Tag: MANATEES

the simple things

the simple things

When life is finished for each of us I predict the simple things will be what we treasure. The time the sunrise was pink and lavender; the morning the clouds were cotton candy pink; the time the spotted dolphin brought her baby up to me and used sonar to vibrate my headache away; the humpback whale that did yoga with me before sunrise 90 miles off the coast of the Dominican Republic; the moment I held my daughter for the first time; that time I lived through what I thought I couldn’t.

I wonder why we tend to make life much more complicated than it needs to be. Why we accumulate ‘stuff’ and work so hard to get more when the accumulated ‘stuff’ isn’t what builds the real foundation of a full and amazing life. At least it isn’t for me.

The bull elk stood and made eye contact with me…or was it the cow in the meadow? It doesn’t matter….all I know is how my heart felt when we were face-to-face.

That time the manatee rolled and farted…who could forget that? I snorted so much water in my flooded mask from laughing and this dead-pan ‘little’ friend just carried on gazing into his own beautiful reflection in my dome port. Now that’s a good memory.

The accumulation of stuff requires so much energy that there’s little left over to actually enjoy life.

The investment I’ve made has been more in travel and exploring. My grandfather told me a couple years before he died that his one regret was not traveling when he and my grandmother were healthy enough to go. So I took his advice to heart and used money he gifted me through his death to travel to many places. That has brought joy and filled my heart with gratitude.

I remember sitting at a burial tomb in Ireland with nobody else around because it started raining. I sat there and played a newly-purchased Irish low whistle with gratitude to the ancestors. I witnessed clouds roll around the small area and the storm parted as if in response to my acknowledgment. I won’t ever forget that.

It was worth arising long before sunrise to drive to an overlook in the Smoky Mountain National Park to witness pink and lavender skies. As I invest in connecting with Nature with my heart and whole self I find richness filling my life in ways a fat bank account never could. It’s really that simple for me.

It’s Not a Box-Check Life

It’s Not a Box-Check Life

Last night I was talking on the phone with my mother and telling her about going back to Cataloochee Valley this morning to visit the elk. She asked me why in the world I would want to keep going back after seeing them once or twice. As I drove through dense fog in the darkness before dawn this morning, I thought about her question.

Why do I return to see the elk? Or have in-water encounters with humpback whales…three weeks over three different years? Or visit favorite dive destinations over and over again? 

As I pondered her question it was like…why do I breathe? Just because I did it once…

First, to share breathing space with a massive bull elk or a sweet baby, still sporting spots in its shaggy fur or be close to a huge cow elk peacefully munching grass reminds me I am part of the whole, not the alpha or the better or wiser. I am part of Oneness. And secondly…it’s just so freaking amazing! To feel…yes, feel!… the eerie bugle call of bull elks echoing through the valley is one of the coolest things ever. And thirdly…how could I possibly get tired of the continuing saga of which bull will keep what cows and who will challenge who and will I get to witness their meeting? Or will that once-in-a-lifetime encounter yield an image that will touch people’s hearts?

The first time I was in the water with a massive humpback whale I wasn’t sure how I would feel because they are wild and huge and I’m a speck compared to them. What I felt was communion, like coming home to myself. My heart opened and my entire being melted into bliss. And it happened every single time, every single year. I even meditated with humpbacks in the water and did yoga under stars while whales surrounded the boat but, that’s for another post. How could I possibly find that boring? Or ho-hum? No matter how many times I did it? When something touches my heart it opens me to a great sense of life…of being alive!

Even the walks at Deep Creek, a part of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, never feel boring and I walk there three or four times a week. There’s water flowing everywhere, trees, wildflowers, hummingbirds, butterflies, bears, snakes, rocks, rocks and more rocks and waterfalls and trails varying in difficulty from easy to challenging. When I walk in Nature I walk into a living Universe and I always experience these walks with wonder and awe.

As I was walking from the far end of Cataloochee Valley today, loaded down with camera backpack and tripod, I realized I can never be happy working inside for very long. The thought of a full-time, indoor job crushes my joy. As my hiking boots splashed through a creek, through mud and lush grass I had the realization that to honor myself I needed to spend time each day outdoors. It wasn’t a new realization at all but after several days of working indoors, at a part-time job, it was a good reminder.

I’m not ‘me’ in an office. I am most myself when the wind plays with my hair, the frost crunches underfoot, I’m nose-to-nose with a spotted dolphin or fluke to finger with a humpback whale, or when I have my telephoto lens filled with a massive bull elk bugling his powerful voice throughout the valley. Or the dawn shows me how lovely it is to be quiet and observe the mountains enshrouded with fog.

When I open myself to Nature I am at home in my skin; I feel a deep sense of place. For every wild animal that has honored me by allowing me to commune with it, photograph it and write about it…Thank you! You enrich my life with every encounter.

