Recently, my husband and I watched the movie: In the Heart of the Sea. It is based on a true story about a whaling ship the Essex that was rammed by a sperm whale in 1820. The whale sunk the Essex about 3,000 miles from the shores of South America. Several books have been written about this disaster then and since. The movie is based on a book of the same name written by Nathaniel Philbrick and published on May 8, 2000. It won the National Book Award for Nonfiction that same year. The movie does an admirable job dramatizing events that led up to the sinking of the Essex and the crew’s 90-day struggle to survive storms, hunger, and despair. The movie also depicts how Herman Melville came to write his magnum opus, Moby Dick, though there are some inaccuracies in this part of storyline as well as in the main plot (see the video below). I think it is interesting to note that Melville was born on August 1, 1819 (one year before the Essex sunk). He died September 28, 1891. Moby Dick was published in 1851, essentially the middle span of his life.
The movie begins with Melville tracking down the last living survivor of the Essex, Thomas Nickerson (this is not historically accurate).
From Wiki: “In 1850, author Herman Melville visits innkeeper Thomas Nickerson, the last survivor of the sinking of the whaleship Essex, offering money in return for his story. Nickerson initially refuses, but then finally agrees when his wife intervenes. The story turns to 1820: A whaling company in Nantucket has refitted the Essex to participate in the lucrative whale oil trade, and 14-year-old Nickerson signs on as a cabin boy.” Wikipedia: In the Heart of the Sea
According to the movie, the rainy night Melville arrives, Thomas is consumed by his inner demons because he has never spoken about his ordeal. It is eating him up from the inside and causing hardships for himself and his wife. After some back and forth about the money Melville is offering Thomas to tell his tale, Thomas finally relents. Melville is shown listening and taking notes while Thomas sinks into the memories that are haunting him. I will not retell any more of the movie, except to highlight a few scenes that stood out to me as relevant to me personally and to our time, which is presently 2020. This is exactly 200 years after the Essex was sunk by a whale, which is weird… but I’ll get to that later.
The first thing that struck me as pertinent to our time was the importance of whale oil to the life and commerce of the early 1800s. It was whale oil that lit the Western World from Europe to the Americas, and then following the fracture lines of colonization to light the entire world. The movie does an excellent job depicting how the whaling industry operated. It shows how the corporations of this time were eager to mine the fortunes to be had from whale oil. And, it would become painfully clear just how willing these corporations were of doing despicable things in order to safeguard their money, their hierarchical structure, and their systems of commerce focused on profit at all costs.
At the end of the movie, there is a scene that hints at the discovery of oil that comes from out of the ground. It is a nod to the fossil fuel industry that will soon replace the whaling industry in less than 40 years after the sinking of the Essex. It is also a nod to the transfer of blueprints from hard-hearted industry to another. However, before the whaling industry would decline, nearly every species of whale is hunted to the brink of extinction. I could barely watch the scenes in this movie when the men of the Essex successfully hunted and killed a beautiful bull whale, then stripped him of every ounce of fat he had, which they boiled down to make the treasured Nantucket whale oil. By 1820, whales in the Atlantic had grown scarce. Thus, the Essex had to sail around Cape Horn, a dangerous strait between South America and Antarctica, to reach the whales in the Pacific. But, even here the whales were being hunted aggressively, and so they were moving further and further away from the continents to get away from man. But, man followed them.
