Tag: MANATEES

The Places That Heal Us

The Places That Heal Us

What is your most favorite place? Describe it. What qualities does it have? Beauty, silence, solitude, wildlife, wild people…what makes it special to you? 

We might not consciously realize it, but our body-mind-spirit is tuning in to the energies of place.But what makes up ‘place?’ It’s more than rocks, grass, sky, trees, flowers, wildlife. It’s all of that and more…the essence of place includes something that is perhaps nameless but it includes a felt sense of something special. 

When you are in your favorite place, what do you notice about yourself? What is happening in your mind? Your body? Your emotions?

I’ve spent years writing about how Nature affects me, how it touches my soul and brings me to greater harmony with myself and the place. I’ve bared my soul trying to encourage others to find this sense of wonder because in my experiences there has been nothing more profound and satisfying to connect deeply with whales, dolphins, rocks, sea, manatees, mountains…and at the depth of that connection find myself deeply in communion, in profound Oneness.

It’s obvious that humans find connecting with Nature healing, at least on some level. Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the most visited national park in the United States had 12.5 million visitors in 2019. Grand Canyon NP had 5.97 million, Rocky Mountain NP had 4.7 million and Zion NP had 4.5 million. The total number of national park recreational visits in 2019 was 327,516,619 with a total recreation visitor hours of 1,429,969,885. Great Smoky had a record number of visitors in June of 2020 with an increase of 7% from 2019 and an increase in camping of 21% from the previous year. And this is only national parks. National forests, state parks, state forests, city parks, and other public owned lands offer much more opportunity for outdoor connection. And then there are places that are never statistically documented where people go outside to connect with Nature. 

Why do we go into Nature? Ultimately, I suspect the common thread that draws us is beauty. We still want to feel awe and wonder and capture wildness, even if it’s photographing a bear on a cellphone camera from 200 yards away or standing at the base of a heavily visited waterfall to feel the mist of water that plunges from above us to the ground where we stand. The same urge to connect with the magic of Nature is as strong for the person yelling and whooping at that waterfall as it is for the person standing in silence with tears running down their face.

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