I headed out on my paddle board one morning several weeks ago looking for . . . an experience. The ocean and winds were calm so I ventured further out than normal and probably further than would have been advisable given that the sun had not yet risen and I was the only one on the water as far as I could see. But I REALLY wanted . . . an experience. I paddled for a while, breathing deeply into the fears that sometimes surfaced in my mind and stomach. Fears about sharks and unexpected winds and my own vulnerability and mortality. As soon as one set of inner "disturbances" or "ripples" of fear dispersed, another surfaced. But I kept breathing into them and relaxing my body and mind as I did so. I kept breathing, waiting patiently for enough layers of my thoughts to disintegrate so that I could simply be "present". And finally this thought surfaced . . . " but I'm so far from shore ". That struck me as an obvious but interesting thought to have. And I looked down at my feet standing on top of my beautiful red striped board and I thought . . . "but I am HERE, standing on my board!". Life isn't on the shore. Life isn't elsewhere. It's here. Like it or not, where ever we go, there we are. And I was here, simply standing on my board, holding my paddle, somewhere out on the ocean. And that is all. This was the last of my distracting thoughts for that morning. And finally . . . I was present, simply looking for an experience.
But what kind of experience? What was it that I was so hungry for? I asked myself what was missing inside of myself that I was searching for somewhere out here on the ocean, alone, so early in the morning? And the thought occurred to me . . . "something sacred . . . something free". I wanted to touch on something that was intrinsically itself. Something completely free and wild. Something that was not defined by it's productivity or assigned some relative value or worth based on what it did or didn't do. Something that didn't need to practice . . . "being". I wanted an experience that could remind and reconnect me with the essential part of my self that existed since my conception and still lives beneath all the concepts, ideals and values that have been layered and layered upon me from the moment I took my first breath. I wanted to experience the part of me that transcends even the loftiest and most well-meaning of spiritual aspirations. Spiritual ideals, values, concepts, revelations and breakthroughs are merely vehicles to guide and transport us to a place where they are no longer useful or relevant. I wanted to experience something sacred, something free.
I wanted to feel true freedom. A wanted to experience my essence. A place where if one tries to determine how one got there or define where that is, "it" simply dissolves back into the mystery that "it" emerged from. Didn't you ever have the experience where for one reason or another you find yourself in a higher state of being or oneness and then as soon as you start comparing it to other "lesser" or denser states of being or you start thinking about how you want to stay here in this ego-less place for as long as possible, then with that thought you find your beautiful "space" slipping away back into the confines of duality? Any thoughts or rational thinking of what our experience of true essence and presence may look or feel like are often just distractions and obstacles to experiencing the real thing. We can "Om" and "affirm" all we want but until we throw our spiritual concepts and emotional attachments away we're still going be just "Oming" and "Affirming". It's like we can swing on that swing over and over again until we go higher and higher, but then if we don't jump off that swing at just the right time and soar through the air, then we're just clinging to a rope tied to a tree (which is nice, for a little while).
We hug our concepts and beliefs close to ourselves like a favorite soft blanket, protecting us from the cold. We hug it so close we don't even realize that we've blanketed our eyes and hearts as well. Even the most comforting, well meaning and loving thoughts and intentions can blind and separate us from what is present and right in front of us. It's like we forget that we needed the blanket and snow boots when it was winter. And then we wanted the umbrella when it was raining. And now we're still walking around carrying our boots, blanket, umbrella (and God knows what else we're lugging around) that helped us get here. But for me I'm realizing that "here" is very different than "anywhere" I've ever been so far in my life. And being "here" is requiring a lot more breathing and letting go. We can't take all our "knowing" with us to a new place! We can't wrap all our "knowing" around us and then expect to be touched by a greater experience of "wonderment" or awe! True inspiration doesn't come from any place of "knowing"! And any experience of "grace" can't survive an inquisition or desire to define and sustain it. You have to be willing to go along for the ride with all your heart and all your faith until your mind just can't take it longer and grabs hold of the steering wheel, to be once again, in control.
I started paddling out on my board hugging my identity, concepts, fears and aspirations close to me. And one by one I dropped them into the ocean and they submerged. I became more and more vulnerable and present as I disarmed myself of my illusion of protection and separateness. And there I stood alone, just me and my board about a mile or more off shore watching the sunrise shimmering brightly over the distant mountain ridge. And then I heard it. The sound of a huge, wet exhale. The sound of water and air spraying out with one giant breath into the atmosphere. Compared to the quiet lapping of water on my board this new sound was like a freight train blowing it's whistle into the night. And I then I heard it again and I turned to look and find it. And there I saw it! It's dark long back, rolling up surfacing out across the water and then, many yards later, rolling back down into the ocean. It rolled and rolled, submerging very slowly for many long seconds. It looked like a giant sea serpent from some mythological fairytale. It's body was maybe 40ft. to 50ft. long and it's huge tail fins were wider than the full length of my board. Sliding and slicing through the water until the while completely submerged with a playful SLAP of it's tail fin! This beautiful humpback whale, less than 30 ft. away, was now heading directly towards me!
I dropped to my hands and knees on my board now looking for more stability. It was once again quiet. Very quiet. For several minutes again there was that sense of just me out there on top of the water. But now, not alone. In fact, I had tons of company, literally. This is what I was looking for! First an encounter with myself and then with a living breathing ambassador for something sacred, something free. A mascot of my inherent desire and right to freedom. A giant symbol of the "unknown" from a world I can only peer into for a few seconds at a time. A creature that is so foreign to the world I live in and so free from the goals and aspirations of the culture that I've adopted and invested most of my life into, but yet, at this moment we share the same water and breathe the same air. Literally occupying the same space in time. Well, almost. It's more like we peek at each other for a few seconds at a time thru the thin but substantial veils that separate us.
It finally surfaced again on the other side of my board and was now heading away from me. It must have swam underneath me. Then, with more blind enthusiasm and fearless motivation than I had felt in a long long time, I jumped to my feet and paddled hard and deep after my new found ocean companion. I hoped that I could keep up for at least a few minutes before it decided to disappear into the ocean again. I did manage to keep up with it, or it allowed me to, I'm not sure which. I felt it's salty spray on my face and saw it's huge amazing body slice and dance thru the water over and over again. And in-between paddling hard to keep up with it I also sat patiently, quietly, many times, waiting for it to resurface again for the air that we both shared. In some ways the waiting and listening was my favorite part of the journey. The air was shrouded in mystery and anticipation. The quiet was as rich, thick and poignant as it could possibly be. I submerged my head into the water to listen to it's whale song and couldn't believe how loud and clear it was. What a beautiful contrast to the quiet on the surface. The whale surfaced and submerged a dozen times or more on it's way south before heading further out to sea. The journey lasted for about 30 to 40 minutes and finally it was time for me to head back to shore. I had gone as far out to sea as my mind could tolerate. But I was completely moved by the grace of the animal and humbled by it's magnificence. And something about it's very existence that had me spell bound. I didn't want to let it go, but our worlds were calling us in two different directions and I had to return to solid ground.
But I had my experience, my encounter. I found something sacred, something free and spent a long time with it. And as I paddled slowly in towards shore, often looking behind me and listening to every ripple in the ocean and every breath of wind, I hoped to bring something of that experience back to the land, to my life. Perhaps to allow just a little more perspective and a little more freedom in the world of solidity and structure. But regardless of what the day had in store for me, for now I was enlivened, inspired and rejuvenated. I experienced a brief yet satisfying allay of my deep lifelong thirst for something sacred, something free. And I was, for now . . . content. (End Part 1)