By Dennis Robleski
A barracuda’s concerns are few, especially for those that live along the coast of Bimini in the westernmost district of the Bahamas feeding on the plentiful fish around the expansive coral reef. They have few natural predators and thus live relatively carefree lives.
Except Barry the Barracuda.
He worried that he might not grow to be as big as the other barracudas, he worried that his teeth weren’t quite as sharp since he couldn’t split a killifish in half with one bite, and he worried about being hunted by killer whales (even though his friend Benito said the nearest ones were a thousand miles away). He worried about why he didn’t like the taste of squid (too salty) and he worried about why he was slower than most of the other barracudas his age. And he really worried about why the ocean suddenly felt warmer to him.
Barry worried so much he had persistent headaches, insomnia and dry mouth. He ground his teeth constantly and he never seemed to eat enough. He was always forgetting things, such as to swim AWAY from the fisherman’s nets, and he had a hard time focusing in school so he was forever crashing into his classmates when the school made a sudden turn. Yes, Barry was very stressed.
Benito was worried too, worried about Barry. One afternoon, he saw Barry backed into a cave in the reef, nervously scanning back and forth with his eyes, so he swam up to him and said, “What’s up, Barry? Why are you looking so scared?”
“I don’t know, I just can’t seem to stop worrying that something bad will happen. I wish I knew what to do” said Barry.
One of Barry’s other friends, Bara-ku, a Japanese barracuda, swam up to Barry at the same time as Benito and asked, “Have you tried meditation?”
“You mean like, sitting on the ocean floor chanting ‘Ommmmm’? How could that help?” said Barry.
“No, my friend. You just close your eyes and learn not to think, just breathe. Meditation is great for relieving stress and clearing your mind,” said Bara-ku.
“At this point, I’ll try anything” said Barry. “Do you know someone who can help me learn how to meditate?”
“Sure, my uncle Bikuta is a master of meditation. He can show you how to do it,” said Bara-ku.
Barry swam over to Bikuta’s part of the coral reef and got his first lesson in meditation. He tried it for ten minutes that afternoon and had to admit he felt a little better, a little less worried. The next day he tried again, and after ten minutes of deep breathing and ‘ommm’s’ (which felt less silly the second time he did them), his insides felt less twisted and his long neck less stiff. Huh, he thought, maybe this meditation can help me.
Every day Barry meditated a little longer. Fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, an hour, two hours. He had never felt better; he no longer thought about killer whales or whether giant clams were going to snap their shells shut and swallow him as he swam by. He discovered he could file his teeth on rocks to make them sharper. He even learned to float on his side at the surface so he could look up at the sky at night and see the moon and the stars. Yes, Barry was getting very relaxed.
Pretty soon though, the meditation was consuming so much of his day he didn’t have time for any other activities. He dropped out of school and stopped doing his speed training with the other barracudas. His life had become full of just two things – meditation and eating.
When Benito stopped by to see him and said “Barry, c’mon, we’re going to go scare some divers”, which meant swimming close to them and baring teeth, Barry instantly felt his fins tense up and said “Thanks, but I think I’ll sit this one out. You go ahead.” Benito looked at him for a second and said “Don’t be afraid, man. Divers are way more afraid of us than you should be of them. C’mon, I haven’t seen you doing anything lately”. Barry said no again, and waited until Benito had swam away before he started meditating to relieve the stress of this encounter.
Once after months and months of practice, Barry spent a whole day, all twenty-four hours, in meditation. His stomach was rumbling, reminding him to eat, but oh, the peace within him! His head felt light and clear, free from the headaches that usually plagued him, and the joy traveled to his face, lifting the corners of his mouth into a smile..
But when Barry opened his eyes he noticed the sea was dark, so dark in fact that he couldn’t see anything at all, not the reef or any other fish or the surface of the water – nothing. Strange, he thought. When he gave his tail a small flick to move forward to explore, he bumped into something firm. Not sand or seaweed or another fish but something solid, like a wall. Had he floated into a cave while he was meditating? That must be it Barry thought, so he turned and tried to swim in different directions, but no matter which way he turned, he could only move a foot or so before he bumped into a wall again. Barry called out to Bara-ku and Benito but all he heard back was the echo of his calls. No one came.
His heart started beating faster and harder, and his stomach felt like it was twisting again. But as Barry swam and called out frantically, his meditation training came back to him. He closed his eyes, silenced his mind, focused on breathing deeply in and out, and started chanting “Om..Om..Om..Om”. As he repeated his chant, he felt calmer and after about five minutes opened his eyes again. When he did, he saw a light ahead of him which he slowly swam toward. As he neared the mouth of the cave, he saw jagged stalactites hanging from the opening which he was careful to avoid. He made it safely past them into the familiar sea.
When Barry turned back to look at the cave though, he saw not a cave, but a slumbering killer whale! Barry had been inside the one thing in the ocean that scared him the most! But he was free now and the whale seemed to stay asleep, so Barry moved his tail as fast as he could to get out of there. Fortunately, Barry had been calming his nerves just a moment earlier so he wasn’t paralyzed with fear when he saw the killer whale and he was able to think clearly and get to safety.
Barry probably set a new world record for swimming speed, because in just a few minutes he was ten miles away. When he slowed to rest and figure out where he was, he heard a familiar voice: “Barry, where were you, man? There was this huge killer whale coming right for the reef and we looked all over for you but we couldn’t find you! We waited until the last minute but then we all had to get out of there” said Benito.
“I know, I know!” said Barry. “I saw him, and I was inside him but then I got out and he was sleeping so I got away!”
“Inside him! Are you crazy? Why’d you do that?” said Benito.
“ I was meditating and when I came out of it … I didn’t know – I thought I was in a cave but I couldn’t get out, so I went back to meditating to calm down and then when I opened my eyes, I saw his mouth was open and I swam out and there he was – asleep!” said Barry.
Bara-ku had swam up to them and heard Barry’s description of the encounter and asked, “Were you chanting while you were meditating inside the killer whale?”
“Uh, yeah, I always do. Why?” asked Barry.
“I bet that chanting made the whale calm down too and put him to sleep” said Bara-ku.
Barry thought about it for a couple seconds and said, “So meditation saved my life?”
“Yeah, after it put you in danger first!” said Benito. “I think you’re just doing it too much and not having any fun, Barry. Can’t you do both?”
Barry knew Benito was right. He loved the calm he achieved through meditation but he was spending so much time doing it, he had abandoned time with his friends and was missing out on life. Barry decided he would try scaling back his mediation to an hour a day so he could do more things. And he made sure someone always knew where he was when he was meditating, just in case the barracuda ever got moved down the local food chain again.