Category: Eco-Spirituality

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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Find Your Mountain

Find Your Mountain

_TSL2776Yoga in the courtyard was especially nice this morning. Mild temperatures made it inviting but mostly the past two days were somewhat crazy so creating time for meditative movement in nature was a priority this morning.

I plugged the iPod into the stereo system and made sure the outdoor speakers were on before walking outside. Soothing music, wind rustling through live oak leaves, the grandmother oak tree spreading her branches over the courtyard, over me, brought a feeling of calm.

_TSL2742I went through a nice, intensive flow and then heard, Find your mountain. I stood at the front of my mat and went into Mountain Pose and felt direction to remain in the pose through the song that was playing. I like to move, I like to flow! Stand still and listen, I heard. Still? Stand still?

If I’m not working on something I tend to feel at a loss. I don’t do busy work but find myself seeking a worthwhile project every day. Shooting images and processing them, writing something that I hope will inspire someone, meditating, doing yoga, my barre workout, cycling….being still is not easy for me, at least not outside of sitting meditation.

_TSL2756Mountain Pose in yoga is all about stillness and grounding….and being open but especially standing in stillness. While doing it today I was reminded of the message I’ve been getting for months now: Pause…wait….until the time is right. That’s not so easy for me. Aries are known to impulsive, impatient and ready to lead forward… Wait? Pause? Seriously? It has been an ‘interesting’ few months.

There’s a verse in the Tao Te Ching that is translated something like… “The Tao does nothing yet leaves nothing undone.” I thought of that verse as I was standing in stillness. Another translation… “The Tao never does anything, yet through it all things are done.” It seems to be telling me to allow Life to rise up and move through me and do what needs to be done, without trying to control it or orchestrate it. My path will naturally rise up through me if I can be still and listen and then be ready to act when the time is right.

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When I ‘hear’ messages as strongly as I have the message to wait and pause, it usually means something big is coming. When there is much to do it’s awesome to be able to have the skill of stillness and non-doing as a resource to tap into when things get rushed or pushy. I can carry this grounded energy forward into whatever task awaits.

As I was standing in Mountain Pose I understood the value of having the ability to stop and pause and stand strong and grounded in stillness. This is where clarity can be found and where inner guidance awaits.

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Epilogue–Humpback Whale Adventure Part VI

Epilogue–Humpback Whale Adventure Part VI

A favorite image from the adventure.
A favorite image from the adventure.

 

Friday--The last pre-dawn yoga morning at the Silver Bank reef and the moon and stars and sea met me as I stepped onto the deck. The wind had calmed from yesterday’s blow so the boat wasn’t rocking as much.

As I was facing the port side of the boat doing a wide squat pose I noticed a white mist illuminated by the nearly full moon. I removed an ear bud and heard an exhale very close to the boat. I held my pose, listened, looked and white mist blew again as the whale exhaled. As if a whale coming to the ship while I was doing my final yoga practice wasn’t enough, a shooting star arched across the sky…over the whale. (You cannot make this stuff up…things like this happen out here, 92 miles off the shore amid humpback magical dreamland).

In that moment of perfect timing I knew that everything in my life is completely in sync. The whale and shooting star reminded me of the impeccable timing of life’s journey when a person surrenders to it.

Another favorite image....
Another favorite image….

It seems as everything conspires to rise up and meet the seeker when the time is right.

I closed with a final dedication to my life’s work and felt the violet flame of spiritual transformation engulf me as whales breathed and moved very close to the boat. It felt as if I was being initiated into the next step in my life.

Afterwards I went up to the flying bridge and did my morning dance to the sun and experienced unbounded joy and love pouring to the Ocean, whales and all creatures who call the sea their home.

Day Dreamer
Day Dreamer

Then it was time to head back to land. After getting underway we saw the remains of the sailboat that had hit a reef the day before during the storm. Our ship approached to open hatches in an effort to encourage a final sinking. It is a serious navigation hazard to any craft that plies these waters, especially at night.

Notice the whales in the background...they watched the entire procedure.
Notice the whales in the background…they watched the entire procedure.

While the crew surveyed the wreck a group of whales approached and watched with curiosity. They spy hopped, surfed with their heads out of water, and finally when the dingy had been recovered and the hatches opened, breached and fin-slapped with exuberance. There was no doubt they heard the noise and came to investigate. During the initial sinking of the craft, the mayday message said the four crew members were surrounded by whales. Obviously the whales were still following ‘the story.’

_TSL2553The biggest take-away from the week, besides the amazing spiritual communion, is the absolute fact that whales are sentient, aware, caring individuals who think and behave in highly functional ways. Again I am reminded of the arrogance of humanity to assume we have a monopoly on intelligence or that we’re at the top.

Juvenile practicing her fin slapping. Notice her eye watching the surroundings.
Juvenile practicing her fin slapping. Notice her eye watching the surroundings.

