Over the holidays I had a rare, life-impacting experience, and feel called to share with you what I learned swimming with 108 wild dolphins.
I pick the number “108” because not only is that a sacred number to millions of practicing yogis, Hindus, Buddhists and certain mathematicians (read more on this), but it might have been the actual number of dolphins who gifted me and a few lucky others with the amazing opportunity to swim and play and be a part of their extended family.
In order to set the stage for that experience, let me say that my trip to Hawaii this time around was mixed, as I knew it would be. While always beautiful there, and a sanctuary for me, this trip was not about me replenishing my vital energy, as in the past, but more about being available for a family member struggling with brain cancer, and about my taking on more responsibility at her Farm, south of Kailua-Kona. There was a lot to learn about the plants, animals, and upkeep of the property, and I reveled in the good hard labor of weeding, pruning, and feeding huge piles of coffee branches into the chipper, making great mulch for the garden. But primarily, I was there for J, and so I needed to apply great mindfulness in how I navigated the complex path of being family, on the one hand, and guide and healer, on the other, for this extremely bright and hard-working person…but one who is suffering overwhelming anxiety, regret, confusion, fear and self-condemnation.
There were difficult moments, with endless comparing and evaluating causing her even greater distress. “I’m not comfortable here–should I fly home early?” “Should I do some work or go swim at Turtle Beach?” “Is it going to rain the whole time I’m here? I can’t take the damp and cold.” “I want to do yoga and meditation, but I can’t focus.” “Should I meet up with a friend or spend time with my sister?” “Why did you bring me to the movies?–I feel cold and afraid.” “What would be good to eat–what are you eating–should I eat that too?”
It was hard, quite frankly, to keep my equanimity in the face of her constant questioning, measuring, critiquing, and not infrequent blaming. This tendency is something that plagues humans in general, and is something I myself have been working to control in my own repertory of responses.
But, of course, the four of us also had some beautiful times together, like singing Christmas songs, accompanying ourselves on the ukulele and banjolele, and a very sweet Christmas morning spent out on the lanai. Finally, after dropping off both sisters at the airport, a quiet peacefulness descended. A peacefulness that was there the whole time, but that became obscured when any of us became too identified with the abundant thoughts and feelings perpetually flowing. For my family members, as well as myself and most of the human race, that identification happens automatically, and inevitably leads to suffering…
So why spend so much time outlining events unconnected to what I learned swimming with dolphins? PERSPECTIVE! The beauty of going from the human world of conceptual thinking to the free open space of pure being…
Over my entire stay I longed to go swim in a bay that I knew was one the spinner dolphins came into to sleep or rest, or connect with humans. Foe my entire stay I put all of those wishes aside, and went with whatever “program” was happening each day, but finally I got my chance, my final morning on the Island. As I swam out into the bay by myself, I saw some rental kayaks gathered on the other side, about a half mile away, and despite my snorkel gear giving me trouble, and having to stop and clear out again and again, I made my way through the beautiful and calm, clear water, spotting a manta ray 15 feet below me on the way. Again, taking time to clear my snorkel and mask, I once more put my face in the water and Lo and behold! I was surrounded by dolphins.
There they were. My first close encounter. And as I swam further on, and saw more and more, and couldn’t believe how many of them there were. Astonished, thrilled, blubbering with excitement, crying, I swam and swam, especially trying to keep up with one sub-pod of about 6 dolphins who seemed to be keeping their eye on me. Whenever I needed to trend water to clear my snorkel, upon coming back down the dolphins were closer than ever, as if they wanted to get close without my knowing. The longer I stayed with them, sending overwhelming amounts of love, gratitude, and joy their way, only to receive it all back tenfold, the closer they came. Many times, a little confused by how close they got to me I asked, “Can I touch you?” but when I gently reached out, they would just evade my fingers by the tiniest of movements, until it became utterly clear they were saying “close, but no touch.”
At one point I tried to count them, but had to give up after 60. That’s when I had the thought: “This is such a sacred experience, I must be swimming with 108 wild dolphins”…For awhile, I listened to “the woman who sings to dolphins” as she swam not far from me, famous on the island for her ability to attract pods of spinners to swim with her as she sings an eyrie form of human-dolphin song. Beautiful. I even started swimming back before I was ready, concerned I would get too tired, but soon realized that was a CRAZY THOUGHT, because the dolphins themselves were giving me strength and everything I needed to remain in such awesome grace.
How playful: a few turned belly-up just below me and swam under me, looking up; another leapt straight up out of the water just a few feet in front of me, diving gracefully back down spreading his joy and zest for life. Another, quieter, perhaps older dolphin, swimming slowly near me, blinked at me peacefully (was she hoping to sleep soon? I do worry that human interactions may be interrupting their sleep patterns). All I could do was repeat over and over: “Thank you. I love you. You are so beautiful. I am so grateful.”
The gifts, the teachings, I received from swimming with 108 wild dolphins (described in words, which cannot do justice to the experience):
- An absolute sense of inclusion, more powerful than I have ever experienced before. I was part of their “family” or pod, for however long we were together.
- The undeniable knowing that I am loved, and I am special, not because of anything I’ve accomplished or any of my qualities, but simply because I AM–because I exist and I open myself to love.
- The beauty of simply being, a unique member of the animal queendom; able to revel in the magnificence of Gaia’s offerings, as well as respond to her call.
- To BE joyful-playful-peaceful, and live with an overwhelming sense of love, awe, and gratitude for this precious life.
- The very real knowing of the sacred inter-connectedness of all of life.
What really came through in a completely clear, grounded, non-mystical way, is the gorgeous truth that I am one of many, and that is enough… That I do not have to prove myself as an individual, but that this “Process called Me” can have a bright shining moment, a burst of creativity/activity–like the dolphin doing his fabulous leap–that “I” can open to spontaneous joyful movement and flow, a thought, or even a whole project, and then… I DO NOT have to repeat it, develop it, cling to it, defend it…I do not have to base my self-worth on any action or quality. I do not have to make precious my individual expression. I can slip back into anonymity as just one of many, and be perfectly content.
The dolphins have made me think differently about the living of life. The experience of being with them, fully accepted in their extended pod, seen and appreciated in the smaller pod I swam with, helps me to remember my pod-ness here in the human world. Those of you who know how I lost my family-of-origin at a young and crucial age, may appreciate that I have worked hard to know as well as sense the truth of not being alone. With this experience, I can choose to remember that truth, for ever and always. I am not alone. You are not alone. We are intimately connected. AND…Our thoughts, our inspirations, our good deeds, our good intentions COUNT.
As animal communicator and healer Anne Gordon de Barrigon teaches: “The dolphins are here to help us wake up, raise our frequencies and become more conscious, and live a life of joy.” (for more info on Anne’s healing work with dolphins and whales, click here.)
As we step into 2017, it is crucial that we hold onto the belief that our intentions, whether they are spiritual, secular, or altruistic, do matter, and that however we can follow through with any help we can offer the world, is enough. Not everyone is wired to be an “activist” in the political or social sense, but consciousness activism–self-study and reflection, prayer and meditation, visualization, affirmation–these are all extremely powerful and impactful. Don’t let yourself doubt the power of your own positive affirmations, for yourself, others, the planet, the universe.
To that end, please see my post about the New Moon Circle I am forming, to bring awareness and healing to the waters and oceans, the cetaceans, all the living beings and the entire Mother Earth.
May we all rest in the inner spaciousness that is Natural Great Peace, that we may truly know and share the sacred inter-connectedness of life itself.
Namaste–the ideal of Pure Awareness within me bows to the same within you,