The first time I swam with a humpback whale,
Minutes earlier, I’d been on a snorkel tour boat that left from Grand Turk, one of the Turks and Caicos Islands. A group of us, along with our tour guides, had been scanning the horizon for whale spouts, the clouds of air and water exhaled by these giants. And as soon as we saw one, the captain motored right up to it, slowing the engine.
I jumped in and started kicking like mad, sprinting toward the shadow ahead of me, just out of reach. When I caught up with her, I was so overwhelmed. By her size. By her beauty. By the fact that we, too, were created by the same loving Spirit. That feeling of being so overwhelmed by such magnificence released tears from my eyes. I couldn’t stop crying; I was so moved. And yet, I knew I had to blink the tears away and keep kicking if I wanted to keep up with an animal so exponentially bigger than I am.
Watching her swim, I was captivated and filled with such joy to be witnessing this 50-foot-long swimmer. And yet, I was also a bit afraid to be so close to an animal so big and powerful.
A lot of us in sobriety are constantly working on being right-sized—not too big and not too small—and in that moment, I could feel a peace with knowing my place on the planet. I am one person, strong and capable of swimming alongside greatness, and yet, so small compared to that whale, and a host of other life in the water.
This is one of the reasons I love the ocean. Out in the blue, we can enjoy these wild meetings for long periods of time. For me, every in-water encounter has lasted far longer than most experiences on land with wild animals, perhaps because marine life is typically less accustomed to seeing lots of people. I’ve been able to spend far more time watching mantas, octopuses and lobsters than I have deer, bears and elk. Of course it all depends on where you are.
This feeling of being so in awe and yet so at peace doesn’t just happen with humpbacks. I’ve swum alongside mantas, whale sharks, barracuda and so many more fish and had that same feeling. Of knowing that I’m good—as in I don’t need anything other than what’s happening in that moment. I’m content. Totally blissed out. I don’t have to work to release my thoughts about to-do lists or amends I need to make or anything else that can get the hamster wheel in my mind spinning. Instead, I watch how a manta flaps its wings like a bird in slow motion and I’m amazed. And calm. Watching mantas swim in loops and cruise right toward you to check you out is one of the most Zen experiences I’ve known.
This type of meditation is super easy, once you know how to snorkel or scuba dive. There in the water, you don’t have to work to let go of your thoughts. Rather, you’re just soaking up the feeling of being utterly amazed and happy, joyous and free on this perfect blue planet.