Category: healing

Two Days Before Earth Day

Two Days Before Earth Day

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Curacao…a beautiful island in the southern Caribbean

Two days before Earth Day four years ago I was underwater. The strong taste of petroleum filled my mouth with every inhale. I signaled my dive buddies to surface under the star-filled night sky. Their air was fine. I didn’t know the source of the weird taste so we submerged but I stayed rather shallow and kept the dive brief.

I remember surfacing and turning back to look over my shoulder into the dark Ocean. A wind swept across the water and I felt a chill that shook my core. It was a very ominous way to end a dive.

simonelipscomb (15)A few days later I was sitting in the Atlanta airport after the flight from Curacao and saw the footage showing Deepwater Horizon in flames. When I am in the Caribbean I unplug as much as possible so had missed the news coverage of the explosion until I was almost back to Asheville. As I sat in disbelief on the vinyl-covered seat, clarity came and I knew it was time to go home.

Years ago I had promised the Gulf that I would help but didn’t know how. I heard a very distinct reply on the inner…You will know when it’s time to come home. The summons had been given. It was time.

I tracked the oil after arriving back to my mountain home and timed my arrival on the Alabama Coast, my birth place, a few days before the brown goo arrived. I wanted to document the unspoiled marshes and shores. I could sense the menace approaching but could do nothing except be a witness.

I remember one day I had been to Fort Morgan and was driving back to my mom’s on Bon Secour Bay. I stopped by a marsh and took photographs of large, orange boom in Mobile Bay. When I got back in the car I lost it. I mean really, really lost it. I started sobbing and screaming….how could we do this to our planet? It was as if I was experiencing a panic attack for our planet. I thought that I was witnessing the beginning of the end of life as we knew it.

One day as I walked the trail to the beach at Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge, I crested the top of the trail on the dune and saw before me a crime scene. Big blobs of smelly, brown goo were scattered all along the beach. I called the 800 number to report it and stayed for what seemed hours until somebody came to document it. Tearfully I sat on the sand and not knowing what to do I started singing to the Gulf of Mexico….I prayed and asked forgiveness for all humans. But mostly I grieved. My tears fell among crude oil staining the beach.

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When the oil first came ashore it was marked with driftwood and gloves…I couldn’t help but enjoy the message this glove was giving.

simonelipscomb (13)One week each month for the first year I returned to the Gulf of Mexico and documented seven areas of beach beginning at Fort Morgan and going to Fort Pickens, Florida. I remember a day in early July when I was standing at a tidal pool watching a little fish gasp in the grip of death as the bubbling crude oil, dispersant and salt water suffocated her. I was pretty close to the end of my coping skills. After days of breathing the benzene-ridden air, dealing with heat and the horrors of what I was witnessing I literally almost lost my shit, so to speak, watching that fish die.

simonelipscomb (9)Standing with tears flowing and sobbing I heard someone call my name. It jerked me out of the spiral of grief and I saw my friend Sherry, who I hadn’t seen in years, coming toward me. She gave me a big hug and we stood for a moment. I believe God or Mother Earth…or both… sent her to me that day. She was working on a clean-up crew and just ‘happened’ to be there.

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simonelipscomb (7)My spiritual practice of meditation helped me make it through that year. My friend and teacher from England pulled me aside at a workshop almost a year after the spill and asked how I was doing. I told her how difficult it was to witness such needless destruction. She told me that there was a reason I was witnessing it and to stand firm in my love of the planet. Many friends from all over the world followed my blog posts and sent support to the Gulf and all life within and around it. If my actions could bring the truth to a few people, it was worth it.

simonelipscomb (8)The process of personal healing has been long after that year. The journey back to wholeness led me to return home permanently to the Gulf Coast. While I haven’t really understood what my role here is now, I have enjoyed each moment spent with sea turtle hatchlings, manatees, ospreys, eagles….the salt marshes and river. The very things that broke my heart and spirit have been my healers.

simonelipscomb (17)Much of what I shared during the spill and cleanup was what was happening on the beaches. The personal struggle was small compared to the ecosystem and the community of relationships within it. Yet humans, too, are a part of the community of nature. We are deeply engaged in the cycle of life whether we acknowledge it or not.

simonelipscomb (23)A week with Joanna Macy in Rowe, Massachusetts, allowed a group of thirty of us, working to make a positive difference on the planet, have a safe place to facilitate our healing and help us understand the process that is happening globally. Perhaps the most important lesson learned that week was that all of us are needed to, step-by-step, be midwives to the Great Awakening or as Joanna calls it, The Great Turning.

simonelipscomb (18)We cannot afford the luxury of turning our eyes away from the horrendous abuses humans do to the planet, to animals, to each other. We are all connected…we are one family of life surviving on a living planet.

