You may remember my “once in a lifetime” trip to Discovery Cove two years ago. If not, you can read about it at http://www.terrilabonte.com/2017/05/my-date-with-the-dolphins/ andhttp://www.terrilabonte.com/2017/05/school-of-dolphins/ You might also remember my second trip to Discovery Cove last year, when I returned to make sure it was as wonderful as I thought it was. You can read about that trip at http://www.terrilabonte.com/2018/07/discovery-in-the-cove/
I just made a third “once in a lifetime” visit. It is time to stop kidding myself. It is time to start calling it what it is…. My annual retreat to Dolphinland.
Some people go to monasteries or retreat houses for their yearly spiritual sojourns. Not me. I say there is nothing wrong with going to Discovery Cove to take spiritual inventory and commune with God. I think God was definitely there.
I spent a wonderful day frolicking with the dolphins, swimming with the rays, winding my way down a lazy river, wading past otters and marmosets, and examining the vibrant feathers of numerous bird species. I also cuddled with a kinkajou, who stuck her arm in her mouth while I was petting her, much as a human baby might suck her thumb. I faced my fear of rodents with long, scaly tails, when I interacted with a young three-legged possum named Ricky. I also ate a lot of rice crispy treats and soft, hot pretzels. I relaxed, rested, warmed my bones in the sun, listened to God, and prayed. Maybe the most important thing I did was just observe.
The animals at Discovery Cove are real. Of course, Discovery Coves busses them in from various places around the world. Orlando is not even remotely close to a sea or a rain forest, so most of the animals I visited are not to be found in nature anywhere in the greater metropolitan area. Ricky, the three-legged possum, was the exception. He was a three-legged possum precisely because he was run over by a car in a local populated area. My other new animal friends, however, were strangers in a strange land in Orlando. That doesn’t make them any less real. The plant life in Discovery Cove is also largely imported, but it is beautiful and lush and abundantly real.
Spending the day at Discovery Cove forces me to forget the world I know intimately and enter the natural world the Busch Entertainment Company has built in the shadow of the Central Florida roller coasters. The act of observing this manufactured natural world with all my senses frees my soul in a way that is as real as the surroundings. Maybe this Discovery Cove natural world is assembled by human beings and maybe those same human beings are manipulating my soul to feel free in a way that isn’t quite organic. I don’t really care. Experiencing that world, losing myself in it, and imprinting it on my memory is very, very valuable. And human beings may have assembled this magical self-contained world, but God created the components.
So I refuel and retool- physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually- during my dolphin retreat. Something actually changes about the way I see the world. I began to notice things that I never saw before because I was so incredibly present. I was living in the moment and observing the moment and analyzing the moment instead of just getting through the moment and going on to the next one.
For instance, after taking a last lap through the snorkeling reef, I settled myself on a quiet island in the middle of the reef. I snuggled down into a rope hammock and closed my eyes. I could smell the scent of jasmine. I could taste the salt water on my lips. I could hear breezes rustling the palm fronds, punctuating the impossible quiet of a theme park in Orlando. It was more than pleasant; it was healing. I opened my eyes and noticed a cloud shaped just like the face of the kinkajou I snuggled earlier in the day. I watched, fascinated, as the shape flattened and distorted and slipped away. I also noticed colors. If you had asked me to describe leaves before my retreat of observation and discovery, I would have told you that they are green. When I looked around from my vantage point in the hammock, I saw many, many colors of leaves- greens and yellows and reds and fuchsias and pale pinks and oranges. Also, did you ever realize that the sky is not sky blue? In fact, the sky is not blue at all. It is most definitely blueS. I saw a swath of sky that melded sections the color of stone-washed denim and the color of Wedgewood and the color of lapis lazuli and the color of robins’ eggs.
Maybe, in addition to enriching my body and soul, my dolphin retreat developed my senses, too. Maybe my discoveries about color and perspective mean that I had a moment of artistic inspiration. Maybe I was seeing the world through the eyes of an artist. And God is a pretty amazing artist.
How about you? Where do you go for your spiritual retreats? Where do you find God and do you think it is weird that I find him in a central Florida amusement park? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have an artistic day discovering God and yourself!