-page 84-90- During December, out with the gray whales for days at a time, I opened myself up to many strange and varied techniques for successful whale communing. I consciously became a kind of interspecies guinea pig. The word got out very quickly that I was an amateur shaman on the lookout for some strong but good magic.
One influential friend convinced me to investigate the power of mantras. One repeats a special word or seed syllable over and over again until the vibration generated by the word sinks into one's very essence. It helps one tune up the human instrument OM is a well known mantra. HUM is another. However, I had to admit that all of the prescribed sanskrit mantras only made me feel self-conscious. I always felt like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz repeating: 'Oh I do, I do, I do believe in wizards.'
Then another friend took me to an American Indian ceremony where I heard the word Omatakwiase repeated over and over again. I loved the way the syllables rolled off my tongue: Oma tak wee a say. The word comes from the Dakota language and means: 'to all my relations.' Traditionally, chanters offer prayers to the heavenly grandfather. At the end of each invocation, the speaker chants: Omatakwiase. The word is imbued with a power to bring the speaker from the heavens and back down to earth again. The Sioux say that this word is not to be spoken lightly. Intuitively, the sound symbol seems to focus its speaker back into the earth and to all of the creatures. It is a phrase of Totem.
I began using the word as my mantra while out on the water. Rolling over and under the swells, saying it over and over again. As a practical measure it worked to centre my mind into one-pointedness, and away from all of the mundane concerns of my chosen work, such as the unpleasant sensation of cold seawater coursing through my wetsuit.
Next, I learned to breathe differently. I began scooping in the air like any normal sea mammal. I read about the Tibetan monks who sit out on the midwinter lake-ice, naked. They practice what they cal 'firebreathing.' Breathing fast and furiously, they bring in and expel the air in such a way as to generate enough body heat to melt clear through the ice and so fall into the freezing waters below. One appropriate punchline to one version of the story goes: 'And aaaaah, what a refreshing dip it is.'
But by far the most captivation sensation of this, my period of gray whale apprenticeship, was that of weightlessness. I am more than buoyant in this spongy wetsuit with the classic orange life jacket clinging to my shoulders. The balance between gravity and buoyancy is just about equal. This feeling of suspension begins to do absolutely bizarre things to my brain. Sometimes, if I keep my eyes closed long enough, it becomes impossible to perceive if I am all mind or only mind. The first way included my body in the total sensation. The second evokes an out-of-body experience.
During this state it becomes very easy to stop rubbing the surface of the drum. This is obviously dangerous. Can you imagine falling asleep, or even worse, while rolling around in huge Pacific winter swells. So I force myself to rub the drum. The vibrations course clear through my body and so enter the water. The instrument vibrates so intensely that every once in a while it splatters water of its surface with a violence that sends the spray a good six inches into the air.
And once in a while, a gray whale will approach quite closely to check out the source of the sound. There is no warning. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a huge shape will roll across the surface just a few feet from me. When we are both at the crest of a swell, the sensation is of a fellow sightseer, inspecting the terrain. However, each of us is very much the central landmark of each other's view. When we are in the canyon between swells, it is as if we are sharing the most intimate space possible between man and whale. There is no vista. I am like Moses out in the middle of the parted Red Sea with huge walls of water on each side. These walls deaden the sounds of the outdoors far better than any ordinary man-made walls. The silence screams. The whale is there, I am there. For a brief second, or five, or ten, we are sitting in the same room seeing, hearing and definitely feeling each other. Then, just as suddenly, the whale will be gone.
During this, their December southern migration, nothing on earth could make them stop for more than one lingering breath of air. And then, a minute or two later, I am thrust back up onto the wave's peak, and there, several hundred yards to the south, I catch a glimpse of the same whale's spout.
Fifteen minutes later, I suddenly realize that I could be leaving my body again. And so, the drumming begins afresh. After a few days of this, the Ant Farm crew finally realized the potential danger of the situation. The next time out they insisted that a hundred yards of line be attached to my foot at one end, and their own boat at the other. All this did was make it easier for me to waft away into trance. There was no longer any urgent need to periodically dip back into reality.
But do not be misled into presuming that I was daydreaming. To the contrary, the overall feeling was one of extraordinary consciousness. I have never felt quite so awake and influential, if that be the proper word, as during those precious hours spent with the gray whales, tied to the human race by the flimsiest of yellow nylon cords.
On the last day of the project I finally achieved a breakthrough. I was lolling in the swells firebreathing, chanting Omatakwiase, feeling weightless, whalesinging, vibrating, warm and happy. About an hour previously a gray whale had swooped in close for a good look at me. I had been impressed by the way that the whale had opened its mouth as if applauding my presence. I stared at the baleen in its jaws. Gray whales do not have teeth, but rather a kind of comb material which allows it to sieve through tons of mud and water while successfully entrapping vast quantities of the tiny bottom creatures upon which it feeds. The gray whale feeds a little bit like a backhoe. Then the whale was gone. So I began to sing Omatakwiase out loud, accentuating the last syllable with an energetic rub upon the drum.
Suddenly I stopped singing. There was an eye above my head. Not an eye in the head of a surfacing whale; rather, just an eye. To be precise, I never actually did 'see' it either. Rather, I perceived something watching me. But this something was not some unidentifiable abstract presence. It reminded me slightly of the sensation that will force a person to turn around in his chair when someone is staring at him from behind. But there was much more to it than that.
There was an eye. It was dark brown, cradled within the folds of a heavy skin. Beyond that the edges seem to blur with the intense blue of the sky. At first the eye floated directly above my head, looking directly down at me. I then realized that I was not truly looking at it when it moved behind my head. Yet I could still 'see' it. Then it plunged right into my skull. It went here, it went there, surveying the landscape, surmising the extent of my own cerebral territory. My brain felt like a vast unexplored cavern with an immense network of tunnels. And this eye was walking around inside this vast cave, documenting the handiwork for both of us to see. I watched both the eye and also what it saw.
A whale surfaced not more than five yards from me. We were both in the trough of the swell. It blew with that distinct reverberation of a large whale, and immediately dived. It lifted its flukes into the air as a sign that this time it was going down for several minutes. And just as suddenly, the eye disappeared.
Typed by Cheryl Vega 3-20-95