The Natural Contemplative

Ask the animals and they will teach you












What Can We Do To Help The Whales?

Realize what really matters,
that which is essential to abundant life,
and let go of all that is superfluous.


What the whales need today is exactly what the whole life system on Earth needs. They need us to live differently. Which is exactly what we need as well, because our habits are harming our own health and well-being as well as the health and well-being of the whales. There is a range of simple and complex actions we can take to achieve that.

One fairly simple thing we can do is to learn more about the oceans. Most of us know next to nothing about this vital 90% of our planet. The oceans and the whales are fascinating and surprising, and almost certain to challenge conventional thinking in delightful ways.

Then, there are many specific, practical things that would be of immense help to the whales. Humans are the source of these problems, so humans can solve them.

Being hit by ships is a significant cause of whale deaths. Reducing ship speeds in coastal waters has been shown to reduce whale mortality. Thankfully, there has been significant movement on this, but more can be done.

Sometimes a small shift in shipping lanes can move the majority of ship traffic away from the gathering places of the whales. We have a pretty good idea of where many whales congregate, and we know exactly where the shipping lanes are. Separating them is doable, but there can be a cost in longer shipping times. This has begun to happen, thanks to public support. Shipping lanes have been moved in and out of Boston, MA and through the Bay of Fundy, Canada, both critical areas for North Atlantic right whales. The Coast Guard is currently recommending shipping lane changes in the Santa Barabara Channel and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to avoid the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, a significant area especially for blue whales.

Entanglement in fishing gear is a huge problem for the whales. Developing fishing and trap lines that sink to the bottom and don't tangle so easily would help. Fishermen and their representatives are understandably resistant to these changes since they cost money and the fishing industry is already only marginally surviving. Dialogue and creative innovation are needed.

We need to restrict destructive fishing practices like trawling in the primary whale feeding grounds that we know about. There have been recent, modest steps in this direction, mainly to protect herring, a vital whale and human food. More can be learned about herring trawling at

We need to stop the Navy's use of low and mid frequency sonar in areas critical to the whales. This is controversial, and the science is not conclusive. But given how deeply the whales rely on sound for their communication, and their survival, it seems to me the burden should be on the Navy to prove their sonar does not affect whales, rather than the burden being on whale advocates to prove that it does. In November 2008, the Supreme Court sided with the Navy, allowing sonar to be used in whale-inhabited waters off of southern California, in the interests of "national security." We need to decide how much life and liberty we are willing to sacrifice in the interest of "national security." We also need to realize where our true security lies, which is where an honest spiritual inquiry is essential (see below).

We need to stop the practice of "scientific" whaling. Currently Japan kills about 1000 endangered whales every year under the ruse of doing "research" on them. But have you ever heard of scientists using a giant factory ship to process and transport the remains of their "research?" I believe the Japanese people are waking up to the situation, after years of press censorship on this issue. If you have friends in Japan, encourage them to tell their government to stop spending taxpayer money on this slaughter.

There are many groups engaged in these actions, and they can use support:

The Natural Resources Defense Council,

The International Fund for Animal Welfare,

Ocean Alliance, which is also the best source for video and audio recordings of whales,

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who are attempting to halt the Japanese whaling operation,

Oceana, and

The Right Whale Consortium members to name a few.

And there is a deeper level where creative action is needed: radically changing our lifestyle. Thirty years ago, saving the whales was an "us" versus "them" battle. Now, the greatest long-term threats to whales are global warming and global toxic pollution of the oceans. These involve all of us. There is no "them" anymore. These problems are the direct result of the kind of life we live: the consumer-driven life based on accumulating more and more stuff and providing ourselves with more and more insulating comfort. Our "way of life" has become deadly for us and the whales.

We can and must scale back our consumption, live with much less stuff, live more slowly and consciously, and discover the deep joy in that.

This is a huge challenge for us because the consumer society and the individual consumer identity are founded on the belief, deeply held and felt, that we are inadequate and incomplete. That to find fulfillment we need something more, something we do not currently have. This is as true in the spiritual marketplace as it is in the marketplace for things. Our entire social and economic system is driven by the cultivation of this belief: that you, as you are right now, this moment, are lacking something. If not the necessary stuff, then the necessary approval, or acceptance, or sex appeal, or knowledge, or experiences, or information, or money, or status, or wisdom. And that the marketplace has all this to offer, and more besides!

In my experience, shedding the things and the beliefs and the attitudes and habits that have formed our sense of self is not trivial. To shed all that, one needs a solid place to stand. We need to rediscover the root, the very foundation of our being. For me that is to be found in nature and in deep silence. The lesson of both is the same: we lack nothing. Life is a miracle. We are in no way separate from absolutely everything that is. How, then, can we lack anything?

I do not often get to talk about this in relation to the fate of the whales, but possibly the most important thing we can do for the world, for the whales, for ourselves, is to engage in an honest contemplative inquiry.

"Contemplate" means "to observe closely." Contemplative inquiry is multifaceted. It involves observing the natural world openly, without any agenda; facing our thoughts and opinions and habitual reactions in a straightforward, uncompromising, yet nonjudgmental way; and realizing our ultimate "emptiness."

The mind is so skilled at dancing around and not looking, at finding someone to blame or cooking up self-justifying excuses that are total nonsense. It is so eager to be distracted by entertainments of its own making. But in my experience it is also capable of changing radically when it is faced with its own life-defeating ways, when it is allowed to see the truth of its attempts to wiggle and squirm out of the truth.

So I think it is essential that we turn and face ourselves and our world honestly. Be still. Come to an absolute stop for just one moment. Stop imposing your world view onto the world and your self image onto your self, for one moment, and everything changes.

This is the essence of what the whales teach us, and it may be what they are trying to tell us: there is no such thing as a separate thing. There is no such thing as lacking. Those are mere ideas, mind-created illusions. Reality, our true nature, is the dance of the whole of everything, every rock and tree, every bird and whale, every mountain, every sea, every star, every planet, the energy it all embodies, and the "emptiness" holding it all in its silent embrace and giving birth to it anew every moment. That is what we are, the whole of everything.

Finally, there is no question that the forces that keep us in thrall to our current way of life, and therefore threaten the whales, are not merely personal, but social and political. In truth, there is no separation between the social, the political and the personal. We are all caught up in a collective agreement to live off the exploitation of the Earth and each other. Historian John Dominic Crossan refers to this as the "exploitative normalcy" of civilization.

The kind of spiritual inquiry I describe above and in my essays, is one part of the unraveling of this exploitative normalcy that is choking the planet. When people stop buying the story of insufficiency, and discover their own inner abundance, the whole edifice collapses.

But there are those of us who think we profit directly from the status quo, much more so than the vast majority, who know they suffer terribly from it. Those of us who think our self-interest is best served by maintaining the current system are unlikely to let go of it easily, unlikely even to see the destructive part we play. Blind denial is a terribly powerful force in us. From a compassionate point of view, ours is the hardest shift to make of all. We will most likely need a little help and creative encouragement to do the right thing. We might need a push or two from our poorer neighbors who can see the depth of our injustice much more clearly than we can. We might need to look very clearly at how damaging our thought patterns and our lifestyle patterns are for this beautiful Earth. We at least need to see that we are causing our own suffering.

However we come at it, we will need to be open to having our entire world and self images turned upside down.

That's a good thing, turning your world upside down. It is a blessed relief in the end. But let us not wait so long that the Earth runs out of patience and takes care of that for us.

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