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Seven Sacred Breaths

Integrative Healing

Reiki and the Bull Shark*

I chant the energy symbol under my breath as I grab the bull shark’s dorsal fin and shove her into the pounding surf once more. “Breathe,” I yell at her, at the sea, at my friend, and then notice with not a little surprise that I’m actually in the ocean...and soaked.


In that split second between loving this beached baby shark and understanding that she may not go back out to sea and live, I lose concentration and wonder if the restaurant will still seat us looking like bedraggled mermaids…

As a child growing up in suburban Philadelphia, I was quickly inducted in the ways of the ‘shoobie’—the weekend seashore tourist who goes ‘down the shore’ for the day to enjoy sun and surf. I spent many childhood Saturdays broiling under the Atlantic City sun and splashing in cool waves with my older sister. Thirteen years my senior and married, she knew what her shy and often-ill little sister needed, and she helped me immeasurably by getting me out, away, and into the ocean where the waves would scrub us clean of family stress and turmoil.


Despite a resistance to learning how to swim, the Atlantic Ocean remains my domain, a place where I open naturally to the higher powers that guide me. Having lost my taste for the bruised beaches of modern-day Atlantic City, I instead find solace in the quiet, rock-strewn jetties of Cape May, America’s first seashore resort and the very last finger of New Jersey shoreline. A small promontory nestled at the intersection of the Delaware Bay as it meets the Atlantic, Cape May offers psychic lay lines, old spirits, a delightful overload of Victorian architecture, and an unmistakable energy that constantly calls me home.


As soon as I cross the marina causeway, reiki flows, Guides chatter, my clairsentience startles awake, and practical concerns scatter like busted milkweed pods. Being in Cape May is my purest joy, so while I am not surprised I was called to Animal Reiki service there, the actual situation left me stunned, breathless, soaked, and feeling absolutely blessed.


Friends and I stand quietly on the beach, looking out over a twilight-covered sea. We’ve been in the car for five hours, so the view is indulgent and relaxing until we notice a young woman tugging at something by the water’s edge…a float? A piece of driftwood? She gives a final push into the water, looks back at us with a shrug, and jogs away to catch up with her friends. I squint into the dusk with tired eyes, ready to say goodnight to the beach, already tasting my martini, when I see the grayish flotsam roll in again with the surf, and then thrash. It’s alive…it’s stuck…and you have got to be kidding it’s a shark.


I bolt for the water’s edge, and startle myself as I plunge into the ocean to steady the baby shark tossing and reeling in the rough tide. Later, I will be reminded of everyday people who arrive at the scene of an accident to perform extraordinary feats, like lifting cars off babies or plunging into burning buildings without feeling the fire. While I certainly don’t consider running into the Atlantic extraordinary, it was certainly unexpected as I can’t swim. And, let’s be honest, how many people—even ocean-obsessed oddities like me—have ever actually held a shark?

The shark is alive, but exhausted. About two and a half feet long from snout to tail tip, she’s still a baby, obviously too tired to work her way past the strong breaker current. I grab her dorsal fin and push down as another wave crashes in, holding her fast so she gets the full benefit of the water’s blast through her gills rather than getting battered by the rough tide. I find a good wave, step into it, and send her forth with the hope she’ll ride through the breaker and find open sea.


She doesn’t. A few seconds later, she rolls back in farther down the beach in a foamy wash, unmoving, fins buried in the sand. My feelings of control, as illusionary as they may have been, slip away completely, along with all hope for a rescue. I suck at this. Suddenly all I feel are my frozen, soaked feet and my clumsy hands. She’s going to die. Right here. But I’m not leaving. It will break me into pieces to watch this shark suffocate on the beach, but I will not leave her.


I grab at her dorsal again, pushing her head and gills beneath the waves so she can breathe while I think, absurdly, that I need a plan. Another wave smacks me in the face, apparently dislodging the Reiki that has been waiting patiently. I begin saying the energy symbol without fully realizing it until I hear it under my own breath. Reiki! I yell for my friend, Stacy, also one of my wonderful Reiki students, and I stumble into her. She’s right next to me in the foamy waves, wide-eyed.


As she frantically yells, “I can’t remember my symbols!” over the churning tide, I simultaneously scream, “Reiki! Do your Reiki!” If we hadn’t been soaking wet and dressed in dinner clothing while holding a potentially ferocious baby shark under the waves, it might have been comical.


The two of us take a breath and send energy to our baby shark together as we continue to hold her body beneath the waves. Water rushes around us, the tide spins, waves crash, and the moment slows down until it becomes very serene, very quiet, and very peaceful. No matter the outcome, we have done our best, and our best is enough. This lesson, tough for me to accept even during the very best of times, makes its point as a rogue wave both flies up my nose and soaks my underwear.


Stacy and I hold the baby fast in the water, chanting quietly, sending her all the power in the Universe. Stacy wants to walk her out into the surf past the breakers—a fabulous idea except neither of us can negotiate the waves and it’s almost dark. We wait, we breathe, we send Reiki, and we decide on which wave we’ll send this baby back to sea. One, two, three…PUSH.


The shark disappears under the foam as we stand slowly, unfold our stiff backs, and paint Reiki symbols in the air, over the beach, into the sky, and into the waves. Keep her, keep her, I think. Aloud I say, clearly and distinctly, “If she is meant to live, keep her at sea! If she’s supposed to stay on this plain, keep her out there!” I’m trying hard not to cry.


We walk the beach for about 15 minutes, checking tidal pools, jetty basins, everywhere, making sure she has not washed back in. And this time, she hasn’t. She has stayed out at sea. We look each other up and down—two soaked, sand-splattered messes—and we smile.


As we wander back to our friends waiting for us on the dune, they wonder aloud…what happened? Was the shark still alive? Why we were holding it underwater? Were we doing Reiki?

“I’ll explain the whole thing,” I say, laughing, “over martinis.”

*“Reiki and The Bull Shark” (2010) originally appeared on K. Prasad’s Animal Reiki Source.

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