Because the interview was in french for the swiss radio, i believe it could be nice to post here the notes i took beforehand. I took them in french so to give the change i'll put them here in english (which i hope can be read easily). It was a talk with the director of that famous museum in Yverdon-CH, la "Maison d'Ailleurs" (absolutely awesome museum btw). The subject of the talk was the word "immersion". What does it mean? Does it has the sense we give it today? that sort of things...
The idea is not here to share what Marc Attallah said, since he spoke a lot and in a very good french, but to share with you the answers i wrote down for the Radio before the talk.
Improvised questions and reactions asked me to be short on my answers. I feel like sharing with you a more complete content... Soon enough, this interview will be published online, so you can listen to it.
Marc Attallah is organising an exposition about virtual reality, science fiction and video games called "immersion" in his museum. The discussion was turning around a comparison in between different experiences of the immersive concept.
Q: Loïc Vuillemin, what is "immersion" for you? What does it mean to you? How do you define this word as a freediver?
A: As a freediver i wish to be pragmatic in my way to answer this question. My definition and interpretation of the word "immersion" is quite classical. It's about diving. Indeed it's about holding your breath and dive in the water, to reach a certain depth and come back to surface to find your breath again. Nothing really transcendental here.
Q: As a buddhist monk, do you use this word? Is it a word which is been used in buddhism?
A: Not really. We would eventually speak about full immersion or total immersion in case a disciple wants to follow the teachings inside a very specific context. Living in a temple could for example be an experience of immersion.
In buddhism we use more the word absorption. We absorb ourselves, or get absorbed, into the practice of meditation.
To me, the word "immersion" corresponds to a conscious action and absorption to an unconscious mecanism. Shall i add that there may be no absorption without immersion?
Q: What are the common points in between these two forms of immersion? Buddhism and Freediving...
A: The common point in between the apnea immersion and the buddhist practice immersion is the intention, the wish, of diving inside the self. To me, apnea and practice of buddhism come together. It's not that you have a sport practice on one side and a spiritual practice on another. Both practices feature both aspects. I even think that the depth you can reach while freediving have nothing to envy to the spiritual depths one can reach while practising meditation.
To reach depth, both during meditation practice or apnea diving, asks a lot from body and mind, mostly to be intimately connected but also to be able to abandon the self and to go beyond our self thought boundaries. Both marry well. These practices complete each other and sometimes they even mix.
Q: what about immersion into video games and virtual reality?
A: i fear video games mostly because they ask this immersion from you. I don't like to absorb myself into something i know is virtual. I rarely play video games and if so, the simplest available.
Q: What do you find, what do you live when you immerse yourself into the sea?
A: Deep sea is one of the most hospitable place on earth. There is this very specific silence, this feeling sounds are buffered, but also the pressure that forces you to embody the water around you. There are the physiological modifications and adaptations to apnea that change your mind activity such as bradycardia, periferical vasoconstriction, blood saturation of different gazes. The mix of all the physiological changes definitely affects your mind and lead you to find again a refuge deeper inside.
It's a little bit like meditation indeed... one lets go of the parasitic self, this one which always reacts to everything... but we don't let go so much of the body. The diver must be aware of his posture and reflexes, just like the zen practitioner. I like to find that space of peace that exists beyond self... i guess that's is what i find and live when i practice apnea and/or meditation.
Q: After your immersion in the sea, what's left of you?
A: i'm washed away! I must first find my breath and wait that my surface abilities are functional again. Yes, after a dive i'm tired, i must rest, eventually eat since we mostly dive empty stomach and i must be careful with my judgements that can certainly be altered by the after taste of narcosis and the euphoria which often comes with it.
To hold your breath is not without consequences and some people, sometimes, do it even without noticing. I'm sure if we check the breathing activity of a video game player, we'll have great surprises!
It is to know that freediving damages short term memory, so sometimes i don't remember moments of my dives.
With freediving, one must obviously learn how to immerse but also how to surface, same with meditation. How to go in, how to get out. This is very important and eventually lacks in the experience of video games players.
So to find your mind back is a skill that one must learn... it can be learned!
I never know by the way if it's the freediver who brings me to depth and the zen monk who brings me back to surface. It changes... maybe i'll never know.
Q: Loïc Vuillemin, these immersions of yours into the depths of the sea or into zen meditation are they ways to escape reality?
A: I cannot deny that fact obviously! But it's not how it works
Meditation is an healthy activity and those who wish to practice it are more looking for a way to integrate peace and harmony in their life than to run away from difficulties. Often there is a wish of finding more depth in life. The practitioner of freediving or meditation will face reality very fast during the exercise: pain, loss of patience, etc... It's simply not possible to run away. Reality is just here, it's not a virtual experience.
I like more to say that apnea and meditation allow to transcend reality, transcend self. There is no place to escape except in the Way, said many masters.
To leave your home and activities to dedicate to meditation or freediving is not escaping. It is an adventure of a great dimension which will certainly lead you to a more spacious aspect of what you call reality... with another look at it. Both of these practices are deeply integrated into the realm and i even think they are of the best methods to understand really what the realm or the reality is.
But for sure, the practice freediving and/or meditation will change your mind, clearly ;)
I must also add that i don't believe in what most call "reality".... anymore.
Q: An immersion for more emotions: isn't that the opposite of the meditative approach?
A: Nobody is immune to absorption, it may happen to any of us, even once immersed. We could even believe that immersion brings absorption. So look, sometimes during deep meditations, the subconscious releases thoughts and emotions. Let go of them, let go of them says the zen master.
Me, i love when absorption leads to extasy. Thoughts, emotions, inner peace are only one... it's amazing. If you go against something during meditation, often you will fail.
There are of course monks and nuns that reject the inner experiences of meditative world... i think it's a little sad. If we have the tool and the knowledge that allows us to go beyond the self, why would we reject amazing experiences? Sit, breathe... and enjoy the view no?
Q: In any cases, immersion implies to go at depth, not to stay at surface...?
A: Yes, this is it. Immersion is the first step to depth. Now some freedivers are hard and not all immersions will be considered as being deep. I am not surprised that the word immersion is hype by now. It's a fascinating word.
Q: how to make the difference in between a creative and constructive immersion and an immersion that would be a way of escaping reality?
A: I'm not this into differences and to separate things nor into having to judge what is sincere or not. Sometimes, to run away is the best thing one can do.
My job and concept is to help people to run away from the jail they build for themselves. Escape into the Way as i said before.
There are people that can heal thank to video games and there are people that will become stupid and mean with religion, including buddhism. There are people who die freediving, leaving behind friends and family, children...
So again, my job as a freedive instructor and zen master is to help people to not run away in vain. Some don't run away, they are looking for a way. I help them.
But let's say the constructive immersion leads to more and deeper immersion. The other one, sooner or later, will bring you straight into the wall.
Q: A souvenir of an immersion you want to share?
A: Yes, one of the last meditation in the temple i was guarding. It was long, i was suffering and wanted to escape but i unconsciously or not took the decision not to move a nanometer. If i was supposed to touch the bottom, so be it. In this state of deep absorption, i had a magnificent vision which filled my heart with happiness, love and feeling of liberty, recognition. Even if everything is illusion, that was beautiful... far beyond everything i could wish or hope.
Another one: i fell asleep during a dive in the World Championships. Happily, nothing broke... but it's sometimes very dangerous to get absorbed while being immersed. Awareness must prevail... It's a funny souvenir.