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Erin and the Whale: Into the belly of fear

From a very young age I developed an intense fear of killer whales.  I had recurring dreams that I would fall into the tank at Sea World and not be able to get out because the glass walls were too slick, then I would turn and see a dark shape looming at me, coming at me with great speed.  The whale would open its mouth and either swallow me whole or just drag me about the tank by my foot until I drowned.  I probably had this same dream over a hundred times with very little variation.  Just mention a killer whale or show me a photo and I would have an anxiety attack.  My friends reassured me that the actual chance of being attacked by a killer whale was infinitesimal.  Still, I stayed far away from the ocean.  I was not afraid of sharks, just killer whales.  Go figure right?

The dreams upset me so much that I figured if I could just discern what the dream was trying to tell me, it would go away.  I used every dream interpretation skill I had but the dreams continued.  Then, in my mid-twenties, it all came to a head.

Steve and I took a trip to Sea World early in our relationship.  He knew I had a big fear of whales and he knew about my recurring dreams.  We went to Sea World on a Wednesday in the middle of winter and the park was not even close to being crowded.  It was awesome!  We saw every show we wanted to see.  Except the Shamu show.  I told Steve we could just skip that one.  But by 4pm we had seen and done everything we wanted and there just happened to be a Shamu show starting at 4:30, the last one of the day.  Steve really wanted to go and I finally agreed, stipulating that we needed to sit really far back.  I had to make sure there was no possible way for me to fall into the tank (yeah even though the walls of the tank were probably 8 feet high or so).  I didn’t even want to see the whale through the glass.  So we went up the bleachers and planted ourselves in row 50.  The theatre was not at all crowded.  Maybe a hundred people attending, if that.  Very cozy, very private.  I was feeling very safe and snuggly in Steve’s cozy sweatshirt that he loaned me when I got cold.

So we’re sitting there about 10 minutes before the show and one of the trainers is coming up the stairs.  He stops next to us.

Trainer:  Hello, miss.  I was wondering if you’d like to participate in the show.  We need someone to feed Shamu a fish.

Me:  (nervous laughter) Oh boy, do you have the wrong person!

Trainer:  It’s really easy.  Just stand at the bottom of the bleachers and throw a fish into his mouth when he comes by.

Me:  I am deathly afraid of whales. 

A kid sitting behind me said, “Oh I’ll do it. I’ll do it!!”  Steve nudged me and said, “Now’s a good time to overcome your fear.  When will you ever get this chance again?  It’s a sign!”

What were the odds of being selected to appear in a Shamu show?  I knew Steve was right, this was my only chance to have contact with a killer whale and probably live. 😉 

Me:  Well, do I have to touch him or do I just throw the fish into his mouth?

Trainer:  You’ll be standing next to our trainer, she’ll call him, he’ll jump up over the wall of the tank and you just throw a fish at him.  He’ll catch it, don’t worry.  You’ll be perfectly safe down there.

Just then, one of the kids behind me kicked their root beer and it splashed down my back.  Talk about getting the chills!  I actually felt like I was in a horror movie and could practically hear the music from Jaws playing.

Me:  Oh alright.  I guess it’s safe enough.  He can’t get me right?

Trainer:  (smiling and amused) No, it would be a different story if you were on the stage where it’s all slippery, but you’ll be standing on the ground and he can’t get you.  It will be fun.  We’ll even give you a photo you can take home of you and the whale.

With tons of encouragement from Steve, I reluctantly left my seat and went with the trainer.  I was actually feeling tremendous fear, and my breathing was coming really fast.  He took me to a female trainer who explained what I’d be doing.  She said, “Just stand here with me.  I’m going to call Shamu over and he’s going to pop his head out of the water.  When he does we’re going to throw him a fish.  My partner over there has selected a male volunteer. Poor guy doesn’t know it, but Shamu is going to come and completely drench him in water with his tail.  It will be fun.”

“Er, okay,” I said.  So the show started and I was now watching the show from right beside the tank.  I looked up at Steve who gave me a thumbs up.  I waved back.  I was doing okay, but not great.  Just then, the female trainer I’m with produces a ladder from out of the ether and tells me I’ll just need to climb up the ladder so that I’m level with the tank so that when the whale comes by I’ll be able to drop a fish right into his mouth.  My heart stopped beating completely.  Came to a complete stop actually.  “You want me to what?”

