Category: Eco-Spirituality

Thank you Joseph Campbell

Thank you Joseph Campbell

IMG_1729It was a spectacular spring day for cycling. The backcountry trail in Gulf Shores resounded with bird song. Flowers bloomed alongside the trail creating never-ending color accenting the live oak forest, swamp and sandy dunes. As is so often the case, cycling in the woods provided an opportunity to connect with nature in a beautiful way.

As I pedaled, a sort of unwinding occurred and I puzzled over why I had been having difficulty ‘going inside’ lately. I attributed it to a rebound effect after being so open and deeply…profoundly…connected with humpback whales while snorkeling with them in late February. How can sitting meditation in my home compare with floating mediation in the water with humpback whales just twenty feet from me in their contemplative stillness?

_TSL1859 1.08.19 PM-2It hasn’t been easy making the adjustment from doing moonlight yoga on deck with whales all around just before sunrise to yoga in my courtyard or in a room. Opening to the stars, moon, sea and whales during my practice was off-the-scale amazing.  Just being moored 90 miles offshore for a week created the strongest connection with nature, with Spirit…with myself…imaginable. One week with the sea, whales and salt water opened the door to profound Oneness and healing. Coming back to land…no whale snot coating my sunglasses, no moonlight yoga and no salt water mediations…..created a collapse of the expanded state in which I had found myself.

Lately every time I’ve attempted to touch that deep place of Oneness I’ve felt resistance. My mind immediately pulls me away with the usual monkey business.

As I was cycling I affirmed, I am willing to listen with my heart. And so I just listened as I pedaled and soaked up spring’s beauty.

The next day in yoga, my teacher Augusta’s theme was cultivating a listening heart. Don’t you just love it when the Universe gives confirmation that you’re on the right track?

_TSL1788 1.08.14 PMIntegrating peak experiences into life isn’t easy. I feel so changed, so amazingly renewed and open after powerful encounters with ocean life. Then I return to an alien world of everyday life where nobody understands the wild gaze in my eyes or the crazed light of my wide-open heart. Trying to explain it or even write about it doesn’t fully convey the impact on me. It’s like I’m speaking in whale song to a group of humans. It sounds pretty but what does it really mean?

_TSL7226As I listen with my heart I remember returning from the Sea of Cortez the first time and how difficult it was to leave the remote ocean wilderness of the Midriff Islands.  The whale sharks and sea lions on the second Sea of Cortez trip last year were just as hard to leave behind. In my listening I heard a question: What do all of these experiences have in common? I was completely in my element. The Ocean. Saltwater. Big animals. Bliss. I feel my most whole in wild, remote places of the sea. I feel inspiration, peace…connection to all life…profoundly with the sea.

_TSL6836Moments flash through my mind….floating on the surface of the Sea of Cortez after diving and feeling in complete and total balance….meditating in the water with humpback whales….yoga under moon and stars on the boat with the white mist of humpback breath drifting over me….shadow on the mountain in the Midriff Island created from moonlight that appeared to be a giant woman, a sea goddess….a sea lion that played with me while I photographed her….a mother humpback who followed her calf to the surface with her massive eye as she rested deeper in the water….the grunts of humpback whales as they rested beneath me….on and on the memories surface.

Impressive tail breach by an adult

Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”

If I see these journeys as connected, with time on land necessary to do the translating and sharing, then its much easier to integrate them into a flow instead of isolated experiences. The only thing I know to do is to follow my bliss, to joyfully step forward into more Ocean time, more underwater encounters and allow these experiences to continue their transformational magic on my life…my soul. And to continue trying to translate them to those who will listen.

 

 

 

What We Do Matters

What We Do Matters

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Recently I came across a book by Boyd Norton entitled, Conservation Photography Handbook: How to Save the World One Photo at at Time. Dr. Jane Goodall endorsed the book saying, “Boyd Norton inspires you to take action with your camera to save wilderness and wildlife everywhere.” His life’s work is impressive and he gives good tips. But it was the title that really grabbed me….How to Save the World One Photo at a Time.

In a time of increased pressure from over-fishing and pollution…noise, plastic, chemicals, excessive nutrients, raw sewerage…the Ocean struggles. All life within it struggles. And with an estimated 70% of the planet’s oxygen produced by phytoplankton, it’s not that much of a stretch to see that all planetary life dependent on oxygen to survive will be negatively impacted if the Ocean systems fail. Plain speak? Human life is in danger as much as any life connected to the sea.

As an Ocean lover, a person dedicated to working for the sea, it’s really difficult to know what to do on a daily basis. The path of science wasn’t my calling. It was the call of the relationship with the salt water and her life that lit the fire of passion within my heart…relationship to beauty and the intense desire to translate this beauty and the emotion it stirs within me to others. How does the life of an artist lend itself to saving whales or manatees or phytoplankton?

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Reaper with her calf (left)

Today I submitted images of humpback whale flukes I took in February to the Center for Coastal Studies, an organization that protects whales. They shared with the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog. I was able to share photographs of Reaper, a female humpback, and her calf with these organizations. I found out that Reaper summers in the Gulf of Maine. From metadata on my photographs I could give dates and times seen.