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The next scene I feel is germane to our time was when the men were boarding the Essex in Nantucket Bay. On the docks, there is a group of pilgrim-like people who are praying for the men as they board the Essex. You can see this scene at 6 minutes and 30 seconds in the video below. The preacher is heard saying:
“Oh Father (…) ensure they return safely with a full ship, so that the white flames of Nantucket’s whale oil continue to light our homes and fuel the machines of industry that drive our great nation forward as our noble species evolves…”
Clip of the Preacher’s Prayer from In the Heart of the Whale at minute 6:30
This idea of our species being noble and evolving ever forward plays out again after the Essex has been sunk. The men have been adrift for many days and nights and days. They are surviving on a single piece of hard tact per man per day, and a very small one at that. They are also allowed a single swig of water each day. Since the ship did not sink as dramatically as the movie depicts, the men had time to strip the Essex of her sails and supplies, but only what they could fit into the smaller boats they took out to chase whales, now turned into their life rafts. However, these three boats were hardly big enough to hold enough supplies so the men might survive their 3,000-mile journey back to civilization, especially since they were caught in the doldrums of the equatorial region of the sea. Thus, it does not take long before the men are slowly starving to death. Just before anyone dies, they come upon an island. It is a deserted island, but it provides a short respite from their ordeal. Soon; however, they eat up everything edible on the island. So, they have no choice but to shove off in their little boats again to try to reach the mainland if they want to live.
This is where the next scene occurs that I feel is closely connected to our time. It is the night before they are to set sail to try to make it back to South America. The first mate Chase speaks with the Captain Pollard about their differences. He is making a peace offering because he knows there is no other way to survive but to set aside all differences and work together from a place of unity. Chase comes from a working-class background. He is a man who knows his trade, which is whaling, and he is very good at it. According to the movie, he was supposed to have received commanded of the Essex, but it was taken from him because of his social class. It was given to Pollard instead because he came from a rich family within the whaling industry. But, Pollard did not know his trade, not like Chase did. Needless to say, there were problems. Pollard accepts Chase’s peace offering, but continues to cling to the idea of the supremacy of man saying something like… “God put us here to circumvent navigate the world and rule over all creatures.” Chase replies, “Does it look like we are so supreme given where we are at right now and what has happened to us.” Neither men at this moment has any idea how much worst their situation is going to get, but I think Chase senses things are probably going to get worse before they get better. And, they do get worse–-they get a whole lot worse.
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After the movie, I thought I might dream about a white whale ramming the Essex. But I did not dream about a whale. Instead, I thought about all the signs I missed one month earlier when my beloved dog Cider died in my arms.
That terrible night occurred two days before Christmas. Her heart was racing so fast and her breathing labored. Her body was suffocating because it could no longer keep up with the depletion of hemoglobin in her blood. This was because she was bleeding internally, but we did not know this. The signs were subtle, even the doctors to whom we took her dead body in hopes they could revive her said it would have been hard for them to diagnosis her in time to save her. The symptoms she had displayed, I completely misread and misunderstood. I will not recap this super sad story. You can read it in the previous blog post, but her sudden and tragic death set me back adrift upon my inner sea of sadness, grief, despair, and now guilt, growing waves of guilt. It is a sea that has steadily risen inside me after a decade of struggle that got a whole lot worst just after our family vacation in 2015.
This would be the last vacation our family could afford due to mounting unfortunate and deteriorating circumstances. Now with hindsight (and this movie), I can see that this moment was when our family shoved off from our desert island. We had no idea we had already been rammed by the whale, or maybe I should say the buffalo or bull–or perhaps the buffalos were trying to bring our attention to our imminent danger just ahead of us in time. This really happened to us that summer.
After this trip, every fragile idea and frame of reality we had ever harbored about what it takes to create and sustain a home and maintain safety and security would be shattered, one painful one after another for 5 years in ways that were unreturnable to what we had known before. When people find themselves in such circumstances, overwhelming guilt is inevitable for how else can one confront such devastating losses and continue moving forward? The only other feelings I can say that I was aware of underneath the guilt was terrible despair, overwhelming helplessness, and a rumbling anger… a dangerous anger because this type of anger can blow up into hate, especially when a person feels abandoned, forgotten, or even worst, discarded, dispensable, disposable.
