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Find Inner Strength and Balance With Minimalism

Find Inner Strength and Balance With Minimalism

We don't usually think about our finite time on earth. We believe we have plenty of this precious commodity, but as Jack KornfieldBuddha's Little Instruction Book succinctly put it,

“The trouble is, you think you have time.”

What would you like to do differently with this reminder? You could start with focusing on your practice of Minimalism for a mindful, intentional and meaningful lifestyle to achieve inner peace and balance as a starter. 

I celebrated my thirty-fourth wedding anniversary and the first for the memoir TigerFish, and I had to trailblaze for both as I was the first one to do so in my family. These two commitments frankly scared me with their many challenges. Despite the uphill battles, I committed all my time and resources to see it to fruition. On many levels, they shared a parallel journey. Both faced with opposition and people's doubting its success. Both started on a shoestring budget. Despite encountering many seemingly insurmountable hurdles, my marriage and memoir triumphantly celebrated their respective anniversaries this year.

The takeaway is, do something that scares you and sees it to fruition. Smile and nod to naysayers. I did this and learned the values and tenets of my Minimalism journey. Simply put,

Don't gather possessions. Instead, gather your inner strength and balance to achieve life mission.

I did what scared me on my anniversary to remind myself to live fully and intentionally, to begin my thirty-fifth year of marriage strong and my second year as a successful indie published author, working on my second book.

My husband surprised me with two excursions for us in Hawaii, one to swim with the dolphins, and the other, a night swim to see the giant manta rays. I had two full days of trepidations and misgivings. I wanted to bail. I thought about canceling it almost every hour of the day but summed up the willpower to commit fully. Didn't I always want to explore and have new adventures? Didn't I prefer having experiences with my family and friends over accumulating material goods? I convinced myself to overcome my fears of facing the giant creatures of the sea.

I also reminded myself that most of us hustled through our days to meet deadlines, attend meetings, file our reports, take the kids to schools, etc. because that's what responsible adults do. We have to make a living to pay the bills and get grocery for our family. We are hard working beings, and we want to take control of our lives, to advance in schools, careers or businesses.

We continuously strive to stay on top of our game. So why not refocus on achieving balance and work on our personal growth by facing our fears?

Everything changed when we entered the watery world of the ocean where we were no longer the kings and queens that we are on land. We didn’t own it, couldn’t take our daily comfort and material possessions with us, and we must shed our earthy assumptions, submitting to new rules of engagements, behaviors and social norms as peaceful guests. 

Hawaii or The Big Island and her many ocean creatures taught me to slow down and breathe when I was scared. I faced deaths many times in my life as a Vietnamese refugee and keenly aware of our precious commodity of time, yet here I quibbled over these life luxuries of swimming with the dolphins and manta rays? At once, I knew I must overcome these fears to build confidence and gain the ability to overcome new life's challenges.
When I stepped into the ocean that morning to swim and snorkel, I became aware of my breathing and of the unfamiliar environment where creatures can appear at any time, any speed, in schools or one at a time. They flashed rich colors like of the peacock's feathers‘ colors; sometimes the fish were so bright and translucent that you could see right through their bodies. There were vibrant colored fish that I didn’t have names for in our language because they didn’t belong in our world on land. We were their guests in the ocean. I felt like a trespasser and a voyeur. I tried to take up as little space as possible to observe the wonders of a new community and their social norms. Schools of fish wove their way in unison as though in silky costume and well-rehearsed choreography. I kept reminding myself that I was their guest and could never become one of them, not like them.


The first day on the island, while snorkeling in low visibility water, a pair of green sea turtles* revealed themselves near the reef about twelve feet away. I was transfixed, my husband nudged my elbow and pointed in their direction when he first spotted them while we floated as still as possible in place as not to disturb them. Their silhouettes lingered in the filtered light slightly below the surface, paddling as they gracefully dipped and rose while changing directions. I remained as still as I could, swaying in the waves and tides, surging me to and fro as they receded and pulled out to sea. Both turtles, one giant, one slightly smaller, perhaps a pair of mom and dad.

The turtles were peaceful, deliberately moving and grazing at their morning meals. They looked prehistoric and serene. I remember thanking Mother Earth for showing me her many treasures.

My brief encounter with the turtles tugged my heartstrings. I'm more determined to protect the oceans than ever before from further degradation and to keep these animals from the plastic litter and other contaminants.

