Wisdom From the Deep – Lessons from a Tropical Ocean

[vc_row type=”1″ margin_top=”-40″ margin_bottom=”30″ full_width=”true” padding_left=”20″ padding_right=”20″ bg_position=”top” bg_repeat=”no-repeat” bg_cover=”true” bg_attachment=”false” padding_top=”10″ padding_bottom=”10″ parallax_speed=”0.1″ min_height=”75px”][vc_column width=”1/1″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Lessons from the Indian Ocean

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I am writing this reflection from Neil Island, a tiny green dot in the Andamans, off India. There are some profound learnings from this experience that I would like to share with you.and it comes with an invitation to join me for a magical swim with the dolphins; read on.


The wisdom of water

Every morning at sunrise, I am up and off to the ocean, where I spend most of the morning, immersed in the deep blue. The water here is 27 degrees celsius, there are hardly any currents, and the ocean reef is teeming with life. This enables me to float and free dive for easily two hours at a time. I have learn’t so much from observing the ocean and my response to her.


The workings of the fear mind

Sometimes I have had to swim through large patches of mirky water to get to a place where I could see. This has been scary, particularly when I have been deep in the ocean. There is the fear of the unknown – and also the specific fear of things in the ocean that could grab and eat me. In Cape Town, my home town, there is a black shark flag that goes out when the water is mirky like this – indicating that the shark spotters can’t see whether there are sharks, and so it is probably wise to stay out the water (there have been one or two serious shark attacks by great whites in my local bay in the last couple of years). I have been told by the local dive master that all the sharks of this island have been fished out. And yet – it only takes someone reminding me of Jaws and me spotting some (dolphin) fins in the ocean for my fear mind to start detecting sharks everywhere.


The reactions of the fear mind in my body are quite extraordinary. Based on very thin – and mostly superstitious – information, it sets of chemicals that make my heart beat faster, my vision become disoriented, and my breath shallow and panicky. I feel nauseous and unable to enjoy the dive. I start reading every sound I hear a sign from God that I should be out the water.


Fear and excitement go together

Needless to say this biochemical reaction in my body is not conducive to enjoying the ocean and having a good dive. And yet my mind will keep creating this kind of response – until I arrest it with clear awareness. I notice that the sensations I feel with fear are very similar to if not the same as those I feel when another mind kicks in: the excitement mind. The excitement mind is looking for the next thrill: What am I going to see that I haven’t seen before? What might I be missing? What will I see that other people haven’t seen? If I let the excitement mind run, it speeds up my heart beat, makes me over focused on objects that could create excitement, and at the same time disables my awareness of the experience of the ocean.


Big daddy and boundaries

I am distinctly aware that my mind has personified the ocean as Big Daddy. The story goes that I am tiny and powerless in the hands of Big Daddy, and He can very easily get cross with me – especially if I break the rules. The rules could be anything – my mind keeps on making the rules up as I swim along (all unconsciously of course): If you swim a little bit further where the water looks like it’s a few metros deeper, you have overstepped the boundaries and you’ll be swallowed up by the big blue. If you swim into the mirky bits, you’ve crossed the boundaries and you’ll disappear. If you swim further than this or that marker in the ocean, you’ve gone beyond where you’re allowed to – and you’ll disappear off the map of humankind. It feels embarrassing and very sweet to admit this. It’s true. My mind is continuously looking for rules, definitions and boundaries, even in the ocean. Once it has defined a boundary, it knows what is right and what is wrong.


But the ocean has no boundaries in that way. That is astoundingly evident to me from watching the fish. As the tide changes, they change their homes, moving deeper or shallower with no effort and no stress. In fact they roam the wide open ocean. And a point in the ocean that had become a marker in my mind for where you don’t go (because the water gets choppy or mirky around the corner) can suddenly open up, and take me to calm waters with exquisite new spaces.


And the ocean, it seems, is not Big Daddy. It is what I make it. I can feel the ocean as the great womb, as the playground of innocent creatures, as the realm of mystery – or I can just let it be, without defining it, or wanting to be defined within it.


And are there rules? There are, but they are infinitely more simple than what my mind makes them to be. They are rules about basic safety, to do with real factors – currents, your ability as a swimmer, whether there are other people nearby, what lives in the ocean where you are, water temperature and your body temperature. This is my business to consider. Not all the myths my mind has made up about the experience.


Meeting strange creatures

(fear of the unknown)

On the coastline just outside our cabin, there lives a creature which is rare indeed on the planet: The dugong. This mammal has fins like a whale, is about the size of a cow and has a snout that somewhat resembles that of a hippopotamus. it feeds off grass, and has no way of protecting itself from its main predator – man – who has killed it to the brink of extinction. But there are about a dozen of these around the island, say the locals. When I arrived, a couple had just spotted one while snorkeling. So this myth, I knew, was real. There was a chance that I could see a dugong.