Whales watched the entire sailboat wreck operation. They watched us eat and hang out on the motherships. Sometimes a mother and calf would find one of our boats and settle under it, inviting an encounter. The whale that blew her breath onto the boat at the most heart-felt moment of the interview….the whale that came to the boat as I was doing my final yoga practice and stayed during my dedication…the singer that hovered beneath our ship to sing us to sleep….the mothers caring for their young with incredible tenderness…the mother’s coaching their young on tail lobs, fin slaps and breaches…

Perhaps my favorite underwater image of the experience
Perhaps my favorite underwater image of the experience

There is the temptation, after a peak experience in life, to try and stay in that glow of Divine perfection and stay ‘there’ in those precious moments. However, these times in our lives are meant to be spring-boards for us, to catapult us to greater expressions of our highest self. These wondrous moments are instrumental in helping us move forward, to gain momentum in our journey and inspire us to step more fully into the clearest expression of love we can be. At least that’s my take on it.

_TSL2010What Great Mystery fills my heart and mind and causes me to wonder so. You draw me to you like a magnet–heart to heart, mind to mind—Brother, Sister….we are One.

 

*****

Part I–Begin at the Beginning

Part II–Meditating with Whales

Part III–Tender & Gentle

Part IV–Whale Relationships

Part V–Stormy Day

 

Stormy Day–Humpback Adventure Part V

Stormy Day–Humpback Adventure Part V

_TSL1859 1.08.19 PM-2Clouds and wind yoga instead of moon, stars and sea yoga this morning. During my practice I kept wondering how I would find this amazing connection to Mother Ocean once I was land-bound and no longer held in her liquid embrace. I felt fearful and lost as I opened to the day. Being so far removed from land brings me great peace, even on a stormy morning but I wondered how I would integrate back into every-day life.

About the time I was doing my much-modified yoga on deck due to rough water, a mayday call was going out from a 32 foot catamaran 12 miles from our mooring. Due to rough seas and being anchored within the protection of the coral heads, none of the boats in our area could respond but a Carnival cruise ship did and the US Coast Guard from Puerto Rico. More on this story during the Epilogue entry tomorrow.

_TSL1861 1.08.23 PMConsidering the rough sea conditions I expected we wouldn’t be able to take the small boats out to look for whales on our last day and that my dream of being in the water with a singing whale wouldn’t come to pass. As I walked down stairs to the dining area someone asked if I had heard the singer through the ship during the night. Was that after I put in my earplugs?

Actually I did hear something through the wall but wasn’t sure what it was so I popped in my sound-deadening earplugs and went to sleep. On some level I hope the singing vibrating through the hull of the boat worked some magic within me. I felt like a kid left out of the playground fun.

_TSL1813-2We didn’t go out for our morning session with the whales but the wind was supposed to die down later in the day. We had the morning free so I reflected on the week. The tour operator says to always take your camera underwater, even if it looks like crappy viz and like the whales aren’t interested in interacting. This trip proved him to be right. The two times I left my camera on the boat were the two times babies decided to come within ten feet of our group. I do have the blissful babies face imprinted in my heart and mind; however, it would be nice to have taken one of those opportunities for photographing the amazing moment. On the second encounter, the baby rolled and played within feet of us….okay Tom, you are right.

_TSL1788 1.08.14 PMDuring our morning downtime one of my trip mates was interviewing me on video about sustainability and business. At the very end she asked me this question: If I was in a corporate board room with executives, what would I want to say to them. I was speaking from my heart about wanting to tell them to care deeply for the planet when a whale exhaled at the side of our big boat right where we were sitting. I felt a rush of whale mind reach out to my mind and I knew that the connection they have with us is powerful and strong….and more than we can ever even imagine. During the interview I jumped up and shouted….”There’s a WHALE right here!”

_TSL2013My answer to the question? Please work toward building a sustainable economy, not one based on more and more profit. I want them to work toward moving from a profit-at-any-cost mentality to one of respect and balance with planetary resources. Obviously the whales liked my answer for they started circling the boat as I was responding. I added, “The most important thing to remember is that we are a part of nature. Thinking we can take and take and take and not give back is guarantying a grim future for all life on our planet. We are a part of that which we protect…or destroy.”

DSC_0255The afternoon whale watching presented no opportunities for in-water encounters but we did see some spotted dolphins. Compared to the whales, they are like attention deficit, wild kids. We encountered a group of three large whales that were not exactly a rowdy group but a laid back group swimming in a very large circle. We were able to observe them for a nice while before heading back to the mother ship.

Mother fin-slapping while baby watches from her side
Mother fin-slapping while baby watches from her side

What I have learned on this trip in a nutshell: 1) Whales choose when they want to interact with humans (or not interact). Period. 2) They connect with humans that are open to it via some mysterious channel. More than once this week they would suddenly appear when something powerful was happening with me….especially the interview and during the last morning’s yoga (in the Epilogue entry tomorrow). 3) The mothers and babies have the most beautiful relationship of any beings I have ever known, including humans. Perhaps because they don’t have ‘speech’ as we know it, it’s so powerful. They use touch and who knows what else to communicate. 4) My life’s work is directly tied to the Sea and to Her I am dedicated.

_TSL1971This was my last entry for the day: “I’m sitting on the sundeck watching whales blow and leap. They are moving closer to the large boats and the tethered tenders. All across the vast sea, golden white mist erupts from the surface. Small bursts where the Ocean breathes through massive bodies of humpback whales. I feel the Ocean Mother rise up through me as well to tell the stories, to share the Mysteries as they are unveiled, revealed to me. The requirement of me is to be open….available. To return to my life with renewed dedication.”

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Part I-Begin at the Beginning

Part II-Meditating with Whales

Part III-Tender & Gentle

Part IV-Whale Relationships

Whale Relationships–Part IV Humpback Adventure

Whale Relationships–Part IV Humpback Adventure

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Wednesday–After pre-dawn yoga on the deck, I went up to the flying bridge and danced to the Ocean Mother, to whales and to life as the sun rose. I feel the sea living through me more each day. I sometimes feel like the wild, baby humpback yesterday. Antsy, funny, just learning what it means to be alive in a body. Playful yet not quite sure how to proceed in life. But I’m going to sing and dance and be One with the Ocean.

The group of whales at the old wreck were active early in the day, their exhalations golden in the early morning light. Joyful, joyful are they!

Mother and baby swim side-by-side
Mother and baby swim side-by-side

All morning on our small boat we watched mother humpbacks and babies quite near our moorings. Everywhere we looked there were mothers and babies and it appeared to be boot camp for babies. Moms were teaching their newly born how to fin slap, tail lob and breach. There is only a small window of opportunity to build the strength of their young before they begin their migration to northern feeding waters. As I observed today, it seemed there was a common theme of training their offspring.

Mother fin-slapping while baby watches from her side
Mother fin-slapping while baby watches from her side

Once again I was struck with the tenderness and attention the mothers give the juveniles. Yesterday I watched a mother follow her baby as he rose to the surface to breathe. Not with her body but with her eyes. Every move he made she watched, ready to assist if he needed help or if danger threatened. One of the biggest mistakes humans have ever made is to assume that any creature not in human form is somehow less intelligent, less caring, less sentient.

Juvenile attempting to fin slap...note her eye in the far right of the image
Juvenile attempting to fin slap…note her eye in the far right of the image

The mothers were far too busy training their young to be distracted by our desire to be in the water with them. One of the rules of the sanctuary is that only when whales are settled can human visitors enter the water. When they are fin slapping, tail lobbing or breaching it’s simply unsafe for all concerned. An adult pectoral fin is 15 feet in length…the force involved when it slams into the water’s surface is significant and can be heard from far away.

The babies have far less control of their floppy tails but try hard to mimic mom with tail lobs
The babies have far less control of their floppy tails but try hard to mimic mom with tail lobs..mom is in foreground watching from beneath the surface

After lunch and a squall that moved across the area, we went back out for more searching. There were many whales but none interested in us. As strange as that sounds, after this trip I am convinced that they choose the interactions we have. It’s always on their terms. There were many times when all small boats would be tied to their respective mother ships and the whales would be all around, watching us. As soon as the tenders would head back out, the whales would disappear and come up far away or stay just out of reach, as if toying with us and leading us further into rougher water. They have a wicked sense of humor I suspect.

Impressive tail breach by an adult
Impressive tail breach by an adult

At the very end of the day, after hanging with and following a rowdy group for a while we were invited to our sister boat’s encounter with a mom and baby. The water was rough and the visibility not good so I didn’t take my camera into the water. Second time I regretted that decision.

At the very end of the encounter the frisky baby came incredibly close to our group of seven…within ten feet of us…cruising by and making eye contact. Truly an amazing experience; however, there will be no photo memories of it. Sometimes the imprint on my heart is much bigger than a photographic image on paper could ever be.

But still…..

Baby humpback's head at the surface
Baby humpback’s head at the surface

Each day was different and the first two days of the trip were better than the entire week last year. There is no predicting what the whales will do or where they will be or if they will allow close proximity. I think they have learned the behaviors of the small boats and humans who visit and as mentioned above, I truly believe they choose who they wish to interact with, when and where. I hold no doubts of this.

Beautiful mother whale laying on her back fin slapping with baby nearby
Beautiful mother whale laying on her back fin slapping with baby nearby

My final journal entry for the day, “I’m so tired I can scarcely write anything. Only in reviewing images do I actually realize what great experiences I had each day. I. Am. Grateful.”

*****

Part I–Begin at the Beginning

Part II–Meditating with Whales

Part III–Tender & Gentle