A kid's book I created to explain the oil spill in a simple, understandable way to all ages.
A kid’s book I created to explain the oil spill in a simple, understandable way to all ages.

This Earth Day, let us remember our connection to our magnificent planet…the Ocean, sea turtles, dolphins, whales, otters, rivers, osprey, eagles, the kid across the street, the massive oak trees and the tiniest flower. We are One.

simonelipscomb (21)The taste of petroleum in my regulator on the dive in Curacao couldn’t be explained. On an energetic level I believe I connected with the disaster happening in the Gulf of Mexico while I was in Curacao, in the southernmost island of the Caribbean. It showed me, without doubt, that I am connected to the Ocean…the One Ocean…and to all life. And so are you my friends

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To order my kid’s book on the oil spill or other books….please CLICK THIS LINK or visit Coastal Art Center in Orange Beach, AL or Page and Palette in Fairhope, AL.

Muddy Toes…Happy Heart

Muddy Toes…Happy Heart

simonelipscomb (3) copyAs soon as I stepped onto my SUP board, a large shadow passed overhead. Wings gliding through air were so close the rush of air through feathers sounded like soft music. I watched the pelican navigate upriver as I turned my board around to head down…down river.

Those first few paddle strokes felt amazing. Weeks had passed since my last visit with the river and so I found myself unable to resist her call after my Pure Barre workout. A hearty breakfast and I was out the door after grabbing my cap and waist-wrap PFD. It only took a few minutes to strap the wheels on my board and begin the short walk to the water.

photoBliss began to fill me as my mind expanded through the sky reflected in the still water. And then, having paddled less than 100 yards, a large tree blocked my progress. At some point during the past five weeks a maple tree fell from the eroding bank and blocked the narrow passage of the Magnolia River headwaters.

Not to be deterred, I turned around, exited the water, re-strapped the board to the wheels and walked further down river to another put-in point. It wasn’t the white, sandy beach I am used to but it worked.

SimoneLipscombThe black mud oozed between my toes as I gingerly walked my board over submerged tree limbs. It wasn’t ideal but finally…ahhhh….I was free.

The wind picked up so once I was into the Cold Hole it gave me an immediate challenge. It didn’t really matter. I felt like I was getting reacquainted with an old friend.

The new floating dock in the Cold Hole had been whitewashed by grateful pelicans who discovered it as the perfect perch from which to sit and hunt. All the way past the bridge and onward the splashes of pelicans dropping from heavenly realms created wondrous music that blended with the steady dip and splash of the paddle blade as it sliced the surface.

Osprey...image taken in Florida last winter

An osprey cried overhead as I disturbed her morning’s reverie in the high pine tree just before Devil’s Hole. Cormorants swam and pattered on the surface of the water as they gained momentum to fly.

heron7Another large bird flew beside me with a large branch in his beak. The great blue heron flew up and over my head to the pine tree where he and his gal had raised a baby last year. Patiently waiting on the new nest was his mate.

Because the wind was quite brisk I hadn’t planned to go very far but the river was like a magnet for my soul and I was unable to resist her attraction. So on I went.

Past the snowy egret….past the snag where I saw the bald eagles last autumn. Past the double tree snag that was now filled with buzzards…past the last house and into the place where the river is wilder, more feral. My turning point would be the bend in the river where the sandhill cranes mesmerized me with their haunting calls during the migration last year. I wanted to peek around the bend and see marsh grasses further on…those sacred rushes where amazing nursery habitat for so many fish and sea creatures hugged the banks of the widening river.

SimoneLipscomb (2)Clouds grew darker and began to organize into layers of gray-blue puffy formations. It was the nudge I needed to turn homeward. With the wind pushing me now, I paddled steadily back to the muddy beach but my mind was lost in geometries of elongated ovals of dark blue ringed with purple, reflections on the surface, distorted by wind.

