Tag: Humpback Whales

The Bliss of Peace

The Bliss of Peace

Mother and Calf Bliss

I floated above the 45 foot long mother and calf in complete awe. It was my first humpback whale trip. And it was an in-water encounter. There was inner questioning…How will I react? What will I feel? Will I be afraid?

After witnessing the gentle cuddling and caressing of the baby by her very large mother, I floated in complete peace. I remember thinking as I floated in saltwater blue, So this is what deep peace feels like.

There have been amazing experiences I have somehow been lucky enough to have in my life…but humpback whale peace….it still lives within me. Every. Single. Day.

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

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?

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.

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