This early encounter and experience with the turtles also empowered me with the knowledge that if I didn't freak out seeing them, then I could swim with the dolphins and the manta rays. I gained the confidence that I sorely needed!

A serendipitous occasion like this made me feel peaceful and filled with overwhelming love for our fellow dwellers on this earth. I couldn’t speak their language, and they mine. We were perhaps equally curious about each other. I haven’t been the same since my first encounter with the green giant turtles. What’s different? I can only say that they seemed to have imprinted their message of peace on me. They have somehow awakened my long lost ancestral connections with these wild creatures. Perhaps my ancestors have also swum with them like I was now.  We seemed to have nodded and deferentially communicated to each other as they floated past us. “I see you, and I respect you. Have a nice life and peace be with you.” I felt their vibrations without a commonly spoken language, only our eyes meeting in that fleeting moment. 

I can’t describe what it felt like to swim with the dolphins. It’s something you must do for yourself to experience the magical and ethereal world under the ocean.

The water was bright and clear than any I've ever seen, sometimes royal ink blue and sometimes aquamarine, depending upon the sea floor of either reef or sand. I have only seen colors like these on the watercolor palette. Underwater currents and possibly fissures or freshwater springs distorted the scenery before me, making the water shimmery, bubbly, and wavy, like nothing I've ever seen before.

I felt like I had wings and can fly on the water surface while looking down on the sleeping and resting dolphins on the white sandy bottom from twenty feet above. Many swam around in twos and threes, and in pods of many. They came from different directions and depths that I couldn't keep track of their numbers. They were sociable and curious about us. They swam by gracefully sometimes within five feet of us, and we seemed to have exchanged our acknowledgments as they passed. I studied their smooth silver-gray skin, not uniform in colors.

Sometimes I could see the spinner dolphins jumped out of the water. They'd spin and twirl like gymnasts. They did this to groom themselves, our guide Shelly on the Coral Reef Snorkel Adventures shared (I'm not their affiliate) , to shake off the critters on their skin, or it could be a social invitation for us and their kind to play with them. We learned there were two kinds of dolphins on this coastline, the spinners, and the white-nosed dolphins with the boomerang-like shape dorsal fins with white spots on their right beaks as they came out of the water.

Credit Coral Reef Snorkel Adventures

Credit Coral Reef Snorkel Adventures

When we took a break on our boat in between dives, a spinner came up and dropped a seaweed bundle near us and slapped its tail on the water several times, apparently a gesture to invite us to play with it. The playful dolphin did this a few times, and it melted my heart! Shelly said dolphins were playful, sociable and intelligent. They were curious about us and wanted to play with us as much as we with them. 

Our Captain Justin Snow worked with Shelly on when to leave the current spot and move to another location. She not only was an experienced guide, but she also volunteered or worked to rescue dolphins and a ‘scientist’ who had respect and love for the dolphins.

Our guide wanted to give the dolphins space and respect. She would lead us away from crowded guided groups as she didn’t believe in 'stressing out' the dolphins. We appreciated this about her.  

Since we were a small group, we got to swim with the dolphins to our hearts' content then moved to the reef where we snorkeled to see colorful fish that we didn't see earlier. The captain advised us not to go too close to the breaking surfs near the rocky beach, ‘when you see the champaign bubbles, that’s time to back up,’ and added, 'don't outside of the cove where the ocean got rough.' There were fish whose colors resembled peacock feathers; some had tropical flowers colors, some with feathery, silky fins and tails that looked like ballet dancers costumes. I kept my distance with the eels and trumpet fish because they looked too much like snakes to me. 

Purple sea urchins lined the sea floor, and fish darted here and there, sometimes alone, sometimes in schools that expertly wove around me as they swam. There was no trace of human trash. No fishing line, no plastic straws, cups or bags. The Hawaiians impressed me by their love and pride for their environments that provided them food and livelihood. There were plenty of signs at the beach parks to be respectful and to do your part to pick up the trash and carry them out.

I was already keenly conscientious about protecting the ocean and avoided single-use plastic, but swimming among the wild sea creatures reaffirmed my commitment to them. The sea was their home, and they kindly welcomed us, trespassers. We must be gracious guests and left the ocean cleaner than we found it.

