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The Euphoria of a Wild Dolphin Encounter

We long to repeat moments with dolphins. There are encounters so intimate, revealing, touching and exquisite, but all we can do is relive them in memory. Dolphin memories haunt otherwise mundane lives. Dolphin memories remain fresh and perpetuate a desire for more. We want more! Greedy for more of the best and more from even the best. Just a hair’s breath closer and she would’ve crushed me! Just a daring, soft move and she would’ve been embraced in my arms. A little longer moment, a slip through the crack of the cosmic egg, and we would have known each other transparently, as understood as clearly as with anyone ever before…

Touched, known, heard, understood, embraced, loved, healed, and held by a dolphin – the closest to heaven an earthly encounter may offer with someone without a name.

No name for her or him other than the generalized Dolphin. No word for the level of trust and acceptance, the strangeness yet familiarity; the pleasure and incomprehension mix until you must Let Go.

You may be held by a dolphin’s gaze, or frozen by a dolphin’s warning. Time may stop or slow. The world may shift in your encounter with this equal and alien sentience as you recognize the truth beyond words. The dolphin’s mind is stretchy and may turn inside out to enclose yours. Neuron to neuron, understanding is revealed but not explained; experienced, but not defined; felt intimately, but not proven; and in that moment, we accept. In a rush, our mastery is dwarfed. In a whole, our competition is naught. Enclosed by the dolphin’s mind, we shrink to one neuron of intelligence and one synopsis of wisdom – linking to the periphery of the dolphin’s immensity. This one synapse is pure joy, pure heart, pure sensuality, aching for a response, aching for the arch over to speed down dolphin body. We become one neuron, Go or No Go, one bridge to cross and all the fire wanting to reach the other side. Desire hope vision nerves, tuned to the synapse – “Go!”

“Hear me! Feel me! See me! Know me!” — Pleas for recognition, understanding, acknowledgement.

A god in the waters swimming circles around us. Hear our fervent prayers! Be with me! I am yours! You are what I have missed my entire life! You are what we can never be! You are power and grace and silky smoothness. You are love and trust and the vibrancy of Mother Ocean. You are as we would wish others to be – playful, carefree, hopeful, daring, irreverent, nude and sensual, flirtative and respectful.

No hands, no commands, no reins, no control.

Freedom without prison.

Masters without rulers.

Cooperation without coercion.

Voices without conversation.

Introversion without alienation.

Introspection enjoyed en masse.

Let’s go within, and within we will find each other, togetherness.

Trinities of joined heart and mind.

And the human yearns to reach into that matrix of joined trinities.

Humans who have been touched by the reality of dolphins long to bring that awareness to human life. Bonded by shared dolphin contact, we glimpse the closeness of the pod in our midst. We resolve to reoccurances of the touch of dolphinness – within ourselves, with each other. Then plunge into the sea to seek it again in its original state – among dolphins. Among dolphins in a state of grace, among dolphins while moods converge to bring once again the intimacy, the intimacy of a dolphin’s non-physical touch.

Not-quite-physical contact with dolphins is like nonverbal communication between people. In most wild encounters, it is the entirety of the experience – we have no physical contact, and yet the language only suggested by movement is rich and complete. Accepting that the dolphins won’t, hardly, touch us, yet knowing their highly sensual nature must yearn to feel our touch as we do theirs, is a constant tension of dolphin encounters. Touch separated by millimeters is exquisite, flirtatious, rewarding, yearned. The dissolution of those millimeters, firm contact, is the unrelinquished love. Skin to skin, a fleeting brush of dolphin skin, is the lure.

For the most part, the most intimate of dolphin encounters is a solitary experience. Other humans have vanished. The only consciousness is of the dolphin. Rarely do humans join the midst of a dolphin pod while holding hands with other humans. Rarely do human minds connect and then connect with the pod while swimming. While swimming, we usually reside deeply in our separate minds and bodies, within our own desires, experiences and encounters. All consciousness of others dissipates in the wake.

We are fortunate in Hawaii to often be in the midst of a couple hundred dolphin individuals, in clear, warm waters, with many more dolphins than people. Even if we enter the water with a large group of people from a boat, we often find ourselves alone with the intense attention of a few dolphins. People and dolphins scatter into small groups with a wide variety of experiences happening all at once. Your own little pod may stay together and within sight for an hour. Twenty people can easily get separated among 200 dolphins.

For some of us involved in introducing people to dolphins, we are satisfied to facilitate the encounters using the best of our abilities balanced with deep respect for the dolphin culture. We are happy when everyone has had a lasting eye to eye meeting. We use what we know to bring the dolphins to people, using gentle persuasion to elevate the encounter. We build towards longer, more interactive encounters by imbuing people with respect and patience, by responding appropriately to our interpretation of body behavior from the dolphins.

