My Octopus Friend: The Embrace (Part 3)
In Part 3 of my octopus encounters series, I move from the porch of the Doorway to Wonder and enter into Mof's (My Octopus Friend's) den. Here is what happened when I took that risky, leap of faith.
In overflowing the cup, the master shows the man how he must let go of that which he already thinks he knows – he must empty his cup – in order to really listen and take in new information….this act [has] a liberating power.by Shannon Lee
Day 5: 12 June – 11:30am, ebbing low tide at 11:57am, Waxing Moon - 2%
On my way down to the beach, concepts from Shannon Lee's book, Be Water, My Friend, in honor of her father, martial arts legend Bruce Lee, coursed through my mind as I thought about the octopus encounters and how to get 'in' as Mof insistently and consistently pulled me to do. Be water and empty my cup (of preconceived ideas and ways of interacting). Allow myself to flow like water, to connect, to think outside of the box, and to be open, flexible and aware. It also meant that perhaps I needed to engage with my instinctual energies grounded in my intellectual ones. I suppose a bit like how an octopus uses its tentacles independently to multi-task yet they're engaged towards a common goal. Working together, these different parts of myself, sometimes in tandem, sometimes at odds, brought me here to this moment. I would trust them now and be open to what arose in the here and now.
Hot, sunny and late morning (around 11:20 am). It wasn't my ideal time to go but after the remarkable, relaxed encounter from the day before, I wanted to be there. To meet up with Mof at low tide meant delaying my daily walk and swim down to the beach in conjunction with the tide. Each day, the tidal cycle comes approximately 40 minutes later due to the shifting gravitational forces between moon, sun and earth in their own cycles of rotation and orbit. Sea, sky, earth, octopus and human are all interconnected even if we don't sense or know it. Before reaching the laño, I looked around to make sure no one was in sight.As I reached the rocky platform in front of her den, I decided not to forage for mussels to give to her. In my last encounters, she had lost interest in them and clearly preferred exploring me. I turned the two cameras on and started to sing the song I created over the winter inspired by my 365 daily swims at dawn, My Body the Ocean. It's quite simple and says, "My body the ocean, my body the sea, the Ocean it speaks, it speaks to me, it speaks through me." The song came to me one morning when I aligned my own inner resonance to that deep, powerful, infinite resonance of the ocean. Spending time at the Sea, you become aware of the layers of sound. The surface, often agitated, provides drama and constant movement. Focusing, though, on the deeper layers there is a constant, vibration of the deep ocean where the storms do not reach and from which much life upwells.
In the video, I show my arrival at the den and the first moments of our engagement filmed both above and below the surface.
I knew that Mof could not hear me if I sang. But it occurred to me that perhaps she could feel the vibration of my song as it travelled through my vocal chords down my arm through my skin to her incredibly sensitive tentacles and suckers which taste, feel and sense. Maybe we could connect through vibration?
All things in the universe are constantly in motion, vibrating.by Tam Hunt, from article Could Consciousness Come Down to the Way Things Vibrate?
I began to sing and filmed the encounter. In the video, I show the perspectives of above and below the surface. Squatting down, I put my hand in and she immediately came out and reached for me. She pulled so hard that she knocked me off my feet. "You're so strong!," I hear myself exclaim in the video. She kept wanting to pull me in further. I came back to the same problem from the last couple of days: How can I 'get in' being the size that I am and will she bite me if I let her pull me in? I'm not even sure why I decided to pursue this silly idea rather than simply reject it as foolish, dangerous and impractical.
We played and interacted for about 5 minutes mostly relaxed pulling and exploring. She firmly wanted me 'in'. I had my hand mostly flat and she would gently wrap three or four tentacles around my hand and use the other ones to keep herself safely in the cave, sometimes gripping hard backwards and pulling me with great strength. "Come in!", she urged. I let her pull those fingers in further and I felt something hard rubbing on my knuckle.
As I described in Part 2, the only thing hard is the beak. I took a deep breath and let myself take that thought in. She might open the beak and explore with a bite but I wasn't really interested in that option. I knew she wasn't threatened by me but it was within the realm of possibility she would want to explore me in her own way that might entail biting or drilling with the tongue. Or, she might get frightened and reactively bite me in a nano-second without intentionally hurting me.
At the time I didn't know but found out later from Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus, via email, that if Mof chose to bite me she could either just bite or bite and envenomate. I'm not sure knowing this would have made any difference to me in that moment. Nonetheless, I decided to withdraw my hand. She resisted, but let me go. She came back out with two friendly, gentle tentacles looking for me. In the video below, you can hear me talking to myself remarking on how she really wants to drag me in, how strong is, and finally, "I'm still not sure I want to go in there with you."
What to do? I got up and walked around for a few minutes. We'd already been interacting about 15 minutes. I brought back a few mussels and approached the den again. She immediately greeted me again. I found myself talking out loud (as is evident in the video). I asked her where she wanted to take me as the cave would be very small for the two of us!
