The Elders of the Seas
It’s been a few months since we’ve returned from our pilgrimage-retreat in Baja (Journey to Baja: Pilgrimage of the Heart), and the gifts and blessings of this journey have continued to unfold in me. As we prepare for our 2018 trips, I am even more aware that these journeys are guided, organized, and orchestrated by a much greater community of sentience and awareness than we can understand, hold, or make sense of from the limited vantage point of our human perspective.
The Baja trips happen because Anne and I are called to facilitate them…and the people who join us come because they, too, are called. Who puts out this call? Who orchestrates these gatherings? From the beginning, it has been clear that we have been invited to partner, to co-create in sacred circle, to join in connection with the non-human beings of Baja, and specifically the whales. As they came to us and joined with us in astonishing ways, it was clear that Anne and I were the “agents” for putting out the call for this gathering to the human world…but that the call came from those whose awareness and hearts hold an understanding that is deeper and more complete than ours.
Our trips are pilgrimages-spiritual retreats-rather than vacations. From the beginning, we cultivate practices of silence, awareness, and deep connection with our bodies and spirits that allow us to enter a state of openness and receptivity, making it easy for the whales and other non-humans to be with us.
Although I had been in deep communication with the whales and had received instructions for the structure and practices for the trip in the year prior our journey, I was still blown away by the magnitude of what we experienced.
The Blue Whales
From the first day of our trip, we were met by the whales. Each day, we were joined by a combination of blue, fin, humpback whales and dolphins, in addition to the many other species of animals and plants with whom we shared water and land. Our skilled and gentle-hearted kayak guide, Ramon, told us that they consider it a great gift if they have one blue whale encounter…on our trip, we lost count of the number of whales we were with.
On day 5 of the kayak portion of our trip, after spending several days practicing silence, listening, and deepening our awareness of our bodies, our hearts, and our connection with the land, water, and all of the beings around us, we were given an astonishing gift and confirmation of the invitation we had received.
As I slept on our island beach under the stars, I was awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of the breath of the blue whales…the unmistakable “whoosh” of the giant blows piercing the stillness of the night. At sunrise, as I played my flute to wake our group and signal the start of our morning practice, a mother blue whale and her calf appeared just offshore. They communicated to me that they were aware of our group, that they felt our receptivity and readiness to receive what they had to share with us, and that they and others would join with us for the day.
As we moved into our morning yoga and meditation practices, another adult blue whale appeared offshore. I knew then that our planned activities for the day would be superceded by the teachings of these elders, who had come to make connection with us.
We stood in silence as the great whale passed back and forth in front of our island beach. For hours, she stayed…offering us a transmission of energy, connection, presence, and love. The only word I know to describe what she gave us is darshan…the Sanskrit word that means a transmission of energy, an experience of the divine, an activation which awakens us to our own true nature.
As she surfaced to breathe, and then sank back into the water, her giant body created waves that rolled to our shore. In silence, one by one, we walked into the ocean…understanding in a deep, numinous way that the water carried the energy of her gift to us, and that walking in, we were being bathed in what might only be called divine essence, spirit, pure love.
One of our participants, Shirley Gillotti, who celebrated her 70th birthday on our trip, wrote this poem about that day:
The Elder of the Sea
We gather, reverently rooting shapes into the soft sand.
You rise and bow, filling the sea with gratitude
Your profoundly deep and moist breaths echo inside our silent hearts
And the full spectrum of your body sounds
Shake the undulating tides toward shore.
You silently speak in many tongues so each of us can hear
the Truth inside our own and eager hearts.
We listen with unbroken intent.
Nothing is missed, no one is forgotten.
After many breaths, you breathe your ancient counsel:
I carry my young through these sacred waters that have
Known many births.
One day my calf will travel alone and carry her own message
In the tongue of the Great Mother.
Your own young already travels the Great Sea and
Listens before her time.
You belong to this timeless knowing
And now free to live among your own sacred waters.
Swim your way Home now,
Swim your way Home now,
You will always find me living in the Great chamber
of your own heart.
The Grey Whales
The second portion of our trip was centered in San Ignacio Lagoon, where the grey whales come to mate and give birth to their young. Again, although I had experienced and written about the extraordinary outreach of these whales to humans, I was unprepared for the extravagant richness and joy of our experience.
