Wakan Tanka, Great Mystery,
Teach me how to trust My Heart, My Mind, My Intuition, My Inner Knowing, The Senses of my Body, The Blessings of my Spirit. Teach me to trust these things so that I may enter my Sacred Space And Love Beyond my Fear, And thus, Walk in Balance With the passing of each glorious Sun.
– Lakota Prayer
Rainer, The Elk – Stamina and Community by Harold Stearley
Long before Sunrise. Route 431. Leaving Tahoe. Headed North. Some say it’s the direction of Manifestation, others the Coldness and Darkness of Winter.
It was indeed pitch black at 2 am.
Heavy mist or fog, which ever you wish to label it. Basically, a cloud, tired of flying high above the Earth, had descended to an Earthly tether, and I was driving through it. I had slowed with my inner voice whispering a single word, “Deer.” And with no one behind me, I arrested my inertia and came to a complete stop — just in time as a matriarchal deer clan of seven deftly crossed the road in front of me. Two Does, one followed by three Fawns, the other by two.
Their Lead Mother paused to look at my now parked vehicle and the man behind the wheel.
Their Silhouettes somehow illuminated from behind in the gray that blanketed them. Charcoal outlines, an Artist’s first strokes. Their Eyes, reflected in my headlights, shone like tiny stars.
Diamonds in the night sky.
Their Breath, visible from the combination of moisture and body heat, sparks many images in my mind. I see Dragons Breath. Heat and Fire. The Primal Energies.
More dazzling is the space between breaths. So clearly illustrated. This Sacred Space. The space where the “I” dissipates and where the “we are one” with all of the Universe reveals itself.
Their movement, from my right to my left, is Yin. Directing me to be passive or receptive, to take the path of non-action, to accept and surrender.
Time had paused for a moment. One more collision avoided by following my intuition. But actually, it was a collision, just not a physical one resulting in tragedy. A metaphysical one as old as the Sierras.
Symbology so sweet. One must drink it from the deepest wells.
The Spirits of Gentleness, the Deer, providing the lure to new adventure, with a hint of Truth Seeking and Wisdom from that number Seven. And indeed, I was off to another mystical place where that early morning message of treating oneself and others with gentleness would start taking on more significance as I began to encounter its cousin.
It would be my first time to visit the State of Washington and I’d start with “Tacoma,” as the Puyallup peoples called it. Not the city, but the “Paha,” the Mountain. History and linguistics lost to time link translations of “Tacoma,” varying from the “Mother of Waters” to “Snow-Covered Mountain.”
The name the white man gave it is Rainier. Specifically, it was George Vancouver, a Captain in the British Royal Navy who named it in honor of his friend Rear Admiral Peter Rainier. People think they can command a Mountain by naming it, ascending to its zenith, cataloging its elevation, charting its longitude and latitude. They wish to immortalize a name. But even Mountains erode under the influence of Water.
And Rainier is more than just a Mountain, it is a Volcano, even if it hasn’t had a significant eruption in 500 years. Who knows when its explosive power may change the surrounding countryside? Disintegrate the Mountain. Return it to dust and pyroclastic ash.
I’d not only be captivated by this volcano’s summit at 14,411 feet, but I found myself crawling below it through Fields of Love. This King of the Cascades was bathed in an Ocean of Wildflowers gently caressing its slopes. Onlookers must have thought I was crazy looking downward as they concentrated on Rainier’s peak, sometimes higher than the clouds that swaddled it.
On my second day there, I was heading to the area of the Park known as “Sunrise” when I came upon a Ranger blocking the road. I had no sooner stopped and rolled down my window to find out what was happening when the gunshot rang out.
It reverberated through the woodlands and ricocheted off the many glaciers carving their way down the mountainside. It also caromed about the inside of my car sending a shiver up my spine all the way to the crown of my skull.
The Universe had shaken me. Violently! Telling me to surrender.
The Ranger explained that her partner was putting down a Bull Elk that had been struck by another motorist. How you run into a 1000-pound animal escapes my rational mind, but nevertheless, a Spirit had now been liberated from bodily form. I immediately thought of the Phowa, but I doubted the Agents would be accommodating.
Despite my days in nursing and trying to assist the dying, I am no expert with assisting in the transference of consciousness at the time of death. But as I sat there waiting for the roadblock to be lifted, I visualized Great Mystery’s light enveloping and comforting this majestic Spirit and easing its transition from this violent sensory end.
I also reflected on Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. While this might seem odd to some, pinging back and forth between some 8,000 miles of different continental belief systems, the philosophy in Buddhism does dovetail quite nicely with Native American culture. And regardless of your beliefs, another particle of awareness was merging back into all that is One.
This was a singular event, and the savagery of the Elk’s physical demise should have weighed more on my own consciousness at the time. But I was, in my defense, spellbound with Rainier.
Death, of course, represents a transition. Transitions are times of letting go. Of harvesting experiences and relinquishing bonds to those things that no longer serve us. A time to create a new Sunrise, and here I was, literally and metaphorically, driving towards “Sunrise.”
