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Natural Compassion

First-person story related by Joe McCord:

I was in about forty feet of water, alone. I knew I should not have gone alone, but I was very competent and just took a chance. There was not much current, and the water was so warm and enticing. But when I got a cramp, I realized at once how foolish I was. I was not very alarmed but was completely doubled up with stomach cramps. I tried to remove my weight belt, but I was so doubled up I could not get to the catch. I was sinking and began to feel more frightened, unable to move. I could see my watch and knew that there was only a little more time on the (oxygen) tank before I would be finished with breathing. I tried to massage my abdomen. I wasn't wearing a wet suit, but couldn't straighten out and couldn't get to the cramped muscles with my hands.

I thought, 'I can't go like this! I have things to do! I just couldn't die anonymously this way, with no one to even know what happened to me. I called out in my mind, 'somebody, something, help me!'

I was not prepared for what happened. Suddenly I felt a prodding from behind me under the armpit. I thought, 'Oh, no, sharks!' I felt real terror and despair. But my arm was being lifted forcibly. Around into my field of vision came an eye - the most marvelous eye I could ever imagine. I swear it was smiling. It was the eye of a big dolphin. Looking into that eye, I knew I was safe.

It moved farther forward, nudging under, and hooked its dorsal fin under my armpit with my arm over its back. I relaxed, hugging it, flooded with relief. I felt that the animal was conveying security to me, and that it was healing me as well as lifting me toward the surface. My stomach cramp went away as we ascended, and I relaxed with security, but I felt very strongly that it healed me too.

At the surface, it drew me all the way in to shore. It took me into water so shallow that I began to be concerned for it, that it would be beached, and I pushed it back a little deeper, where it waited, watching me, I guess to see if I was all right.

It felt like another lifetime. When I took off the weight belt and oxygen, I just took everything off and went naked back into the ocean to the dolphin. I felt so light and free and alive, and just wanted to play in the sun and the water, in all that freedom. The dolphin took me back out and played around in the water with me. I noticed that there were a lot of dolphins there, farther out.

After a while it brought me back to shore. I was very tired then, almost collapsing, and he made sure I was safe in the shallowest water. Then he turned sideways with one eye looking into mine. We stayed that way for what seemed like a very long time, timeless I guess, in a trance almost, with personal thoughts of the past going through my mind. Then it made just one sound and went out to join the others, and all of them left.

Caring for one another, we sometimes glimpse an essential quality of our being. We're reminded of who we really are and what we have to offer one another. When the experience of helping seems so natural, it's not surprising we find ourselves wishing or wondering if things could be like that more or even most of the time.

Excerpted from How Can I Help? by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman, © 1985 by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.