The Whale's Breath

“It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.”

– From The Invitation, Oriah Mountain Dreamer

This blog post is about my heroine’s journey to know my true self – and how it helps to understand and divest myself of who I’m not. I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking I was who I wasn’t. Maybe you have, too.

Having Moments

What I call “moments” have helped me in this “uncovering the true me” endeavor. My “working” definition (as I learn more it tends to morph): when time seems to stop; when what is happening, what one is noticing, seems to fill the frame. The moment opens a channel for a gift to fall into my experience – the gift of being fully present, the gift of the “now.” And the fullness of the moment brings pure joy, pure gratitude that I’ve been granted this life and this singular space in it.

It’s hard to describe moments. I’m sure you’ve had them, too. I always remember them and often I define them as a spiritual experience. Here’s one...


It’s my first visit. I’m on a whale-watching boat in Sitka Sound, in the closed-in, downstairs part of the boat because it’s foggy, cold, and damp. All I want to do is see my first whale. The naturalist on board tells us to look for them spouting and he says then he’ll say “Thar she blows!” My eyes are peeled. I’m scanning the horizon and then we start seeing them. “Thar she blows!” They’re everywhere - all around the boat. Everyone is so excited. I’m looking on the opposite side of the boat when one breaches – right next to the boat! Clearly, it’s time for me to go upstairs where it’s more open and uncovered so I can be close.

As I climb the narrow stairs to the top and start looking around, I see them spouting, but then, Ugh! I walk into a cloud of the worst smell – it’s like rotting eggs. It smells like the paper mill from my dad’s hometown. It’s awful!

The naturalist’s voice comes on over the loudspeaker – “For those of you up top, - if you’re smelling something’ve just smelled the breath of a whale.”

Whale’s breath. I had just inhaled a whale’s breath! I am astonished. Who knew? I am breathing in the breath of a whale!

Well...that was a capital “M” Moment for me. As I look back over the entire trip – seeing otters, glaciers, eagles, breathtaking scenery.... this breath exchange stands out. It was a spiritual experience.


For one, - I think it has to do with the intimacy of it. Sharing breath is intimate – and sharing breath with such an enormous, ocean-living being, well, that’s over the top for me.

Here’s what I learned about whales on that trip. They are very discerning about when to open their mouths because they must unhinge their jaws to do it. They have to put their jaw at a 90- degree angle and then they take in a ton of food. As a result, they don’t open their mouths unless they know it’s going to be worth it. (No in-between meal snacking for these mammals!) In fact – when they migrate south for the winter they don’t feed at all. They mate in the warm waters around Hawaii, but they wait until the summer to come up to Alaska and feed.

The second reason it was a spiritual experience for me has to do with my heroine’s quest to understand just who I am and who

I’m not – my journey to be more authentic in my life. It helps me to shed the “not me.”

“It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself”

– From The Invitation, Oriah Mountain Dreamer

For many years I was about all the trappings of what I’d call the externals:

  • How things looked – what I wore – what my children wore – how they behaved – how the house looked, - what my job was – who my husband was and what his job was – and how he looked and behaved...

  • I compared myself with others and often found myself wanting – that couple seemed happier, their house was nicer...I wish I could live there, - have that kind of whatever, etc. 

  • Also – what others thought of me was important – needing to get that external approval....ah, she’s a good mother, wife, employee, etc.  

I don’t think I was much different from other people...I was just very concerned with appearances and with the opinions of others – I had a healthy ego – and I liked to compare and judge.

And am I cured? No! I’m still catching myself caring about all this external, extraneous stuff. Old habits die hard. I remain a work in process!

A word about “ego” and how I’m using it here...

  • The voice in my head that identifies with form – with things, judgments – “I am my house, my job, my credentials...

  • The story I tell about myself...

  • Thinking that these things add up to me – Susanna – you’ll get the full picture if you see me and my stuff.

Lucky for me, Life (or God or the Universe or whatever you want to call it) introduces challenges that cause our ego to shrink– which then allows something else in us to blossom. Some of my humbling challenges were an unhappy divorce, losing people dear to me, having to let go of a job, a position – life disappointments.

I’m not done – and neither is Life I know. Life will have more disappointments and trials for me because – that’s life! I’m still working on shrinking that ego...daily. I’m learning to distinguish that voice in my head as NOT who I am – and hearing more and more deeper wisdom coming through.

It’s important for me to share this with you – because this very act of saying this out loud has my ego’re going to tell them you’re not perfect – that you’ve been superficial and still are and........? Edit this out, Susanna!

But, this is the path I’m on these days, - shrinking my ego so that I can be who I AM – and that’s what I’ve been discovering. – that is my heroine’s journey.

I’m not;

  • ·  My job

  • ·  My husband’s job

  • ·  My children

  • ·  My house, my possessions

  • ·  My “story” that I tell about myself

  • ·  My ancestors

  • ·  My pain

  • ·  My credentials

  • ·  My body

  • ·  My religion

  • ·  My race

  • ·  My roles – mother, wife

  • ·  My clothes


“It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away. “

– From The Invitation, Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Drawing A Circle

 If I draw a circle and say that circle is me – and I take each of those things out of the circle – because they’re not me....(the job, the clothes, the car, the house, my credentials, my education, etc) then what’s left???


This is what excites me. The emptier the circle, the more authentic I am – the more me I am – the me that the Universe created – and the more I am able to be present in the world. The Universe can through me because I’m not so dense, - clinging on to stuff - that I erroneously think that stuff is me.

I’m convinced that the more we let go of who we’re not (the stuff that the ego’s so enchanted with) then the more powerful we become. It gives a different feel to you when you’re more YOU. And other people get that – they feel it...

So, what about the whale – what do she and her breath have to do with this – with helping me find me – my non-ego, more authentic self?

I think it was the sheer smelly authenticity of that blast of foul-smelling air. She was who she was with every fiber, every bit of her and there was nothing, nothing she was that wasn’t her. Whales don’t have egos – their smelly breath is part of the whole beautiful essence of them – they don’t cover it up – it’s who they are: a most authentic being with a circle devoid of all the clutter we put in ours.

Nature Is Healing

This is why I believe nature is so healing for us. The Divine/the Universe/God is flowing through it all the time – and sometimes we connect, if we’re lucky and get a “moment”. The Divine can flow right through a whale, - and give one a very divine experience – as it did to me.

I continue to work on this – to work on being more like that whale in Sitka Sound.