How To Be Inspired By Whales, The Master Yogis Of The Ocean
During the summer of 2010, I felt I had to do more to help raise awareness of our interconnection and our ecological responsibility. Following a recurring dream of lying motionless on the ice at the top of the world, while a great blue whale waited below, I traveled to the North Pole to listen, sing and offer healing, to help raise awareness of the melting polar ice.
When I arrived in Canada’s most northern village, two Inuit elders greeted me, saying they had known I was coming – the whale had told them.
In that moment, it was clear that I was playing my part in something vast and purposeful beyond my understanding. We are all interconnected. Nature’s intelligence works through us, when we are willing to listen.
My connection with whales was inexplicably sealed through a miraculous spinal healing that took place a few months later, in 2011. In the blog I link here, I share how I was graciously guided from paralysis to mobility by prayerfully listening to the heartbeat of a Great Blue Whale.
The more I learn of whales, the more I am awed by their massive, compassionate and wise presence. They seem to me to be master yogis, in constant co-creation with and in service to the whole. With World Oceans Day this week, it is a great time to celebrate these exceptional beings and share how whales can inspire your yoga practice.
Through YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine, the form of yoga I developed and teach, you cultivate awareness of two-way moving energy in every pose, to revel in a constant flow between you, the earth and the cosmos. Whales are one of the most beautiful, natural expressions of two-way moving, co-creative energy. In what is known as the “whale pump effect”, these huge sonic creatures dive into the dark depths to feed, then return to the surface to breathe and excrete. This upward and downward flow, that seems to move in graceful figure eights, stirs the ocean waters. It brings nutrients from the depths, where the sun does not reach, up to where light penetrates the water. In the sparkling top ocean layer, the whales’ fecal plumes fertilize the phytoplankton, giving them essential iron and nitrogen so that they can grow and capture carbon from the atmosphere. These tiny organisms in turn feed the fish that whales and other marine life feed upon, so that the entire food chain is enriched. The very existence of whales nourishes and sustains the species on which they depend.
I find it inspiring to consider that in the whales’ cycle of diving, feeding, surfacing and releasing, there is a continual exchange with the Earth and the sky, a constant flow of energy that supports and replenishes the whole. All living things benefit, including the whales themselves. Most notably from our humble human perspective, the whales are doing this not from a place of effort or determination, but from their most natural state of being. In presence and “isness”, they are like perfect yogis, doing their dharma, what they are born to do, in selfless balance within the universe.
Consider the darker depths of your own being, the places you fear to go or wish you did not have. There, you may have buried painful tendencies or emotions from your conscious awareness. You may fear the shadows within yourself and wish only to be in the light. Yet, this is like wishing to be in upward-moving energy without ever going downwards. To refuse to go into these depths or to anxiously wish to escape them the moment you find yourself there, is to perpetuate wanting and resistance. This only increases suffering, and feeds that which hides in the dark.
Just as in the ocean of consciousness, the light regions and the dark regions are not an expression of duality. The ocean is one. There are areas where sunlight reaches, and areas where it does not. We tend to see light and dark as separate, but as we continue on our spiritual path, this notion of separateness lessens. We begin to open to the supreme reality of pure consciousness that flows through it all. In this, neither the light nor the dark truly exists.
Within the whole, the light serves the transmutation of the dark and the dark revolutionizes the light. Through the alchemical process of bringing conscious awareness into the dark, the light is broadened and strengthened. And similarly, when you offer your full self to the light, you gain the power of presence to receive the depths of suffering within yourself and others, while rooted in compassion.
In the darkness of the ocean, the whales are fueled to do their work in the light. The whales do not go to the dark in fear, nor to the light in elation. Similarly, you are not a binary being who must divorce yourself from suffering to abide in bliss. You are one within the whole. You are not separate from your shadows. Nor are you your shadows, any more than you are limited to the sparkles on the top layers of the water. You are it all. The dark places within yourself are only an expression of lack of light, aspects of consciousness that are masked by ignorance. What lies within them – shame, rage, fear, grief – are rich nutrients for your spiritual development, when fully integrated and assimilated.
