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Illustrated by: Anjan Prakash
Illustrated by: Anjan Prakash

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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.

The backstory

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.

The dive: 

Image courtesy: Ross Bronzan- Photographer, Kona, Hawaii
Image courtesy: Ross Bronzan- Photographer, Kona, Hawaii

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: 

Image courtesy: Ross Bronzan – Photographer, Kona, Hawaii
Image courtesy: Ross Bronzan – Photographer, Kona, Hawaii

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.

My Invitation:

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.
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Comments(29)

    • Mrinal Dossal

    • 2 months ago

    Dear Anjan .. how beautifully you have described your experience .. I felt each moment with you ! It took me back 30 years when I went for my first dive .. love to read your writings !!
    My one take from anything connected to nature be it dives or bird watching or hikes has always been the ease of nature & how easy it is to coexist .. if we only let it be !!! Much 💕

    1. Dearest Mrinal – How lovely to hear of your dive, and yes, how well articulated – there is ease in nature, and there is ease in co-existence. Thanks for enjoying the posts and for the love. Love back to you. 💚

    • Liz Virkar

    • 2 months ago

    What an incredible, life changing experience, Anjan! And you’re so right – it begins with the language of the heart and of the soul. At that moment you just feel gloriously alive and part of something immense!

    Years ago looking out through a glass door into our neglected backyard where the grass was completely overgrown I saw, suddenly, the grass part and a fox standing right there, beautiful red orange fur glowing. We both stared transfixed – me by this completely unexpected visitor and the fox by the sunlight as it emerged from the long grass. In a minute it was gone, back into the grass. But it was such an intense moment – I felt so overwhelmed, so blessed I remember writing a poem to try and articulate what I felt. Wanted to share it with you but I can’t find it! But your vivid, heartfelt sharing of your experience recreated that wonderful encounter for me. So thank you, again!

    1. Dearest…
      First up a joyful 2021. May it bring wellness and harmony.
      What a beautiful experience, and your description of the whole scene gave me goosebumps. What a glorious morning, the fox and you, and the flash of oneness. Oh, I wish you find the poem. If you ever do, please share it. Thanks a ton for your lovely words and for bringing alive what it meant for you.

    • JIHEY PARK

    • 2 months ago

    What an incredibly beautiful and extraordinary experience, amplified through your beautiful writing. Your post takes us right back into the waters – Being underwater, gliding alongside fish bigger than yourself and witnessing them in their natural habitat – so gentle, so nonchalant, resting a sleeping puffer fish on your palm, looking up to see a turtle swim over your head, exploring bold, bright & colorful coral beds with its nooks and crannies inhabited by equally colorful and beautiful fish and organisms, feeling a rush of adrenaline spotting a school of leisurely sharks at a few arms’ distance…and of course, the best of them all, the manta rays…!!

    1. Dearest JiHey
      Thank you for your loving and beautiful words. And such lovely sharing, dear diver!
      Your descriptions are so visual, so `real time’, it once again took me right under the water, this time with you, experiencing the puffer fish, turtle, corals, sharks, and the manta rays. Yes, yes, yes.🐠. To the beauty under and above. How blessed we are to be on this beautiful earth!
      Much love.

    • Tanya

    • 2 months ago

    Anjan, I am blown away. You are an amazing writer and what a beautiful story. I couldn’t stop reading and felt I was there with you… can’t wait to read the next

    1. Thank you, thank you, dear Tanya! So happy you found the story beautiful. Hug.💚

    • nik

    • 2 months ago

    Hi Anjan,

    That was beautiful. What an experience! The photos have captured it well along with the feeling in the text. Nature is always so unassuming and… Natural. So easy to miss. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Thank you dearest Nik. I am glad we connected on email too, as I had some tech issues here. 🌻💫

    • Sonali

    • 2 months ago

    Beautiful experience Anjan , beautiful experience, so well written.

    Enjoy your life to the fullest dear one.

