12/17/2013 08:50 EST | Updated 02/16/2014 05:59 EST

How Salmie the Sea Lion Shows Us the Trouble With Humans

Today is a very special day for me. It is the release of the Earth Body Yoga dvd project (Earth Body Yoga) that is an incredibly powerful ritual to celebrate our connection with nature. This connection to nature is something that guides my life's work and is truly one of the best things you can do for your health and happiness. Im reminded of this incredible experience that I look forward to when Im back home in Ucluelet..

I watch my friend catch a wave. He slashes it, water sprays everywhere and I can't wait for my turn.

Every time I enter the ocean, I understand why water has always been used to cleanse the soul. Whether it's John the Baptist, a Brahman in the Ganges River or me paddling through the surf this sunny autumn day on Canada's remote West Coast. Any worry or pre-occupation I have ever known washes off me and I am living what I try and teach people all the time: Deep Presence. I feel the cool water surround me, but I am warm in my wetsuit.

I see my friend gliding across a wave and I feel like a dog confined in a car by the beach, with the windows rolled up. I won't feel peace until I get one of those waves. Finally a steep wall of water, which has traveled thousands of miles from Japan to its explosive end, breaks underneath me. I launch into it with child like enthusiasm.

My heart stops. I see a shadowy figure as I jump to my feet. In a millisecond my brain makes the computation:


"No, too small. Hey, it's a sea lion... I am on this wave with a damn sea lion!" I conclude only slightly relieved.

As I ride the wave, he bumps my board continuously. It's more than a little disconcerting. What does he want? Am I in his fishing zone? A competitor?

The wave ends and I am off my board in the water. Furry and light beige, I feel him bump me. I am in the food chain now. His body feels fishy and slick, but also furry and muscled like a horse. Not many people get to feel this but frankly I'd rather not. I am not romanticizing this situation. I still can't tell if he is playful or aggressive.

I try to project telepathically to him that I am not here for his women, "I'm married and just passing through!"

I hoist myself onto my board, feeling slightly safer than when my limbs were dangling in the water.

More bumps from this sea lion. He's going crazy. Swimming under me, around me. It's like a very uncomfortable game of "whack the mole." Where will he pop up next?

I try to catch wave after wave and it's the same scenario. I just can't shake this guy and the jury is still out whether he is a friend or foe.

I start to think of him more as option A but even if he is friendly, one playful nip could mean "goodbye, little finger" for me.

My friends are laughing and I shrug as I paddle into the beach once and for all. I walk about 400 meters up the beach and re-launch my board. Whew, that's over.

But it's not. I haven't even made it to the line up yet and he is back, bumping me and obstructing every wave I ride. I feel that "fish fur" on my skin one too many times and head in to the beach. My session is over and I go home a little upset that I didn't even get one wave in before that frisky sea lion ruined my session.

The next day I arrive at the beach and it's back to a more typical West Coast drizzle. The waves are smaller and I see a small pack of surfers way down the beach.

I paddle out, enjoying the silence and solitude. You can hear every drop of rainwater landing in the ocean and the swish of my hands stroking through glass calm water.

I wait for the sets to arrive and suddenly that beige fur, large whiskers and huge eyes pop up out of the water. I am more trusting of his intentions today since nothing bad happened yesterday. He is less jumpy and we wait patiently for the waves to arrive.

Finally a shoulder high wave breaks and I paddle into it. I see the shadow of a sea lion in the wave in front of me. The wave is propelling him and he looks like a large eagle soaring on the breeze in front of me. I do turns over him, amazed at our synchronicity.

The wave ends, I am off my board, but no slimy, furry body hits me. He is mellow today. As I paddle back out, those whiskers and curious eyes are right beside me, I can't help but think of the first human that befriended a wolf and created dogs.

We wait for another wave. He's looking at me. I look at him.

"What's your name?" I casually ask... "Hmmm... How about Salmie, like Salmon... Let's call you Salmie the Sealion!"

Another waves arrives. We take off together and I am surprised once again at Salmie's grace. We paddle back again and again.

Whenever I visit a zoo, I watch the faces of children and how they light up watching the animals. Their arms outstretched, jaws open. What is that connection they feel? Why do we light up around animals like this? What primordial bond do we share?

When I was young, my grandmother always asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. "An Indian!" I always replied to her dismay. Not a fireman or a doctor. I wanted a life where I could walk shoulder to shoulder with Brother Wolf and Sister Moon.

Next month I will be in Bombay, India. It occurred to me on my last trip there, that millions of people on this planet will never walk barefoot on the grass or on the beach. Not the slums but the middle class with their feet jammed in dress shoes even at luxury resorts on the coast. This is the birthplace of yoga, where the concept of Prana comes from. Yet, just like in every big city in the world, there's a greater focus on Prada, not Prana.

It makes me think about all the times I have taught yoga in conference centers that are two levels below street level on carpet with no view, teaching people about health and spirituality.

Spirituality to me is inescapable from nature. Religions try to answer the question of what happens when we die? Do we have a soul? Who created this whole show we called life? Who is in charge?

I think about these questions continuously and I can't answer them still. Can anyone?

I don't feel a need to anymore. The imperative of our generation is to bring spirituality down to earth, not save it for heaven.

I am clear that my path is not about what happens when we die, but about the joy we feel knowing that the same salt that makes up our oceans runs through our veins. In yoga class, I encourage people to taste their salty sweat lest they think that happiness comes from asana alone. Every tear, every drop of sweat comes and goes from the ocean. Our cells wouldn't divide if we hadn't learned how to trap salt water inside our bodies.

Mother Theresa says, "the problem with humans is we forget that we belong to each other," and she's right. That's only half the problem; we also forget we belong to Nature.

I am still paddling out through the surf. I duck under a wave. The cold water cleanses my thoughts. Baptizing me deeper into a perspective where I can feel the ocean around me and inside me. I taste the salt in the water. This salt is my blood. It's the blood of Salmie. I howl inside with happiness!