Category: Hero’s Journey

No Ego Needed

No Ego Needed

Pam Wooten, Jill Heinerth, Simone Lipscomb. Photo by Rick Crawford.

The weekend before the New Year found me in Cave Country–North Florida–once again. I was drawn there to take a course in side mount, or so I thought. It wasn’t until after the trip was over and I was home that I realized the deeper reason I made the trip.

My friend Pam and I decided to take the class with Jill Heinerth. Pam knew Jill but I simply followed the recommendation of another friend and cave instructor. I won’t go into the details of the course because that’s not my focus. But I would like to share about the women that were present that weekend.

Connie LoRe, a role model for me in cave diving.  She has led trips to the beautiful caves of Akumal, Mexico for many years. Photo by Ed Jackson.

Cave diving has progressed from a male-dominated sport to one in which women are routinely participating, instructing and exploring. I thought it was rather awesome to be in a cave course taught by a woman with a female classmate who excels in the field of dive instruction. One of Jill’s friend’s was teaching a cavern course. Renee was another outstanding woman. As we were figuring out our new gear yet another amazing woman showed up to dive. Barbara am Ende, cave explorer and writer, came over and started chatting. I was a bit distracted with all the learning to realize the powerhouse of women standing around us.

Renee Power
Renee Power

Our first day ended with a dive in the Ginnie Bowl and Ballroom. Renee accompanied us. I’m not sure if it was because Pam and I were giving Jill more challenge than she bargained for and she was about to pull her hair out in frustration or if Renee just wanted to come along for the fun. Regardless, it was a very nice dive once we got our gear situated. We played around for over 30 minutes in the cavern and it was quite lovely surfacing after dark to a beautiful sky and clear water surrounded by cypress trees. After we finished Jill left to join her husband for dinner while Pam, Renee and I chatted. I felt an immediate kinship with Renee as we shared about our experience instructing scuba with wounded soldiers. Exhaustion finally overcame me and I headed for a hot shower and food.

At lunch Jill was telling Pam and I about an expedition Barbara had been on and mentioned something about a book. I emailed a note to myself to read the book…Beyond the Deep.

Barbara am Ende. Photo by Mark Long
Barbara am Ende. Photo by Mark Long

The following day of class I got to chat a bit with Barbara. She was super-nice and was interested in my photography of the trees, water and light. She shared her card so we could keep in touch but we didn’t have a chance to really visit too much. And for some reason I didn’t associate her with the expedition and book Jill had referenced.

I had to end the diving a bit early due to a cold virus that had been challenging me during the course and the dives. I had no energy and had to focus really hard just to stay present so perhaps that’s why I ‘missed’ the profound women gathered together. Or maybe it was because there was no ego, no chest-beating, no race to see how far or how deep cave penetration was that day. It was friendly, supportive sharing and everyone was equally bringing her best self forward.

WAWhandLOGOwebsiteOnce I got home and was recuperating on my sofa, I watched Jill’s video. We Are Water is a beautiful story of water and the importance of it to us but more than that, it is the story of Jill’s passion and love for the planet. And that resonated deeply with me. Her words echoed my own as she described entering the caves as a spiritual experience; a kindred soul indeed. I’m not an explorer into the deeps of caves or icebergs but I am an explorer of our relationship to nature. I see that in Jill as well.

After the movie, I wanted something else to help me make the best use of my down-time so I downloaded Barbara’s book to my iPad. As I started reading I thought, Oh, my goodness! This is the woman I met? The expedition to the cave in Mexico in which Barbara participated was intense. Over a ton of gear was transported by a system of belays to sumps far below the surface. I couldn’t put the book down and so stayed up late reading in awe of such an amazing journey. It was a powerful venture into the unknown.


I emailed and chatted with my friend Pam after the trip and shared with her my disbelief that such powerful women came together that weekend. It wasn’t planned. The timing of meeting Renee and Barbara was truly profound. I think this is so because there was such friendliness and approachability with everyone present.

It wasn’t just Jill and Barbara that brought tremendous strengths and gifts to those picnic tables at Ginnie Springs. Each one of us has an authentic way of interacting with the world and we each have something beautiful to offer the world. But so does every woman…every person.


Pam Wooten, PADI Course Director.
Pam Wooten, PADI Course Director. Photo by Simone Lipscomb

The weekend was made especially meaningful as Pam and I shared about our lives…openly, honestly. What a gift to experience the deepening of friendship.