I have a deep affinity for the ocean mammals. My time with the dolphins has profoundly changed my life. My heart would love to meet a dugong. They live off the coast of Mozambique where will be taking a group of people this March with Courtney Ward of Halo Gaia. Since I heard of them, I have felt a warmth toward them and a desire to commune with them.


And yet something in me pushes away at the thought of meeting this strange creature. The thought that the dugong might be out there when I am snorkeling immediately activates fear and excitement mind in me, and then a slight contraction that says: I’d rather not bump into one.


Why this paradoxical response in my system? It is the pure unknown of this creature. Being so directly confronted with the unknown feels terrifying to the ego-mind, which holds on for dear life to certainty and familiarity – that which it has experienced in the past, or can compute from its database of experiences. And yet this is what it means to be fully alive – the willingness to meet the unknown, the profound unknown, of each moment.


Beyond the fear of the unknown in form, I encounter in the ocean in all its formlessness. Drifting away from reefs, I see underneath me only the white white ocean. Sand underneath me, blue water surrounding me. I lose all references in the wide expansive ocean. Can I hold this emptiness, let go of the fear mind’s desperate desire to swim towards some form that I can identify.


Arresting the mind

The fear mind, the excitement mind, the myth creating mind and any other unconscious mind that we may have running, will keep controlling our experience until we notice that this is happening and choose differently. If the relationship with our mind is unconscious, we believe that we are our minds, and that what the mind conjures up must be true. But there comes a time (this may take many lifetimes) when we realize that we are not our minds. If we pursue this inquiry, we realize that we are what Anadi (anaditeaching.com) calls “the pure light of I am” – we are individual expressions of the divine, that which exists beyond time, space and all of the changing world. If we start to identify with that, and let our minds rest in deep stillness, then we find the power to direct the workings of our minds.


So there I am in the ocean, feeling fear mind and/or excitement mind come up with all its compulsion for action. It feels so exquisite to be able to surrender this mind into the vast spaciousness of consciousness. Letting go the mind. Surrendering to what is. Trusting this moment, I float. I dive into stillness. And I find that there is only this vast, effortless stillness in this ocean. All the rest was just a fabrication of my mind.


Resting into being

The depth of what it means to rest into being is something hardly known by humans. And yet when I surrender into the ocean, letting go of fear and excitement and all the minds that want to control the experience, something in me gets swept along into the state of being that exists here. Early in the morning large schools of fish hover sleepily in unison. When I dive down amongst them, they make way for me but do not get disturbed beyond what the energy of the moment requires. Later in the day, they boisterously feed and play chase-the-tail with each other, and yet the sense of deep rest into being never leaves them.


I felt this quality of resting into being that is there for the ocean creatures most pronouncedly once when I was floating amongst whales. They would come up right beside me, dive down below me and come up the other side of me. Despite my keenest kinesthetic sensitivity, and these enormous mammals being right underneath me, I could not distinguish their presence from that of the ocean. They are seamlessly one the the state of being that the ocean represents. That I think is what masters mean by the oceanic experience – a profound sense of being without boundaries and identification with form.


And so I dive down, and come to rest amongst the ocean creatures, floating with the currents, dropping into deep stillness inside, delighting to my core in the beauty that meets me – the pure, innocent dance of life that welcomes everything, and resists nothing.


How much bliss can you stand?

This dropping into being opens in me a state of bliss which is way beyond excitement. It is the same bliss of pure being that I feel when my partner makes love to me from a place of deep presence in love, and not from excitement. Something in me opens up, to deeper and deeper layers of my being, beyond what I knew was there. This opening up is just as beautiful and vulnerable as the yoni (vagina) opening up to the penetration of the lingam (penis). To allow myself to feel this exquisite bliss, I have to surrender into the pleasure of pure love, pure presence. I have to give up every strategy of my mind to hold on to the familiar. The layers drop away. I taste, and see, the beauty that is there. The ocean opens up inside me. The ‘me’ who holds on to separate ego identity is no more. The Self who knows herself as one with This – she is illuminated and alive.


And thus is the beauty. My eyes are flooded with the most outrageous colours – aquamarine fish with red beaks and green and orange stripes, butterfly fish with extensions as fine as the golden locks of a princess, black and white coral snakes undulating through the water in weightless seamless flow. Floating alongside a massive fish almost my size, I look into this eyes and get acquainted with the still place from where he lives – even as he bites off a piece of coral, sounds echoing though the water. I feel the subtle cautions in the wavers around the exquisite mane of the lion fish – do not touch this beauty, admire from afar.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top