I Wanted To See Whales

Living with desire

I went whale watching in Washington.

Searching for whales in the San Juan Islands is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack—these islands are massive and waterways are 100-lane highways for freightliners. I boarded Island Adventure Cruises and we set out for a six-hour tour, with about 60 people.

Once aboard, the crew began to give us detailed instructions on how we help them look for whales, which I know nothing about, thus I hired them to take me out. Quickly, I knew that if it depended on me we would not be finding whales today. I barely knew how to keep my balance on the rocking ship. Then, I began to engage with an inner dialogue that was, inch by inch, seeking to lower my desired expectations to see any whales.

You don’t have to see whales today, I reasoned with myself. After all I was,

  • on an adventure (in Washington!)
  • with my daughter
  • in the San Juan Islands
  • on a beautiful boat
  • experiencing a perfectly sunny day…

By lowering my desire, I was adjusting my expectations, preparing to be disappointed, I’ll just choose to silence my desire for anything more than all this beauty I am experiencing, right now, in this moment. This is what I began telling myself.

How often do we lower our expectations when we are beginning something that holds possibilities? How often do we not name our expectations for fear of having to face not getting to experience what we think the moment is meant to be?

So I said this, what I perceived to be a profound and rather mature thought, out loud to my daughter.

“If we don’t see whales, I will still be happy, I mean ALL of this is overwhelmingly beautiful.”

To which my daughter replied, “Yeah, that’s nice. But I’m going to be really disappointed if we don’t see any whales today.”

And, wham! She hit my “profound wisdom” like a rotten melon, shattering it right before me. You know what?

I really wanted to see whales.

I mean, I really wanted to see whales.

We are talking WHALES here—humpbacks, orcas, grays, minke, and this is the season where they hang out around here!

So, grabbing binoculars I began engaging the whale-spotting techniques we’d been instructed with in the beginning. Four hours into our trip, the radio revealed that whales had been spotted, but they were a long ways away. We headed towards the area, not knowing if we would arrive in time, but once again I felt desire rise up—I want to see whales. This time, instead of squishing it or controlling it, I let my desire jump inside me. I let it swim in hope and, you know what, I began to taste possibilities while I imagined these massive creatures.


When we disengage from our desires or silence stirring sensations that go with desire we begin managing an outcome that is not real. We fake living in order to not have to experience sensations on the black list of emotions:

  • Disappointment
  • Fear
  • Loss

While these emotions seem harder to deal with, they are real parts of real life. Here I was with a choice, would I taste of my desire?

“There be whales here capt’n!”

(This is one of the most-quoted lines in our family.)

Yes, I did see them that day. And let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

But as I reflect back on that moment, I realize that I was surprised by a joy that overwhelmed me. When these orcas crested and dipped in and out of the water I cried and clapped, turning to everyone around me and sharing a joy of seeing.

Desire will always leave us vulnerable. To taste of one’s desire will always involve risk.

What if we learn how to walk with desire in a new way?


~ Becky

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