What I Learned From Whales
17 minute read
In our August 2021 Laddership Pod, Shay Beider shares stories of her lessons from an powerful encounter with whales, dolphins, and in her Integrative Touch Therapy work with children. Below is a transcript (thanks Nilesh and Shyam!) of the call.
Shay: It's such a pleasure to be here and I want to thank all of you for welcoming me into your pod, to have a moment of conversation and communication with you. It's so lovely to hear what you've been sharing and I was just thinking, "How can I just get out of the way and let love come through me in this moment this morning?”
As Nipun shared, my work is primarily with children who are either in the hospital or out of the hospital, who are severely, or sometimes terminally, ill, and so I kind of take all the lessons that life has to teach me and try to bring those back into how I work with those children and families to be able to support them better.
And I actually want to start with the story that Nipun kind of spotlighted, because it's a story that definitely changed my life and changed my work, and I think there's a lot of lessons in it that might be applicable to people across different domains and in different leadership positions or in different communities.
This is a story of the whales. I was in Alaska and I was invited to go on a boating trip to spend time with some whales, if we got lucky to see some, which, you know, you never know for sure. So we headed out on the boat and I was sitting there with a small group of about 20 of us that were on this adventure together, and we were just heading out. it's so beautiful there, anyway, and I was just taking it in and enjoying the scenery.
Then something just overcame me -- literally overcame me. I didn't see it, but I felt it, and it was a sense of the sacred and a deep presence that literally drew me into silence. I couldn't speak in that moment. I was so compelled into a state of silence and I had to sit, because I couldn't stand in that moment because my whole being just dropped into the sacred. I didn't understand mentally what was happening, but I was just being called into something. I looked to the woman who was leading the tour, I guess, because I needed some sense of insight as to what was happening, and so I looked to her just to see, and she had tears coming down her face. The two of us just connected for a moment, because it was like we could see or feel something that maybe not everybody else had caught on to, quite yet, but they were about to. They were about to!
She spoke, then, out loud -- the woman who was facilitating -- she said, "Oh, my God! We are literally surrounded by whales. I have been doing this for fifteen years and I have never seen anything like this. There must be 40 whales all around us."
And you could see there were so many. You could see signs of them, but actually what was fascinating is, for me, I was actually not interested in seeing them with my eyes at all, because what was happening was I was feeling them. It was as if somehow I accidentally dropped into their stream of communication. Somehow, in that moment, I sort of became like an antenna, and I just received this extraordinary amount of information from these beings which I had had very little experience with prior to this, so I was sort of suddenly immersed in something that I knew really nothing about, but it was an overwhelming kind of download and sense of information.
There were a few key things that were communicated in that experience that I feel are very important to share, that really helped me to see and understand life a little differently.
The first was the quality of their presence -- that their presence itself was magnificent. That their very essence and nature of their presence lived in the domain of the sacred. That, right there, was such a beautiful gift. That in and of itself was truly remarkable.
And then there was another piece that came in, that was about their sense of family, and this way of connecting to one another in a pod -- just like you guys are doing in this [Laddership Pod] experience, literally, right? They function and live within a pod, and you could feel that sense of, they are in a pod and in this pod there is a shared sense of self. There is an understanding and a recognition of the individual and the family, and there is this shared sense of self.
And the piece that struck me the most profoundly, that honestly I'm going to aspire to for the rest of my life (if I could even learn a little bit how to do this), was that they loved with a kind of fullness -- like a true love. Like a force of love. At the same time, they had a total sense of freedom. So it wasn't the strings attached kind of love that, as human beings, I think we often are very good at. It wasn’t like "I love, but I love you with attachment with a string... with a little something in return.” They didn't have that at all.
I was like, "Oh, my God! How do you learn to do that?!" Like how do you love so fully, but with such a sense of autonomy that the other being is at every moment free to choose whatever they need to choose that is in their highest and best interest? And yet it's somehow all connected to the sense of family.
And the complexity of that, and the emotional intelligence of that, is extraordinary. As I have learned a little bit more about the whales, I understand now that, with some of them, their brain and neocortex are like six times the size of ours, and it actually wraps around the limbic system so it appears to neuroscientists that they are extraordinarily emotionally intelligent; in many ways, far more advanced than we are in that domain, and I felt that. This extraordinary capacity to love and to hold with preciousness, but also with utter freedom and genuinely -- in me, it created a sense of aspiration for "how could I learn to live my life like that?" And in the quality of the work that I do with children and families, how could I bring that in, that essence of love?