In nature, water remains fresh when it is in flow. We see this in streams and rivers. Yet even in still lakes, all life forms work together to filter and circulate the water in an interconnected dance. That which is stagnant grows dank. Involutionary in energy, it becomes a home for pests that in turn diminish the vitality of the host. Though pests have their role in balanced creation, illness occurs where they exist in excess.
Just as the whales stir the vertical column of water, tilling the depths and bringing these nutrients to the light, so too it is healthy for you to remain in flow, in co-creation with earthly and heavenly energies, so that your being does not stagnate. When you are willing to allow life to arise, descend and move through you, you experience its riches.
As a yogi, you lovingly draw your awareness down into your deepest being to witness what is there. Going into the basement of your psyche may trigger anxiety or a sense of feeling out of control. But this is an expression of your ego, which feeds the illusion of being separate. Your limited ego cannot contain your infinitely interconnected nature unless you let it.
When you dive into your depths, you will discover, buried in the dark, thoughts and feelings you may not have known, or wanted to admit. You may even feel tempted to judge yourself for having them. But they are not bad or wrong. They simply are. Judging them is the ego’s attempt to reassert control and keep you feeling divided. It would be like the whale staying only on the surface of the water to get sunburned and starve. Be inspired by the wisdom of our oceanic friend as it gratefully seeks out the nourishment in the dark, then brings it to the light to be shared. Through upward and downward flow, life is sustained and transformed.
The release of painful thoughts and emotions comes not from trying to push them away, but from understanding and witnessing them as they are. Allow your breath to guide you through two-way moving energy. Bring your full awareness to your shadows, within the context of the whole. There is no value in slipping into feeling dejected and sinking into the dark forever, feeling that the shadows are all you are. Instead, see them as just one transitory aspect. Allow yourself to gracefully and lovingly move through them. As you bring them to the light in humble gratitude for the soul food they are, you can open up your heart and take a deep breath as you let them go, under the expansive sky.
In exquisite balance, the nourishment in the dark is like the garden compost that feeds the blooms as they receive the sun. Consider the lotus flower, and why it is the quintessential symbol of enlightenment in Eastern traditions. Its luminous and fragrant purity arises not from crystalline waters, but anchored in the sludgy, muddy depths. It grows right in the thick of it all. Your yogic development does not happen in a perfectly secluded, pristine palace of light, but here in the midst of your life as it is. Your practice finds its home in the here and now.
What scientists call “the whale pump effect” is in essence a study of the impact of whale excrement on the ocean. We may not like to think of “poo” as being spiritually valuable. Yet, it is a natural process on which our life depends. Not only is it healthy to let go of that which no longer serves us, that which we release may actually serve a much greater whole.
The whale does not hold on for fear of taking up too much space, or looking bad or somehow being wrong. It is in selfless flow. There is grace in simply “dropping the shit”. There is no real benefit in hanging onto illusions, painful perceptions, self loathing and disgust. The whale defecates at the surface of the ocean, in the light. It does not try to hide it shamefully away in the dark. Its fecal matter then gives life to many other organisms who would not have benefited from it in the depths.
Similarly, as you bring the things you find in your dark up to the surface for release, you generate rich fertilizer for your spiritual path, ultimately bringing more freshness and beauty to your atmosphere. Also, you are not able to truly assess how your actions impact others. As you bring your shadows to the light, you may in fact be serving a lightening of the psychic load globally. We are all in this together.
Let two-way moving energy remind you not to get stuck in divisiveness or thinking small. Remain in flow within the whole, aware of yourself as a conduit for the magnificent interplay between the earth and the cosmos. Letting go is of benefit to yourself and to the world.
Thank you for reading! All my music, yoga and words are dedicated to MAPS, the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary. MAPS is an urgently needed global intervention to protect the polar ice that keeps our planet cool and weather stable. The ice caps ensure we have the food and water we all need to survive. Please support MAPS at Parvati.org for the sake of all life on Earth. From my heart to yours, it literally means the world.