“Oh, it’s just you.”
“Pardon?” I asked, almost audibly.
“You may lie there if you want, right next to all the other yous.”
Perhaps the most important and enlightening experience of my life was being accepted into a colony of elephant seals. I lay amidst their weighty bodies and the musky smell of their wet hair and the hours passed; I watched the sunset reflecting in their inky black eyes. I have practiced meditation and yoga, I have travelled to Buddhist monasteries in India, Tibet, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, and I have spent a lifetime studying nature. None of this compares to the experience of being with those elephant seals. For all the teachings, for all the efforts of becoming ‘one with nature’ or ‘one with the universe’, nothing could have prepared me for what happened in my hour of enlightenment. Although difficult to put into words, the best I can do is that when I stopped trying to ‘become one with everything’, everything suddenly let me into its oneness. When the world accepted me into its fold, without my effort, came my greatest moment of personal discovery possible. I felt as though I was the colony, and I started to lose the sensation of my self. I don’t mean this in a philosophical or emotional sense, I mean this in a very real, physical way. I felt as though I did not stop with the outer surface of my skin—that I am the living world, after all. The surface of my skin became a profoundly arbitrary boundary for the sense of ‘I’. Or perhaps, it was that the surface of my skin became the boundary to another ‘me’, the one created from my skin outward. It has the same shape as me, just not the same dimension; like a cast and mold. The fleeting moments of enlightenment that came to me during my time with the elephants seals taught me how to reside in the other me, the universal me that exists from my skin outward. Our shared time together continues to be a great inspiration to me, and whenever possible I return to their beaches and rejoin the colony.