I just wanted to share, briefly, this one photograph with you, because I think in sharing the story of the whales, this is a beautiful image, so I’m going to just share this briefly, and i'm going to explain it in a moment here:
This is an image of sperm whales. They drop into this state that, again, scientists are kind of trying to understand. It's a brief state, for about 15 minutes, where they circle up like this and it's as if their brain seems to go into a REM state, so they think there's some kind of sleep or restoration kind of process that's happening when they drop into this place.
For me, my felt experience, which obviously is limited in my own understanding, but it's that there's some kind of a convening going on. There's some kind of a convening where there's a sense of shared communication and consciousness from this altered state where they join up. I wanted to share this because there's something about this that reminds me again of the essence of this [laddership] pod where this group -- all of you -- are coming together and there's kind of this convening, this shared sense of being together, going through these materials together, and being with one another, and then, there's this other layer that I feel is illustrated in that photograph, which is where, on a deeper level, forms of intelligence are being passed from one to the other. And those forms of intelligence are subtle, so we can't always name those or label them or put them into language, which was another clear piece I learned from the whales: so much lives beyond language but it's transmitted anyway. I wanted to raise that part of the story and that level of consciousness, because I also think that's part of what's happening for all of you in this beautiful experience that you're creating together: there's a level of shared consciousness that perhaps lives beyond language in its entirety, but that is still, nonetheless, being transmitted from person to person.
Nipun: Thank you. So incredible. You're so lucid in how you share. Thank you very much, Shay. I was curious, before we go to the questions, I was wondering if you could share a story from your work with children. They're oftentimes in incredible situations of pain, of maybe some struggle. Their families are also going through the same. How are you applying these deep insights into that context?
Shay: There was a child that I worked with in the hospital. He was maybe around six years-old. He had been a very healthy, happy kid. One day, he was outside playing, and a tragedy struck. He got hit by a car. It was a hit-and-run, where somebody hit him and then they panicked and they left, and he was severely, severely hurt. He had very significant brain damage, he lost the ability to speak in words; he could make sound but he couldn't make words, and his hand, since the accident, had become contracted, in this tight fist, his left hand.
When I met him, it was about three weeks after the accident, and they could not get his left hand to open up. So all the physical therapists and everybody were trying to manipulate it open, and it wouldn't open; this left hand just simply wouldn't open. They were concerned, because the more it stayed like that, the more, then, it would be like that for the rest of his life.
So they called me in to do some work with him, and intuitively, I felt immediately, "Oh! This is trauma. This is the trauma that's in his hand." And trauma, for those of you that work in that field, you must know so well, trauma is a deep contraction. Trauma is a compression of energy where things are folded tightly into one another and so the first therapeutic treatment with severe trauma is spaciousness. Everything has to have an opening. An expansive awareness -- capital ‘A’ Awareness. The more that's brought in, the more that trauma has the room to begin to resolve itself.
I intuitively knew he needed the sense of the pod, he needed the family, he needed the whales, he needed the sense of “I'm not alone." His mother was there. She worked all night at a convenience store, but it was day, so she could be there with him and so the two of us, we came to his bedside, and we surrounded him, and we just surrounded him with love. We started to touch very gently, we just created literally a container of love for this child through gentle touch and through our hearts emitting that. And his mother, it was so natural to her, she just did it instantaneously, so exquisitely and we created this field. And a very short time into the creation of that field, kind of a coherent, love, energetic state, the boy dropped into what I could only call a meditative state. And you saw it, and felt it. It was like his whole being just -- whoosh! -- went somewhere. He was awake but in a deep meditative place, between full wakefulness and sleep and he went into that space for about 45 minutes. We just worked with him. We touched him, we loved him, we held him.
And then, I felt this shift and his body started to emerge out of the meditative state. All of this, by the way, was led by his inner intelligence, his inner knowing. He did this! We didn't do anything. It was his inner intelligence that moved him through this process and he moved out of that meditative state and came back into consciousness, fully, opened his eyes, and as he did that, his left hand did that [opens palm] -- it just released. And his entire being softened.