No, I had to have multiple encounters with the Elk before I received its full Medicine. In just a week, I came upon a herd at North Cascades National Park. Saw them again in Oregon. And it was there that I suddenly realized I was being bombarded with references to them. The names of towns, rivers, roads, and even the location of the tiny cabin I stayed at in Umpqua National Forest all bore the name of Elk in some form or another.
Pick up any source book of your choice and you’ll find that the Elk symbolizes Strength, Nobility, Power, and Stamina. Its Stamina is noted because they can pace themselves and travel long distances. They can avoid their predators by simply outlasting the chase.
You might also find this Stamina referred to as the Whirlwind, often regarded as a vehicle for divinity.
They are not known to be solitary creatures, but rather they congregate with their same gender and then partner with the opposite during the rutting season. They are animals of community. And they are said to show up to remind us of our need for community and for sharing time with the opposite sex. Not in the sense of sexual encounters but in the terms of balancing our masculine and feminine energies.
As this symbolism applied to me in my immediate circumstance, I was way overextending myself. I was not being gentle with myself as the Deer had instructed. And, ignoring the Elk, I was pushing way beyond the limits of my own ability to sustain prolonged physical effort.
The predators were catching up to me.
While my physical endurance was beginning to wane, my mental Stamina was chugging along at 100 miles per hour as I am in my run-rabbit-run stage of existence. I feel the weight of having to take in all that I possibly can. As fast as I can.
Was I headed towards a collision of the kind experienced by this Bull Elk?
I had already injured myself a couple of times on this trip, and I was about to push myself to the outer reaches of my bodily Stamina again. Another injury was in store that would totally catch me off-guard in a moment of exhaustion when my senses would blink. That would occur along the Umpqua River a few weeks distant from the present moment of warning.
Messages and warnings can take time to manifest, although some have struck like lightning.
Besides Stamina, I was also receiving the message of needed community. Community is something I’ve been lacking for a while, living life much too much in a solitary mode. And this message directed my attention into that sphere. And for that I am grateful.
In the meantime, while these encounters were simmering, I was totally consumed by the beauty of Rainier and the other Sunrises I was creating. Rainier is another of those amazing spaces that floods your senses and totally shuts off the internal dialog. This force upon our senses allows us to pause and reflect, and perhaps more importantly, to See. To See the world as it really is, without all of the preprogramming influences of our cultures and upbringings.
The world looks a lot different through that lens.
You can “See” the interconnectedness of absolutely everything. The “lines of the world.” The luminous nature of all existence that normally is beyond the spectrum of our physical senses. You can “Feel” the world’s pulse. Hear Mother Earth’s heartbeat drum.
The Heartbeat that holds us together in this fragile and infinite Sacred Space.
Hold that thought. And hold that Space between your Breaths.
You will find the Source there waiting for you.
Feature Photo: I was able to capture this picture at Yellowstone. The Elk are on the move in the early morning and you’re virtually guaranteed to see them if you rise early from your slumbers. Such beautiful Spirits.
References: I routinely use the following books as source materials: Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews; An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols by J.C. Cooper; The Illustrated Signs and Symbols Sourcebook by Adele Nozedar; and this time, I also consulted The Ultimate Guide to the Thoth Tarot by Johannes Fiebig and Evelin Burger.
Rabbit Holes: If you’re familiar with my writing, and my flight of ideas, you know I have a million voices speaking to me in my head all at the same time. We all do. It’s called the Mitote. If I were to try to go down all of those roads simultaneously, I’d lose my stories, and my readers, so I started dumping all those extraneous thoughts here 🙂
- Now as I mentioned, I’ve never been to Washington State before, or Rainier, but I had formulated a plan of attack for visiting national parks. It began with my Yellowstone trip where I realized I had no concept of what 2.2 million acres of park land meant. Mount Rainier is a smaller park in comparison at a mere 236,000 acres. Try to wrap your head around that one.
My plan, divide the Park up into zones and explore a new one each day. A day doesn’t do it justice, but time constraints are always present, and I consider this an exploratory visit. I’ll mark the areas I wish to visit in the future and dedicate more time to those individual areas. Hopefully.
- I’ve recently read an article titled, “The Dark Side of Resilience.” And while more versed in western psychological terminology, the point was that too much resilience can be a bad thing. Why? Because we can push ourselves much too far trying to reach unattainable goals and make us far too tolerant of adverse events. This can lead to trauma, physical or mental. So, according to those authors, it’s best to work within the framework of recognized limitations and gradually work to exceed those should we have such a desire. Is this concept comparable to the Medicine of the Elk?
- Have you ever read something and then return to that source and find that those words are missing? As if they had never been printed. Were they there for only an instant, real or imaginary? A private message for your eyes only that disappear with the blink of an eye. I had such a vision long prior to writing this piece when, in addition to reading about the community nature of the Elk, I saw a message about the rutting season itself. It said, “Have you forgotten the excitement and the joy in the pursuit of a mate?” The answer to which is No! I haven’t forgotten. Although I think the message of the Elk this time was more about seeking community and balancing our own feminine and male energies.
- The Phowa – A number of years back, I read about the Phowa in “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.” Rather than trying to describe it in detail, I’ll refer you to this link: The Essential Phowa Practice. It could be summarized as a visualization coupled with prayer. I realize that people have different belief systems, but this practice is highly adaptable.