Do you hear them? Do you feel them?
We only have so many, even being in the best of health.
So how do you want to share them?
That drum of life force.
Do you hear them? Do you feel them?
We only have so many, even being in the best of health.
So how do you want to share them?
That drum of life force.
We’re already nine days into the new year and I realize I haven’t posted anything yet. True, things have been busy. Crazy busy. But that’s no excuse. After all, my mind is constantly churning out thoughts I seem to have no control over.
Spewing and spewing more words, phrases, ideas, and concepts than I can wrap my head around. Nonstop. Mass internal confusion. The collision of thoughts like sub-atomic particles ricocheting around in a super collider.
Condensation trails in a cloud chamber.
It’s no wonder it’s tough to think and write cohesively.
What is that voice in our heads constantly telling us how the world is? And I don’t mean that voice from the subconscious that warns us when we need it most – that’s our gut talking. That’s intuition. That’s something entirely different.
To say it was a slow burn would be inaccurate. It was just plain a bonfire. Sparks to high flying flames. Embers floating upward on newly created thermals, warm and glowing, a continual burn. That was this past summer as I traveled about taking in new sights. Hiking in Nature.
That collective place, that I call the “Real World,” where I feel at home.
There was a crescendo, however. You might say. A peak. Not a turning point, and it wasn’t like things diminished in anyway afterwards, but it was a stand out moment. The day I did the Green Lakes hike.
You see I had been building toward this adventure for a while. Slowing increasing my hiking distances. Acclimating to the higher altitudes. And while the trail markers seemed to indicate a shorter distance, they were wrong. I knew it by what maps revealed and planned accordingly.
This hike, while longer, reminded me of one I did in Montana. To Avalanche Lake. That hike was shorter in distance, but it similarly ended in a spectacular view. A total sense-flooding awe. A take-your-breath-away moment.
This new mission built from the Douglas Fir forest, to the many waterfalls, to the rainbow of wildflowers, to the lakes and surrounding mountains.
A sort of reach out and touch God journey.
I’m sure many of you have engaged in a Fall or Spring cleaning. That thorough cleansing of all that accumulated junk you’ve collected but never seem to have a use for. Or that you’re storing knowing, or at least thinking, that you’ll use that Stuff someday for something.
Well it’s time for a big purge at my residence.
But the purge I’m talking about is not just about physical Stuff, it’s about the mind.
It seems like we all carry burdens. I would say more so in the figurative sense.
We’re generally not literally carrying bundles of things around, or carrying the weight of the world as did Atlas, the mythical Titan.
But we have all of the problems, doubts, fears, imperfections, commitments, obligations, desires, and responsibilities that come with bodily existence. And these “bundles” can be just as weighty as the entire planet, or even more so.
Lately I’ve read some interesting blogs pointing out just how insignificant we, as humans, are. And I’ve read others about just how meaningful life is. I guess opposites attract 😊
Frankly, I’m torn, because these thought experiments bring me back to another interrelated concept and that is “purpose.”
Just what purpose are we supposed to fulfill? Or, stated another way, why are we here?
I’ve been doing a lot of stumbling lately.
I really like that word. Its main definition is about walking in an unsteady manner, being clumsy, to almost fall, or to make an error. Blunder. But I like the other definition, that of unexpectantly coming upon something – like truth.
Now that’s no error. That’s magic.
I had just finished putting the finishing touches to an article I was writing. Word choice, tempo, spacing. It all felt good. I glanced over at the clock and it was a little past noon. Noon!! Holy crap! How did it get to be noon? The last time I looked at the clock it was around 8:30. What had happened to the time?
I had been totally immersed in my writing. So much so that I don’t even have a memory of the words being formulated in my brain. They had just flowed onto the paper. More like being channeled from an exterior source. Me just being the conduit.
At that moment, I knew that whatever I had gotten down on paper was going to be good. And when I go back and re-read pieces like this, it feels like I’m reading them for the first time.
I call that frame of mind “being in the zone.”
That place where the task is pure task. It’s taken on a life of its own. Independent from my rational machinations. It’s sort of like highway hypnosis. Where you find yourself arriving at your destination but you have no recall of driving the last 20 miles. Somehow you got there. And you managed not to get in an accident. Autopilot.
Being in the zone is something that can’t be forced. I can’t sit down and consciously tell my mind to get into that space in order to produce. It just seems to happen spontaneously. Especially when I don’t try to make it happen.
