My roommate’s sister was in town for a visit. We became fast snorkeling buddies. We both loved floating along the hypnotic sea, marveling at all the colorful life. This day we were at Kahalu’u, a storied beach with shallow waters and a protective rock wall that tends to keep fish in and sharks out. As exotic as the depths of the ocean are, it’s the shallows that are most surprising, because every now and then you catch a rare spectacle—a fish or an eel the likes of which don’t fit the scene. At least twice a year the same Hawaiian seal swims ashore for a day-long nap. (We know this because she is tagged.)
There is a fish I’ve only ever seen three times and only at Kahalu’u. It is flat, of medium size, swims horizontally and low to the bottom. I’m not sure the name but it likely doesn’t answer to any of our names, so what is the difference? Amazingly, this fish camouflages itself to match the ground surface as it swims, and when it lands it becomes a perfect mimic of where it rests.
Spotting one of these incredible beings, I gave an underwater squeal to my new friend, who was floating in front of me and missing the show. She turned around. I pointed to the fish and her eyes went wide with delight. The fish caught us looking and immediately went into defensive mode. What took place next happened in about the span of two seconds. The fish zipped to a landing and camouflaged itself. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, another of its type zipped up and over from around a coral and landed half on the camouflaged fish. The fish on top tried to blend in as well, but something about the two of them together did not compute and made his or her powers of blending in go haywire. It’s like the fish couldn’t get a read on the background and was fluctuating colors and textures. We watched this from our snorkel masks in stunned silence for a bit, then swam away, not wanting to cause these fish any further grief.
When we say things like “perception is reality,” and “we create our own reality,” we must examine our motives carefully. Which is the correct reality—the fish’s reaction or our reaction? Of course, we humans want to create or have handed to us magical moments such as this. But what’s magical for us is a defense mechanism for the fish, who are perceiving us as attackers and defending themselves.
There is a reality here, but it is shared: we exist to ourselves and to each other. We have a shared existence that, when perceived through duality, invites fear and reaction. However, when we see that what underlies our shared existence is oneness expressing as multiplicity, then there is only action, not reaction. There is compassion for the fish who can’t know our smiles are of joy and not hunger. And there is love for the fish, same as ourselves.
Perhaps in seeing this we come fully conscious. Perhaps then we won’t want to create our own reality. We will know that desire for what it is: camouflage.