In 2011, deep-sea diver Yoji Ookata made a remarkable discovery on the ocean floor off the coast of Japan—a large mandala-shaped circle embedded deep in the sand. The perfectly-shaped mandala, with small ridges and precise dimensions, led him to believe it was meticulously crafted by human hands.
On his next dive, Mr. Ookata was astonished to observe a small fish actively moving the sand and contributing to the formation.
“I observed a pufferfish going back and forth to the edge of the circle,” Mr. Ookata said. “No way! I could not believe that the circle was made by a pufferfish.”
Japan is a sought-after destination for divers, with its rich tapestry of landscapes, coral reefs, and diverse sea life. Mr. Ookata had been diving off Japan’s coast for 50 years, but this discovery was unlike anything he had ever seen.
The Display of Creative Intelligence
News of his discovery spread rapidly, attracting scientists, news crews, and others who came to document the finding. The Japanese Broadcasting Corporation brought specialized lights and cameras, while scientists arrived with delicate instruments to measure water flows.
In discussions with Mr. Ookata, he mentioned that the pufferfish artistically placed small shells on the outside ridges with exacting precision. The way he described the intricate and deliberate placement of each aspect of the mandala reminded me of the work of Buddhist monks carefully crafting sand mandalas. Unlike the slow and patient process of the monks, however, he said the pufferfish artist worked with astonishing speed and determination, tirelessly constructing the mandala 24/7 until it was complete.
What is even more noteworthy is that the pufferfish did not zoom out to get perspective on the circle. Instead, he explained that it had its face to the floor, crafted each element to scale, designed it in proportion, and finished it to perfection. I imagined it would be like trying to paint a painting with our nose pressed up against the canvas, where, without perspective, it would be almost impossible to get the right shape and proportions. Yet, the pufferfish creates a miraculous shape of beauty.
Purpose and Beauty
The big question is why? Fluid dynamic experiments confirmed that the circular design and flat center, surrounded by the unique external ridges, helped divert the moving currents to flow over the top of the shape, so the eggs remain undisturbed. And the little seashells provide vital nutrients to the hatching eggs.[i]
As the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”
Everything is Connected
When species work together in a unified way, creative intelligence appears to take the form of collective intelligence; the whole seems to work together.
NASA has been observing the Earth from a distance in space, so is able to see the big picture of our planet. In recent years, NASA scientists noticed a large body of sand from the African Sahara rising high into the atmosphere and then moving across the globe on convection currents.
In South America, the rains in the Amazon rainforest wash away essential phosphorus from the soil, threatening the life of the forest. And sand from the African Sahara is full of phosphorus.
NASA satellite imaging revealed that sand from the Sahara initially gets sprinkled over the ocean where it replenishes phytoplankton. The rest of the sand, 30 million tons, continues to South America and then gets sprinkled over the Amazon rainforest each year, bringing the forest back to life. The amount of phosphorus-laden sand that arrives in South America is equivalent to the phosphorus lost from the Amazon rains. NASA scientist, Hongbin Yu, stated, “This is a small world and we’re all connected together.” [ii]
I began capturing these stories in a book and, for the cover, used an unretouched photo by award-winning photographer Daniel Biber, depicting starlings flying collectively in the shape of a single giant bird. This photo earned him a Shortlist at the Sony World Photography Awards.
Fish also engage in a similar dance of coordination when forming schools. In schooling, each fish maintains equal spacing, and the group appears to coordinate their movements as a whole. Fish traveling in schools are found to have less stress than when swimming alone. Marine scientists say they transform from singular vision to collective vision, having “many eyes.” Fish in schools act like one giant organism with omnidirectional sight.[iii]
The principle of coordination and synchrony is most fascinating when applied to people. We are discovering that people are much more connected than we think.
We are Wired to Connect with One Another
Daniel Richardson at University College in London uncovered fascinating findings about audience members. They measured the heart rates and breathing of members watching live theatre and discovered that the audience naturally synchronizes breathing and heart rates during exciting moments.[iv]
In Italy, pilots and co-pilots display coordinated EEG brainwave synchrony during the critical stages of takeoff and landing. Throughout takeoff and landing, pilots are constantly sharing information, coordinating procedures, and exchanging readings.
While these studies on audience members and pilots found synchrony on an active level, a more fascinating study is just beyond the physical, on the quieter levels of consciousness.
The Consciousness Connection
Physicist and President of Maharishi International University, John Hagelin, describes consciousness as possessing field-like properties. His involvement in numerous peer-reviewed studies reveals that when individuals practice Transcendental Meditation and its advanced programs collectively in a group, they generate coherence in the collective consciousness. This heightened coherence leads to widespread positive effects, enhancing the quality of life for everyone in the community.[v]
The discovery that a small group together can produce a positive wave of coherence in the larger context of society will likely be remembered as one of the greatest discoveries in science.
Everything is connected, just as we see in nature and among people.
While, at times, we may appear divided on issues, underlying that division is a connectedness we cannot shake. Looking at nature, there are examples all around us, everywhere, that remind us of the unity of life. From the Sahara sand feeding the Amazon to the coordination of starlings, these illustrations enliven that sense of unity, that sense of Being Connected. While differences and diversity are a part of life, we are, in essence, one.