Then, instinctual energies took over again and it hit me. Be the octopus, I said to myself. I decided to put the cameras away. I got down on my stomach so that my eyes were at her eye level and no camera was distracting me or her view of me. Knowing the acuity of octopus vision, I thought with her intelligence she might recognize my eye, feel less threatened by a prone form in front of her and then I reached out to her with my own tentacle. But rather than giving my fingers this time, I thought, how about curling my fingers into a fist? I put my fist back in and she immediately took it and pulled it in.
With a leap of faith, I knew to be risky, I relaxed and I let her pull me in as far as she wanted to go. Would I be food, friend or foe? And then, just like that, she stopped pulling. I was now 'in', inside her safe space, her den. Her grip was firm but there was no further pull. I sensed no beak just the pulsating, vibrating movement of the hundreds of suckers moving across my skin – probing - all over the outside of my hand balled into the fist. Her tentacles swirled around my forearm.
Lying on my belly, looking into the den and our beings engaged, I began again to slowly sing my song as I took this in. I found myself gently rocking my fist slightly back and forth, the resonance traveling down my skin. I knew she couldn't hear but I was sure she could sense the vibration of my voice. Could she perceive with her octopus consciousness the non-threatening intention inside of my vibration, a universal language of resonance? How does anyone really know how an octopus knows and perceives? Clearly though she chose to interpret me as neither threat nor food. I stayed like that through many rounds of the song. She and I simply maintained what I will call 'the embrace.' It felt profound. I lost track of time and felt somehow brought into a different consciousness, an ancient knowledge, another intelligence. Liquid saline, water from my inner ocean, dripped down my cheek mixing with the ocean's salinity below.
When I gently pulled my fist out to release, she wanted to pull me back in. I acquiesced. And when I relaxed back into the 'embrace,' she stopped pulling too and relaxed once again. After a few more moments, I withdrew my hand again, she gently released her grip and I withdrew my hand. Two tentacles reached out to find me. And when I put my hand on the edge of the water, she reached with one more tentacle and ran it across my hand and finger. It felt distinctly like a farewell caress. After that she retreated deep back into the cave and did not come out again. It was an awesome, profound sense of connection.
My impression is that waters have a certain frequency and you always tune in well.by @altarritual about me and my IG post The Water Journey, 13 Aug 2021
I went home and explained my moving encounter to my partner and teenage kids. Recounting the connection again moved me to tears that were hard to explain. It felt incredible, singular, wondrous. Even my family looked at me with some doubt. There goes, Mom! Later I asked my partner, who had witnessed and filmed my interaction with the octopus the previous day, what he thought. He said with his typical honesty – While the connection is unusual, I think the octopus thinks of you as a potential food source and she wants to put you in storage for later consumption.
I try not to take things personally but wow, reality-check! I know what friendship and connection feel like, what an octopus is capable of doing to prey and I am aware that she was making choices (bite, fight, eat or chill) within her own octopus-consciousness. She took me in and chose to chill with me for a while in her den. She did not attempt to eat or fight me.
But, it's very good when you have a deeply sensitive nature, to sometimes get hit with a bucket of cold water and get your feet pulled back to the ground. Rethink. Reassess. Make sure you're not off in La-La Land. I knew I wasn't. Because while most people think the proverb "seeing is believing" ends there, it actually continues "but feeling is the truth." I knew what I felt was real. How many people have the privilege in this life to embrace an octopus, out of mutual curiosity and trust, while in her den?*** (see note below)
Thinking about these encounters, I realized I was living something fantastical yet very real, in a way, reminiscent of the Beatles' 1969 song:
The Octopus's Garden (here are a few verses I find apropos):
I'd like to be
Under the sea
In an octopus' garden
In the shade
We would be warm
Below the storm
In our little hideaway
Beneath the waves
Resting our head
On the seabed
In an octopus' garden
Near a cave
Oh what joy
For every girl and boy
Knowing they're happy
And they're safe
Yes, a joy for this wild girl who likes to scamper around the tide pools, let her creativity run free in the Sea and connect and engage becoming part of this magnificent seascape. Maybe in part, it's because I believe it is possible, to step outside of that mental box, to feel wonder and awe as a child would, and accept without always having to give the rational explanation. The truth is it's not easy to write about these experiences with Mof. I risk misunderstanding and potential criticisms that run through my head that include -'out there', 'crazy', 'delusional', 'invented', 'emotionally needy,' etc. I would assume that the typical human mind, trained to think of other species in very limited ways, would find these encounters difficult to believe. What I write, is personal and soul-exposing. But, as they say, Truth is stranger than fiction. I can willingly testify to that statement.
In Part 4, the journey into Mof's world continues with ups and downs, circumstances and storms separating us, the fate of all relationships.