Reaper's calf breaching
Reaper’s calf breaching

That might not feel like much of a big deal to some folks but for me, a woman driven nearly insane witnessing the struggles all life faces due to human carelessness, this was a big deal. It felt as if my work adds to the efforts of these scientists who work to protect whales. It felt like something I did mattered.

Grocery list and notes about whale photos...my desk is a creative cauldron
Grocery list and notes about whale photos…my desk is a creative cauldron

One of my yoga teachers shared a Jack Kornfield quote with me recently. “It is not given to us to know how our life will affect the world. What is given to us is to tend the intentions of our heart and to plant beautiful seeds with our deeds. Do not doubt that your good actions will bear fruit, and that change for the better can be born from your life. May our actions be a product of our wisdom and compassion even when the immediate result is uncertain or not visible.”

It’s nice when those good intentions of the heart find a home, make a difference.

SimoneLipscomb (25)When I helped organize the rescue of Magnolia, our wayward Alabama manatee, it showed me what a few people can do to create a crowd of folks willing to help. Following her story from rescue, through rehab at Sea World Orlando, to release at Three Sisters Springs was an experience that changed my life and encouraged me to keep doing the work of my heart.

Mother and Calf Bliss
Mother and Calf Bliss

Everyone isn’t called to the Ocean to swim with whales or manatees or sharks. Some may find their heart’s work in schools or in inner cities, working as a nurse or physician, a computer programmer, a scientist….or by sharing music, painting, prose and poetry with the world. Each of us brings a special gift by simply opening our hearts and following our passion. We create a kaleidoscope of beauty, each bit of it necessary for healing and wholeness.

Reaper with a massive tail breach
Reaper with a massive tail breach

What we do matters.

Where Are You, Kuan Yin?

Where Are You, Kuan Yin?

FullSizeRenderMany years ago, while attending massage therapy school, one of the instructors was leading a guided meditation. I drifted off into my own journey and had the following experience: I walked down a stone staircase that spiraled deep into the earth. Eventually the stairs led into water and I stood in water up to my shoulders. Suddenly a woman dressed in white appeared. She looked like a Kuan Yin statue. She cradled and rocked me in the water. I remember the sensation of peace, rest and renewal after more than 20 years. 

There are many stories about Kuan Yin and one that resonates with me portrays her as the Bodhissatva of Compassion, who looks upon the world with and vows to help all beings. She is known as the flame of mercy and compassion and is the ‘Mary’ of the east.

SimoneLipscomb (7)I’ve been searching for compassion lately…calling it, pleading with it to show itself on our planet.

On a personal level, finding compassion for countries that continue to slaughter whales challenges me. In fact, I am angry that Japan insists on this slaughter. And Taiji, where the local fishermen have over-fished their waters and blame the dolphins so round them up and slaughter them each year. Honestly, I go a little postal if I think too much about their senseless actions. It’s difficult to keep my center, to feel love…to imagine compassion.

_TSL1998copyAfter this year’s trip to visit humpback whales that included time in the water with them in which I floated peacefully with them in meditation, I have absolutely no doubt they are sentient beings. I watched mothers teach babies how to fin slap, tail lob, spy hop and breach. I saw a male and female swim off with the very tips of their fifteen feet long pectoral fins touching after spending time communing together…such tenderness. I watched a mother and baby and male rest for hours and allow us to watch, snorkeling twenty feet away in sheer bliss. These animals are social, they have communication skills that surpass ours but because they are different than us, live in an ocean and don’t drive cars, eat fast food, etc etc some humans think of them as ‘less than.’

It’s easy to feel helpless when violence against cetaceans and other wildlife occurs or when humans are hurt through violence of actions or words. When hundreds of acres are cleared for development it’s challenging to know how to empower ourselves.

_TSL2010copyJane Goodall said this, “There is a lot we can do, each and every one of us, just by trying to make the world around us a better place. It can be very simple: we can make a sad or lonely person smile; we can make a miserable dog wag his tail or a cat purr; we can give water to a little wilting plant. We cannot solve all the problems of the world, but we can often do something about the problems under our noses. We can’t save all the starving children and beggars of Africa, of Asia, but what about the street children, the homeless, the aged in our own hometown?”

Instead of trying to solve all of the world’s problems, why not begin with something nearby and practice compassion there. Choose one issue on which to focus and pour our hearts into it. Listen to the passion that wells up within and allow it to direct our energies.

Sunday Sea Turtle Buddies
Sunday Sea Turtle Buddies

It’s not that we can call on some mythological being to come save us from our self-created hell. We can call forth the qualities of mercy and compassion within ourselves to create the changes we wish to see within the world.

SimoneLipscomb (15)Where are you Kuan Yin? Within each of us willing to look inside.

It Begins with Me

It Begins with Me

SimoneLipscombIt’s difficult to avoid learning of the many assaults to our planet and all life here. It’s possible if the news is avoided, social media is turned off and conversations with friends and family are kept to polite subjects such as the weather. But even that conversation leads to climate change eventually.

