Memorial Day, 2007, was memorable in a way unusual for me–most often, I find time to meditate on and pray for the military dead and their families. About forty-two years ago, I might have become one of them during my Vietnam tour of duty. That experience was one of my major encounters with “otherness,” a sense of altered reality, albeit one mostly, though not entirely, of pain, horror and deep sadness. But during that peaceful, warm day in 2007, wafted along by a gentle breeze, my wife and I were pedaling (yes, not paddling) our double-seated Hobie kayak about a third of a mile off the municipal beach of Lewes, Delaware.
We had cruised about a mile, relaxing and conversing while getting some gentle exercise. I was about to maneuver the rudder for our return to the embarkation point when Liz, pointing out toward the vastness of Delaware Bay, said, “What’s that?” What she was looking at approximately a quarter-mile away seemed to be the churning of water in front of a small cruiser. As we stared for a few seconds at the compelling sight, we soon realized that we were watching a pod of dolphins leaping in unison and coming straight at us!
To say that we were excited and even scared a bit is an understatement. We each had seen dolphins many times from the shore, from a large fishing vessel, and from the 25′ boat we had at that time. I had even “swum with the dolphins” in a tank in Florida. However, in all cases, including the tank experience, the dolphins had remained at a distance. But, this time, in a kayak rising merely nine inches above the water, we could do nothing but wait for these great mammals to do with us what they would.
And what they did can be described only as “playing.” Besides the two or three of them at a time making those leaping curves out of and back into the water, several others made direct advances toward the bow of the kayak, dipping under it just in time to avoid hitting us. Others swam up from either side, again diving just in time under the kayak, their beautiful shapes reflecting yellow-white sunlight from beneath the water. Several times, one of them, from about 6-8 feet away, would simply raise its entire head out of the water, apparently to look at us and laugh. What really intrigued me was the sound of several dolphins’ spouting water out of their blow-holes while they were out of sight directly behind the kayak and seemingly so close that I could have reached back and touched them. All of the dolphins were as large or larger than our thirteen-foot kayak and just as wide. Given that we also were gently pedaling and thus moving the two sets of flippers beneath the kayak, the craft must have looked like a member of a new species of dolphin that they were now welcoming! But what most and deeply affected us was their staying around for nearly 20 minutes—they left only after we had first left them to break the spell that would have led us into the open sea. “That made my day,” grinned Liz. And mine, too.
But this awesome event also made more of my days as I began to feel even more deeply what the experience truly meant to me. Once again, “otherness” had overtaken me, but this time in play, joy and wonder! These dolphins were the embodiment of the sheer, utter presence of the “other.” They were not of my world but certainly enjoyed visiting it in their unspeakable wildness. Their undeniable factualness was wonder incarnate. They were here. And so was I.
As the days passed, I realized how much I need periodic experiences of such “otherness.” When I get stuck in mundane reality, limiting beliefs, in mental and emotional cages of my own making, I crave a sense that there is much more than what I currently think and feel. We all yearn for this “otherness,” this sense that we are a part, even a very small part, but nevertheless an indispensable part, of ALL THAT IS. This feeling is the essence of holiness, of the Whole, of the blessed, the sacred. Some of us get it by engaging thoroughly in a creative project, or meditation, or exercise, or music, or lovemaking or anything else that puts a significant “pause” into the non-stop, constricting routines of our lives.
A few days after the event, I looked up the meaning of Dolphin to Native Americans in Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams and David Carson. “Dolphin teaches us how to use life-manna through our breath,” they say and then tell the story of Dolphin’s meeting with Grandmother Moon: Asked by her to swim to the “rhythm of her tide weaving,” “Dolphin learned to breathe in a new way,” thereby entering the Dreamtime. As a result of being given the new breath, “the gift of the primordial tongue,” Dolphin later began carrying messages to the Divine Otherness from the Children of Earth, who sought solutions to problems formed essentially from a feeling of separateness. The Divine Otherness in response reaffirmed that “we are all whole in the eyes of the Everliving One.” In other words, the Divine Otherness is “other” only until we are reminded that our limiting beliefs make it so.
Learning to breathe differently to enter Otherness or to allow Otherness to enter us (or, ultimately, to become aware that Otherness and we are One) is at the heart of what I am focusing on more and more and what I am helping others to do as a hypnotherapist. Dolphin came to me as Grandmother Moon had come to Dolphin: to give the gift of how to experience and explore Dreamtime/Otherness and thus expand consciousness. In place of the fractured, fearful, heavy breathing that accompanied the eruption of otherness in a brutal way into my life 42 years ago, Dolphin showed me a new way of breathing: easily, rhythmically, confidently, softly and deeply into my expanse of Spirit. I can only pray that, into the lives of my Vietnam comrades, as well as into those of my brothers and sisters in Iraq and Afghanistan, this very different altered state, this Otherness, truly sacred and altared, will someday swim and spin and whirl and jump with utter joy.
So, Dear Reader, what experiences of this Sacred Otherness do you have to tell? How did they “altar” your life?