At the beginning of his dentistry career, Mark Spencer discovered a passion for the mysterious world under the ocean and has been splitting time between the surgery and the sea ever since. Twenty-five years on, he has even published a book about his experiences. Here Mark gives us an insight into the benefits of leading a double life.
What is your connection to the Coffs Coast?
My wife, Becca, and I live in Boambee. We moved up from South Coogee in Sydney about 12 years ago. Coffs Harbour attracted us, because we loved diving on the nearby Solitary Islands and became familiar with the region on our regular visits.
Can you tell us a little about your double life? What do you do?
I followed my father and his father in dentistry, so I’m a third-generation dentist. I graduated in dentistry at the University of Sydney in early 1977. I had been a dedicated student and thought I should expand my life experiences beyond dentistry, so took on scuba diving.
I became hooked on the adventure of diving and the discoveries I was making of wildlife I never knew existed. I soon discovered the attractions of shipwreck exploration, which took me even deeper into the ocean. I then took a camera underwater with me to better learn about this mysterious wildlife and share my underwater experiences with others. I’ve been living this “double life” ever since.
What is the connection between being a dental surgeon and an underwater explorer?
Dentistry demands a lot of concentration, continual learning and focus. It’s a fulfilling and rewarding profession, but can be stressful. I found ocean diving a routine that left me feeling more relaxed, healthier and a more “complete” person. Some of the diving I was doing also took me beyond my comfort zone, and I think that improved my ability to cope with new challenges. It also somehow expanded my view of the world and our relationship with the natural world around us.
What do you find most rewarding about being a dental surgeon?
I discovered that being a dentist, I could be a surgeon and an engineer of sorts, as well as a cosmetician. So, there actually is a bit of artistry in dentistry, but it is very much an art based on solid biomedical science. I also enjoy my regular interaction with fascinating and interesting people from all walks of life.
What have been some of the highlights of your dental career?
Setting up my own practice in Sydney’s Macquarie Street back in 1986 (with an associate) was one of the highlights. One of my elder trusted colleagues described that move as crazy, but it turned out well.
Gaining fellowship to the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons (through examination) in 1981 and then to the Pierre Fauchard Academy and recently to the International College of Dentists have been other highlights.
Working with Coffs Coast Dental is a current highlight, as it is a very well run business with a happy, friendly atmosphere.
How has your passion for the underwater world developed?
I believe it developed and grew because of my innate sense of wonder about the world around us, and also because nearly every dive was an adventure where I made some discovery and learned something new. I also found underwater photography challenging, but very rewarding. Photography enabled me to share my discoveries and to “materialise” in a sense, those mysteries beneath the sea that would otherwise remain unknown.
How does this balance out your dental practice?
I have always thought I might be a more advanced dentist or even a leading academic if I had devoted most of my energy to dentistry alone. On the other hand, my other vocation (diving) has helped give me a broader and enthusiastic outlook on life, which I think helps me be a better health care practitioner.
As I’ve now reached “senior” citizen status, I also believe it’s more important than ever to maintain balance in life to keep healthy both mentally and physically. That ideal balance is different for every individual, but certainly includes family and friends, exercise, rest and recreation.
What are some of the most exciting underwater discoveries you have made?
My most exciting experience with animals was riding on the backs of huge Manta Rays in the east Pacific Ocean off Mexico. The Manta Ray took the initiative for such an intimate encounter and always had the “upper hand” in deciding the degree of such intimacy. This experience reset my view of animal behaviour and my understanding of their ability to trust different creatures, express curiosity and even playfulness.
I’ve had a number of exciting discoveries in shipwreck exploration, but the one that I think made the biggest impact on me was being among the first Australian team to make the 72 metre descent on to the Australian WWI submarine, AE2, in Turkey’s Sea of Marmara back in 1998. I led that expedition, which was supported by the Australian Government (through the Navy). The submarine wreck was in excellent condition at the time; it was so preserved, that I was able to imagine it lifting off the bottom and continuing its mission. It had been down there, of course, since April 1915.
Can you tell us more about some of your local discoveries?
Most of my wildlife dives around the nearby Solitary Islands have impressed me with an appreciation of the richness and variety of tropical and temperate marine life we have right off our doorstep.
I’ve dived a number of times on the Keilawarra shipwreck, also at a depth of 72 metres, just east and south of North Solitary Island, and brought back some interesting photographs. The stern gunwale is still intact, although collapsed down to the sand, so that it now sits outside the propeller. I know that passengers hung on to that stern gunwale to the very last second, before the ship disappeared beneath the surface in a similar manner to the Titanic. The photos I took of that stern give me pause for reflection.
You have just published a book. What led you to writing Ocean of Self, and what is it about?
After scuba diving earnestly since 1977, I then learned the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique in 1981. I had read in Readers Digest that TM was a much verified technique of meditation that resulted in improved self-actualisation, mental acuity, better work performance and improved health.
All these self-development qualities interest young professionals, so I did a bit of background research and decided to introduce meditation into my daily routine. I’ve never looked back! As a regular diver in the ocean and also a diver in the fathomless ocean of consciousness, I began to see similarities in my experiences of both realms. Those comparisons intrigued me, so for some 25 years I’ve explored those correlations with the intention of writing a book about the concept of one “ocean of consciousness” underlying and giving rise to our individual “waves” of consciousness.
It has only been in recent years that I have found the ability to communicate this knowledge in a way that I hope people will find enjoyable and uplifting. It’s a book about “connectedness” and our essential unity with everyone else and all things. It’s also a book about self-empowerment. It gets into spirituality, but not in a doctrinal/religious sense.
Where can people find out more about this?
The easiest way is to go to the book’s website: www.oceanofself.com
I’ve posted all the reviews the book has received, and it also has links to various YouTube or other video clips referred to in the book. The website also has direct links to all the e-reader platforms where you can purchase the book. Presently, it is only available as an eBook, and I’ll print books as global interest grows.
Do you have any advice for people trying to make more time for their various work and passions?
Balancing life in a way that maximises our happiness (and the happiness of those we love) and our health and wellbeing, while still paying the bills, is always a juggling act! It’s important to take regular time-out from our demanding work schedule, constantly look at the bigger picture and revise our priorities where necessary.
If we don’t do this, it’s very likely that we’ll regret not enjoying life to its fullest as we get closer to the end of it.