SimoneLipscomb (6)Too soon my board nosed into the submerged limb and the black ooze welcomed my toes as I stepped over otter footprints and climbed the sandy bank with my board. Some of my human friends are hunkered down for another North Carolina snow storm. Another is recovering in a hospital after being hit by a drunk driver and air-lifted to a trauma center. Other friends are recovering from serious surgery and on the list grows. So today…on this beautiful day…I feel blessed that somehow grace has touched my life and given the gift of the river.

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Angels Among Us

Angels Among Us

simoneOver 28 years ago I was sitting in Centennial Park in Nashville, Tennessee. Going through a major upheaval in my life caused me to seek guidance from a therapist and I was using the before-session time to sit quietly and collect my thoughts. During that time in my life I was awakening to my spiritual path and trying to figure out who I was…normal twenty-something angst.

A quiet corner of the park drew me and I sat in a glider. As I watched the trees and squirrels and people, I noticed what appeared to be a homeless man walking with strong intention from the far corner of the park. I was a bit uneasy as I was alone and he seemed to be heading straight for me.

Sure enough his long, purposeful strides brought him directly in front of me where he stopped and held out his hand, as if to shake mine. Without knowing what else to do I simply held out my hand and shook his. He simply said, “My name is John.”

SimoneLipscomb (1)When our hands touched and he spoke, it was as if my heart and mind expanded. I felt as if everything changed in that moment. It felt like an electrical jolt awakened me.

I believe John was an angel in human form. He disappeared after shaking my hand with the same purposeful walk. But my life was never the same.

Yesterday as I was leaving the Starbucks in Lake City, Florida I noticed a man with a heavy beard, cammo jacket, rough skin and very sad eyes drinking a cup of coffee. I paused, made eye contact, smiled and nodded. When I stepped outside I noticed his beautiful dog sitting next to his pack and bedroll. Alert and watchful, he observed me cautiously as I said hello.

SimoneLipscomb (2)I got to my car and felt my heart open and tears began to pour down my face. First, I felt tremendous gratitude for my many blessings…friends, family, home, car, food, and lots of fun toys for scuba, SUP boarding, cycling, photography. All of this abundance for which gratitude and humility bubbled up within me. Then the tears intensified as I wept for people that are alone or lonely or in pain. And I thought about how humans are so disconnected and how each day we have opportunities to make a difference in other’s lives.

It was New Year’s Day and so I was already pondering changes I would like to make in my life during the upcoming year. The weekend had given me much to ponder as I trained in a new form of scuba and cave diving. Challenges always bring up my ‘stuff.’

SimoneLipscomb (3)My instructor and I connected through email after I shared a blog entry I wrote about my experience and through her reply I had a major self-realization: I have consistently felt the need to be strong, to not show weakness. For decades I’ve put an intense effort into being strong. I did this from the time I was a small child riding a tricycle. Always independent and capable, refusing to ask for help. After over 50 years of this, I’m tired.

Nobody asked me to be strong or fiercely independent and it has served me well in much of my life. But a hard edge developed and I felt protected and guarded…not always, but much of the time.

Tears flowed as I read my instructors beautiful comments. I realized how much I’ve had to demonstrate strength and power to be accepted in relationships…or at least that was my perception. I never knew those scars were present until her kind words found their way to me.

SimoneLipscomb (5)When I greeted the man in Starbucks, when our eyes met, I was reminded that an open heart and mind is what I want to offer the world this year. As I drove, I pondered the entire weekend and resolved to bring all of who I am into the world. Refusing to hold back parts of myself but to joyfully express love and compassion, to allow myself to be vulnerable.

SimoneLipscombI’m not sure how angels work among us but I believe they do. When we drop the walls of fear erected to protect ourselves, we begin to know them, to learn from them. And can then pass along the love given to us.

 

 

 

Self-Mastery

Self-Mastery

jill's photo 2 (2)The last time I was in an underwater cave was April 6th, 2010. Over three and one-half years ago I was at Peacock Springs State Park and dove in 25 foot viz in green water. I spent 54 minutes with two dive buddies and went up the Peanut Tunnel entrance. My gas was 31 % EAN (enriched air nitrox). I wore two steel tanks in a backmount configuration (meaning they were banded together and joined by a manifold with an isolator valve). It was my 85th cave dive.