So, you see, guilt is a pretty good armor during times like these because it masks these other more threatening and extreme emotions bubbling up from unfathomable depths and threatening to submerge one’s already shattered ego. At least by feeling guilty, a thin veneer gets created, making a papery barrier that insulates the conscious part of one’s self from those other parts where these powerful emotions churn–and where one can feel these emotions could transform into forces that could sink the listing Ship of Self.
When our frames of reality are first shattered, the feeling of being cast adrift on a vast and foreign sea is almost inescapable. And perhaps it is necessary for these old frames pretty much have to be shattered or abandoned, just like the Essex had to be abandoned after it was rammed by the whale. This is so because they have failed us in significant and fatal ways. After one abandons the mother ship that had been carefully constructed by one’s former smaller frames of reality, one is suddenly confronted with a vast and bigger reality–one that is a great deal bigger–like Pacific Ocean bigger. And, this reality can be brutal. When one finds oneself adrift on this great Sea of Misfortune and Sorrow and sailing in a boat that is too small to sustain you for long, or even worse, clinging to a piece of wreckage, pretty much the only thing you can do is hold on for dear life. One also lacks the most basic tools to navigate by, so it can be hard to get one’s orientation. It is a lot like the situation the men who abandoned the Essex found themselves in without their tools of navigation, or at least, very few of them, which they needed to find their way back to civilization.
If you can hold on during such extreme times, and there is no guarantee that you can because I am talking about catastrophic circumstances that happen to perfectly normal and good people. These are events that come out of nowhere, they cannot be predicted, and they occur through no fault or short coming of the individual (well at least not from our current frames of reality, the ones we are taught from birth and punished if we don’t follow the rules our modern systems purport… so there is a bigger thing going on). These are events that just happen, and they happen to everyone like weather. They are crippling events, even lethal, regardless of whether they originate from inside oneself or come from outside like the whale who rammed the Essex. Now, I understand it is hard to spot a person in such a state. After all, they have ventured outside of the normal frames of reality in which we have all been taught to operate and to stay inside. Thus, such a person may be as hard to spot as the men of the Essex who were 3,000 miles from where most of the other humans who could have helped them were congregated. However, if you do happen to spot someone enduring such trauma and crisis, it is essential to believe this person and be kind to them. Pay them extra attention, so they know they are not disposable like a piece of trash to be thrown away because they are broken at the moment. It is important to do this because these individuals have survived a disaster, and they now possess information about reality that those of us who have not endured such a trial of survival still need to know in order to grow.
It is difficult and draining to support a person in crisis. I will not lie about that. And, inevitably survivors begin to grapple with the whys: why me, why now, why my beloved, why is the world like this? This is hard too, and these are not easy questions to answer. In fact, often they cannot be answered, only endured. But, catastrophic situations might be essential for our collective survival because they force us to confront our most cherished ideas, beliefs, and frames of reality. They force us to grapple with the unanswerable and re-examine how we have come to our beloved beliefs and mental frames, but ones that have kept vast parts of ourselves submerged in our unconsciousness–good parts and bad parts. When we begin to see these parts as a whole, we start to understand how they are essential to be integrated into our growing field of consciousness. Both superior and inferior qualities are essential to help us make more balance choices and live more wisely. With parts of ourself still submerged, we tend to move through the world in a lopsided way. We get stuck just like the men from the Essex who got caught in the doldrums. We do not move forward any more. Rather, we go around in smaller and smaller circles. It is only when we confront and integrate these lost parts of ourself that we can begin to move forward again. And, if bad things continue to happen, we have grown a deeper reservoir of fresh water inside ourselves, this is wisdom, and we can draw on it to help survive and recover from our ordeals a little more quickly.
