Why Do I Love Whales?

The following gem is taken from an article written by Willy Jones in the Fall 2010 newsletter of the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation. Willy is a ten-year-old junior naturalist aboard Newburyport Whale Watch‘s Prince of Whales.

Willy is not alone. Many of us have had exactly this same experience on our first meeting with a whale. I’ve written about it extensively, but never with his simple elegance. I have read eco-philosophers, and spiritual teachers, but Willy says all that needs to be said. We are each other.

Thank you, Willy.

Why Do I Love Whales
by Willy Jones

To me, whales are angels.
The first time I saw a whale, I got to look into its eye,
and I saw a sparkle.
Then I thought to myself, “Wow, this is really important.”

I remember exactly how I felt.
I held my breath, and everything around me just stopped.
The people talking, the noise of the boat, it all stopped.
It was just me and the whale looking at each other.

I felt like me and that whale were part of each other.
We were each other.
That connection has been there forever.
Whenever I see a whale, I remember that connection.

Have a blessed holiday season, everyone!

The Dream of the Old Man

This dream came to me somewhere around 1987 or 1988. I had been to Nicaragua, and was involved in many activist groups in the U.S., trying to stop the war. And I was frustrated by the tone of these groups. It was all about fighting for the cause, so urgent, so pressing. I tried at the time to get a few minutes of personal sharing time onto the agenda, but was told, we don’t have time for that. We have too much to do. Not that all these gatherings were so cold, but it was a real frustration for me, because my experience in Nicaragua taught me that it is indeed in being fully present to each other and to the whole movement of Life, right here, right now, that the salvation of the world lies.

Given the volume of anger and conflict in our world today, I thought it might be time to hear from the Old Man.

In this dream, the Old Man is the last to speak at a gathering of activists, mostly young, but some older as well. It is the beginning of the gathering when everyone present is giving updates about their projects, about everything they have been doing since the previous gathering, apparently some sort of annual event. He has been listening to all the others give their reports, and now it is his turn to speak.

I awoke from the dream, and immediately grabbed a tape recorder and settled back into a half-dream state to recreate the speech. I believe that this transcript is a very accurate representation of the words in the original dream.

It is perhaps worth noting that this dream came to me before I had significantly discovered the beauty and the powerful presence of the non-human world. I was a people person, and had not yet consciously realized that trees and mice and whales and seals and rocks and grasses and birds are people too, all equal partners in the sacred movement of Life. If I were to have this dream now, I think there would be a slight shift of emphasis, to include being present to the whole world, people, plants, animals, wind and water and soil. To the realization that there is one whole movement of Life, which includes all of us, and the answer to all of our questions lies right here, right now, in being fully present to and in this sacred movement.

But here is the Old Man himself, in his words.


It is good to be here. I’ve missed this gathering the past two years. It was three years ago I was here last. And I look over those three years and I ask myself, why did I miss this? What was I doing that was so important that I couldn’t take the time to enjoy being with you all? And I am wondering what was going on. How was I living that I couldn’t take the time just to be with you?

And especially now. You know, I’m very aware of… it’s good to be among these young people. And I’m very aware that I am getting old. And maybe this will be the last time that I can come here. And what was I doing with… losing time… what was I doing? What was so important?

And I think that since I have lived most of my life, I have something I would like to say to you young people. I am hearing you use words like “fight” and “the struggle.” You are angry. You are trying to make a point. You are trying to be heard. You don’t think anyone cares. You don’t think anyone is listening. And you are banding together in your anger. And you are finding strength for your fight.

As I look back on my life, I don’t think fighting is very important. They seemed important at the time, our battles. It seems like it’s the only thing that is important. We are hurting. Our friends are hurting. And we are just discovering how deep that pain is. We are just discovering how many people, and how much the people around us are suffering, and we are angry. And it seems as if no one could possibly have understood what we understand now, because if they knew, they would have done something! We must be the first.

And so we fight. We are angry and we fight. And we feel a deep frustration with those who are not joining us in the fight. And so we stake out our territory and defend it and defend it and defend it. Because now that is who we are. It is a piece of us. And By God! You better understand, because if you don’t understand this struggle, this suffering, you don’t understand me, and I want you to understand me.

I look back on my life, and I remember. I have had many of these times.

What I want to say to you is, don’t get to my age and look back on your life of fighting, of defending personal territory. Because you’ll stop and wonder, where was I? I was so busy fighting for my cause that I never really noticed the world around me.

We have been given to each other to love each other. And there is nothing more beautiful than that we spend time together, paying attention to each other, enjoying being together, delighting in each other’s presence.

That’s all there is. That is everything. There is nothing more complicated than that. And I can see in my life, I have spent so much energy fighting for causes and looking to make change that I have missed the beauty of simply being alive.

So I say to you who have your causes, your missions to accomplish: pay attention to those around you. Enjoy being here. Enjoy simply being alive. And be with other people simply for the joy of it, not because they are sisters and brothers in the cause or because they are people who can get you where you want to go. Just enjoy being with people, so you don’t reach my age, at the end of your life, and have to say “Where was I? What was so goddamned important that I missed the joy of being with friends, of being alive, of being simply here?”

