Saved by Whales

From the time I was a small child, I’ve had a deep curiosity about how other beings perceive the world. As a girl, I’d spend hours alone in the park or in my bedroom, wondering about how my dog or the trees experienced the world that I was seeing through my human eyes. How did the world look to them? What did they feel? How did they sense, smell, hear, touch? How did they understand their lives, their reality?

As I sat quietly pondering these questions with my dog, the trees, and the birds, I began to learn to shift my awareness away from the perspective of my own human form and blend it with the consciousness and awareness of other beings. I began to feel my dog’s experience of the world from his perspective, rather than my own. I became aware of the enormous sensitivity of feeling in the giant maple tree in my neighbor’s back yard as her branches moved in the wind and glistened in the moonlight. I sensed the awareness of the insects and the birds as they went about their daily lives.

My closest childhood friends were barn cats, the trees, and my dog. My relationship with the human world was confusing and fractured. The first rift came in the separation from my birth mother, and next in my adoptive family, where I experienced a confusing mix of love and fear of my awareness and sensitivity. I saw things, felt things, and understood things that others didn’t, and that were considered suspect at best, or evil at worst, in the fundamentalist Christian religion to which my parents had dedicated their lives.

As a child, I spent as much time as I could away from other people, preferring time alone and with my beloved animals and trees. My grandparents had a small dairy farm, and when I visited, I’d spend whole days in the barn, singing to the barn cats, standing with the cows as they ate their grain and hay, and sleeping in the hayloft with a kitten in my arms.

In these times, I discovered deep relationship, family, and kinship with non-human beings of many species. More than “pets,” these creatures were my family, my connection, and my primary place of belonging in the world. I trusted them, and I trusted the sensory, emotional, and spiritual experiences I had with them.

Although I had many religious experiences as a child, my first mystical experience happened when I was about twelve years old. I remember lying in my bed at night, connecting with the maple tree outside of my bedroom window in the moonlight, and suddenly understanding that all of life was a great net, a web of connection. I saw how I was connected to the tree, to other people, to animals, and how this connection went far beyond the beings that I knew personally, extending all over the earth. I remember clearly being aware that time was not real, that that these connections extended into both the “past” and the “future” in a way that was both incomprehensible and perfectly obvious.

These experiences saved me. They allowed me to have a sense of connection, of belonging, of family, community, and kinship that was lacking in my life. I was able to feel in a deep and wordless way that I did actually belong on the Earth, even though I often felt like a stranger here.

Guru Cat

My first meditation teacher was a cat. He was a beat-up street cat named Freddie whose body was scarred and torn. He’d lost both ears, his eyelids were ripped, and he came to me infected with FIV–the feline equivalent of HIV.

Freddie was semi-feral, and in our first months together, he scratched, bit and hissed at me. And then, seemingly overnight, he made what I now understand was a conscious choice…and settled down to become a lap cat and my first true guru.

My spiritual path up until that point in my life had been circuitous and without a clear focus or tradition. After I left the fundamentalist Christian cult in which I’d been raised, I voraciously read and studied, trying to find a spirituality that made sense to me as a young lesbian woman whose primary connection with the divine was through classical music and the piano.

I studied the Buddhist teachings of Chogyam Trungpa, the writings of Christian mystics Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Hildgaard of Bingen, feminist theologian Mary Daly, and I learned to use the I-Ching. After that came forays into paganism, Wicca, and earth-based practices originating in Native American traditions. Each of these areas of study taught me many things, but none of them led me into a consistent experience of spiritual practice.

It was with animals that I found connection, grounding, and a connection to what deeply moved me. Through working in animal rescue and advocacy, I rediscovered my childhood ability to hear, feel, and understand my non-human friends’ thoughts, feelings, and communications. These experiences awakened what was most alive in me, and I moved deeper and deeper into the animal world and took my first tentative steps toward leaving my career in classical music. As I opened into the world of interspecies telepathic communication, I began to experience profound changes in both my inner and outer worlds.

And then Freddie came into my life. As we’d sit together each night, he offered me a visceral, embodied experience of dropping deeply into the lake of awareness that was present behind my constantly-running thoughts. Through his example, which included a kind of energetic transmission that I felt with my whole body, I was able to enter into a place of shared awareness where there was no me, no cat, no chair. “We” were simply a great pool of awareness, deeply grounded, connected, centered, and resting. Sometimes we’d both sleep, but mostly I’d find myself in a deep meditative state that had no edges, no boundaries. Often, insight and wisdom would bubble up, and the clutter that was in my mind and life at the time would simply fall away.

Sometimes Freddie would give me meditation instructions telepathically. If I popped up into thinking, worry, spinning, and obsessive thoughts, he’d wake up, look at me, and send me the clear message: “You’re fussing again. Come back.” And with that guidance, I could. He’d put his head back down and close his eyes, and I’d drop back into presence and awareness. I learned that thoughts would always be there, but that rather than try to get rid of them, I could simply drop “beneath” them, into an awareness and a state of being that was Freddie’s natural state. Through his example, I learned that rather than trying to control or remove my frenetic thoughts, I could simply allow them to exist on the surface and drop into a place below them that held a deep experience of what was real and true.

