Well, it’s that time of year again – Shark Week is in full swing on the Discovery Channel. An annual gathering of armchair shark enthusiasts who exclaim both fear and awe for these predators of the sea. While many watch for sheer entertainment, for me it only fuels the respect I have for our home and native land – a burning rock hovering in a cosmic blackness. A planet whose force and make-up is greater then many of us can comprehend. A home to a community of flora and fauna striving to work in harmony in order to sustain the most majestic wonder of all – life.
I have always been a want-to-be marine biologist. (In fact, according to my spiritual counselor, I WAS one in a former life. Perhaps that helps explain my lifelong pilgrimage to water…) Water is not only the life blood of our planet but also home to creatures great and small – many of which have yet to be discovered. Forget the cosmos, the vastness of the ocean ecosystem alone has the power to really put into context how small we are in comparison.
I remember very distinctly when I felt such smallness. I was on a three day snorkeling tour of the Great Barrier Reef, miles off the coast of Queensland, Australia. It was my first day seeing the reef up close, with all its colour, beauty, and endless aquatic life. I explored in total and complete amazement. As I snorkeled through the surprisingly calm waters, stopping every now and then to mentally and emotionally process what was around me, I couldn’t shake how small I felt. Even though fragile coral lay only a few feet below my swim flippers, I felt absolutely minuscule. After I had been in the water for about thirty minutes, I came across the “drop off”. Anyone who has ever seen the movie Finding Nemo knows that the drop off is home to some very unnerving and untamed aquatic curiosities. As I floated on the edge of the reef cautiously staring into the dark abyss, my imagination ran wild, wondering what could be lurking beyond the stark blackness. Suppressing my better judgment, along with my steadfast belief that Jaws’ long lost cousin was lying in wait ready to devour me for his afternoon snack, I swam out just past the edge of the reef, fully exposing myself to the unknown that lurked below me. I was terrified and exhilarated. I wanted to flee for the safety of the coral but also take in how microscopic I felt. It was an unbelievable sensation of vulnerability and interconnectedness. It was an experience that has never left the confines of my memory.
Looking back on this experience as I devoutly watch revolving documentaries on marine life, I find myself mentally stuck on how the majority of the human population still holds on to the illusion that WE are the ones in control. As someone with extensive training in the world of mental health, I find it exasperating communicating with people who have claimed a permanent parking spot in the never-ending pattern of seeking power and control. The reason? They feel NOT having either will only lead them to flounder in life, whether it be professionally or personally, or both. Why is that we have such an innate need for control? Why do we fear that feelings of smallness will only lead us to thoughts of isolation and social disconnect? Whether we are in a vast expansion of forested bounty or sun sheltered by buildings within the concrete jungle, when we stop and just be one with our surroundings we quickly realize how small we are in comparison, there’s simply no escaping it. Yes, many take issue with feeling small, having an inherent need for power and control in order to feel important and “big” – a need which supposedly aids in finding meaning and direction in our everyday lives. For me, however, once I embraced my smallness the grandeur of my problems seemed to dissipate and feelings of loneliness and isolation gave way to connectedness, acceptance, and community. I find tremendous comfort in being small. Embracing our smallness allows for new perspectives and the reclamation of self. There is a special freedom in being small for it engenders a oneness that is best found while connecting with the natural world. When we look to the skies or to the water, what cannot be seen carries much more weight then what can. I am fascinated with the unknown, gaining unlimited enjoyment from pursuing life’s question marks. The more information I collect, the more I realize how much I do not know. Watching Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is one example of what confirms, for me, the respect and gratitude we must offer our wild companions and neighbours. There are great lessons to be learned in the unknown, and once we all chose to embrace our smallness, it is then that we will wake up to the awareness that working against our planet, our home, only hurts our small selves in the long run – and takes us to a place where isolation and disconnect really do prosper.