I don’t watch the news and haven’t had ‘regular’ television for four years. I haven’t missed it. But the news still finds its way into my life via an NPR app and posts on social media. Being involved in conservation organizations information is passed along about injured or dead sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, birds. And who hasn’t seen the repulsive trophy hunting photographs or those of abused animals? It gets overwhelming and so often I feel anger flare within me.

Photograph Summer 2010...Shell Oil
Photograph Summer 2010…’Shell Oil’

While documenting the Gulf Oil Spill for a year I remember people on Long Island getting upset about potential wind towers offshore. The ghastly wind towers spoiling their view…yes, I thought of their protests as I stood on the beaches of Alabama with my eyes and throat burning from the smell of crude oil and dispersant washed ashore. As sea gulls feet were coated and burning with the sludge and fish were dying in tidal pools, those protestors words echoed in my mind and fueled the rage I felt at what humans were (are) doing to the planet and each other.

simonelipscombIt took attending a week-long retreat with Joanna Macy and thirty other environmental activists for me to come back to myself. We grieved together, celebrated together and learned how to care for our planet without going completely stark raving mad.

Peace finally came to me one day when I imagined walking into a BP board meeting, looking at each person around the table and seeing them as my brothers and sisters instead of bastards. It took a while to get there but I got there.

Photograph I took Summer 2010. It reminds me of a woman's body and so I call it the Rape of Mother Earth
Photograph I took Summer 2010. It reminds me of a woman’s body and so I call it the Rape of Mother Earth

The essential difficulty we face is blaming our ills on others. Whether its pollution, violence, clear cutting, over-fishing, disregard for life….and the endless list continues…when we see ourselves as separate we immediately create the energy of separation and pretend we don’t drive cars, fly in jets, turn on light switches in our homes, eat food brought from across the country, elect corrupt politicians.  Nothing is ever solved from this stance, this snobbery.

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The dilemma I face every day is this: How do I practice love and compassion toward people who destroy the planet with no thought for anything but greed and the love of power…..while knowing that we are One. This is the growing edge upon which I dance. The only answer I have found? It begins with me. It begins with you. It begins with each of us taking personal responsibility for our thoughts and actions….and knowing we cannot control anyone else. Personal responsibility without attachment to an outcome. Not an easy task. I take a lot of deep breaths.

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Our community of Magnolia Springs came together Jan 1, 2015 to aid in the rescue of manatees that were cold-stressed and ill. WE ARE ONE!

It becomes a daily practice of finding stillness within, being non-violent with myself and making choices that back up what I find important…volunteering for manatees, sea turtles, environmental education, watershed protection, non-violent solutions, photographing beauty, writing passionately. You might volunteer to build houses for homeless families or work at a food bank. My other friend might volunteer to do eye surgeries on those who can’t afford it. Perhaps another friend fosters dogs and cats. Maybe someone else reads to children. It’s not that we have to all do the same efforts but that in our unique callings, we create a blanket of love and light. We strengthen the bond of brotherhood and sisterhood with all life.

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We Are One!

When we begin to realize the truth of unity, we can release the blinders of fear that causes us to think we are separate from all life.

Countdown to Joy

Countdown to Joy

_TSL1578The next adventure is booked and already I heard spotted dolphins whistling and sharks gnashing their teeth. I had been putting the question out there, into the Void, “Where is my next adventure?” Just Monday I had posed the question out loud in query. The echo came rather quickly. A friend messaged me yesterday reminding me of an upcoming trip to Bimini and when I looked at the description and itinerary I felt immediate joy. YES!

Each of us gets lost in our own inner process as we prepare to enter the water.
Each of us gets lost in our own inner process as we prepare to enter the water.

Years ago, while in undergraduate school studying outdoor recreation, I learned that much of the satisfaction of a vacation or adventure comes from the moment a person begins planning it. The anticipation of the trip is where much pleasure is generated, not just the experience itself. I jumped into planning the logistics of the Bimini quickly and found everything coming together effortlessly.

Arranging flights was easy. Frequent flyer miles purchased the US portion of the flight and with each successful step of negotiating the details, excitement grew and joy began bouncing around within my mind and heart.

Spotted dolphins….every day. Sharks and baby shark encounters….oh, my gosh! Could anything be cuter than baby sharks? All those teeth in munchkin size bodies. (Sigh).

IMG_3487-2I realized today, after chatting with a friend who decided just this morning to go along, that too often we put off feeling joy. We don’t have to have an awesomely cool photography trip (or whatever makes you happy) on the horizon to get the internal joy juices flowing…every day we have the opportunity to be present with joy.

A little buddy checking out my permit vest in Crystal River NWR.
A ‘selfie’ with a little buddy checking out my permit vest in Crystal River NWR.

There’s no need to postpone joy or start a countdown to it. Every moment we can find joy…in spring birdsong, rainy days, sunny days, flowers bursting forth with wild colors. Or dreaming about our next adventure. I propose that we put ourselves on the fast track to joy by finding one thing each day (at a minimum) in which to celebrate and connect with our beautiful, open hearts. Who’s in?

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