Eventually, as we continue to do inner work, we also confront the knowledge that what we did not know or understand contributed to the situation that caused us so much pain and suffering and to those we love. This can be difficult knowledge to bear. However, it is precisely this sort of knowledge that help us grow and transform ourselves and our situation. It is a choice of course to grow, and if we do choose to grow, then a lot of work is going to be needed to build a bigger boat. In fact, you are probably going to have to grow the wood, to turn into timber, to build your shiny new Ship of Self because now you are working beyond the frames of reality most people still must work within. This not easy. And, it can be very lonely. And, you need to build it yourself because only you have the blueprint for who you are and what you need to do. There will be many setbacks and challenges because no one has tried to be you before, and so you have to figure it out the hard way, which means lots of failures. So, I do not find fault with anyone who chooses to go back to a smaller frame of reality because, heck, it’s really scary out there. And, now the world has shown you just how harsh and dangerous it can be. And, it has also illuminated how utterly helpless you are. The biggest problem doing this is succumbing to a bunker mentality. So, moments like these tend to mold and shape us in the most significant ways…for the rest of our life… and these choices can ripple backwards and forwards along our thin strand of time… the one each of us spins and contributes to our shared reality.
But, if you choose to build this bigger Ship of Self, then just like Captain Pollard had to confront the idea of human beings a noble species put here by God to circumvent navigate the world and rule over all other creatures, you have to confront it too because it is an idea that forms some of the foundational aspects of Western Civilization. But, are we really so noble? Do we really possess the intelligence and wisdom needed to rule? I wonder if our species might have been better named Homo intelligentes rather than Homo sapiens. It seems to me we are still trying to get there…to wisdom.
I can say with absolutely certainty that I am not noble enough to rule the Earth, nor do I possess the intelligence, or more importantly the wisdom, essential to reign as a supreme being. But now I want to transition from this speculative stream of thought, to say 2015 was also the year this movie In the Heart of the Sea was released. I didn’t see it then. It turns out a lot of people didn’t see it then.
“In the Heart of the Sea was one of two flops released by Warner Bros in 2015, the other being Pan. It grossed $25 million in North America and $68.9 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $93.9 million, against a production budget of $100 million.” Wikipedia: In the Heart of the Sea
But, had I seen it in 2015, I would not have the thoughts I have now here in 2020; not that they are anything special, except possibly to me. During, these five years of mounting misfortune, wreckage, and deepening despair, I often saw myself floating on a piece of wreckage on an endless sea that I dubbed the Sea of Sorrow. It was an inner sea; I drew it many times, as the image below shows (see blog The Sea Within Us). It was also during this time that I came to understand how this sea had been created by my own unconscious choices, but I was not alone in these choices. I had been taught to make them by my culture, by the collective systems within which I must abide to survive. These are carefully crafted frames of reality created by mere mortals who were crafting corporations and all sorts of other systems to run our shiny new modern civilization. And, there are many systems that rule our civilized world: systems of commerce, systems of class, systems of favoritism, chauvinism, sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, and many other isms and frames used to exclude certain people while elevating others.
And so, this is why I very much relate to the suffering and hardships of these men of the Essex. Though I must admit I also rooted for the bull whale protecting his pod after the men harpooned one of his females who had a calf. One might say I am divided individual, and Carl Jung would agree with this. Indeed, to be human is to be divided inside. It is another price for being consciousness. How we resolve this divide can determine everything.
After the bull whale successfully saved the mother and her calf, my sympathies returned to the men and their dire situation. Sure, they were surrounded by water, but it was water they could not drink. Sure, the sea was filled with abundant food, but it was food they could not reach. It was rather as if they floated on a vast desert, and actually that is what happens inside of us when we accept frames of reality that are ultimately too small for who we are and what we ultimately need to do in our life. The men of the Essex had most definitely ended up in the middle of the Pacific partly due to their own poor choices, but in a greater part, they ended up their due to the priorities and short-sightedness of the industry for which they worked. A system of commerce hungry for whale oil that made it impossible for the men to turn back home until they had filled their ship with this precious oil. A hunger that would soon be replicated in full within the nascent fossil fuel industry about to burst out of the ground–imagine that.