I’m not the kind of person that has a list of things to do in my life and once done move to the next thing. I live my life listening to wild creatures and places that call to my wild heart and will do my best to show up when I hear the call…no matter how many times they whisper my name.

Walk Open

Walk Open

There’s a guy where I bike and hike that walks with his palms facing forward. We usually walk with the back of our hands facing out so this unique difference captured my attention and I began experimenting.

What I noticed was my entire body opened as I simply rotated my thumbs outward as I walked. It felt as if I was unlocking an inner door. Such a simple act yielded appreciable results.

As I practiced I felt an immediate receptivity at my core. I began to sense a beautiful eye within my heart. The green of the trees was greener. The sounds of rushing water became more musical. Birdsong was sweeter. It felt like a more natural state of being…to walk exposed with mind, spirit and body.

Now as I’m walking, paddle boarding, sitting in my car or doing whatever I can simply think of opening my core and feel the connection to all life…to everything.

There are reasons we close ourselves. Good reasons. Trauma. Abuse. Emotional overwhelm. Meanness. Fear. We don’t want to walk around totally unprotected from behavior of strangers, friends or family.

As I child of maybe eight or nine years old, I was watching a Disney program. There was an old mountain man who lived in a one-room shack. He had a mule. He saved for a long time to purchase a pane of glass for a window he had kept shuttered. He wanted to bring light to his cabin. He finally was able to purchase the glass and immediately after installing it, his mule kicked a bucket and broke the glass. My little heart broke open and I started crying. My dad looked at me and laughed and asked, “Why are you crying?” “It’s sad,” I replied. “It’s only a show,” he said. It didn’t change the fact that I felt sadness and compassion for the old man. But I learned that it was risky to feel those things. I could be made fun of or judged.

We learn to close down to our emotional truths. We are ‘taught’ how to do this our entire lives by how others witness and respond to our emotions. It’s a painful process. And sadly, they teach us how to close down but rarely does anyone teach us how to open back up.

To live with emotional intelligence is to gently close when we need to take care of ourselves but to open again to feel the beauty of life when it’s safe. And that’s the problem. When we close ourselves we don’t feel the abuse or pain emotionally but when we remain closed we don’t feel the beauty…we don’t allow anything to affect us.

Many year ago I was visiting the Alabama coast while I was residing in the Greensboro, North Carolina area. Things had been really tough for me. Very difficult. I was on the beach and was talking out loud to the Universe: ‘Why do I even bother to heal my life? Nobody cares. Most people never even bother to look inside and try to improve themselves. Why am I putting myself through such misery? Why even bother? Can’t I just forget being conscious and go back to blissful ignorance?’ Suddenly the sunset sky turned lavender and orange and I heard a voice within say very clearly: You clear out the inner blocks to being open so you can really see and experience moments such as this fully.

If we walk open, we invite life to touch us. We risk being affected by what we experience. I wonder if the root of the world’s problems doesn’t begin with refusing to allow anything to impact us.

We have all witnessed ourselves and others say, If it isn’t happening to me, I’m not concerned. When I worked in a retail outdoor clothing store near the Gulf Coast I expressed concern about a hurricane that was heading into the northern Gulf of Mexico to a customer. She said worriedly, “Oh, NO! Where is it going to hit?” I replied, “It’s east of here by about 100 miles.” Her reply, “Then I don’t care. It doesn’t affect me.” That storm was Hurricane Michael. It did horrendous damage but it didn’t touch her life so she didn’t care. But she’s not an exception. Unfortunately this seems to be the norm with far too many.

After documenting the Gulf Oil Spill for a year, I was completely shut down. Before the oil arrived on Alabama beaches I remember driving down the Fort Morgan Peninsula and seeing booms anchored in the saltwater marshes. I photographed the small, floating lines of buys and got back into my car. An unearthly scream erupted from my depths. NOOOOOOOO!!!! 

I sobbed and wailed. From that moment through the following year, I had to shut down emotionally to document what I felt called to witness. The inner voice that called me was so strong I couldn’t look away; but, to be there I had to shut down a feeling response….except for anger. I felt that strongly. It’s like rescue workers who extricate people out of car wrecks or collapsed buildings…they have work to do and later can deal with the trauma of witnessing such horrendous and sad events.

I can’t remember who referred me to Joanna Macy, but spending a week with her and 30 other people, after my year’s commitment to the coast, opened me back up in a safe environment where my peers and I held space for each other to grieve and feel the depths of our emotions.

It took me a very long time to reopen to joy and pleasure. The most amazing healers for me have been wildlife…manatees, humpback whales, sea lions, dolphins. Photographing them in their environment became profound sessions of healing and deep connection that opened me to love at a level to which I had never known.