It is important to recognize and respond to communication efforts from the dolphins. If we interpret a tail slap from a dolphin to be directed at us and indicating a pressure one of them feels from us, by giving them more space we will be returning a message that their behavior has affects on us.

Interacting with dolphins in the wild, we have opportunities to communicate uniquely and intuitively. We can avoid the tendency to try and train wild dolphins or to block what our minds and hearts tell us. Gaining and using new knowledge about dolphin lives, needs and challenges, we can pursue deepening relationships with spontaneity and respect, promoting benefits for both species.

My most ecstatic event with wild dolphins opened a door with new purpose for my life beyond it.

I have been euphoric swimming with dolphins, alone and far from our terrestrial world. Bursting in laughter, saturated with revelation, honored with extreme closeness and even touch, I have basked in a euphoric halo, a cone of grace surrounds us, a peace of heaven in the sears, dolphins, like my long lost family, embrace me. These experiences filled me with more yearning to be so close. Solitary swims and lengthy encounters were sought and appreciated.

But it was ecstatic moments with an autistic boy, fins rising around us, which fully opened a new door for me.

To read about this experience involving autism and dolphins click here

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Autism and Dolphins

It was ecstatic moments with an autistic boy, fins rising around us, which fully opened a new door for me.

I wanted a miracle.

A teacher of children with autism introduced me to a six-year-old pre-verbal boy. He seemed nearly impossible to work with, often yelling loudly in protest and was difficult for me to understand. His mom had never heard him say a clear word and his teacher had once heard him say “turn on” in reference to the TV in the classroom. Otherwise, sessions to elicit speech were not going well.

I brought swim masks to class one day and some of the kids tried them on. Nate allowed a mask to be placed on his face, but quickly pulled it off, protesting with yells.

Another day, Nate’s program assistant, John, met me, along with Nate and his mom, at a protected tidal pool. I brought a large innertube with a cloth floor on it to this shallow lagoon where Nate enjoyed playing. He climbed in the inner tube and let me swing him around before rolling out to wade and splash in the water. In this way, he would be familiar with one element of our dolphin trip—the innertube would be used on the ocean as well.

Nate seemed the least likely subject for a movie, crying out and grimacing at any interruption in his desires or new requests. Children with autism tend to prefer the known, repetition of familiar schedules and activities. How would Nate respond to a totally new environment? His teacher and mom agreed to meet me at the harbor in Kona. We would go out on a four-hour boat trip to find and be with dolphins.

Nate enjoys rides in the car. His mom followed me over Saddle Road early the morning of our boat excursion. At the marina, Nate pulled away from his mom and the teacher who would attend him during the trip. We decided his mom should stay on shore to allow him the opportunity to more fully experience the unusual day without the possibility of clinging to familiarity. Nate screamed and balked during the boat orientation time. I asked his mom what she expected from the day with dolphins. “A miracle,” she replied. “I believe the dolphins can bring about a miracle and Nate will begin to talk.” Wow! Her high expectations overwhelmed me! While I held the same high intention, I admired her utter conviction. Having heard about dolphins helping to teach children with special needs, she was convinced the dolphins had a power to heal and could help her child overcome his lack of speech.

A miracle. We set sail for the life change of a miracle.

We launched the big, yellow inflatable boat from the trailer into the marina and Nate was allowed on. From the time Nate stepped aboard, to the time he left, he enjoyed himself. Squealing in delight, with delicious intent, Nate ran from side to side, leaning over the edges. He jumped up and down in the bow on the waves. Nate dragged a flotation “noodle” in the water alongside the boat, never releasing it to the wake. He was content, excited, and discovering new sensations. Nate was completely out of his routine, in a new situation, faced with experiences and choices he had never encountered. Yet he was totally “in his element”!

The captain found dolphins milling in a bay. The dolphins looped around the boat, resting and playing, as we drifted in neutral. Because the dolphins had already spread out and relaxed in the bay, they didn’t ride the bow or jump around the boat as they often do when we find them traveling the coastline. Nate had no time to get a good look at them up close. Perched in the middle of the bay, everyone else got into the water and swam off with dolphins.

Nate was now anxious to get into the water. I brought out the familiar inner tube and Nate let himself be dropped over the side, about 3 feet, and into the tube. He happily sat in the big blue and green innertube as I pulled him away from the boat.

“There are dolphins,” I said and pointed. Nate was enjoying the water. He was happy as I swung him around.

“There they are,” I said and pointed as fins popped up. Nate wanted to get into the water and slid over the side of the tube and into my arms in the deep, blue ocean. He had a small life vest on and I used a noodle between my arms for extra floatation. I let go of the tube and it floated nearby. We were buoyant enough to keep our heads in the air very easily. I had my fins and mask on but my mask stayed on top of my head the entire time. Nate and I hugged each other, his legs wrapped around me, and played in circles, bobbing on the small swells. Once in awhile, he pinched my arms in an anxious excitement. When he would get nervous, I would hold him tight and go in around in circles. He got very excited, seemingly overjoyed, in short bursts. The whole dolphin pod swept through us. Masses of fins emerged alongside us.

