Coming Ashore

Was it a bad move to come ashore?

Has humanity benefited from leaving home, and setting up shop on the shoreline?

The daily news accosts us with images of last gasp dreams expiring in an unwelcoming world: tent cities and refugee camps clustered at the edges of politically-drawn borders, cardboard box suburbs and food lines closer to the commercial centers. It seems that humanity is still crawling or, at best, wobbling on its own two legs.

There is evidence that cetaceans have been able to develop unimaginable skills of communication and unfathomed faculties of understanding, by remaining in the all-embracing environment of the sea.

Would our species be better off still living in the ocean: exploring its depths and experiencing how multidimensional space is integral to our embodied lives? Was it an unfortunate blunder when our forebears became stranded at the edges of retreating coast lines? Or were our ancestors enduring the pain of a grand evolutionary leap, one that required waddling on the stumps of stubby fins from puddle to puddle, until at last, they managed to gasp in the hot, dry air?

Perhaps it is still possible to pull out this bold adventure, started a few million years ago, when our predecessors—who must already have been dropouts in their fishy livelihoods—embarked on a pilgrimage into an unknown world?

To justify the efforts of these early pilgrims, we may have to draw upon the confidence and intimacy of the dolphins’ way of being. Can we rediscover the drench of time and the oceanic openness of space? Can we return to the greater planetary home that we never left and never can leave?

Ready or not, we have become creatures whose embodiment confines us to the hard surfaces of tectonic plates that tilt upwards out of the ocean. We are obliged to live with the unremitting pull of gravity, so that giving up and collapsing, like fish flopping on deck, is the siren call of our days and nights. It is not an easy matter to remain upright in the bright air, unsupported by the medium in which we live. No wonder we dream of flying. We still remember a prehistoric time when we were able to soar upwards toward the bright heavens and plumb the depths below, as easily as we now turn right and left on the hard scrabble surfaces of our foster home.

How rare and wonderful is that feeling of gliding through the medium of our lives. To be able to leap in spectacular arcs of freedom into the sunlight, with the certainty that our Mother’s arms will catch us—who among us, as an adult, lives with such confidence? Who among us would not gladly exchange the forced march of progress and the percussive tramp of invading armies for an effortless glide through realms of light, at one with a community of fellow beings who are flying alongside?

Language is so central to all we know and all we know how to know. It may be that the long exile of humanity from the waters which run through our bodies and which allows us to survive on our planet’s rocky outcroppings, has given rise to a new intelligence and a new potential. But humanity’s lack of care for Mother Earth gives testimony to how we have forgotten our own childhood. And forgetting where we have come from is causing us to ignore the well-being of beings who are very likely our superiors in important ways.

It may be that we are sharing this planet with beings whose use of language is able to fathom the world more directly than our own tools of understanding can. In gestures of communication that comprehend their world, while simultaneously engaging in an intimate relationship with that world, cetacean language may be free of the concepts and identifications with which human languages assign fixed labels. As soon as we assign a name, we are shutting down the fullness of an experience that has never before arisen in the long pilgrimage of time. Humans have to go on retreat and watch their breathing, in order to glimpse an intimate wholeness that may be more innate for dolphins.

Dolphins use ultrasound to map their environment, to speak with each other, and to ‘see’ interiors that are hidden from our eyes. They have healed humans with their gentle and knowing probes of bodies that appear solid to us, with no need for scalpels and knives.

Only a few of us will ever personally explore the vast underwater vistas of our world’s oceans—as James Cameron has in his Deep Sea Challenger dive:

But perhaps the rest of us can at least allow ourselves to wonder about our cousins of the sea, and not be so quick to assume that we know more than they do.

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