But there’s no time to argue.  She starts pushing me up the ladder.  My legs are lead.  Hang over a whale tank while the whale jumps up at me?  Gee, that sounds just peachy.  My whole body was shaking but I was determined to do this and face my fear.  So she blows her little whale whistle, which only Shamu and the angels I’m praying to can hear, and Shamu comes barrelling over to us at faster than light speed.  He jumps up at me, sprays me a little, and opens his humongous mouth.  The trainer hands me a fish and I throw it down into his gullet.  Then she says, “Why don’t you lean over and give him a hug?”  I imagine I can hear the audience yelling, “Get out of there now!  Run, Erin, Run!!  It’s a trap!”  But I’d come this far and I wasn’t going to back out.  I leaned over and hugged the whale.  Hazzah!  I did it!!  I touched a whale and lived!  I climbed down the ladder, finally able to breathe again.  But it wasn’t over yet.

Now Shamu is done with us and is sent over to the other male volunteer.  The guy makes like he’s going to feed Shamu a fish, but instead, Shamu just completely douses this poor man with water.  From head to toe this man is fully soaked.  Really glad that didn’t happen to me.  Poor schlub.  The audience is laughing at this poor man.  But suddenly the female trainer yells at me, “Oh crap!  My partner just gave Shamu the signal to douse us with water.  Hurry run!”  She grabs my hand.  I’m intending to run into the bleachers, but no!  She is dragging me around the tank as Shamu is racing towards us.  Shades of my dream are coming back to me now.  The trainer pulls me UP ONTO THE STAGE with her! 

Now, have you ever seen the Shamu stage?  There is literally no barrier whatsoever between the tank and the stage.  No lip, no nothing.  In fact, the whales can just come right onto the stage and hang out for a while, eating whoever they want to eat.  The trainer says to me, “This isn’t really part of the show, we’re just having fun because it’s the last show of the day.  Just be careful because I don’t want you to slip into the tank!”  Uh yeah, wasn’t planning to take a swim with the fishies.  I look behind me and grab onto a metal pipe.  I decide I am not letting go of that even if the whale grabs my leg.  He can have my leg, but I’m not going into the water.  I also begin to wonder if all those dreams I had about the whale were a premonition instead of just my subconscious trying to tell me something.  I seriously wonder whether I am about to drown in the whale tank at Sea World, just like in my recurring dream.

So now Shamu has caught up to us and literally jumps up onto the stage right in front of me.  I see his gaping mouth coming up at me and I cringe as I come face to face with my worst fear.  I’m going to be dragged away and eaten by this whale.  Using his tail, he swishes about 80 gallons of water right onto my head.  Now I’m covered in cold salt water.  I almost slip but the trainer is holding on to me.  I am shaking and shivering and ready to cry, but then it’s over.  The trainer says into her microphone, “Let’s give a big hand to Erin for being such a good sport.”  The audience goes wild.  I got off the stage as fast as humanly possible while holding on to the railing with both hands.  The trainer thanks me again for doing the show and says she was not really allowed to bring me up on stage so she appreciates that I went willingly.  Apparently she didn’t feel the drag as she was pulling me behind her.

So I make my way back to Steve, legs shaking, and he says, “That was marvelous.  That was amazing.  You were awesome!  I thought you were going to pass out when she dragged you on stage.  But see, you faced your fear and you lived!  How do you feel?”

I realized at that moment that I had indeed faced my fear.  Maybe not willingly, but I did it.  And as I looked back at the tank and saw Shamu swimming around in there, I thought to myself, “Well, maybe whales aren’t so scary after all.”  As we left the stadium, Steve says, “Too bad the whale soaked you, though.  You have fish scales in your hair and what is that awful smell?”  I reply, “I think it’s whale poop.”  Steve is laughing at my predicament but I inform him, “Uh honey?  You realize I’m wearing YOUR sweatshirt right?”  He says, “Doh!”

Did the dreams stop after that?  You bet they did.  I no longer had those dreams anymore.  Instead, I had new dreams about the whales.  Whenever they appeared in my dreams I simply stopped the dream and spoke to them.  I discovered that killer whales are actually one of my totem animals. Their message has to do with trusting in your soul’s purpose.  The whale has come to symbolize my connection with the 4th dimension, and the vast wisdom one finds in the ocean of consciousness.  When I see a whale in my dreams now, I know he is coming to bring me wisdom from Home.  In the past I was afraid of my destiny, of remembering where I came from and what I’m here to do.  But today, I see the whale as my guide and a bringer of important messages.

I think my guides arranged for me to have that little experience with Shamu so I could finally get over my fear and figure out what the dreams really meant.  The dreams showed me how afraid I was of my own power, but once I embraced the message, I was able to get past the fear and increase my personal power. 

The moral of the story is: “Fear stinks, but whale poop stinks even more, so face your fear.”

Steve wanted me to interject his moral too:  “When you see a killer whale barrelling towards you and you’re wearing your boyfriend’s sweatshirt, you run.”

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