As we open to beauty around us–receptive and exposed–we begin to see the beauty of our own presence as we come into deep communion with Nature. We discover ourselves to be part of the amazing whole. In our wisdom, we closed ourselves for protection so our psyches wouldn’t become overwhelmed. Now, let us remember what it feels like to be open…present…in profound compassion for ourselves and the world, which is really the same.

Rumi wrote, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Walk open, dear pilgrim. Walk open.

 

The Great Pause

The Great Pause

The other day as I was walking up the mountain in my solitary reverie, the idea of time arose as I wondered what day it was. Many humorous comments have been recently made by individuals suddenly removed from daily schedules about not knowing what day it is. I found myself not caring whether it was Monday or Thursday, April or March or May. I have never liked schedules or boxes as I call them. If I am free to follow the sun and stars, the weather, the chill or warmth of the air, I am most happy. Following the ebb and flow of tides, the changing of seasons seems a more natural way to be in the world. Plug me into a schedule that defies natural rhythm and I begin to get weird and jittery.

I understand that many do not appreciate that kind of relationship with time. Humans have so constrained most everything to fit into days, hours, minutes that when those structures are removed a sort of ‘lost in space’ occurs. Even time off from work is tightly orchestrated and kids have teams and lessons after school that keep them and their parents in a constant frenzy of scheduled time.

Joanna Macy wrote, “People of today relate to time in a way that is surely unique in history. The technologies and economic forces unleashed by the Industrial Growth Society radically alter our experience of time, subjecting us to frenetic speeds and severing our felt connection with past and future generations….the technologies require decisions made at lightning speed for short-term goals, cutting us off from nature’s rhythms.”

During my walking contemplation, I felt my body attune to the rhythm of Nature–spring…morning light…blooms…moving water…cool air…unfurling leaves. During this experience where the entire world has slowed down, I find myself relieved and hopeful. Perhaps we, as a collective, will remember the rhythms of Nature and open to the truth that we are part of the whole and will be happier and healthier by paying closer attention to these sacred rhythms.

Joanna writes, “This peculiar relation to time is inherently destructive of the quality and value of our lives, and of the living body of Earth. And it will intensify because the Industrial Growth Society is accelerating toward its own collapse.” But the good news is this is a time of great potential that she calls The Great Turning.

We are the ancestors of future generations that can, at this moment, steer a saner course for our planet. The Great Turning, as Joanna calls it, has three parts including slowing damage to Earth and all life, transforming foundations of common life and a fundamental shift in values and world view. Isn’t this where we find ourselves these days?

This is what gives me hope.

For as long as I can remember in this life I have known there would be something that would stop the world and make us face the path of destruction we have been on with industrialization. It is my deep hope that we will make a collective effort during this time of pause to reconnect with natural rhythms of life and recognize what is truly valuable and important and what isn’t.

To all the children

To the children who swim beneath

The waves of the sea, to those who live in

The soils of the Earth, to the children of the flowers

In the meadows and the trees in the forest, to

All those children who roam over the land

And the winged ones who fly with the winds,

To the human children too, that all the children

May go together into the future…

–Thomas Berry

 

 

My Manifesto

My Manifesto

I’ve never been one to give much credence to manifestos. They are sort of like…ooohh, look at me….I have something to say. And I find that most of us have something to say but nobody really pays much attention except to their own voices in their heads. Everything else just goes through their filters of who they accept as okay and who isn’t and they look for everything possible to uphold their belief about themselves and others. Oh, there’s the evidence that she IS crazy.

But this cluster of a house closing and moving has brought up enough fear to shake me to my core and make me wish I was anywhere but here, in this skin and bone experience. Not just regarding my own personal challenges but for the planet. I keep hearing to write my own manifesto. Maybe a last word of an old life that helps open the doorway to the new one. I’m ready for that crossing. That Threshold has been looming for over three years or 59 years or lifetimes. I don’t really know. Regardless, here goes.

I am so freaking angry at humanity and wish I wasn’t a human. The shame I feel from being part of a species that is hell-bent on destroying itself is huge. It isn’t only the miserable leadership of this country (USA) that is taking us backwards at warp speed….racism, environmental lack-of-protection, elitism, corruption…it’s happening in many places on the planet. The gains so many worked for so diligently for so many decades have been lost in nearly three years. Three years. Three years of insanity supported by politicians who don’t have the guts to stand up to a maniac because greed is their guiding light. There is no moral compass in this country where such bigotry, hatred and nihilism is encouraged and fueled by leadership.

I don’t want to live in this insanity. Enough.

There are those in my life that think they know what’s best for me. If I only got a ‘real’ job I’d be just fine. As if me having a job would fix any of the woes of the world…or fix the angst in me.