I discovered that what was most alive in this place of awareness and openness underneath my mind and thoughts was love…that LOVE was the essence of this quiet and deep space of pure presence. With Freddie’s precious body on mine, and our shared experience of deep meditation and connection, I found that love and awareness were not separate things. I was love, he was love, we were love, love was. Love. Just love.

Welcome to the Family: Whale Teachers

I saw my first whales on a whale-watching boat in Iceland, where they continue to be hunted. My eyes filled with tears as I saw the magnificence of the whales’ bodies, and my heart exploded with joy as I felt the magnitude of their presence. As waves of emotion moved through my body that day as I watched the whales blow and breach, I received a direct, clear communication from them:

Humpback Whale - Photo by Lori Kutlik
Humpback Whale – Photo by Lori Kutlik

“Welcome to the family.” I felt a deep resonance with the whales reverberate in my cells, and I knew that in some fundamental way my entire orientation to life had just changed.

I felt the whales’ awareness of me as an individual, a female human, and their perception of “family” and “kinship” as encompassing all beings of the earth. As they welcomed me to their “pod”, they were acknowledging our commonality as living beings on this planet, as well as our particular spiritual connection with each other. They felt me, I felt them, and this began a journey of relationship with cetaceans that has profoundly guided and changed my life.

In the years since that first encounter, I’ve had the incredible privilege of spending extended time in the water with wild humpback whales. I’ve been engulfed in the energy fields of “dancers”–whales in their courtship ritual (a profoundly erotic and sacred expression of sexuality and connection). Baby whales have played carefully around my body while their mothers kept watch from below. Adult humpback whales the size of a school bus have come close enough to look deeply into my eyes, while carefully moving their pectoral fins below me so as not to harm my small, fragile human form.

I’ve floated in trance as the sound vibration of the “singers” moved through the molecules of the water deep into my being, altering my cellular structure and opening my meridians and chakras in ways I never dreamed possible. I’ve wept with gratitude for the deep gifts I’ve received from the whales in their ocean home as they have allowed me to share a small piece of their lives, their families, and their spiritual awareness.

When I first heard the voice of master yoga teacher and peace activist Rama Jyoti Vernon chanting “OM” as she’d discovered it in her own body and voice, I felt the same cellular vibration, overtones, and harmonics that I’d first heard and experienced in the water with the singing humpback whales. As tears streamed down my face, I knew not only that I’d found one of my most important human teachers, but that I’d been given a window into a common interspecies language of sound healing, vibration, sacred geometry, and spiritual wisdom. I had a vision of a time when the “universal cosmic vibration” that is OM was known by all species…a frequency of sound and vibrational energy that encompassed this planet and far beyond.

I developed a close and deep relationship with a female humpback whale whom I call “Kaiya.” Kaiya has worked with me over a period of many years, both when I was with her in the ocean, and long-distance through telepathic communication and spiritual transmission.

One of Kaiya’s first and most important teachings was about spiritual awareness in a physical body. After one particularly intense day in the water with her, I was in my cabin on the boat resting, when she gave me a strong and clear telepathic message: “Come with me.” She invited me to shift my awareness, much in the way I’d learned to do as a child, and enter her body, perceiving through her perspective and consciousness. As I did this, I felt her great physical sensitivity, her awareness of the water, the earth beneath the ocean floor, her connection to not only her immediate physical family and podmates, but others of her kind all throughout the seas. I felt “my” cellular structure expanding, stretching out, touching the water around me, the earth beneath me, and sinking deep into the ocean floor, through the center of the earth, and out the other side into the cosmos.

Kaiya taught me how to connect to the earth and the universe beyond through my belly and my breath, and how to feel the meridians and magnetic grid of the earth through my skin, my cells, my breath, my own physical body. I learned that for the whales, there is no separation between physical form and pure awareness…they are one and the same, and their physical lives are never disconnected from this universal awareness.

As I learned to work with my breath through the example of the whales’ conscious breath, I discovered how to drop my awareness down into the earth, to open through the perceived edges of my physical form into something vast, deep, and universal. In doing this, I discovered gateways in my own being that opened into other dimensions, other realities, and ultimately into a numinous place of universal awareness.

Awakening Boddhicitta: the Grey Whales of Baja

In the winters, the Pacific grey whales migrate from their summer home in the far northern latitudes to the protected lagoons of the Baja Peninsula of Mexico, where they mate and bear their young. These whales are known for their close and extended interactions with humans, and have been named “the friendly whales of Baja.”

The lagoons of Baja were once the scene of some of the most brutal episodes in the long history of human predation on whales. The whaling boats would trap the whales in the lagoons as they came to give birth, killing the young. Stories of enraged and grieving mother whales hurling themselves at the boats and breaking them in two were common. Eventually, the whaling ended, and the grey whales continued their migration, mating, and calving in the lagoons.