After a homemade lunch of roast beef croissant sandwiches, brownies, fruit and chips, the captain took us to an area where whales can be spotted. The water alone would take your breath away. It couldn’t be more mesmerizing, and the color reminded me of the blue ink that I used to have in my fountain pen. pilot whales with their bulbous noses swam alongside us, curious, they jumped out of the water as though to say hello and welcome us to their world. For the first time, I could see whales up close. Some swam barely beneath the surface within a foot of our boat; some came out within a few feet where we could look at their eyes. Pilot whales were not large, and they almost reminded me of dolphins.

It was almost noon, and we headed back to the harbor. I was ready to rest as I didn’t sleep well the night before, too excited and a bit nervous about the adventures that day. There was still the dive that night at seven o'clock to see the manta rays, and I have not stopped thinking about how much I needed to stay focus and get the most out of the experience. The captain compared the two excursions of dolphins and manta rays. Justin said that we have already done the hardest job with the dolphins snorkeling. He continued that with the manta rays, all we had to do was to hang on to the lighted surfboard with our snorkels, and our guide will do all the work. But still. I had butterflies in my stomach.

Manta rays night viewing. Hawaii. 2018

Manta rays night viewing. Hawaii. 2018

On our return to the harbor, we spotted a turtle in the clear water near shore, a stingray, and apparently a leopard shark which we didn’t see in time. I needed a shower, and a nap to get ready for our night dive and wished that I could quickly find out what it would be like to have already had the experience.

If you wanted to 'swim' with the manta rays, I highly recommend that you swim with the dolphins first, preferably in the same day, then do the night viewing of the rays with the same company.

It helped me get comfortable, familiar, and acquainted with the captain, his boat, crew, and the open water. Had I not gone swimming with the dolphins that morning, the night swim might have been challenging as it was an entirely new experience to be in the ocean at night, albeit with bright lights on the surfboard shining down at the ocean floor to attract the plankton-feeding rays. 

That evening, a family of four from Victoria, Canada joined us. They were two parents, a millennial daughter, and her friend. The parents had done this before and told me that they loved it the first time they went out. The crew member and guide showed up to greet us; his name was Buddha, a born and raised Hawaiian from this island. He was sociable and liked to chat to put us at ease, and he also helped us with the fitting of our wetsuits and snorkels. We didn’t need fins this time as Buddha will be towing us around while we hung on to the straps on the styrofoam Stand Up Paddle board of some kind that’s been modified with drilled holes for these high powered LED lights, possibly six to eight spotlights.

Face Your Fears.jpg

All six of us donned on our wetsuits, sizes matched reasonably well from our declared heights and weights when we signed up online for the manta rays excursion. Without the sunlight, the water seemed to be a few degrees colder, coupled with the fact that we were not active swimming around made us colder. The suit seemed to be about three millimeters thick, but I wasn't sure, and it would have been too bulky to swim for any length of time. I was grateful to have the suit for warmth, buoyancy, and hopefully, to avoid skin contact the rays should they come too close. Will this happen? We shall see.

We learned that the ‘sports’ started when some people noticed that the manta rays began gathering at nights to feed on the planktons where the hotel shone bright spotlights into the water, in front of their premises, possibly for security or was it for aesthetic? Once entrepreneurs noticed this phenomenon, they created these businesses to take viewers to see the rays in action.

One by one, we jumped into the water and took our place around the lighted board. Buddha also wore his wetsuit and told us to start looking down at the bottom of the ocean for nocturnal fish and signs of manta rays. The water was cold and crept into the openings around my collar, sleeves, and ankles. I welcomed this and hoped that it would create a warm layer on my body. I didn’t have booties, which in retrospect would have been a welcomed addition to keep my feet warm. The LED lights were white and bright, making it easy to see every particle floating in the water, like seeing dust particles in a shaft of bright sunlight. These particles were not microscopic, but we might not be able to see them without these bright lights. 

Credit Coral Reef Snorkel Adventures

Credit Coral Reef Snorkel Adventures

Our bodies floated near each other, sometimes touching as Buddha towed us, but we were too focused on looking at the fish underneath us to notice or be bothered by it. We saw nocturnal fish darting about looking for food, but we kept on a lookout for the manta rays. There were a few crafts and their clients floating patiently nearby including a traditional wooden carved canoe rocking rhythmically on our port side. Looking up from the waterline, I could see our boat with the captain on watch and keeping in communication with Buddha about their game plan. There were comradery and friendly bantering among the crafts' captains and crews, and I was sure that this wasn't their first time out like it was mine. 

