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There is something about the quality of certain encounters we have in the natural world – it can be with non-human beings or human beings, as both are very much a part of it.
These encounters penetrate our soul so deeply, that words, images, expressions and everything we access in our daily life to communicate or feel, including all the scientific knowledge and statistics that we might have acquired about them just before the encounter, vanishes like smoke out of our system in those moments. What comes alive are those that happen so automatically and beyond our control – goosebumps, tears rolling out, emptiness of the mind from all thoughts, a oneness and awe so deep that it feels like every cell in the body has stopped all their functions, and are each witnessing and absorbing it all.
Let me expand on what I mean by this, through a story. Through a deep rich encounter, that forever spotlighted a knowing I had held all along in my heart.
One of the habitats of study in my Biomimicry Professional Leadership program was Hawaii.
For someone who loves life underwater, it was an invitation to paradise. Since I am still not a very confident diver, and I only dive, because I love the life within, I tend to opt for a private instructor especially if its known to be a difficult dive, or if it’s a night dive. I was informed by the diving company, that if I wished to experience the Manta Rays, then it would have to be a night dive.
Now, I feel a very special relationship with Manta Rays because on my very first dive in the Andamans, actually my very first anything in the deep waters, within minutes, we spotted a baby manta. In some ways, it became a symbol of my first peep into the deep. So, there was no way I was going to miss this opportunity in Hawaii which is known for one of the largest Reef Manta Rays, even though I was warned the waters are likely to be chilly in the evenings.
Coincidentally as a part of the Hawaii Immersion assignment, I had also chosen to research on Manta Rays and how they use interesting strategies to meet their several functions. Since I had researched and dug into so many amazing details about them, I also felt that this dive would offer me a chance to observe those behaviors in their habitat.
On the boat, an hour before the dive:
On the night of the dive, we were about twelve of us divers in that boat. Couples, families, single divers like me, from different countries, age groups, etc. It was an hour before sunset. All of us got into our respective dive suits one by one, and the boat was filled with nervous excitement – of things fitting/not fitting, introductions, diving instructions, technical checks of all gears, discussions on what each had seen in one of their previous dives, jokes and laughter. There was constant checking and analysis of the weather, the wind, the intensity of the waves, and everything that counts and adds to the possibility of seeing the Mantas, or not, even as the boat headed to the location.
My instructor/dive buddy was Jeanne White, a truly joyful pleasant lady, full of life, who assured me that she will take care of me in the water. I just loved her energy instantly.
Within minutes of reaching the actual spot by boat, we were asked to get into the water, and to descend. Jeanne and I descended slowly, even as I began to feel the change in temperature (cold), as we hit the deeper parts. Ocean in the dark is a totally different experience. Your entire being is on alert, as the distance you can see is limited.
At the bottom of that part of the ocean, I saw several divers (many from other boats) hovering around a particular spot with their torches. Jeanne and I, and others from our boat, made our way into this large circle at the bottom, adjusting our buoyancy, weights, so we don’t keep bobbing up and down. I found a rock to sort of hold onto, and Jeanne said we could stay there. Divers began creating space for other divers, and this unspoken camaraderie that exists between divers to generously help and support, is a thing that I have always found beautiful and endearing.
And, so, we all now waited. For the school of Manta Rays to arrive. Despite the thick full wet suit, I could feel the chill, more so, as we weren’t swimming/moving really.
The deep encounter:
And then, right out of the dark, a school of Manta Rays began to arrive to feed on the abundant plankton that filled these waters. I just couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. About 20 plus Reef Manta Rays (Mobula alfredi species), descended like giant white clouds, taking over the entire space on top of us all. Swimming right over our heads, feeding, playing, loving being together, like a playground filled with children.
An Oh-My-God experience had just begun.
With their large open mouths, they were swallowing huge amounts of plankton. Every cell in my being was absorbing these moments like it was unfolding in a magical dream world. These large creatures are truly gentle giants of the ocean. And etched in my memory, are the faces of two Mantas. Each so different from the other, even in their personality. One more playful, and wishing to hangout near us, and the other who wished to keep going away, but swum in often. As they hovered over our heads, I could feel their fins brushing against my hair. I looked straight into their gentle playful eyes, they into mine, and I think at that point, our souls met. Even as I type this, tears fill my eyes. What beautiful beings!
Soon, this entire school of Mantas were somersaulting backwards and circling around to contain as much plankton as possible and swallow them. They were using each other’s vortex to drive large amounts of food into their mouth.