I worked for six months for an international company and found how insidious their practices are regarding the environment yet they wanted the lowly workers, earning less than $10 an hour, to ‘sell’ how great they were environmentally….while thousands and thousands of plastic hangers get trashed every year at just one store and plastic bags wrap every shirt, pants, hat, coat, vest….plastic that doesn’t get recycled. Yes….by all means let me just get a job to solve my problems. It only opened my eyes wider to the insanity of this world based on greed and profit at any cost.

I’ve never felt like I fit in and have felt I am at least one step off from the rest of humanity. My goal has been to connect people with Nature in an effort to preserve at least some parts of the planet and Her species. While my efforts have been sincere and well-received, they have never supported me financially. So I’m left either selling my soul to corporate America or watching my finances swirl down the drain as I try to make a difference.

While sports figures earn millions each year and politicians income increases from bribes, sponsorships and other illegalities, people that are really trying to make a difference…non-profits, artists, conservationists, environmentalists, social workers, teachers….are scraping by. It’s very warped and messed up.

In my travels I have connected deeply to the land and sea, to humpback whales, manatees, dolphins, sea lions. I have felt the immense power of the sea and wanted to kiss the ground upon release from a storm-tossed boat. I have sensed the stillness of the sea that reflected the heavens so perfectly it was difficult to tell where the sea stopped and the sky began.

There are no regrets about my traveling to other countries such as England and Ireland where in stone circles or other ancient, sacred places I have awakened to deeper levels of my soul and the vast connection to Earth and Stars and Sea. Each journey has gifted me with something priceless. Had I grasped my money in fear, I would have never had those experiences.

I have watched an octopus dance with me, had squid explore the dome port on my underwater housing. Had manatees kiss me. Humpback whales, after spending three separate weeks with them, have taught me how intelligent they are and how caring and loving they are to their young…they broke me open to love like I had never known before. And they began calling me when I was only a teen through their song. They have been a guiding force for me and the kinship we share is profound and on the level of soul.

Diving in the veins and life-blood of the planet has been a gift like no other. Being inside Her….within Her beauty changed me, altered my perception of what is truly important.

The beauty I have witnessed has inspired me to share with others, to help awaken them to this incredible planet upon which we live. And yet it doesn’t bring an income to me. I never figured out how to commercialize beauty and love and depth of soul. I hope I never do.

For the past three years there has been an intense dismantling of my life…or 59 years or whatever. But these past three years have been a true letting go…letting go….letting go. And now, poised to finally pass through the Threshold, a block appears and threatens to stop my forward progress. The fury and fear I feel about this is absolute. The deep, hard work of the soul and clearing the personality has exhausted me in ways I cannot begin to describe but here I stand ready–after this long, hard journey–to leap. And a glitch stops everything and makes me go deeper still when I thought I had reached the bottom of it.

Every fear I’ve ever had is awakened as I teeter on a financial precipice. A precipice where the ground upon which I stand gives way, below me is endless depth of Unknown and just across the way is solid ground.

I have moved through my life with trust in the Universe, even when things were at their worst for me personally. And now, after everything had seemingly come together perfectly for this big leap into the next part of my journey, I stand on a precipice knowing I cannot return to how I was–I won’t unpack the boxes and carry on as if nothing has changed–knowing I might not survive if I leap and fall into the Abyss but knowing that the only way forward is to actually step out in faith over the Abyss trusting that if I fall there will be grace in my passing and peace. And if I make it to the other side, there will be grace as well.

Artists….photographers, writers, painters, dancers, composers…are often troubled because we exist to express and share our experience of the world with others, not for profit but because we must express. Our souls call us to this and to try and cram us into a box, into a job that steals our reason for being is torture. But we live in a society where these gifts are undervalued and profit-at-any cost is the norm.

Those that do not have the soul of an artist will never understand the pain we experience when we cannot express ourselves, when we are not supported for our heart’s work. Get a real job is the same as Just kill me. To be at odds with our heart’s work is to not live.

So I say to anyone still reading this, pay attention to the artists…the writers, dancers, photographers, painters, composers. Not just the ones receiving accolades but to all those who have a message to share with the world that comes from their direct experience of beauty…or pain. And support them.

My manifesto wanted to be written. It’s for no one’s benefit but my own, delving into my own feelings of frustration, fear and love for this planet, for the beauty that seems to be disappearing so fast I can scarcely keep up. My manifesto is one of deep and profound grief. Of fear for an uncertain future personally and planetarily.  I don’t want to live in a world without bees and butterflies, without right whales and orcas, without black rhinos and gorillas, without kemp’s ridley sea turtles and orangutans, without love and compassion and common decency. For to live in a world such as this is not to live at all. It’s simply to exist in a living hell.