Simone cave diving in Mexico. Photo by Ed Jackson
Simone cave diving in Mexico. Photo by Ed Jackson

Terry Tempest Williams said that if a woman ever honestly wrote about and shared her life story, the world would split open and be forever changed. As I reflect back to that weekend, gratitude overflows as I treasure the gift of wisdom each one shared. Perhaps the biggest gift I received was the assurance that wisdom comes with gentleness, straightforwardness, honesty, play, self-awareness in a space where no ego is needed.

Enter the Darkness

Enter the Darkness

SimoneLipscomb (5)The water suddenly lit up and I could see the turquoise-tinted liquid as the diver rapidly slipped past, his scooter pulling him like a chariot to the mouth of the cave. Within moments the entrance swallowed the light along with the diver and darkness once again brooded beneath the surface.

SimoneLipscomb (3)Two more lights approached but this time propelled only by the fin kicks of the divers. Their lights made slow sweeps of the water until they arrived at the cave entrance. Once they arrived at the Eye, they began their descent, their progress evidenced by the fading glow of turquoise.

I was standing on a dock overlooking the water. My sinuses had grounded me so my New Year’s celebration was spent in solitude with my camera and the magnificent trees and water spirits at Ginnie Springs. Even with the chilly air a few insects serenaded the passing of the old year and the birth of the new one. The night sounds seemed amplified as I observed divers gliding past into the caves. I know the intense silence of the caves and have touched their mystery and magic so I imagined the divers experience of the overhead environment as the stars arched over my head.

SimoneLipscomb (4)As the divers moved past in their silent dance of light, I was reminded of the journey we take to discover our own inner light. Most of us want to avoid the darkness yet it is by journeying into our own darkness that we find treasures–strength, personal power, beauty, light…. and more. Joseph Campbell called it the Hero’s Journey for truly it takes courage to make the life-long journey of self-discovery.

SimoneLipscomb (8)There wasn’t another place I wanted to be this chilly, New Year’s Eve. Finding friendship with myself, celebrating the journey and opening to continued travel, in the depths of caves and myself, brought me much joy.


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.






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.

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.

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.

jill's photo 2


Years Pass, Love Remains

Years Pass, Love Remains

dadThirty-two years ago my father transitioned from his physical body. He was in his early forties and had been sick for many years. The memories of him seem distant now, faded like old photographs.

I was a senior at Auburn, my brother still in high school when he died. I remember my grandfather telling me, years later, that he wished he could have gone before daddy because the grief was so terrible. He said even worse than that of losing his spouse…our grandmother…after over 60 years of marriage.

When someone we love leaves, a hole is left in our being. No matter the cause or how long the illness lasts or if it is sudden, losing someone is difficult, it’s painful and we’re left behind trying to make sense of life.

Part 4 Image 14 (2)At my daughter’s wedding this past summer I thought of how my father would have loved seeing Emily and Kevin get married. He never got to meet Emily….or her cousins. Or see me graduate from college.

The morning of my college graduation I woke up before everyone else and felt my father there….strongly. I had no doubt he had come to congratulate me. It was only six months after he had passed.

With Christmas being 15 days after his passing, less than two weeks after his funeral, none of us felt in the spirit; however, mom and my brother came to Auburn, where I lived at the time, and we celebrated the holiday as best we could. It was a difficult Christmas.

In an illness that is lengthy and mysterious and debilitating as was my dad’s, all the attention is placed on on the patient, the one that is sick. And of course that makes sense. But the hero in my father’s struggles was my mother. She managed to work a demanding, stressful job at the post office, put one kid through college and help the other graduate from high school during the worst of dad’s illness. That’s what parents have to do isn’t it? Keep on going for their children.

Part 1 Image 27 (14)We never really talked about his illness and at the time there wasn’t much available as far as family counseling, grief counseling. Each of us did the best we could. My grandfather and other men cared for my father while mom was at work, when he got too sick to be alone. I was at Auburn, Lance in high school. And mom juggled it all.

When I got the call that he had passed, I had just finished my final exams the day before. Mom had gotten new tires on her car, at his request. I supposed he was tending to those last details, exercising what little control he had, remaining in his body until he could slip away peacefully, his mind at ease, his family as prepared as could be.

simonelipscomb (1)I’m not sure I’ve ever thanked my mother for being such a strong force during those years. I am so grateful for her strength and dedication to my father, to our family. So while I think of my father, it’s my mother I want to remember especially today. And thank her for everything she did for us…and continues to do.