Shoaling | by Holly Hudley

Last week we took a trip to Akumal, Mexico, a little beach town set against a small barrier reef called Half Moon Bay. The turquoise water is clear to the bottom, appearing darker in places where coral is closer to the surface. We only needed to walk about 20 yards outside of our condo to snorkel in these mostly gentle waters. I’ve been a water lover all my life and apparently threw myself into my uncle’s pool at two years old. I’m not sure if its my Piscean nature or a longing to be held by something like a womb. Under water I hear only the in and out of my breath, see the glinting light of the sun, and feel rocked swimming in time with the waves. I liken it to feeling like a bird coasting over the land or another planet all together. Tiny plants grow on the ocean floor like trees, craters pock the ocean floor, urchins poke out between the rocks, and tiny to large fish dart about. It is the closest thing to absolute peace I can find.

Swimming among the reef I felt as if I were of the ocean. I saw the fish - bright blue, yellow striped, black spotted - with the same eyes as they saw me. Literally human eyeballs evolved out of the fish eye. Both are water based, better at drawing in light in the red range than the ultraviolet range. The fish are our ancestors. As I bobbed in the water, I watched an aggregate of fish band together upon seeing me, likely perceiving me as predator. Each one of the fish was about the size of my two hands, but when they joined together they became one large body and moved as such. The sun glinted off their scales as they darted and shifted in unison, trying to fool me into believing they were much larger. This behavior is called shoaling, where the larger fish form the outer layer, guiding the motion of the others. It is both social and protective.

I hovered, breathing, just watching. And it occurred to me that we might be able to learn something else from the fish besides how to see. From them we can learn how to band together to protect the least of these, the most vulnerable, those who are underrepresented. We can learn how to stick together when a few loud voices or giant bobbing humans try to drive us apart. I don’t know that fish feel love, but their instinct for protecting each other is strong. Underwater, I thought of the crisis the Methodist church has created in pushing away our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters, and I wondered what could happen if lay folks band together like that? We are stronger as one, stronger together. With hundreds of fish swimming in unison, unable to distinguish the movement of one from the movement of all, there was unity in multiplicity.

I am not naive enough to think that if I had been a hungry shark I wouldn’t have eaten at least some of the fish, but I am not the shark who feasts with the the same instinct as the smaller fish protect one other. I am human - a species who has the capacity to form compassion and consciousness, something fish presumably do not. In this case I wonder what our hearts and minds can do together if if we are willing to see each other with the same eyes as we want to be seen? The venerable Thich Nhat Hanh writes that individual consciousness is made of the collective consciousness and the collective consciousness is made of individual consciousness. The two are not separate, and if we can see with such a mind for the whole, the entire cosmos will reveal itself to us. With that kind of sight we can change the world.

These street signs dot the road between Tulum and Cancun. “Stay Present”  

These street signs dot the road between Tulum and Cancun. “Stay Present”