One of my greatest joys is to spend time with dolphins. One of my greatest challenges in doing so is when its time to leave them and return to the mainland. This is a story of the acceptance, playfulness and compassion of these magnificent beings.
During my first retreat with the dolphins I was graced by their choice to swim very closely with me for several hours every day. And every day a large male I called Slash (named for a long horizontal scar below his dorsal fin) and a mother and her new baby, Cashew and Peanut guided me to where their group or "pod" was. Occasionally we would be interrupted by a swimmer who would spot the dolphins' dorsal fins and come splashing toward us in a very aggressive fashion. Dolphins do not care for this type of behavior and move away from it in a flash.
On one such occasion, I was swimming with the pod at a steady, slow, pace when all of the sudden they powered off, all but Slash. He beamed me to wait, approached the swimmer and guided him away. In what seemed like just seconds, Slash returned to me and guided me to where the pod was waiting.
We then continued weaving our patterns together in the bay. I've experienced these behaviors with dolphins repeatedly over the years.)
Upon rejoining the pod, with Slash on my right and Cashew and Peanut on my left, a young male dolphin swam so closely underneath me that I curved up my spine to avoid touching his dorsal fin. He paused, mirroring my body. I playfully asked him "What are you up to?" In reply he turned his head around just enough to look me directly in the eyes. He then moved slightly in front of me so I could see he had a strip of plastic on his tail. He was inviting me to join him in a friendly game of "keep away."
I reached for the plastic. He was too fast for me. He quickly flipped his body around and caught the plastic with his pectoral fin, dove about ten feet and let go of it. He then powered toward the surface. Well, I knew I could easily dive down ten feet to retrieve the floating plastic before he returned from his leap in the air. WRONG
He leaped into the air, performed a tail over head flip, dove back into the water and gracefully snatched the plastic with his beak just as my fingers were about to grasp it. I beamed him a playful remark referring to him as a "show off." He replied by releasing the plastic from his beak and shaking his head from side to side with his mouth open, as if he was laughing at me. I beamed back,"When I was in a dolphin body I used to beat you at this game!" He replied, "And now?" and swam off, plastic in tow (or on fin), seeking a more challenging opponent.
I rejoined the pod, who watched this exhibition of play at a close distance. We resumed our synchronized swim, sharing a precious heaven of time together.
We continued swimming together at a gentle pace until it was time to return to the retreat house. I looked up to see what direction we were swimming. We were heading directly toward the retreat house. The dolphins were escorting me! I did not know how to say good bye to my dolphin friends, nor did I have any desire to.
I had asked the dolphins if it was alright if I brought others to meet them. They answered with an enthusiastic, "Yes! We want you to!" I asked them many questions with replies so profoundly simple yet full of wisdom. Communicating with them gave me the guidance and confirmation I was seeking. From this experience, I chose to continue offering retreats as vehicles to introduce people to the dolphins (and vise versa).
Gliding through the waves, I was speaking my gratitude to my beloved dolphin pod when like a flash, the young male appeared, dropped off his prized plastic right in front of me, did a little shimmy and sped off. I grabbed the plastic and tucked it in my bathing suit. I extended my Aloha to the pod from deep within my heart. I watched as they made their turn toward the sea. Holding back the tears, I looked after them until they disappeared in the deep blue distance.
When I got to shore I ripped off my mask, sat down on the sand and let the tears run free. They were tears of joy and sadness mixed with how profoundly the dolphins had affected me. My heart was wide open. A spectrum of feelings rushed through me which I acknowledged with eternal gratitude.
A friend from the retreat house came running out to check on me asking why I was crying. I pulled out the plastic from my bathing suit, pointed to it, still sobbing. Not quite understanding me, she put a comforting arm around me, took the plastic and unraveled it revealing it was in the shape of a dolphin with dolphin teeth marks throughout.
Today this plastic (or dolphin toy) rests in a place of honor on my altar.