Three years ago my Grandma June died. Like my mom, she passed in the arms of my sister and me. Unlike my mom there was no memorial service. In fact, my sister and I and our children were all my grandma had. She was orphaned as a little girl and had lost two husbands and both her children during her life. And so that day she took her last breath, surrounded by the only two people she had left in the world, and then she left her body.
My sister and I sat there crying. In eighteen months we had lost our mom and our grandma. We were the only adults left in our family. That was, and is, a heavy realization. So we cried for the last time as children. When we wiped away the tears, my sis and I truly became adults, the leaders of the next generation of our family.
We gave away most of Grandma June’s belongings to the workers in the assisted living complex she where she lived. And then we left with a box filled with special belongings and hearts filled with the unique mix of love and despair that death brings.
My grandma’s passing was especially hard on me. She was the one woman who I always felt understood me. She didn’t like many people, but boy did she love me. She inhabited a world of fear and loss, but somehow that didn’t apply to me. We had always found peace together, a deep knowing that we loved each other. Now she was gone. And that was hard. Devastatingly hard for awhile.
The next day I took my son, Kevin, to Cabo San Lucas to spend time with the whales that migrate there each year. The ocean has always been a special place for my family. When my mom passed dolphins had been our solace. So it seemed appropriate that, perhaps, we would find a respite from the tears with whales this time around.
There is a special place near Cabo where the whales come each year to give birth and nurse their young pups. It’s like no other place I have been. Magdalena Bay is a locale so special that it can only be understood through experiencing it. It was deeply healing for Kevin and me — mother whales and their babies, intimately interacting with us, our sharing their life after so recently experiencing death. The passing of my grandma and the awesome energy of the whales will forever be co-mingled in my heart, the sadness replaced by humble gratitude for nature.
Recently I felt a calling to return to the whales. I quietly planned a surprise trip for my wife, Christy, for Valentine’s Day. I was successful in my sleuthly ways and she had no idea what I was planning. And I guess I had no idea what I was planning either. You see, without realizing it I had planned this trip exactly two years to the day after Grandma June’s passing. On the two-year anniversary of her death I was returning to same place I had gone the day after she left her body.
At first a trip to Magdalena Bay is confusing. The experience of the bay is not whale-watching — being watched by whales in a more accurate description, but that’s not quite right either. Most of us are familiar with whale-watching, scouring the ocean for a spout of water and then racing to that spot to try to find a whale. It’s exhilarating but also a bit intrusive and predatory. At Magdalena Bay you don’t chase whales – you and the whales find each other. Until you realize this, spotting a whale swimming nearby and not stopping is confusing. Again and again you see whales and continue on ….
Our first “finding of each other” occurred quickly, a giant grey whale mother and her baby lazing in the water in front of our boat. The skipper turned off the engine and let the small boat drift, the whales gently moving alongside the boat in a subtle, beautiful dance of man and nature, together, flowing, learning, feeling, connecting. And then the mother whale gently nudged her baby toward the boat; up from the water until her nose was in a place we could touch her. We have all experienced the heightening of the senses, the uber-sensitivity of fight or flight that happens in a moment as exciting as seeing a whale in nature up close. All of those feelings occurred, but for Christy and me, the experience was unique in that instead of feeling a desire to fight or flee, we felt a deep force field of love. A true oneness with the whales, humble gratitude for being entrusted with this moment.
We played together, the mother and baby whale and Christy and I. Rubbing the whales’ noses, their bellies when they rolled over onto their backs like your dog in the living room, true trust and total surrender to the moment. The whales gently moved in the ocean around our boat, first on one side then moving underneath to the other. For thirty minutes we shared this space.
We spent three hours in the bay and had several interactions with many whales. It was a magical day. I had the sense that my Grandma June was there, sharing her love. As I caressed the whales I experienced running my fingers through her hair as she neared her final moments. It was a divine gift. The kind of time spent where you know your loved one is with you … because they are.
That night during our evening meditation I contemplated the experience of the day — how the trip had come about effortlessly two years to the day of my grandma’s physical death, how the whales found the boat, how we found the whales, the grace of it all. I realized that we could have assigned a lot of effort to the experience. We could have made up a story about how impossible it is to find a mother whale and baby in the vast ocean and how much work it took to gently navigate close enough to them to be able to reach out and touch them without their being frightened and darting away. But this simply wasn’t the way the day occurred for us. The feeling was more mutually magnetic. We each did our part … effortlessly. We showed up in the whale mother’s nursery with a clear desire to respectfully interact with her babies and in turn, the curiosity of the mama and baby whales drew them to our boat like a moth to flame. We were simply there to scratch their bellies and they were there to give us the delight of interacting with the awesome beauty and magnificence of nature’s creatures And then I began to ponder if this is what our life is like — effortless grace hidden by the constant action, effort, and noise we create around our experiences.
Three words came to me during that meditation and subsequent contemplations – allowance, trust, and invitation. It struck me that our day with the whales didn’t have many INGs, few verbs, very little action. It simply was.
We returned home, and today I awoke with a question – what if life had less INGs? What if we gave up verbs for a bit and experienced life through these three words – allowance … trust … invitation. Like my wife and me and the whales — we allowed our encounter to occur, we trusted in the moment. The whale trusted us, its sometimes predator, and we trusted the whale, a creature multiple times our size who could dispose of us with a flick of its tail, and all of this was an invitation for an experience that touched both whale and man. It happened, but no one did it. It occurred, but no one could take credit. It simply was.
How can this apply to our lives?
Where can we allow versus do? Can we go to work and allow for success as it appears versus defining success under the narrow terms that we create, which often disappoint us? Can we allow our children to mature as they do and loosen the leash of you’re a “good child if _____”? Are we able to allow new learning that runs counter to our programmed rules of how things should be?
Can we trust, simply trust, that we are cared for in our ecosystem, just as the whale and its baby, without all the worry, fear and projection of everything that maybe, could possibly, go wrong? Can we trust in ourselves, that we are good and worthy of love? Can we trust that today’s success is a sign of success to come and not a precursor to future failure?
What would it be like if our day was an invitation for our family, our spouses, our children, our co-workers, and our acquaintances to show us love? A true invitation without rules and expectations. What if our day was approached as an ongoing invitation to be amazed? To be wowed? To be blown away by the sheer awesomeness of our existence – just as we were by the whales?
That is my goal for the next few days – less ING and more AHHHH. Less action and more allowance. Less planning and more trust. Less imposing and a little more invitation.
And that for me is the Tao of the Whales, the gift from Grandma June, the grace of our existence – a little AHHHHHH amidst the noise of the world.
Big hugs of love,