It was his wisdom that knew how to heal itself. But he needed the pod. He needed the container of love. He needed the field.
So, talk about an extraordinary teacher and teaching. He was an amazing teacher for me, of how that inner intelligence can rise up and reveal itself to us.
Nipun: Wow! What a story. One of the themes of this week was this spectrum between content and context, and you're speaking a lot about the field, and the world sometimes biases us towards just the fruits and we forget that actually it takes a whole field for the fruits to shine in so many ways. In this world context it feels like the field is the greatest work to do right now.
We'll go to some questions now.
Alex: Shay, in addition to your amazing experience with whales, have you encountered any other non-human forms of life that can teach us about the intersection of spirit and matter?
Shay: Yes, I had a similarly stunning experience with dolphins that was equally unexpected and surprising. And it was quite different actually qualitatively, which was so fascinating to me.
I had gone swimming, and we were on a trip where they were taking us to a spot out in the ocean where we might bump into dolphins. I was underwater swimming. We didn't see any dolphins yet, but, very similarly, there was a profound felt sense. But, in this case, it was entirely heart-centered. I felt my heart just open in the most, you know, intense and immense way and I then started communicating directly from my heart. Even though I couldn't see the dolphins, I knew they were there, and, for some reason, I wanted deeply to protect them.
There was a small group of us, so my heart just kept saying to them, “Please don't come unless it's in your highest and best interest. You don't need to reveal yourself to us; it's not important.” My heart was just beaming that message out so strongly, and then, interestingly, a group of them -- about six dolphins -- came. Then I understood why my heart was wanting to share that: they were babies. It was a group that had all these little babies, and so there is a sense of just wanting so deeply to protect the babies and, honestly, with the dolphins, my heart was just simply overwhelmed with love, It was pure love and it was just a pure sense of a heart on fire. You know, and again, like a great, great and magnificent teaching, for me.
I don’t understand anything about why this has happened to me at different points in my life, so I just purely appreciate it. I appreciate it as if it can be of service to anyone, including myself in my own work, then that's enough. I don't need to understand it fully, but I'm just so grateful that their heart was so open to me and I could feel that so deeply.
Susan: Oh, Shay, this is extraordinary. Thank you so much. It doesn't seem that your work is about you being the magic healer -- but rather, it's about you stepping into and supporting that healing presence in between us. Medical facilities are not set up to have that field, so I’m curious if you have any guidance about how existing healthcare systems can hold space in these kinds of ways? In addition, related to that story with the boy, how do you create between the family, the caregivers, and others, to activate that collective healing capacity?
Shay: I love that question. I don't see myself as a healer at all. I see myself as a being in a position of service to healing work. So the first thing is that I position myself, whoever i'm working with, I position myself in a place of service and support of them very much like the laddership model that you talk about, Nipun. I am in support of something or someone and so that piece is really important. And then, the dropping into a place of love that comes out of just a deep compassion -- and this is where compassion has to be at its fullest. I've walked into a room where the first thing I encounter is the child is dying and the parent is grabbing me screaming and sobbing. Right? So how do you hold love there? I know some of you work like this -- that's so frickin hard. How do you hold love there, in the impossible places?
My experience is you go underneath -- you go to the core of love itself -- the compassion that is so deep that it holds every single life, in every humiliation, in every atrocity in every difficulty and you do everything you can to connect with that depth of compassion that, in a way, you could say, is the eye of God or who knows, the great mystery that somehow holds total love and compassion in the face of what appears to us to be brutal. It's when I allow -- it's really an allowing and receiving -- when I allow and receive my being to touch into that circle of deep compassion that is not my own, but is universal, that any one of us has the ability to touch. That it's from that place that I can hold the greatest difficulty, even in the midst of total devastation. And I genuinely believe the seat of that is in every single human, we have the capacity to do that.
But it does take, you know, a deep, heartfelt desire and I would actually even say commitment, it takes a commitment to say I will meet you there, I will meet you from a place of love and compassion, even in your moment of deepest suffering.
Fatuma: Hello. My blessings from Uganda. Thank you for this call. I believe my question is just thank you … Thank you very much for the beautiful inspiring talk, thank you.
