-diving, for which special training and certification was required. Flooded caves are usually pitch black with absolutely no penetration of sunlight, and the entrance is often the only safe exit. Getting lost in such an environment with a limited air supply is not an option. Cave-diving is definitely not for the claustrophobic! However, this foreboding underground world can delight the explorer with mineral sculptures that have taken Earth hundreds of thousands of years to shape. It’s also a world that can re-set a diver’s appreciation of the passage of time from a human scale to a much vaster one.

The ocean, however, was where I spent most of my time underwater. Around the mid-1990s, my wreck-diving friends and I undertook training in the use of specially mixed breathing gases – helium, oxygen and air – to more safely manage deeper plunges into the ocean. Mistakes in blending or not carefully checking the gas in our breathing mixture could be fatal, and it resulted in the deaths of some friends and acquaintances.

As the years and decades passed, I continued to precariously balance the high demands of my dental career and my passion for ocean exploration and underwater photography. But – as busy as I was with these pursuits – I found time for another discipline.

A few years after I graduated from university, I read an article in Reader’s Digest about a meditation technique known as Transcendental Meditation (TM). I read that it had been introduced to the western world by an Indian scholar by the name of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I was aware that this man had been involved with The Beatles. I was intrigued by the evidence-based claims of improved self-actualisation, improved health and sense of wellbeing, greater stamina and clarity of mind.

I had been brought up a Catholic and had no wish to embrace another religion, but the article stated that Transcendental Meditation was not a religion and that it did not matter whether one was religious or non-religious – it was a secular technique for the natural resting of the mind to achieve a highly beneficial state of consciousness that came with a whole bunch of health benefits. I was intrigued.

After talking to a doctor friend of mine who practised TM, I was assured of the wisdom of learning this life skill and started in 1981. I have virtually not stopped since!

I recall once stopping my meditation practice for a number of months, perhaps a year after I learned the technique. It was my own experiment to see if it really was giving me benefits. I was reassured by this test and took it up again, disciplining myself to practise the technique twice a day for 20 minutes each time.

The TM teachers provided some basic knowledge to help new meditators understand what was going on when she or he ‘transcended’ – meaning to ‘go beyond’ or ‘pass through the superficial levels of familiar wakeful consciousness’. They would speak of an ‘ocean’ or ‘pond’ of consciousness with all our busy mental activity happening at the top, just like busy ocean waves on the surface of the ocean depths. Thoughts, they said, were like incipient bubbles arising from the depths of this ocean, getting bigger as they reached the surface. Transcendence was the reversal of this process –moving deeper and deeper into the silent realms of the mind, where the bubbles of thought become less dominating. Often while ‘diving’ into the silent depths of my own awareness, I find myself attached to a thought again and brought to the surface. TM meditators are taught to then go back to repeating a non-sensible word that acts as a vehicle for the mind to dive back into the depths.

It was a silent, peaceful world down there in the depths of my consciousness. It reminded me of a similar silence and peace I encountered while scuba diving or free-diving. When diving into the watery ocean, I became very present – ‘in the moment’ – just as I did while meditating. It didn’t seem to matter if I was burdened with problems on the surface. They all became irrelevant as soon as I plunged underwater. I also experienced silence, freedom, unboundedness and even a sense of unity – a sense of greater ‘being’ that transcended my small self. It’s a sense of belonging to something larger.

The correlation captured my interest. One diving medium – the ocean – was very physical, the other more nebulous and abstract. Could the two possibly be related?

This book has resulted from my research into that correlation. The curiosity I expressed as a young boy for what lies under the surface of Sydney Harbour culminated in my becoming an underwater explorer. Little did I know then that those acquired skills in ocean exploration plus my acquisition of an effective meditation technique would equip me in dealing with my later curiosity for what lies beneath the superficial sensory-dependant levels of conscious awareness.

[2] The story of McCavity – ‘Mysterious McCavity’ – was told in Australian Geographic, Issue 45, Jan–March 1997

[3] Alan Nichols, J.D., D.S., FN’84; The Explorers Log, Spring 2014, Vol 46. No. 2.


Excerpted from "Ocean of Self: An ocean diver explores the nature of consciousness" by Mark N. Spencer. Copyright © 2017 by Mark N. Spencer. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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