The Magnificent Light Within

A Message from Maria Coutant Skinner, President & CEO

April 30, 2024

Dear friends;

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to paddle a kayak in the Bioluminescent Bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico. Our group included my husband Greg, two of my dearest friends and two wonderful kids aged 15 and 11. We joined a tour led by a man who goes by Peachy – because that’s his ready answer in response to the question; ‘how are you?’  Together with another group, we boarded Peachy’s large van and set off for the bumpy dirt road that brought us to a muddy parking lot where a few other tours were also gathering. It was about 9:30 p.m. and as we looked up, we noticed spotty clouds, beautiful stars, and a waning crescent moon. Around us were red mangroves with their exposed root systems appearing like long fingers suspending them above the inky waters. Prior to arriving, we had read the instructions and learned that to protect this extraordinary bay, we could not use any products that would harm the delicate ecosystem, which meant no DEET or other chemicals and, no shoes – did I mention the smelly mud? We left our phones behind too. It was very dark, so we needed to communicate with one another to navigate that mud, get our kayaks and paddles, learn safety and paddling directions and then with some help from the guides, set off two by two into the water.

I’ll admit that at first, my mind was occupied with trying not to tip over and working to coordinate my strokes with Greg’s so we didn’t crash paddles…. but then I saw it….as I pulled my paddle through the dark water, the beautiful iridescent blue color appearing temporarily with each pass.  

Marine dinoflagellates are single cell organisms that emit a bluish green light when jostled about. This bay has all the conditions that allow for millions of these single cell quasi plant/animals to gather and create the extraordinary phenomenon we experienced. I reached my hand in and marveled at what I was witnessing.  By disrupting the darkness, light was emitted. I was enthralled, entranced and overcome. 

It’s daunting to explore the darkness, stirring up who knows what in the process (remember the mud?).  There’s all sorts of ‘stuff’ that we humans avoid because we’re afraid of what’s beneath the surface: buried pain, grief, and parts of ourselves we may feel ashamed by. Dr Richard Schwartz: the founder of the Internal Family Systems model of therapy would invite us to explore those parts and extend them compassion and acceptance. I would highly recommend the book; No Bad Parts if you’re interested in how to do that. Dr. Schwartz and all the ancient spiritual traditions posit that the sacred light is present in each of us; that we are imbued with the strength to disrupt the darkness and find it in ourselves – and in others. Indeed, it is the healing source for humanity.

If you get the chance, dear friends, take a trip to see the bioluminescence. Even if you can’t, though, I invite you to take that quest internally. Take a journey of faith, together, to those parts of yourself…cause a peaceful disturbance and find magnificent light.

My best to you always,

Maria Coutant Skinner President & CEO