Khang: What do you do in moments when you can do no more for the suffering that someone else is experiencing?
Shay: Yeah, that's a great question. That's a beautiful question. I think there's a fundamental principle that I've learned in healing work, or in any kind of giving work, which is that we cannot give what we don't have. And so, when we become depleted, that indicates to me that in my own being, in that moment, I need to turn that love into myself. I need to fold that love back on to myself, because if I don't restore and regenerate and rejuvenate that inner capacity to take care of my own being, I will have nothing left to give.
I am actually incredibly sensitive to when I feel my own energy being tapped out and I don't have any more. If I get anywhere near that edge, I immediately shift my focus back on to my own being. And I generate that same source of love and compassion for my own heart, and for my own sense of self, wellness and sense of wellbeing.
You know you are no different from anyone else that you're wanting to support, right? And so we have to take care of ourselves just as much as we try to take care of anyone else. And whenever we feel out of balance there, I think there's actually an urgency to fill our own cup, because, without that, we can't give water to others. I would just say there's a place in which we can remember that the compassion for all beings is also a compassion for oneself. That we are part of that equation. I would just honor you and that you're so deserving of the love and compassion that you're wanting to give to your children and to others.
Nipun: That's beautiful. Thank you. To close, what are the things that we can do to stay connected to this greater love and to perhaps even ignite a larger field of love around us?
Shay: I can only share what I've found to be helpful for my own self because maybe that will apply, maybe not. But, one thing for sure that I've learned is: everyday, I spend some time just in a state of feeling the profound magnificence. However you can find that and I think each person finds it a little differently, a little sweetly. Maybe it's gazing at a flower, maybe it's through meditation, maybe it's through connection with your dog or an animal that's in your life, maybe it's through moments with your children, maybe it's through poetry or reflection of something that so deeply touches your heart that it helps you to remember that connection to the sacred.
If we can hold and remember that connection to the sacred every day for even just a little window of time -- in my own life, that changes me. That's sort of step one for me every day. I do it every morning. I drop into just a deep connection to the sacred and I resource from that place. I deeply resource from that place and that's extremely important in my own practice. There's settling in and allowing that to sort of expand out.
The second piece that I do every day, and this is just my own practice, so you may create something else entirely. But I actually do a very fierce prayer every day that my whole life will be dedicated to what I have experienced as (maybe what we could call) the great mystery or the most sacred or the divine or there's many names -- but whatever names we give to that, I almost shout out a prayer of: "May, my entire life, my whole being, my whole body, my spirit, my consciousness, may everything I do and touch be in alignment with that. May I simply be a vehicle of an expression of that divine will and purpose and love."
In that prayer practice, it's like a commitment. It's a commitment to: "I actively pull this into my life so that I can be of service to others from that place of goodness and greatness, that seed.” Isn't every one of us genuinely?
The third piece is one of receptivity. It's a challenging practice, but I still try to practice it every day, which is: "No matter what happens in my life, no matter what comes my way, no matter what difficulty, that there is an acceptance and a receptivity to this, too, is my teaching." This experience, whatever it may be, however hard, it wouldn't be happening to me right now, if there wasn't a lesson and a teaching in it. At the core part of my being, to the best of my ability (I'm human, I make mistakes all the time), but to the best of my ability, I just say, “Please let me receive that teaching from this, even if it feels so hard and horrible, let me find what that teaching is so that maybe I can grow just a little bit more. Maybe I can expand my sense of awareness just a little bit more to be able to have a little more compassion and a little more love for myself and others on this journey."
I would say, those three things helped me tremendously, so maybe they'll help others to some degree.
Nipun: Those are beautiful things. How can we get into that space of gratitude, pray for being an instrument, and ultimately just be ready to receive all that life gives us? That's fantastic. Shay, I feel like the only appropriate response here to say thank you, is to just have a minute of silence here together. So that we can in our impermeable always just flow that goodness out into the world, to each other, to wherever it needs to go. Thank you so much, Shay. It was really kind of you to make time for this call, and I think it's wonderful that everyone's energies kind of come together in this way, so I'm actually grateful for everybody. I think we all are. Thank you to all the whales, all life, all over the place we'll just do a minute of silence in gratitude. Thank you.