One day in the 1970’s, a local fisherman was out in one of the lagoons when a mother grey whale approached his boat. She came close, and then lifted her baby up to him, close enough that he could reach out and touch the young whale. Since this time, generations of mothers and baby whales have invited and welcomed interaction with humans in the lagoons all up and down the Baja coast. Some of the adults still bear harpoon scars. They circle close to the pangas (small fishing boats), and they often invite and welcome human play and touch, coming back over and over again.

The Spy-Hopping Gray Whale - Photo by Kalasara Setaysha
The Spy-Hopping Gray Whale – Photo by Kalasara Setaysha

The experience of being in these lagoons with the grey whales is profound. Whales fill the waters, coming close to the boats…spy-hopping, breaching, bringing their calves alongside, circling again and again to be near the people and the boats, rather than swimming away.

I’ve noticed that the boats that have children on them receive special attention from the whales. I once witnessed a baby whale circling and jumping again and again near a boat with a delighted, laughing, screaming human child. I could hear the baby whale communicating with his mother:

“It’s a baby human! Can I play with him?”

And as his mother gave her blessing, he came near the boat with the child again and again with pure delight and joy.

I’m moved beyond words by these magnificent whales and their loving, joyful, playful, compassionate outreach to humans. The whales have communicated to me that they have full consciousness and awareness of their history with humans in both their individual and collective memory. And they have chosen to forgive us.

The whales choose to be with us, to come close to us, to play with us. They gently move their bodies away if they are so close that they might harm us. They offer us their young, their bodies to be touched, with nothing but open-heartedness and joy as their motivation. They don’t have to do this. They’re not being fed, coerced, or manipulated. They simply come with openness and love to be our teachers, our evolutionary leaders on the path of love, forgiveness, and healing. They come close to us with the recognition that we share the same planet, that the relationship between our species is important, and that there is more that unites us than that separates us.

Through the example of the whales, I’ve had the courage to look deep into my own heart at the places where I hold resentment and haven’t completely forgiven others. I feel the places where I have not loved and forgiven myself. And these places within me have softened and opened as I feel the great example of the whales, offering forgiveness and love to a species that has often been so unconscious and cruel to them. They recognize us as individuals, and they also choose to stay with us, to come close to us, to help our species evolve.

We often talk about “saving the whales”–but the truth is, the whales are saving us.

The time I’ve spent with these whales has profoundly altered my awareness of the meaning of compassion, kindness, and forgiveness. This example of species “forgiveness” is for me, one of the clearest examples of what the Buddhists call bodhicitta…the soft spot, the aspiration that all beings be free from suffering (enlightened).

The whales teach me that there is no power in the world greater than love. That forgiveness heals…and that creating lasting change in our world starts with something that is both so simple and so powerful: connecting with each other, past the differences, wounds, and history that separates us, through what we have in common—our open hearts, our love of our young, our desire to live happy, free, joyous lives.

Rejoining the Human Family

As I found my spiritual home in the world of animals, a wonderful thing began to happen. Through their teachings, their wisdom, their example, my relationship with the human world began to heal. As I connected with the animals and with my own animal body, seeing both the great challenges of the human condition and our fundamental connection with all of life, I found myself opening to myself, my own humanity, and other people in a whole new way.

I discovered that many of the spiritual practices I’d learned from the animals were found in some of the ancient human wisdom traditions of the earth (indigenous shamanic traditions, the lineage of Vadjrayana Buddhism, the ancient practices of the yogis). Finding this wisdom in human traditions was a homecoming…a full-circle return to acceptance of my karmic destiny, soul-choice, and gift of my embodiment on the earth in human form.

I began to remember. I remembered what I came to the earth for, and why. I remembered what it is that I intended to do here, and how I was meant to do it. My personal journey became impersonal…flowing out into an intention to be of benefit, of service, to others…including, most importantly, to others of my own species.

I carry the message of the whales with me in my daily life–imperfectly loving, imperfectly forgiving, but continuing to try, as best I can, to live as they do: with an open heart filled with joy and love.

In rejoining the circle of non-human life, miraculously, I’ve been able to come full circle and recognize that I, too, am part of the vast human family. I don’t do this perfectly, ever. And I won’t. But what I am learning is that I don’t need to. All that I really need to do is what Freddie taught me so long ago:

Sit. Breathe. Come back.

Over and over again, come back to presence, come back to awareness, come back to love.

About the Author

Nancy Windheart is an internationally respected animal communicator, animal communication teacher, and Reiki Master-Teacher based in Cornville (near Sedona), Arizona. She teaches animal communication and animal Reiki classes and provides animal communication consultations for clients worldwide. Nancy is a Reiki Master-Teacher and professional member of the International Association of Reiki Professionals, Registered Yoga Teacher, and an ordained minister through the Universal Life Church. She is a former professional classical pianist and music professor.

Journey to Baja: Pilgrimage of the Heart: Nancy Windheart and Anne Dellenbaugh will co-facilitate a women’s retreat with the whales and other species in Baja, Mexico, March 9-23, 2017.

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