Antonietta Lilly | Invitation from a White Whale

A whale raised her head above the water to peer at me. I looked directly into her eyes. Suddenly, she shot a stream of water from her mouth that splashed over my face and shoulders and slowly down over my body. It was a loving touch—an invitation to a more intimate communication—as sensual an approach as I have ever experienced from my own species. Without thinking, I cupped some water in my hand, brought it into my mouth, and shot it back at the beluga. The joy of the next few minutes can only be described as absurd. I was able to hug and kiss her soft white skin. This was what I had hoped to experience—I had crossed a boundary, a new space opened, I was fulfilled. This whale’s invitation to share her world gave me a glimpse through a cosmic crack between species…a oneness of all living beings as we will know them someday in the future…a place we have been before and will return to again…a peaceful paradise…”the peaceable kingdom.”

The process of contraction and expansion…emerging from a dense pattern of loneliness (interspecies deprivation) to overlap with the whales in a startling new way. I thought of something John had written about his work in the Virgin Islands:

The opening of our minds was a subtle and yet a painful process. We began to have feelings which I believe are best described by the word “weirdness.” The feeling was that we were up against the edge of a vast uncharted region in which we were about to embark with a good deal of mistrust in the appropriateness of our own equipment. The feeling of weirdness came on us as the sounds of this small whale seemed more and more to be forming words in our own language. We felt as if we were in the presence of Something, or Someone, who was on the other side of a transparent barrier, which up to this point we hadn’t even seen. The dim outlines of a Someone began to appear. We began to look at this whale’s body with newly opened eyes and began to think in terms of its “mental processes,” rather than in terms of the classical view of a conditionable, instinctually functioning “animal.” We began to apologize to one another for slips of the tongue in which we would call dolphins “persons” and in which we began to use their names as if they were persons. This seemed to be as much of a way of grasping at straws of security in a rough sea of the unknown, as of committing the sin of Science of anthropomorphizing. If these “animals” have “higher mental processes,” then they must be thinking of us as very peculiar (even stupid) beings, indeed.   

The white ghosts had a sense of curious, loving selves, careful of my vulnerability in their watery environment. They are my self living in the ancient, cold sea in which I swam in the dim, distant past, before my cells (re)organized and climbed out onto the land. That day with them I rejoined my archaic self in the water.

I will go back, I hope, and talk with them with new understandings of my origins and share the breaking of the long separation of human and cetacean.

Originally published as the prologue to Communication Between Man and Dolphin: The Possibilities of Talking With Other Species by John C. Lilly, M.D., 1978, Julian Press.

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