Tomorrow I go home. I’ve been in Mexico for over a month. Something has changed in me, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I don’t think I will know what “it” is until I start living my regular life again in Ventura, California.
It all started like this:
About a year ago a friend told me about an up-close encounter he had had with a gray whale in the Baja California lagoon near Guerrero Negro, on the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula. He says that he and the whale were close enough to make eye contact, and that the experience touched him so deeply that he wept. As a life-long whale-a-phyle, I was beyond intrigued. I knew I would have to go. Someday.
Someday came sooner than expected. An initial plan to go in February for a week’s time to see the blue whales in the Sea of Cortez and the gray whales on the Pacific side of the peninsula turned into 5 weeks, albeit a bit earlier in the season.
On December 26th I landed in La Paz, Baja California Sur (BCS). I spent the first two weeks in this lovely, non-touristy city, and loved my daily walks along the 2.5-mile malecon, a wide, paved walkway at seaside, joined by singles, couples, and families on roller skates, bikes, scooters, and foot. La Paz has felt like home base for the rest of my comings and goings by plane, bus, and car.
I made a side trip to the mainland to Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende. In returning to BCS I have also come to know Loreto, Mulege, Todos Santos, Los Barriles, and tens of towns and millions of Baja cacti that lie along Highways 1 and 19. I got a feel for the visual appeal and cultural vibe of each of these towns as, someday, I may choose to live in one of them part-time in a future retirement plan.
As far as the marine life adventure, I was a bit too early in whale season to see the blue whales in the Sea of Cortez, but I did get to launch out into La Paz Bay to the feeding waters of the whale sharks (the world’s largest fish) and snorkel up close as these gentle giants swam around and fed on their favorite nourishment, the fertilized eggs of other fish. More on that to come.
For most of this time I have been a solo traveler. But, a few days ago my good friend, CristiAnne, arrived to share with me the original purpose of this trip: a close encounter with the gray whales of Baja during their mating and birthing season in the safe and calm waters of the Pacific lagoons.
Puerto San Carlos sits on the edge of Magdalena Bay, the second largest bay along the Pacific coast, and a primary source of Mexico’s seafood. We utilized an ecotourism company, Magdalena Bay Whales, for our whale encounter. While not yet at the peak of whale season (that happens mid-February), nonetheless, we estimate that we saw over 30 whales during our 3.5 hours in Magdalena Bay. It was a morning filled with anticipation, then awe, over and over, as we spotted spouts of warm, moist air emerging from whale blow holes near and far, and as groups of gray whales, in twos, threes, fours, and even sixes, crossed our path, some even swimming alongside our little boat for a distance. As you watch this video, I hope that a glimmer of our experience in real time transfers to your own heart and mind.
Awe (def): A feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder – Oxford English Dictionary
As CristiAnne and I replayed that video clip we both found our own vocalizations in the midst of ‘awe’ amusing. CristiAnne (who held the camera) could not stop exclaiming her joy and wonder throughout the experience, while I could barely speak! It felt like a gift to witness the grace and majesty of these huge sentient beings whose lives are mystery to us in their underwater societies, migrating thousands of miles each year between their feeding waters in Alaska and birthing waters in Baja. How fortunate, how blessed, how filled with gratitude we felt for the privilege of being so close to these gigantic residents of our beautiful oceans.
Awe allows us to transcend our day to day experience and brings us into a larger realm of reality. Psychological research studies have found that experiences of ‘awe’ have demonstrated the following benefits (which I will address in relation to those who are healing from a major life tragedy or trauma):
The smaller self/humility: Experiences of awe help us to see ourselves, our grief, our struggles through a different lens in which we are a unique, but relatively small piece of a much larger reality. Our overwhelming feelings can be put into perspective within a larger universe, and the ongoing legacy of the human experience throughout all of time. Countless others have suffered, endured, and overcome throughout history.
Cognitive accommodation: Some experiences with awe ‘blow our minds’. The bigness of the reality we are exposed to forces us to expand our worldview. For people who are healing, and recreating their lives, an expanded worldview opens new possibilities for one’s new life.
Perception of expanded time: Awe disrupts our ‘normal’, including our sense of urgency that something in our lives must be fixed in a certain way, within a certain time period. Transcendent experiences relieve us of that burden as we are healing and rebuilding.
Connectedness to others and to humanity in general: Tragedy and trauma frequently isolate us from others as they may have a hard time dealing with our sadness and changed status, desiring us to be the way they are used to us being (to make it more comfortable for them). Awe often provides glimpses into a deepened compassion for others’ suffering that is comforting for us and can benefit those we reach out to.
Positive emotion and wellbeing: Experiences of awe provide a break, a breather, from the sadness that may overshadow our days. These breakthroughs into a lighter emotional experience, even moments of joy, prove that these emotions are still alive in us, and pave the way for more of them.
Decreased materialism: When we have lost something, or someone, precious to us, a silver lining is often a re-evaluation of what is truly important. Many people choose to prioritize love and relationships over material possessions. Experiences of awe reinforce these priorities.
Enhanced Spiritual Feelings: Experiences of awe are strongly related to the individual’s concept of the transcendent. Deep feelings of meaning and purpose, as well as a healthier perspective on one’s losses, and future prospects, can be opened up through the avenues for awe that one cultivates.
For You: What inspires you beyond words? Takes your breath away? Is it sweeping landscapes? Modern art? Your favorite symphony? An exquisite meal? How can you create more awe in your life on a regular basis?
A Personal Summary: I certainly experienced awe alongside the gray whales, as well as sharing ocean space with a whale shark (although both wonder, and some fear, were involved being so very close to its immense size). However, beyond these awe-filled encounters with the marine life of the Baja, is my overall sense of awe from this encounter with Mexico and her people: “a reverential respect mixed with wonder” at the beauty and diversity of the landscape, the micro-cultures, the taxi drivers so full of information, the food, the joy in playing music, and the kindness and good-naturedness, everywhere. I return home different somehow. Expanded. More grateful. More confident in a future for myself that is good, meaningful, contributing, happy.
Gracias a todos que me han dado su amor y entusiasmo/Thank you to everyone who has given to me of their love and enthusiasm.
For further reading on Awe: