Category: Eco-Spirituality

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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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.

 

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Part I–Begin at the Beginning

Part II–Meditating with Whales

Part III–Tender & Gentle

Part IV–Whale Relationships

Part V–Stormy Day