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The next day after watching this movie and not sleeping very well due to my great guilt over Cider’s death, my husband and I went for a run with our older surviving dog Sasha. I pointed up into the sky and said: “Look — that cloud looks like a White Whale.”
This was not the cloud I saw, but I think we have all seen clouds that look like White Whales at some point in our life. Captivated by the movie, and now by the cloud, a thought popped into my head: “The world has been struck by the White Whale again.”
It is clouds, is it not, that are being screwed up by climate change? Either they are growing too big and dropping too much water causing torrential floods, which are only supposed to happen every 100 years or so, but now seem to occur every other year around the world. Or, it is clouds that blow up into mega-typhoons and hurricanes that are far more devastating and deadly with terrible winds and tidal surges. Or, it is clouds that just don’t form at all, evaporating before they can release their precious water further inland from the sea, leaving the land dry and parched and extremely susceptible to wildfires and devastating famines due to droughts that never end.
Today, we live in a modern world that is populated by nearly 8 billion people, most of whom no longer understand the wisdom of our ancestors or the people who still live closely connected to nature and understand the balances necessary to sustain life. We live in a world where we no longer hear the wisdom of animals and life all around us, really enveloping us and sustaining us. We have become a people who are blinded by ideas of success, glory, and riches to be had in our grand new industrialized world. It is a world we created, but one begotten by short-sighted schemes and greed. And, there is a price for this too.
Recent data shows 2019 was the second hottest year on record.
As our man-made world, powered now by fossil fuels rather than whale oil, pushes nature’s delicate balances ever more out of whack, balances that nature worked out over billions of years, our framing of reality is snapping–just like the timbers of the Essex splintered after the whale rammed the ship. It is 200 year since the Essex sunk, and in this incredibly short amount of time, Earth is breaking, all because of our extreme enamoration with oil and coal.
The price for our collective short-sighted industriousness is going to be paid by all of us. No one will be spared the consequences of the choices made for far too long. We have changed the world to our liking, but it’s not to the liking of life. Despite this, corporate interests guarding their profit margins stay the course, like Captain Pollard going straight into the hurricane. It is a course that supersedes the needs of life on Earth… a dying Earth… an Earth rammed by the white whale. But this time, there is a twist to the story because this time we are the whale. We are the ones ramming our ship that is carrying us through the vast and desolate emptiness of space, and believe me, if we have to abandon this ship, where we end up is going to be a lot harsher than the Pacific Ocean, probably unendurable. This whale that is living inside us feeds on the powerful emotions that are found in great abundance within our inner Seas…of Sorrow, …of Despair, …of Grief and Guilt and …of Helplessness and Hate. Believe me, or don’t believe me, but modern life is full of people who have fallen into such seas.
If we happen to catch a glimpse of how our personal blindness and short-sightedness has contributed to this current moment, it is often overwhelming, and so, it is quickly concealed or we blame someone else for our sad and sorry fate. But soon, there will be no one else to blame. Soon, our individual seas will spill over and merge with every other sea spilling over to create one gigantic wave of despair for this will be the only emotion left to feel, if we survive that long. Much of this will be because of what our small frames of reality have wrought. Most likely, it will be a prolonged and brutal odyssey, just like the men of the Essex endured… unless we wake up, unless we change our frame of reality, unless we put aside our differences, unite, and help each other do the inner work essential to survive what is coming next.
This is not easy or pretty work, but what lies ahead of us is not easy or pretty either. Even though the situation is dire, each and every one of us can take action this very moment. This action is to heal ourselves and to help others heal. It requires one magical, elusive ingredient, which is love. It begins by self-love and being gentle with yourself. Love is what can stop this wave of destruction. But, love is work.
This is what I have learned about healing love:
Is quiet, unless it needs to roar.
Is kind, but not stupid.
Puts others needs above ones own needs and desires, but sees through false appeals for assistance and insincerity, then it simply nods and chuckles.
Listens, hears, and understands what others say.
