Discipline Of The Dolphins

A few months ago, I joined a book group discussing Celebration of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster. It has been a rich, thought-provoking, and challenging experience. Dr. Foster develops so many ideas and suggestions for spiritual development. I think all of us in the discussion group have been experiencing some “fireworks moments”- times when the uncontainable truth of the Holy Spirit explodes within us. There is a remarkable balance between resting and rejuvenating in the Christian practices we already embrace and challenging ourselves to find new ways- often uncomfortable ways- to move closer to God. Blessedly, we all have different core Christian disciplines that come naturally, and we all have ones that take more stretching to accomplish. As companions on the journey, we help each other.

I missed our last meeting. That meeting discussed chapter six- The Discipline Of Simplicity. I missed the meeting because I was vacationing in Las Vegas. Pause for a moment and let that statement really sink in. Yes, I was missing the meeting on the spiritual discipline of simplicity because I was wallowing in the world’s most “extra” city. The irony is not lost on me. I also have to say that I have a bougie propensity toward recreational shopping. I have way more stuff than anyone needs. I tend to drip pixie dust. It is probably not a good thing that I missed that particular meeting. Certainly, the discipline of simplicity is a challenge for me.

I discovered a vastly different take on the book’s next chapter- The Discipline of Solitude. I think this might be one of my most naturally integral spiritual disciplines. I read the chapter yesterday. I read the chapter yesterday during my annual day with the dolphins at Discovery Cove.

Yes, I studied and meditated and prayed about solitude- and its conjoined twin discipline of silence- at a theme park. As counter intuitive as that seems, it felt absolutely right.

For one thing, Discovery Cove is intentionally unlike other theme parks. They have limited admissions each day. There are no lines or gathered crowds of people. There are numerous little hideaway spots sheltered from main activity areas. The eating areas are spacious; tables are spread out with plenty of room between them. They built Discovery Cove with privacy in mind. It is completely surrounded by lush jungle type flora. That greenery provides a barrier from the bustle of Orlando tourism. You can’t see it and you can’t even hear it. Once entering the parking lot, you would never know you were across the street from Sea World and that you turned into the park from International Drive- home of the world’s largest gift shop, chain hotels and restaurants of every ilk, and the massive Orange County Convention Center. There is music playing, but the soundtrack is a gentle compilation of easy listening pop/rock tunes played on steel drums, with a side of ukelele. With the exception of the 30-minute dolphin interaction experience, all activities are solitary. Once admitted into the park, it would be easy to go the entire day without saying a word to anyone. Aside from the dolphin interaction, I do not think I said more than a “thank you” to another person all day long. I spoke more to animals. I spoke much more to God. I listened to God even more than that.

I began my day walking through the entire park. After giggling at the flamingos, feeding birds in the aviary, and wondering at the natural beauty of everything around me, I settled myself in for a ramble down the lazy river. One of the features of the river is a large cavern. The cavern has stalactites growing from the ceiling and there is a large open area at the apex of the structure. Looking up, you can see a canopy of tangled variegated green vines and branches with the sun weaving its way through the leaves. There are also open window type areas on one wall of the cavern. Looking out of those open areas, you can see a beautiful bay. Waterfalls streak the views out those window areas. It is quiet and serene in the cavern. Visitors sometimes wander through the cavern but do not linger. The allure of the seductive current of the river coaxes them onward.

I, however, purposely let myself gravitate towards a little alcove in the cavern and settled in for some time of meditation. As I looked up at the skylight feature, I showered in the sifted sunbeams. I let my mind sit in the knowledge that God created this beautiful world, and it is good. My first thoughts were of the nature around me- the water, the earth, the sky, the plants, and the animals. Just thinking about all that made my heart joyful and so grateful for the life I have. Then, something new hit me. A new thought bloomed in my mind. I am part of this creation. God created me. I am beautiful. And that is good.

I continued playing my way through the morning. I swam with the sting rays. I visited the marmosets on their secluded island. I played tag in the water with the otters, with only a plexiglass wall between their pool and mine. I gathered with my dolphin group to interact with Capricorn, Maui, and Titan. I ate a lot of junk food. When lunch time came, I was not too hungry. The hot soft pretzels, rice crispy treats, and other non-food foods were pretty filling. Still, I grabbed a piece of pizza and made my way to a secluded, shaded table in a distant corner of the restaurant patio. I brought out Dr. Foster’s book and read the chapter on solitude. As I read, I filled the margins with my reactions and thoughts. I prayed a little, challenging myself to open myself to whatever God has planned for me.

After lunch, I wandered back to the lazy river. Again, I found my alcove in the cavern. I spent forty minutes praying. I praised God again for His glory and the beauty of His creation. I named my blessings before God, humbled and grateful for all He has given me. I acknowledged areas of my life that I have held back from God. I looked hard at my soul and lay the broken pieces at God’s feet. I brought petitions for all the people in my life. I discussed my loved ones with Him. I discussed the people who have hurt me with Him. I discussed the people I have hurt with Him. I discussed people I do not even know with Him. We talked together about His power and compassion. We talked together about the great privilege He gives me when He allows me to help demonstrate that power and compassion. I reenlisted my commitment. I joyfully volunteered to be the object of His grace and a vessel of His love in the world.

So, yes, silence and solitude are achievable in a theme park. It was not even that difficult. Dr. Foster argues that silence and solitude are woven together. You cannot have true solitude without silence. Noise reminds us that we are not alone. Dr. Foster also hypothesized that silence and solitude are not dependent on where you are or who is around you. The absence of sound and people around you does not mean you have achieved silence and solitude. What is important is to empty your soul of sound and people for a time… and to give God the space to fill that emptiness. When you quiet the internal noise and reserve the essence of who you are for God alone, you will never be empty. God will fill that emptiness with what you need, even before you know you need it.

I spent the rest of my day in peaceful silence. I caught myself smiling a special kind of smile… the kind of smile you smile when you share a thought, a memory, a feeling with your most precious friend without even having to say a word. I was not at Discovery Cove alone. I was there with my God.

As my book group continues to study Celebration of Discipline, I may learn to practice many of the spiritual exercises that Dr. Foster suggests. I doubt very much, however, that I will celebrate any of them as much as I celebrate the Discipline of the Dolphins!

Have a disciplined day!

The Terri and Titan Mutual Admiration Society!

How do you find your alone time? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you may email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.