Over ten years ago I was riding on the back of a motorcycle and the guy operating it hit a pot hole on the interstate going about 70mph and the result for me was a compression fracture of L5 and a small piece of bone that floats around a bit…not much but just enough to cause a lot of pain when my hip is compressed by carrying anything heavy on my back or doing exercise or movement that pushes the bone fragment against my sacrum. It’s not serious or debilitating but carrying heavy steel tanks on my back created too much compression to enjoy cave diving. Additionally, I lost my dive buddy due to divorce.

I’ve missed cave diving–or certain aspects of it. The feeling of being surrounded by earth while underwater is one of the most holy experiences of my life. This is especially evident in caves found in the Akumal, Mexico region of the world where the once-dry caves are heavily decorated with stalagmites and stalactites and the water is crystal clear and 78 degrees. And still. The water generally has no flow in the Mexico caves.

It’s different here in north Florida. First, there are no decorations in the caves. They are seep caves formed from underground aquifers that create tunnels–lots and lots of underground tunnels filled with water.And it’s different because it’s only six hours from home by way of I-10 instead of a jet ride down to Mexico. However, the most important distinction for me is that many of the caves here have significant water flow.

In my first book, Sharks On My Fin Tips, I related a story of my first attempt to enter an underwater cave at Ginnie Springs. I compared it to feeling like a mosquito trying to grab the windshield of a car while it’s traveling at a high rate of speed. I stuck with it because I wanted to experience the caves of Mexico and basically, it’s a unique experience that is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.

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Photo by Jill Heirneth

Sidemount diving gives the opportunity to carry two tanks attached to the diver’s sides, carried to the water independently and attached in shallow water, taking the stress of the diver’s back. Many divers switch to sidemount due to back issues after carrying heavy doubles on their backs. This seemed like the perfect solution for me.

After making inquiries about sidemount instructors I chose one and a friend of mine decided to take the class with me. We are both competent divers and in fact both function as open water instructors. She also teaches scuba instructors how to instruct. The first day of class we were both humbled by the new gear and configuration. It was like learning to dive from the beginning.

jill's photo 2 (6)When I first began cave diving and switched to double tanks I felt the same way. So much gear and such a hassle to even get in the water….it seemed very tedious and there was a lot of task-loading. But over time and through practice, backmount diving with doubles became like second nature. But never was the setup easy. It was a pain in the rear. And in my case…a pain in the back.

There is a lot of redundancy in gear for safety reasons so a diver still has to carry three lights, extra air, extra reels but with sidemount the configuration is different. The harness and wings (that provide lift) are all different. So it is like starting over yet again.

It’s funny how activities I am drawn to perfectly mirror my inner life. I am starting over again after a ten year relationship ended. It’s not easy. Over the past two years I have had to learn to be single again and at times it has been incredibly challenging. But over time it has gotten easier and I’m comfortable with ‘just’ me now. The sidemount class mirrored my challenges of the past couple of years.

It took a while but by the end of the first day I felt comfortable in the harness, with the tanks and was in a good position in the water…all vital to successful diving. We went on a night dive into a beautiful cavern at Ginnie Springs called the Ballroom and practiced. I liked the feel of the gear and felt comfortable in my body. It was great to be surrounded by earth while underwater.

But I knew I wasn’t ready to face a high-flow cave in my new gear. I was clear with the instructor. It had been over three and one-half years since being in an underwater cave. But it’s not the overhead environment that bothers me. It’s the flow. It has always been the flow. I abhor it. I don’t know any other way to explain it. I simply detest the high flow because I have to pull against it. After two years of fighting to find myself again and get comfortable in my own skin once more, the thought of fighting against anything made me tired–emotionally and mentally.

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Photo by Jill Heirneth

Day two of class and I felt great in my gear. I changed a couple of things in the configuration and trimmed out nicely in the water once again. No issues really. But since our instructor chose Ginnie as a place to do our penetration dives I was apprehensive. Have I mentioned how I dislike high-flow systems?

I shared my concerns and our plan was to do a short penetration through the Eye, one of two entrances into the cave. As we descended into the small bowl leading into the eye I felt good. The instructor tied off her reel and I followed with my buddy behind me. We descended through rock and sand and lines of other divers. I was doing okay with the overhead but as the opening got smaller the flow was more forceful. I struggled to get my buoyancy balanced. It was difficult to continue. I stopped and regrouped and moved forward. Little-by-little I progressed until I came to a point where three lines covered the bottom. I knew because I wasn’t able to get the proper buoyancy I would most likely drag on one of the lines. So I made the decision to turn the dive.