Waits…sometimes a long time…without judgment… if judgement is necessary, love has a good argument with the Self… and pays attention to all the information, good and bad, then weighs it fairly with the intention of discovering truth and implementing justice.
Rearranges time to do the right thing… rescue a stray dog, listen to a lonely person, help someone in need… these are the moments that really matter… when someone else’s needs truly supersede your own.
Is inclusive knowing all beings are utterly dependent on each other to survive and thrive on Earth.
Protects the rights, dignity, and well-being of all living beings.
Penetrates through everything… it is the great mixer of the universe, but even as it passes through every visible thing in the universe, it does not change or destroy a thing or being in any way, not like hate does, which also penetrates everything, but when it does, it rips things to pieces… love unites, bonds, supports, comforts, and sustains.
There are many other qualities to love. I still need to learn more. But, I am ready to keep learning. I am ready to deconstruct and reconstruct my frames of reality daily, if needed. Are you ready to do intense inner work? Are you ready to build a bigger Ship of Self by growing your own inner strength, resilience, wisdom, and capacity to love deeply? All of this is absolutely essential to be ready for the Great Transformation or whatever is supposed to come next because it has begun. There is no time to waste. Earth has already started listing severely to the side from the ramming we have given her.
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One final thought on the importance of doing inner work since I’m all worked up about it. Many people think that we are on the cusp of a Great the Transformation, a Shift, or Metamorphosis, or Great Awakening of Gaia…but if we have not done critical inner work to get ready for it, to grow big enough for it, whatever you think is coming next, will not necessarily be what you think it is supposed to be. Nature does not care one wick for the transformation of consciousness or even if we survive as a species (case in point, note what happened to the dinosaurs). If we leave it up to Her, we might just all be transformed into Banana Slugs (see the 2nd song in the video below: Muy Tranquil — it’s at about 8 minutes… ah Cider is in this video! It is a concept video for one of the characters in the story I am writing).
We are the ones who stepped across the Matrix of Minds into consciousness (I explain what this is in the story I am writing, which you can read when I finally get the 1st book out; otherwise, just make up your own explanation). Now, we must make a choice. One of the choices is to learn how to love ourselves fiercely. And, I am not talking about narcissistic love. I am talking about the kind of love that leaves us in great grief when our loved ones are taken from us through death. This is how we save Earth. It begins with you. It begins with healing yourself, and then helping others to do the same. It is time-consuming, messy work, and one slides backwards all the time, it’s very frustrating… but one does not give up and one does not wince when another to small frame of reality is shed. Of course, this is painful, but without pain we do not grow.
I have included my friend Alena’s paintings, lots of them, because she is showing us through her art how to get back to inner, deeper spaces inside ourselves through dreams and visions and imagination. It is only here where we can see inner storms rising and circumvent navigate them in order to survive them. It is here where we learn that we can live a lot more simply and happily than we have been told. It is here where we can learn how to see, feel, taste, and hear our way back to what is really important, and that is love. When we love fiercely, we fight for truth and justice. We fight for life and self-determination. We help each other grow our fields of consciousness, so that we can all make better choices. Alena brought my attention to Robert Moss who recently published a blog on soul loss and recovery. Much of what I have written above can also be understood as soul loss. This is a beautiful analogy to what happens to us when we face situations and circumstances that overwhelm and crush us. He says: “Understanding soul loss and how our Active Dreaming approach facilitates soul recovery and helps us become shamans of our own souls.”
So, activate your imagination…make time to dream…find ways to re-engage your inner world, and most of all love deeply. When you find yourself in grief, which is a natural consequence of deep love, do not fear it… embrace it. Let it help you shatter your previous frames of reality because they were probably too small for your soul, which needs a bigger body and mind to do what it came here to do, so grow! All the while, love yourself and help others in whatever way they need. We will not survive any other way unless we put aside our differences and unite as a force of healing love for life.