Then it happened. ‘Look underneath!’ Someone shouted, most likely Buddha. I was adjusting my goggles but ducked quickly under to see the silhouette of a ray coming from my port side. It floated by swiftly, made a pass then disappeared. Good, I thought. It was a quick introduction, just enough for me to know that I could handle these giant creatures without freaking out.

No words can express the surreal and frightening experience when a wild but gentle giant came straight at you then just when you thought it would run right into you, the ray miraculously dipped within an inch beneath your body.

I froze, but I didn't scream or moved away like I thought I would. Instead, focused hard on studying its broad face, open mouth, body, and long black tail, up close and personal sliding past underneath me. Incredibly graceful, it swooped and rolled to scoop up the plankton while displaying its white belly with the chevron gills on each side of its spine, looking like the Enterprise spaceship! I was astounded that it didn't hit me when it came so close to my face.

Credit- Coral Reef Snorkel Adventures

Credit- Coral Reef Snorkel Adventures

After my encounters with manta rays, dolphins, and turtles in their natural environment, I felt humbled by their quiet graciousness while we humans were trespassing their home. They were curious, coming close to study us while going about with their routine feeding. These gentle giants enamored me. Several of them appeared during the forty-five minutes we spent in the water, displaying their spectacular wildness and greatness. Again, I couldn't explain the mixed feeling of fear and fascination as I watched their tails moved ever so sleek beneath me and back rolled over and over again in their feeding frenzy. 

The ocean’s temperature hovered around seven-eight degrees Fahrenheit, and I began to feel uncomfortably cold but not quite enough to make me shiver nor my teeth chattering. The rays mesmerized me, and I was awestruck, but I looked forward to getting out of the wetsuit and towel off so I can get into some warm clothes. Buddha told us we were heading back and towed us toward our boat where Captain Justin welcomed us with, 'How was it? What did you think of the rays?'

Buddha helped pull us out of our wetsuits and collected our gears. Justin handed us the much needed chewy but moist homemade brownies, apparently their flagship boat snacks which reviewers raved about more than anything else, they humbly reported with self-deprecating humor. We drank water, and others drank sodas from the boat's ice chest. Everyone twittered over the magnificent creatures and rehashing their experience of witnessing the fantastic manta rays. Someone called out, 'bioluminescent,' and I couldn’t look fast enough at the waves to see it. And there it was at long last; I've been hoping that I would see it. In the dark ocean, barely any light but you could see in the churning waves, and wakes of the boat, in middle of the dark sea appeared what looked like someone scattered handfuls of Fourth of July sparklers. Just like that, they sparkled and danced on the surface for the duration of our boat ride back to the marina. 

I sat in the cabin to stay warm and thought about my eventful day and watched the ocean. I felt the connection to it, starting with my father working on the fishing boat with his parents and grandparents, with our sea journey to escape the Vietnamese communists so long ago in the 70's in the South China Sea, and now with our son Chief Mating on the tugs in the San Francisco Bay. How uncanny that my life and the sea are so intricately intertwined.  Momentarily, a flying fish appeared and skipped over the water surface then disappeared into the darkness. I couldn’t believe that I saw the dolphins and manta rays without losing my nerves. I fretted about these events, and now they were behind me. It’s not something you can read about and have a full appreciation for the creatures. It’s a life experience that you must take on for yourself, no matter how timid you might feel like I was until now.

Swimming with the dolphins and the manta rays were both an existential and spiritual experience for me as it instilled confidence in my ability to face future challenges with less fear, more courage, knowing that I've successfully overcome these fears unscathed.

I highly recommend that if given the opportunity, swim with the dolphins and the manta rays because they are an unforgettable, spectacular, and life-changing experience. As I stated in the beginning, why practice minimalism? Because we only need life essentials so we could reserve our time and resources to explore the outdoors and have adventures like these to find balance, courage, and inner peace to achieve our life mission because our days and time are finite and precious, not material things nor prestige.

Tread lightly with grace, civility and respect for one another as we are all connected. Make our time count. Make them memorable because we don't know when the next time that chance comes our way again.


*Read about threatened species of the Hawaiian Sea Turtle HERE

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