    1. Thank you dear Sonali. Thanks for reading, sharing, your lovely words and wishes. Means a lot. Hug.

    • Kavita berry

    • 2 months ago

    Hi anjan very absorbing and as usual reading your blog presses the refresh button — so what completely pulls me are the mountains the himalayas to be precise— I remember the first picture of the snow capped peaks–saw it as a child and they seemed so familiar -like they were enmeshed in my dna–they have been inspirational and they make me feel happy even when I just think about them—every word resonated— in a different context for sure— thanks anjan for giving my thought process a twist so that I recognised my relationship with the himalayas—- looking forward to your next blog impatiently

    1. Dearest Kavita – thank you for reading, and sharing your experience with the Himalayas. Wow, the picture of Himalayas `enmeshed in your dna’, what a beautiful expression of that experience! I know of your love for the mountains, and I now know where the seed came to be. 🦋
      I had emailed you as I had some tech issues here. Got sorted.
      Thanks for your ever generous notes.

    • Amestrice Talati

    • 2 months ago

    Anjan, I read your post and it’s superb as always. I had heard about the Manta Rays may years ago, a Thai girlfriend had narrated it to me. Infact her email id was mantagirl.

    Some extraordinary occurences in our life go deep and go fast into our being. It touches the soul and hence is irreversible for many lifetimes to come. A recent occurence in my life, walking in the wild surroundings as usual where we live, was a cobra. Tito the dog barking away. We had to call a snake catcher who comes in a short while, and when thats done, before putting him into the gunnysack they carry, I asked if I could just touch it. I did. The smoothest feel, extremely soft and unfortunately in captivity couldn’t give me his best. The good part is they release them back in open land elsewhere.

    This has left an indelible mark on my mind. I never had fear of them except for the dog who could get bitten in a flash of self defence.

    1. Dear Amy
      Thank you for reading and so generously sharing your experience.

      🙂 Manta girl, how interesting.

      Wow – a cobra. You know I have never seen them in the wild. I love snakes, and my heart really wishes to experience them. Oh, that experience of feeling her must have really been an unforgettable moment! Truly a special moment. Yes I hear you about the safety of dogs, and yes the snake catchers do release them back into the wild.

      Wonderful – these little moments that show us our connection to the natural world, and the fact that we share space with such beautiful beings. 🐍

    • Renee vyas

    • 2 months ago

    Mesmerising and enchanting narration!!…. loved it.

    1. Renee…thank you, thank you so much for writing in and sharing your thoughts. So glad you enjoyed it. Hugg.💚

    • Vipanchi RAGHUchattopadhyay

    • 2 months ago

    Beautiful narration Anjan!lyrical! I’m always a nervous wreck about doing these ocean deep dives( in fact have always avoided it!) the deep dark of the ocean frightens me too much! This narration of yours is probably as close as I will get to a Manta ray! Or who knows now that u have given me a feel of the transformative experience- I might just muster up the courage to go on the next one!😀

    1. Hey Vipu, thanks for your listening of it, and sharing your thoughts. Yes, going into the deep can indeed be overwhelming, and I hear you totally. But yes, who knows…the next time you are in a place where you can dive, if you ever do so, let me know alright? 🐬💚.

      Much much love.

    • Sanal Nair

    • 2 months ago

    Wow! I was really immersed in your story and could really understand how overwhelming the experience was.

    1. Thank you Sanal. Yes, indeed an overwhelming experience. Thank you for listening/reading it and for sharing. 🐬

    • Deepshikha Barretto

    • 2 months ago

    Thank you Anjan for sharing your experience. I love how you wrapped up all the main points at the end. Your clincher was very strong. Awesome..
    Waiting for your next write up!!

    1. Thank you dear Deepshika for listening/reading it and sharing your thoughts. So glad you enjoyed it.
      Thanks so much for your ever encouraging loving responses. 💚

    • Supriya

    • 2 months ago

    Very informative Anjan… thanks for sharing 👍🏻🥰

    1. Thank you Supriya. You are in Andamans, where I first began my dive. Special place. Thanks for reading. Much love.🦈

    • Ashok Gulati

    • 2 months ago

    Deep!

    • Usha Hariharan

    • 2 months ago

    Such a brilliant post. So beautifully descriptive. I could sense the joy and wonder. And so much else to absorb from the post.
    Thank you Anjan, for this. For many of us who cannot experience this, you open a little window to this world. And a lot more to mull over.

    1. Hi dearest Usha
      Thanks so much for your reading of it. So glad you felt the joy and wonder.
      So much energy gets added to this experience, through each of your sharing and beautiful words.
      Big huggg.🦈

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