I remember holding Jeanne’s arms and pressing it with such gratefulness. I knew what I was experiencing was a much Higher energy, amidst the twenty plus Reef Manta Rays, the divers around me, feeling the oneness we all share. No more was there fear or nervousness. There was respect, reverence, love, joy and no language of words. My eyes by then had totally fogged up with tears of joy. They trusting us, we trusting them, they doing their work, we witnessing it. They being playful now with us, because they could trust us. We being respectful not to touch, as those are the rules of being in the water. To let them be as they wish to, as it is their home we have come to. We, as guests, reveling in them.
Until the arrival of the Mantas, the adjustment of the gear, the restlessness, the knowing we were at the bottom of an ocean. And with their arrival, the feeling of interconnectedness, the surrender in the deep, within and without.
After about twenty five minutes, the Mantas began to swim away, having finished their feeding for that part of the night. Several divers began to exit. I requested Jeanne that we wait till the last one leaves. If this was a dream, it was my way of stretching it.
Back on the boat:
There was a different energy in the air. More silence than talk. Each of us quietly extending within us what we had just been a part of. There were whispers, there were smiles, there was a much larger energy holding us all together, even though there were few words being exchanged.
As I got out of my gear and into my dry clothes, Jeanne came and sat next to me and asked, `How are you doing?’ and I began to cry. It just had to come out, they had fogged my eyes for a little too long. She hugged, and I hugged her back tightly. We had shared love of a kind.
Crawling into bed:
I returned to my Airbnb, where my two lovely friends were waiting to hear about it all.
That night when I crawled into bed, I knew I had already finished dreaming for that day.
Falling in love is the beginning:
I knew so much of the Manta facts – their disc width, their feeding techniques, that their liver contains an oil that allows them to maintain buoyancy, that they filter plankton in their mouth using gill plates, I had all the researched information.
BUT, did I remember any of this in my first actual live encounter with these amazing beings? Hardly.
In that half hour, I became empty. My heart took over. I was swept off my feet. I had fallen in love, whole and complete.
We maybe researchers, scientists, writers, data gatherers, artists, designers, entrepreneurs, social workers, but doesn’t it more often than not, start by falling in love? Doesn’t it begin with the language of the heart, of the soul, of experiencing something that was beyond our control – goosebumps, tears of joy, awe and wonder, something deep within us that formed a connection that spurred us into a direction? A particular encounter or a series of something we experienced, that made it clear to us, where our meaning and joy lies?
I share the story of the Manta Rays as an example, as it particularly revealed to me, how even in my most scientific state of mind, I was swept off my feet, and the language of the heart came first. It is what gave this experience its beauty and strength.
Many of the deep experiences we hold that makes us fall in love before it even becomes our work, more often than not, come to us in simple ways, through simple daily encounters with the human or/and non-human world – on our commute, in our backyard, on a weekend trip.
When our minds get over caught up with data, statistics, facts, targets, recalling these rich encounters can help bring us back to the language of our heart, to where it began, right? We all need this medicine. This I feel can be our medicine in the work we do.
And so, through this, I wish to extend an invitation to all of you to name some of these deep encounters that brought you to your journey. What are your `I am in love with what I do’ reminders or symbols or stories? What experiences connect you to the language of the heart as soon as you recall them? Where can you start from each time, when you feel heavy? Where can you draw your energy from, when the mind feels fogged?
I would love to hear what this brought up for you.
And then I would love to weave the web of interconnectedness in our stories, of our encounters.
Thank you for reading.
Some interesting facts about Manta Rays
- They evolved five million years ago from the bottom-dwelling Sting Rays. Manta Rays retained the flattened disc shape, and since they didn’t need the sting, lost the stinging barb. Their mouths evolved to the front from the bottom, as they now had to feed in the open ocean where food was free floating.
- Reef Manta Rays (the ones I experienced) can have about 12 ft – 15ft broad flat disc width, yes, about 3.6 metres! That’s why they feel like giant clouds.
- These incredibly large beings have the largest brain of all fish that helps them learn, problem solve and communicate. It also contains retia mirabilia (complex of arteries and veins lying very close to each other) that helps them stay warm, preventing the brains from chilling when they dive to depths.
- They are the superheroes of swimming, and a 15-foot Manta moves around 9 miles per hour, nearly double of Michael Phelp’s fastest swim.