How With This Rage Shall Silence Hold a Plea?

I have been reading Naomi Klein‘s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, and it has been an eye opening experience. It has been a long, long time since I was so upended and unsettled by a book. I agree completely with Howard Zinn’s jacket endorsement: “This is a brilliant book, one of the most important I have read in a long time.”

It is not an easy book to read. It exposes the brutality at the heart of neoconservative economic theory and practice (which passes as “free-market capitalism” but in no way deserves to be even remotely associated with the word “free”). It is not as if I am unfamiliar with that brutality. I saw it first-hand in Nicaragua in 1986, where the United States government was the terrorist, deliberately targeting civilians in the second poorest country in the western hemisphere because the Nicaraguans dared to believe that they could have a democracy that was their own, and not a servant of the U.S. corporate state. I was there. I met the victims. I saw it with my own eyes and felt it in my own heart, and was changed by what I experienced.

But the depths of the brutality and greed outlined and meticulously researched in The Shock Doctrine make me feel like I have been asleep for the past couple of decades and am just now waking up to a world I hardly recognize. Like Rip Van Winkle, I have slept through a revolution. This revolution was waged, and seems to have been won, by those forces of greed and destruction that I saw at work in Nicaragua, but naively thought had at least been slowed down by being brought to light. My only consolation (which is no consolation at all) is that I am not alone. We have all been asleep while our democracy has been sold out from under us to a few extremely wealthy individuals and corporations.

Read the book. I can’t do justice to its impact here.

The personal crisis for me is that such revelations call into question the relevance of the contemplative life that I live. Shouldn’t I be out there on the front lines, defending the freedom and dignity of the majority of the people against the rapacious greed of the wealthy and powerful few who are taking control of the entire planet? They are not only taking control, they are plundering everything for their own enrichment. They are taking all the natural resources. They are raiding all the public treasuries. They are occupying all the land. They are enslaving the people. “They” are probably not even bad people. Those who plan such destruction think they are defending freedom and spreading prosperity through economic growth. The ability of humans to rationalize our own self-serving behavior in benevolent terms seems to be close to infinite.

Greed is winning the day. Greed is consuming the planet. Greed and self-deception.

So what can we do about greed and self deception?

This line from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 65 has been running through my mind:

How with this rage can beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

How with this greed can contemplation hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than silence?

How can silent awareness and simple compassion hope to overcome the cacophonous violence that is the warp and weave of our society? Everything is against it. Everything.

Compassion, true empathy, which means experiencing the other as self, whether the “other” is of a different political motivation, nation, class, ethnicity, gender, species, chemical composition – yes, it is possible to see oneself in a stone – requires a gap in the noise. It takes a cessation of the engine of thought, of self-defense, of self-justification, of self-aggrandizement, of self-deception. We worship the self. Our entire social and economic system serves the self. The self that is incapable of seeing the other as anything but other. Increasingly, it is a self incapable of seeing the other as anything but enemy.

I guess I am a true Krishnamurtian (J. Krishnamurti, 1895-1986) because it seems to me that the “self” is the root of the whole problem. We have devoted our life energy, our economies, our governments, our militaries, our nations, our jobs, everything, to this thing we call “me.” It’s all about “me,” or at best a very minor extension of “me” called “us.” Both me and us absolutely require a “them” to exist. Without a “them” to hate, to feel superior to, to exploit, to oppose, “us” falls apart. “Me” ceases to exist.

The “self” is a phantom. It is a mind-made fantasy. We have designed an entire way of life in devotion to a phantom. Because it is a phantom, because it does not actually exist, it takes constant feeding. Does that make sense?

If your body is hungry, you give it food and it is satisfied for a while, until it grows hungry again. But a phantom can’t be satisfied. It eats and eats and eats, and its hunger is never filled, because it is not a real hunger. It is not the hunger of a body. It is the hunger of a fantasy. It is like dream eating. The self is a dream entity. So it eats and eats and eats and is never satisfied, because it only exists in the mind. So it goes on eating. It is eating up the whole planet. This dream entity has somehow been loosed on the world. It is consuming real people and real trees and real whales and real oceans and real soil, but it itself is not real. It has taken possession of a real body, and the real body is doing its bidding, and has become utterly confused thinking that the two are the same. The body, which has real needs, thinks it is the “self” which only has unquenchable desires.

I am afraid that unless we all see this, and very very soon, then all of our other efforts at reform or change or awakening or whatever you want to call it, will not amount to anything. The very structure of the self must be seen through. It must be seen for what it is, seen directly, and seen through.

I have no recipe for this. It requires a gap. It requires a moment of silence. It requires the instantaneous cessation of the entire mechanism of self-generation, which is an ongoing process that for most of us only ceases in deep sleep. It does not require the destruction or the stripping down or the abuse of the person. It does not require a form of shock therapy. It is not something that I can do to you or do for you. It is not even something I can do to or for myself. I don’t know how to explain it. It just has to happen. You have to be caught off guard. You have to be open to it. You have to be willing to see what an awful mess we are making of this beautiful life and you have to be willing to be changed utterly.

