by Christian de Quincey
At first I couldn't see anything, except for a few tiny speckles of organic debris flowing past me like miniature stars (including occasional and mysteriously glinting burnt-orange flakes that I imagined were scales liberated from some exotic species of fish). All around me, the water sparkled and was remarkably clear. For a novice snorkeler, the view was exhilarating, and only a little disconcerting if I thought about the vast depths below. It is hard to gauge distances in water, so most of the time I could fool myself that I was swimming in a large pool in someone's backyard.
The first signs of life appeared way down below me, a handful of small fish, so far beneath that I couldn't judge their actual size. From my perspective they could have been goldfish, except for their off-white color. Gradually, they rose up closer, and I gasped, swallowing a mouthful of sea through my submerged snorkel. When I recovered, I realized these were no fish, but a pod of about a dozen dolphins, directly below me. I could now recognize their distinctive shapes, close enough to make out their blowholes and, when the angle was right, see their eyes. I was mesmerized by their beauty, their grace, the silky smoothness of their bodies, and the way they moved in formation, as though dancing to the orchestration of an invisible choreographer. I was mostly struck by their silence. It was immense, broken only by the rhythmic sound of my own breathing. Then I heard a ripping noise right next to my right ear, like Velcro tearing open. I reached up to adjust the strap holding my mask in place. But it was secure, just as I had fixed it before leaving the boat. The sound persisted, and only when I turned my head did I realize what it was: Three dolphins were right there beside me, within arms length—talking to me. The most distinctive experience (shared by my fellow divers) was the unmistakable intelligence of these fellow beings.
I looked to my left, and saw more dolphins just a few feet away. Up close, they were much bigger than I had thought—powerful, swift, and undoubtedly masters of their realm. I was surrounded by them. The pod below had by now begun to fade off into the distant aquamarine haze, but to my left and right two families of dolphins were escorting me through their world. We were eye to eye, and I had no doubt whatsoever they were checking me out, sizing me up, letting me know I was welcome.
It is hard to describe the encounters because so much of what I experienced during those days in the ocean rippled through my body as feelings that have no clear counterparts in words. Yet the experiences were rich with meaning. The best I can do is to say that, surrounded by a couple of hundred dolphins—some hanging out beside me, others going about their business far below, while yet others near and distant to my right and left, apparently ignoring my presence, were caught up in their own daily occupations—I felt I was witnessing, participating in, an alien "terrestrial" civilization.
Pre-publication excerpt from Christian de Quincey's forthcoming book I-to-I: Radical Knowing -- Exploring Consciousness through Relationship and Love. For information on publication date or to place an advance order contact Christian at email@example.com