Upon turning I realized I was already caught on one of the lines. It wasn’t a big deal though. I reached under my body and ran my hand down and removed the line from my pressure gauge then slowly ascended behind my buddy up to the light zone and into open water.

jill's photo 2 (3)One thing I have always insisted upon in myself is that I can call a dive at any time for any reason. This way of thinking is taught in the cave diving community as we never want anyone to push when they should really draw back. It’s not always an easy decision to make, however. You don’t want to let your buddies down. You want to succeed. You want to be masterful in your skills.

But what I have come to understand through over fifty years of making mistakes and growing from them is that success isn’t about pushing myself to succeed at any cost. Monitoring my thoughts, emotions and physical body helps me learn self-mastery and this leads to self-trust. And this is far more important than mastering a high-flow cave in new gear.

And too, fighting the flow of life’s journey is futile. People float in, people float out. Jobs, homes, geographic locations, experiences….all of these components of our journey come and go and to try to hold on to them, to keep things static, is futile. Success comes from surrendering to the flow, not from fighting it…not from pushing against it. I told my instructor and my dive buddy yesterday at lunch that I’m so weary of pushing against the flow of my life. I don’t have any fight left to try and make things work out a certain way. The cave flow reminded me so profoundly of this truth.

Life provides opportunities to refine the relationship we have with our self and learn the sacred art of self-mastery.

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Bring in the Light

Bring in the Light

photo copy 6I awakened this morning thinking of the Solstice…yesterday’s Solstice. Geez…I didn’t even mark the event, I thought but then quickly realized that I had climbed 177 steps toward the light in a tight spiral. Upwards I climbed with my daughter and son-in-law until we were almost inside the many-prismed glass sculpture that housed the light of the Pensacola Lighthouse.

photoWe had just visited the Naval Aviation Museum with my mom and decided to stop at the lighthouse and make the climb. Mom waited for us in the gift shop as we made our way up and up, winding tighter circles in the brick structure built in 1859. The wrought iron steps were chilly on my bare feet as I abided by the climbing rules and carried my flip flops rather than risk tripping on the steep stairway.

As we climbed I thought of the lighthouse keepers from years past whose jobs were vital to the safety of those traveling by ships. Before there was GPS, LORAN and other modern navigation tools, there were only charts, stars, sextants and lighthouses to keep sailors on course. The lights were illuminated by a lamp fueled with oil or kerosene instead of electricity. The rotating element was introduced in 1790’s houses and the Argand parabolic reflector system introduced in the early 1800’s. Electricity and carbide or acetylene gas began replacing kerosence around the turn of the 20th century. At that time the lamp could be automatically lit at nightfall and extinguished at dawn, eliminating the need for a keeper to climb the stairs carrying fuel and tending it during the long hours of the night.

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I tried to imagine how gallons of fuel might have been carried up the steep, tight stairway and marveled at the dedication required for those keepers all over the world whose job it was to bring light to all who needed it. As I reflect on the Solstice and the season of light, I ask this question: Are we any less in need of Light today?

photoWalking through the Naval Aviation Museum I noticed the machines of war…planes, aircraft carriers, markings on the sides of ships and planes denoting how many enemy planes, ships and other targets were destroyed. I felt such sadness that through the long history of humanity we still have not evolved beyond war. Success is still measured by some people and governments by the number of enemies we destroy. We continue to live based in fear. Fear that if we don’t destroy others, we will be destroyed.

In the spiritual tradition in which I was raised, I learned that Light entered the world through the birth of a man, a messiah, a Light that taught us to move from the Old Testament ways of an eye-for-an-eye to lives lived with compassion and love. But I ask….where is  love when decisions in our lives are based only in fear, in retaliation, in one-upping, and taking out (in one way or other) those who don’t believe like we do…dress like we do….worship like we do…look like we do.

photo copy 5By making the commitment to climb steadily toward the Light we reach greater understanding by seeing from a higher perspective. No longer operating from fear, we are able to see with new eyes, with open hearts.

We have spent far too long living with the mind-set of fear. Now is the time to bring in the Light.

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