“Here are the dolphins,” I said quietly. “They’re all around us. See them?” I ask, turning us so he can look at the fins go by. He tucked his head between us, and tightened up, squeezing me. The dolphins were below and around us.

I felt a sense of joy raise and raise, heightening inside me, bursting in ecstasy! Nate squeezed harder, grimacing intently. I felt we were both in a state of pure joy, reveling in the presence of a hundred dolphins swinging around us. Without a mask on, I had little visual contact with the dolphins, no cues as to what they were doing, no way to respond in body language to their presence and whistling. Instead, I was completely caught up in sensation at the center of a vortex, in an ecstatic state with another person while surrounded by dolphins. In this newness, I had only my intuition, feelings, trust, and a “meta-viewpoint” to act on. I let go of any behavior and just was. I joined with Nate and we seemed to become a small tight ball of joy in the middle of the ocean, in a visual circle of bright yellow, orange, blue, and green. We were all there was and yet we were in an extraordinary setting with extraordinary inputs and responses. We were one and we were everything in which we were immersed and we were one.

I had a moment of absolute harmony with the work I was allowing to happen. Allowing Nate to experience whatever he did, granted me the opportunity to join him in his high level of excitement. Just an experience with the dolphins was nowhere near as exciting. I was thrown out through the top of my head! Dolphins often lead to euphoria, but a joint ecstasy was a different state than I previously experienced with another person with the dolphins. Energy streamed through our bodies and up and out of us.

As the dolphins moved on past us, we settled down again and found ourselves, floating alone, not far from the tube and 100 yards or so from the boat. As I kicked us towards the boat, Nate wanted back into the tube. I was too exhausted to do much to push him in and the large tube was unbalanced without anyone holding down the other side. Fortunately, someone jumped in and grabbed the other side of the tube so Nate could slide in. From there he was lifted back onto the boat.

I took some time alone in the water, stretching out and floating relaxed on the surface. I was exhausted, but not extinguished! I passed through a doorway and a light had come on. In the moments of ecstasy, I thought, “This is what I should do. This has meaning. There’s something happening here that I didn’t foresee or create. I allowed. I experienced, jointly, the joy of another who was bouncing off my own joy. The joy rose, bouncing between us. We stimulated each other, completely allowing, with ease, the joy to build.

I am used to joy in the presence of dolphins. I appreciate new feelings, experiences, and responses with dolphins in a free flow of interactions. I was used to a lack of self-consciousness in the immense privacy of the ocean. I surrendered and allowed, in trust and acceptance and gratitude and happiness, the joy to build. Now I felt as if I fulfilled my mission as a naturalist, a facilitator in wild dolphin therapy for a preverbal boy with autism. I felt right in that position, capable where there was no training, appropriate without instruction. I had entered naпve and curious and excited with incredible yet unexpected success. We did what we came to do, although we hadn’t a plan.

The boat ride home continued the fun and adventure. Nate loved the boat! On the return trip, he loved going fast and jumping up and down. As we glided through the marina, Nate’s mom called from the shore. Nate looked up into his mom’s eyes, recognizing her from a distance. His mom knew right then that something had changed. Nate was making eye contact. He saw far beyond his immediate site. He had experienced many new activities, not knowing what would happen next. Familiarity and schedule were replaced by an entirely new day with few touchstones he knew.

At home that night, after the trip, passing by his personal assistant’s home, he repeated clearly to his mom “John. John.” For the first time, clearly and in context, his mom heard him speak. Later, to his uncle, he said “Hi Dan.” His mom said it was the first time he really addressed someone. He brought his mom his swimsuit before bedtime, indicating he would like to get in the water again.

The world changed a little for Nate and his mom. The boy burst through a doorway. Nature. The boat. The ocean. The dolphins. The ecstasy. The therapist’s initiation. The mother’s hope. Our vision and intent. An amazing change. A miracle.

Nate spoke every week after that day. His mom heard him clear and true. Just two days later at a session on the beach, with dolphins in the distance, I heard Nate too. “Way. Way,” he said quietly and clearly, looking at the two paths leading to the water. “Which way do you want to go? Either way is good,” I had said. “Way. Way.”

My 21-year old daughter, Harmony, was with us as a swim assistant. Pulling Nate in the inner tube across the bay with dolphins, I pointed to the Spinner dolphins jumping and said, “Tell me if you see the dolphins. Say, ‘I see them!’” “Seez ‘em. Seez ‘em,” he enunciated with his head down in the tube. Harmony and I looked at each other from either side of the tube, grinning with wonder in our eyes as we listened to the dolphin’s whistle.

To read about the euphoria of a wild dolphin encounter click here

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