I learned to scuba dive in the Red Sea, Egypt. But I almost didn’t. I was progressing through the activities required for successful completion of my open water diving licence when I reached a breaking point and decided to quit.

I found the requirements challenging but I was getting through them, initially. I had successfully practiced losing my mask under the water and putting it back on again. I had also practised sharing a regulator in case I ever found myself without a working regulator. I didn’t enjoy doing any of these kinds of activities, but it was necessary to persevere so that I could become a competent diver.

My breaking point came after the rescue swim. I don’t remember the details exactly, but I think I had to swim about fifty metres, with all my scuba gear on, while pulling along my dive partner who was pretending to be unconscious. I completed the task, but just barely. I was exhausted.

I was also dismayed because within minutes of returning to the group, the instructor had us all lined up in the waist-deep water, ready to perform the next ‘don’t die diving’ activity. We had to practise breathing with our regulators free-flow. This meant tilting my head sideways underwater, and then breathing in some of the air while the remaining free-flow air bubbles rose up to the surface.

I watched the instructor’s demonstration of the exercise through my haze of exhaustion. I felt defeated. My spirit dropped and my heart sank as I realised I was done; I had to quit. Through tears of frustration, I told my instructor that I couldn’t do it and stormed out of the water. On the beach, I took off all my scuba gear and found a place to console myself; I was never going to be a diver. I was sad about it but, mostly, I was just glad to be out of a situation that was clearly not working for me.

Later, my instructor found me and tried to talk me into getting back in the water the next day. I resisted. “No, it’s too much for me. I get anxious and exhausted. I’m just not strong enough and it’s too hard.” He looked thoughtful. “Just come back to the beach tomorrow and we’ll work it out.”

I went back reluctantly the next day. I couldn’t see how the situation was going to improve. But I also really wanted to be able to dive. When I got to the beach, my instructor was holding a weight belt out to me. “I’ve removed half the weights. I think this might help.”

Could it be that everything I’d been doing was unnecessarily hard because I had too many weights attached to me?

Yes. It turned out that one of the initial instructors had wrongly assessed the number of weights I’d need. With the excess removed, all my experiences in the water felt very different. It was easier to move, swim and complete any of the challenges the instructor set for me. I achieved my dive license and went on to have amazing dive trips in the years following.

It’s how life works too. Many of us carry around very heavy pasts. We might have anger, frustration, betrayal or hurt, for example. These are all heavy and they weigh us down. They prevent us from moving easily and effectively in the present and into the future.

If we drop the weights we don’t need, the present becomes easier and the future opens up in ways it could not have done otherwise.