And all that is needed for that change, that total transformation, is one moment of deep stillness. For the self-creating mental mechanism to shut up for one moment, and then for the implications of what is seen in stillness to be welcomed into the mind and expressed in the life of the person. The body-mind needs to see that it is not a “self.” It needs to stop believing in its self-generated world view. It needs to see the self-illusion, the ongoing self-deception, and then set that deception aside and enter into honest engagement with reality.

It is the simplest thing imaginable. A total non-violent revolution in a single moment of awareness of the whole movement of life. But it is so simple, so absolutely humble, that it is continuously drowned out by the noise of the mind. And more and more it is buried by the violence of the machinery of the modern corporate/consumerist economy, which is the ultimate expression of the phantom-self trying to satisfy its insatiable cravings.

On the other side of silence lies honesty, simplicity, participation in the whole movement of birth, life, natural death and regeneration, true connection to the whole of everything (not the fake connection we now pretend to have through our little screens), an end to ideology, an end to enmity, and the simple satisfaction of being a living body with basic needs but no insatiable cravings. A healthy, vibrant planet; a modest, satisfying life.

But how with this rage can silence hold a plea?

The Oil and the Whales

This is not for fun. This is one of the most distressing video reports I have seen from the Gulf of Mexico. At about 7:00 minutes in, dolphins and a sperm whale appear, struggling to live, some clearly not succeeding.

A new article from National Geographic suggests that the removal of as few as three whales from the Gulf population of sperm whales could doom that population to extinction. At this point, it seems to me that the death of only three whales would be a miracle. I’m afraid the Gulf sperm whales are lost.

I just came from a presentation to the next generation (a crowd of 6 year-olds) of my whale program, “Whales, A World of Sound.” My small effort to help a new generation fall in love with the whales isn’t going to amount to anything if the whales don’t have a healthy ocean that they can live in.

My friends at the Ocean Alliance are sending their research vessel to the Gulf to investigate the effect of oil and dispersents on the marine life there. They just published a report from their global survey of sperm whales showing how our human generated pollution has spread to every ocean in the world, far from the industrial centers that are the source of the toxic substances, and entered into the flesh of these amazing animals. The Gulf is a magnified version of what is happening everywhere in other forms. We are poisoning the oceans everywhere. And really, like the blowout, we seem to be incapable of stopping it. We don’t even seem to be trying.

I am sick at heart.

The Survival Value of Not Knowing

An excellent article by Naomi Klein, called A Hole in the World, was published in the Guardian earlier this week. Here is a quote:

But as the BP disaster has revealed, nature is always more unpredictable than the most sophisticated mathematical and geological models imagine. During Thursday’s congressional testimony, Hayward said: “The best minds and the deepest expertise are being brought to bear” on the crisis, and that, “with the possible exception of the space programme in the 1960s, it is difficult to imagine the gathering of a larger, more technically proficient team in one place in peacetime.” And yet, in the face of what the geologist Jill Schneiderman has described as “Pandora’s well”, they are like the men at the front of that gymnasium: they act like they know, but they don’t know…

The most positive possible outcome of this disaster would be not only an acceleration of renewable energy sources like wind, but a full embrace of the precautionary principle in science. The mirror opposite of Hayward’s “If you knew you could not fail” credo, the precautionary principle holds that “when an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health” we tread carefully, as if failure were possible, even likely. Perhaps we can even get Hayward a new desk plaque to contemplate as he signs compensation cheques. “You act like you know, but you don’t know.”

This relates also to a recent blog posting by Larry Crockett on the Greek concept of “hubris.”

Hubris (also hybris; pronounced /ˈhjuːbrɪs/) means extreme haughtiness or arrogance. Hubris often indicates being out of touch with reality and overestimating one’s own competence or capabilities, especially for people in positions of power (wikipedia).

Sounds familiar, eh? Not nearly as eloquent as Ms. Klein or my father, I wrote about this a couple of decades ago from a contemplative perspective in an essay I called The Asking Is the Answer, which I just rediscovered. This theme was also part of my post a couple of weeks ago on the blowout (and this one from The Sustainable Soul).

Naomi Klein’s mantra sums it up: “You act like you know, but you don’t know.”

The contemplative perspective is that this is true of all of us, all the time, about everything. We don’t know anything about anything. We only think we know. The more we act like we know, the more trouble we cause. The more we understand how deep our ignorance goes, the more harmoniously we can live within the whole movement of Life. Why? Because when we understand the true depths of our ignorance, we pay attention, we remain alert, we question our own assumptions, and we consider the possible consequences of our actions.

We are faced with an unprecedented crisis. We can find a place for ourselves in the natural world that recognizes the limits of our understanding; or we can grasp at the appearance of control that comes with the illusion of certain knowledge, and hasten the destruction that we are surely bringing upon ourselves.

Replacing hubris with humility is our only hope.