Guillaume Néry: diving into the unspeakable

- through Sophie Solere

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Multiple record holder and freediving world champion, Guillaume Néry made the deepest dive in history at 2015 meters in 139. Raised by the sea, in Nice, he began the practice of apnea at the age of fifteen to explore both the limits of the human body and those of the oceans. Apnea quickly became a real obsession for him and invaded all areas of his life. He talks about it as a path of self-discovery and an art of living. Vegetarian, attentive to his neighbor and to the environment, he is also very close to Buddhist values. Accustomed to experiences of deprivation, he tells us about confinement and the current planetary crisis.

What does apnea mean to you? This meeting or this union with the unspeakable have to do with the notions of letting go and trust?

For me, freediving has always been more than a sport. At the start, I mainly saw the adventure side of it, like a mountaineer climbing to the top of Everest. I understood fairly recently that freediving offered me another way of living my life than that proposed by society. It is a school of patience, acceptance and let go. Holding your breath and descending as deep as possible is only possible if you detach yourself from expectations and goals. Otherwise, a tension is created and the will to succeed becomes counterproductive. It is only possible to become one with the element by being 100% present in what you are doing. You must not enter into struggle with the environment and yourself. This search for inner peace and harmony is interesting and converges towards a true spiritual approach.

You talk about an art of living around apnea, what about it?

My whole life is organized around my dives which are for me a moment of contemplation. I have created a special link with the sea. The liquid environment is for me the universal link between all humans on this planet. I have a feeling of dissolution in the element, of harmony and then of total unity. This need for communion has been transformed into an art of living. All those who taste apnea evolve in the perception of their environment and their body. I started doing other activities like yoga. I became a vegetarian too. My relationship with the consumption of animal products changed after reading Open letter to animals de Frédéric Lenoir. While I had already removed fish from my diet, I stopped eating mammals, then poultry.

Do you meditate ? What are the bridges with apnea?

Yes, regularly. But for me, it's harder to reach a level of harmony and presence when meditating on the ground, in a seat, than when snorkeling. The liquid medium encompasses me physically and leads me to be in an interior confinement, face to face with myself. As I expose myself to significant constraints – depth, cold, pressure – I think that a physical mode of survival instinctively sets in motion which triggers a mental calm. I enter into a full consciousness that requires no effort from me. By stopping to breathe, I lower the level of vigilance, therefore mental activity. I cling less to thoughts that I let pass.

According to the principle of interdependence in Buddhism, each phenomenon is the result of infinite causes and causes consequences which will be the causes of other phenomena and so on. How do you feel about this interdependence with the ocean?

Ocean pollution does not exist in itself. It always comes from earthly issues. All the phenomena are interdependent: overfishing, chemical pollution, plastic, microplastic, death of corals, acidification… We cannot want to protect the oceans if we do not know to what extent everything is eminently linked. Agricultural problems impact the oceans through the use of pesticides. These will be found at one time or another in the water, therefore in the fish that will be consumed by humans. Besides, I am always amazed to realize that the root cause of microplastic pollution in the oceans comes from the machine washing of the synthetic fibers of our clothes!

“Each apnea allows me to enjoy breathing differently and restores my awareness of what it really is, in its mechanisms and subtleties. All the deprivations represent small deaths which make it possible to multiply tenfold the feeling of life. »

How to preserve this Amazonian forest that are all coral reefs? Before, episodes of global warming occurred every ten years, now they are much more frequent. Coral dies because of the warming caused by greenhouse gases, themselves linked to the fossil fuels necessary for our mode of consumption. This interconnection shows us the fragile balance of our planet. I have seen coral reefs disappear in a few years, in Polynesia in particular. As I am a privileged witness, I try to shed light on this problem, but at the same time, I am well aware that I am denouncing something of which I am a part by taking the plane. It's a real headache...

How do you interpret this Coronavirus crisis that is hitting the world?

It shows us to what extent globalization has weakened us. We realize that through a domino effect, we can end up in great chaos. How can we use what has happened to fundamentally rethink our functioning at the global level and to change the paradigm? We live the consequence of an excessive use of nature and our disconnection with it. It had to manifest itself in one way or another: the forest fires in the Amazon and Australia, then the Covid-19. The appearance of this virus probably follows deforestation and the deprivation of natural spaces for certain wild animals which find themselves in contact with humans. This crisis shows how much all human actions can have an impact.

The principle of impermanence in Buddhism shows us that nothing is immutable, that everything tends to disappear or change. What does this principle mean to you?

I experience impermanence in my relationship with water. “You never bathe twice in the same river! as Heraclitus said. I have been diving in the same bay almost every day for over twenty years and yet I never dive in the same water. Because it evolves with the seasons, the currents, it evaporates to end up in the clouds, then in the mountains, the water tables, etc. This permanent water cycle makes each apnea a different experience. All outdoor activities lead to feeling this notion of impermanence and at the same time develop that of acceptance. It is about dealing with an environment over which we cannot have control. In a mute dialogue with the element, I will dive only when I feel a symbiosis with it. The place is never the same and some days are better than others. Which also confronts us with the impermanence of our psyche. Our moods change, depending on the trials of life. Finally everything passes, nothing is fixed.

What relationship do you have with death?

Among freedivers, there is a search for absolute safety. Lovers of life, we do not have the impression of being in a risky activity. I never played with the romantic mythology of the fishman who hesitates to come up, conveyed by the film The Big Blue. But, unconsciously, all experiences of vital deprivation, over time, bring a burst of life. I experienced it through fasting in which a great acuteness of the senses and an extreme lucidity arise. Or even in experiences of exposure to the cold, by regularly going for a swim in the sea in winter. Confinement, too, is an experience of deprivation of a primary need, that of having the freedom to move in an unlimited space. I find all these experiences extremely interesting spiritually, because they give another flavor to life. Each apnea allows me to enjoy breathing differently and gives me back an awareness of what it really is, in its mechanisms and subtleties. All the deprivations represent small deaths which make it possible to multiply tenfold the feeling of life. We live in a society of plenty where we have everything all the time and we are not used to deprivation. However, humans and animals are made, in my opinion, to function in an alternation of abundance and deprivation.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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