Shakti: Hindu word for force, power, energy
|Photo K.Stanley Silver Bank|
The whales had been coming to me for months. One time they appeared to be behind glass like in a giant aquarium of rough ocean water. Swimming desperately to get out, they reminded me of how trapped I was feeling then in my job – locked up in a cubicle on the twentieth floor of a downtown office building, behind glass, longing to be free – like the whales in my dream. In the dream, I was desperately following the whales behind glass, wanting to set them free with no idea of how to do it.
In another dream, a whale appeared to be like a man, walking up out of the water and onto a beach where he approached me. I could not make sense of the image, but it stayed with me. He seemed like a wise person, this whale-man.
I loved being in the wild. I had traveled to Africa on safari a couple of times and it re-awakened the deep longing I had as a small child to be a veterinarian. Schooling, life, and growing up interfered and the dream had long ago been forgotten until Africa intervened, and my heart felt a new freedom – with the animals, in their wild places. On the wide savannah plains there was no interference – no external noise from the burdens of cities and overpopulation. There were only wildebeests for brethren, gazelles for sisters and elephants for friends. Only the cheetah and the leopard brought news of the day.
Sitting in the dry desert-like Olduvai Gorge, I felt charged with the life force of this ancient human ancestral homeland. I felt a chain of connection with the hominid ancestors who lived there two million years ago. This was where we stood up and walked and from where we went out and populated the earth.
Africa brought home to me the knowledge that even in the midst of our despairing ecological fragility, we can still find the qualities of Eden to sustain us. I saw how blessed it is that there are still two million wildebeests who embark on their yearly migration in the Serengeti. There are still some places that remain untouched from bulldozers, cranes and buildings. I was humbled with the realization that I had never before experienced such a quality of being and connection. I had been so caught up in the post-modern world, with our 24/7 lives running nonstop. In Africa all that seemed so far away and so acutely unimportant.
Africa was a great ashram, the animals my gurus. In the Serengeti I had come as close as I had ever been to experiencing the Oneness. The place where all boundaries dissolve, where my heart opened wider than it ever had before, and where I felt truly free. In the presence of lions, rhinos and giraffes, I realized that somehow I felt like I belonged. That my true dharma involved them, doing what I could to protect them, to preserve their wild spaces.
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After two trips to Africa the high carried me through the days in the cubicle for a while. I wanted to break free, but I needed to support myself. The ‘golden handcuff’ syndrome plagued me. The job paid for my travels to the wild but also kept me enslaved behind glass walls.
I had read about these trips to the Silver Bank off the coast of the Dominican Republic where you could swim with whales and dolphins in the wild, but I hesitated. It would not be an easy trip and I was not sure about the ethics of being in the water with whales. It was a controversial activity that some marine conservationists frowned on. The dreams continued and then one day, a girlfriend called and told me she had a dream about me: “You were swimming in the water with whales with a bunch of other people. Isn’t that weird?” she said. “Why would I dream that about you?” Humbled by this strange synchronicity, I booked the trip.
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The Silver Bank was a calm oasis of a thousand square miles. The reef was no deeper than sixty feet, allowing for mostly smooth seas. Apart from the haunting sight of the rusted out wreck of a Greek ship near to where the captain anchored the boat, there was nothing else around except open ocean and whales. A festival of whales. All you had to do was sit on the deck of the boat and watch the sea. A blow of steam coming up out of the water was the first signal that whales were out there. The first afternoon we saw dozens of them. Some with babies, some breaching in tandem, spyhopping, lobbing their tails and slapping their fins.
We were out on the reef in the zodiac one morning when a pod of small dolphins started riding the bow. The captain stopped the zodiac and several of us jumped in the water. One dolphin started to circle me – he went around and around, clicking and chattering away at me and I tried to follow his movements. I relaxed and surrendered, allowing myself to just feel like a dolphin, matching his movements up and down in the water, spinning around and around. Never before had I ever felt this level of joy and freedom in my body. The dolphins played with us for a few minutes and then they were gone. I wanted to follow but they were too fast for me.
Wednesday morning we were out on the reef about two miles from the big boat when we came close to two whales that were breaching. The crew member driving the zodiac decided we should hang around in that area and just sit and idle. He thought they were going to surface again close to us. I felt a little tightening in my throat as he stopped the boat. If we were too close, they could breach on top of us. Then we would all be a footnote in some newspaper: Seven tourists killed by breaching whales off the coast of the Dominican Republic.
This trip had been about letting go of fear for me. I was afraid of leaving my job, giving myself over to my passions – just as I had hesitated about coming on this trip. I sat still on the side of the zodiac and readied my disposable underwater camera in case I could get a good picture.
I thought about what it had felt like to be out here for days, in this universe of the humpback whales. Their haunting songs that we heard with underwater microphones enchanted us. We had floated in the water near them. Felt touched to see their curious babies. Watched their courtship dances, laughed at all of their funny tail slapping, and fin slapping activities. We had seen males ramming each other in dominance displays and smelt their stinky strong breath as they exhaled shooting sprays of water and air from their blowholes.
The zodiac bobbed up and down and the sun was relentless. We sat in silence and waited, not knowing where the whales would surface next. I hoped that they had swum off, that they weren’t disturbed by us. We didn’t really belong out here, in their wild place (see The Paradox of Whale Watching).
Then, as if to show us who was boss, a gigantic whale soared out of the water like an enormous torpedo and landed with a huge crash that violently rocked the little zodiac. He was maybe twenty yards from us. A huge tsunami-like wave rose up in his wake. Then he was gone.
We were soaked by the wave, but safe. We went back to the big boat and I crawled into the top bunk. I lay down, feeling like my body had received some kind of electrical jolt from that powerful whale shakti. I felt shattered, yet peaceful. Like I was plugged in to a feeling of vastness inside.
The rest of the trip, I spent quietly. I was not interested in going back in the water with the whales. I was just happy to watch them from the deck of the big boat. On our way out of the Silver Bank, two whales breached in tandem, over and over again.
* * * * *Since that trip to be with the whales, the cages around my life fell away. The job in the cubicle disappeared without any effort on my part and I moved across the continent. I am still in transition towards a new path that will sustain me. But when the noise from civilization becomes too deafening, or when my fears about following my dreams cast doubts, I retreat to the coast and the wild places. I call on the peacefulness of the Africa ashram, the freedom of being like a dolphin in the water, and the blessing of receiving that whale shakti. Copyright © Kathy Stanley