Each day, mothers brought their calves to our boats, inviting us to touch them, to kiss them, to stroke their baleen. I played my flute and wept as over and over again, the whales came to us, stayed with us, shared their joy, their openness, their presence with us. We cried, we laughed, we sang, we shrieked with joy…I kept saying “thank you, thank you, thank you, we love you, we love you, we love you” over and over again, as we were baptized with whaley-smelling water from their spouts and invited to touch and kiss the sleek softness of their skin.
“Do it again! Kiss me again! Touch me again! We love this so much! This is so much fun!” the baby whales would say. And their mothers brought them close, over and over again, inviting our contact, inviting connection, sharing joy, delight, and love.
In her editorial for the most recent issue of the journal Dark Matter: Women Witnessing, Lise Weil, who traveled with us, writes:
I myself spent a revelatory two weeks in Baja in March being first with the blue whales of the Sea of Cortez and then the gray whales of San Ignacio Bay. The trip was a direct result of the writing in Part I, most especially Nancy Windheart’s “Saved by Whales.” Nancy, who co-led the trip together with wilderness guide Anne Dellenbaugh, persuaded me to sign up. But in truth the persuading had already happened via Nancy’s writing about the whales, which primed me for the experience. Andrea Mathieson’s “Listening for the Long Song” played a role too–in particular her observation that “…most of us have lost our ability to hear the subtle sounds of the Earth and the voices of all her creatures.” I wanted very badly to learn to listen to the whales!
It was difficult, initially. I just couldn’t convince myself the whales would want anything to do with us humans after what we’ve done to them and to the oceans. But after a number of days, it became impossible to deny that they were coming to us and coming for us–and that they were having a powerful effect on me. My rational mind had to no choice but to take a back seat to what was demonstrably happening….
What I know is this: I came back from the whales able to listen in ways I couldn’t before. I came back convinced that what I habitually see and hear and feel is a tiny fraction of what I could be seeing and hearing and feeling. (Read Lise’s entire editorial here.)
What I understand more than ever is this:
It is not all up to us.
We humans have a limited perspective on our world…our global situation…our planetary crises. And make no mistake about it, we are in a state of planetary emergency. The whales and other animals are deeply aware of this. Radical action is required of all of us.
Radical action…arising from the heart…arising from kindness, forgiveness, acceptance, and love. This is the gift that these whales give us…this is the state of being that they model for us, that they offer to us, that they cause to arise in us by their very presence. What more radical action could there be than to bring their calves to play with those of the very species which has killed them? What more radical action could there be than to offer to partner with a species which has lost its way in unconsciousness, separation, and violent destruction?
When I ask the whales and other non-humans about their perspective about humans, one of the responses I hear most frequently is “Humans have forgotten.” This is often communicated with great tenderness, gentleness, and sometimes a sense of sorrow. So many humans have forgotten our connection, our divinity, our essence…we don’t know who we are.
Radical action is required at this time on our planet. And what more radical action can there be than to step across all of the boundaries of history, species, culture, time, and space that divide us, and to recognize that together we are one heart, one life, one love, one body, sharing this precious manifestation of the creativity of the universe that we experience through the expression of our individual lives?
As we connect with the perspective, awareness, and consciousness of those who have never forgotten who they are, we begin to understand that our human role on this planet is both limited and limitless. We can’t solve our problems from the state of awareness that created them…the whales and the wise ones of many species are inviting us to open into an entirely new way of knowing and perceiving–into a generative co-creation with all life. They are inviting us to remember who we truly are.
There are few words that can express this direct knowing and understanding…but as we deepen into awareness of our own true nature, and the true nature of others, we perceive the radical transformation that becomes not only possible, but imperative, arising from life itself.
We are breath, we are love, we are being, we are life…we are the infinite creativity of the universe.
We’ll be returning to Baja in 2018 for two trips: a women’s trip and a gender-inclusive trip. If you’re called to join us, you can find out more here: Journey to Baja: Pilgrimage of the Heart.
You may also be interested in: Coming into the Body: A Meditation Retreat for Women Dec. 1-8, 2017, Jemez Springs, New Mexico, with Nancy Windheart and Anne Dellenbaugh