Another example might be when we consciously try to remember something. Whatever the event or person or detail it is that has momentarily escaped our grasp, if we actively try to recall it, force it into our consciousness, we can’t. But once we stop that forced effort, or have moved onto somethings else, the detail immediately pops into mind.*
I actually used to enjoy my commute to and from work when I was practicing law. Why? Because I let my mind drift during this time. Tuned out. Disengaged from my work. And it was when I disengaged that my mind worked best. Suddenly that legal theory or a key element of what I was needing to complete some analysis just magically appeared. I used to carry a pen and paper, and then later a voice recorder, so I could be sure and get it down. Because if I kept on drifting, that momentary flash would be gone and difficult to recall, once again.
Just what’s going on here? What is this phenomena of the mind? Or is it a state of being?
I remember, without effort :-), when I was a teenager and I first encountered the works of Carlos Castaneda. Castaneda became pretty famous for writing a series of books about time he had supposedly spent in the Sonoran Desert with a Yaqui Indian sorcerer. Castaneda, an anthropologist, had met this gentleman while he was working on his PH.D. and exploring the cultural uses of hallucinogenic plants. He found himself an apprentice to this mystical realm.
Throughout his writings, Castaneda talks about various ways or techniques to “see” the world as it really is. His books were considered pretty controversial and there is some criticism, that may be valid, as to whether Castaneda just made the whole thing up.
Or, it could be arguable that the Yaqui Indian was used as the face or metaphor for presenting Far Eastern philosophy. Whether you want to call this mysticism, or nagualism, or brujoism or anything else, I think there are still some valuable lessons to be learned from these writings.
One of those concepts was that of “not-doing.” As explained by the sorcerer, “doing” is the way we construct the world. So a rock is a rock because of how we apply our knowledge of a rock to the rock – doing. To really see what a rock is, to see its essence, we must observe it without “doing” or by “not-doing.” This may sound a bit obscure or esoteric. And I think the way Castaneda presented it was designed to keep it as such. To retain a mystical quality.
In another way, this is a form of meditation. Of clearing the mind. Ceasing the internal dialog, which has now been coined “self-talk.” And “stopping the World.” You have to see the rock, or more importantly the whole Universe, without all of the blinders and descriptors that have been programed into our heads. And once we learn to stop the World, everything flows and reveals its true nature.
And it’s not just a manner of observing the Universe, it is a way of acting, without intention, as we navigate the Universe.
It was later in my life that I came upon the Tao Te Ching. And again, arguably, Castaneda may very well have stolen this concept from the Tao. Except that the translation of the Tao better describes it.
In the Tao, the term is “Wei Wu Wei” or “doing not-doing.” Other interpretations are “without action” or “without control” or “without effort” or “action without action” or “effortless doing.” Another is “diminishing will.” And the notion is that non-action, or unwillful action, is the purest form of action because the doer has vanished completely into the deed. “. . . the fuel has been completely transformed into flame.”
If one surrenders to the Tao (the Way) they will align in perfect harmony with Nature, with the way things really are. They will have mastered Nature, not conquered it, by becoming one with it.
One of the underlying concepts here is trust. We must trust the intelligence of the Universe, continually acting effortlessly and without conscious will, knowing it will be the right action. “The game plays the game; the poem writes the poem; we can’t tell the dancer from the dance.”
In my case, the story wrote the story.
And when that happens is when I discover that the words truly resonate with other readers. I, or maybe better said, the Universe by channeling though me, has stuck a universal cord. I’d call that magic 🙂 And I know, because I feel it, that many of you experience this same phenomenon and we share a common bond.
To all my blogging friends out there that don’t always know where the words come from, but we feel them in our hearts, I’ll leave you with some more words from the Tao:
Therefore, the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.
* I’ve read that functional MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) scanning have confirmed that different parts of our brain light up when we try to force memories to the surface. And they’re not the regions in the brain where we store information. We can’t force memories, they just rise on their own 🙂
Photo: The dragonfly represents the power of light. They inhabit two realms of the Universe, water and air, and the stages of their lives are just as dramatic of a transition as that of the butterfly. From a water-dwelling nymph to airborne dragon.
As light strikes their wings at various times of the sun’s circle, they can refract vast differences in color and hue. So like life, things may never quite be the way they appear, but it is still full of beautiful color and light. The dragonfly as a totem is said to help one see through illusions and provide new vision – a good symbol for the concept of not-doing so that one may see the true essence of the Universe.
I took this shot along a lake in Az. I shot different pictures of these same dragonflies throughout the day, and indeed they all look different. I enhanced the color of the feature pic a bit and faded out the background revealing an incredibly vibrant transformation. And here is another shot – same type of Dragonfly, but different angle in the sun. What a difference. Can we see their true essence?
I picked up a fun book tracing a historical perspective on the advancement of medicine, and it naturally included a section about the Hippocratic Oath (400 B.C.). Hippocrates was the ancient Greek physician credited as being the father of Western Medicine. He is famous for dismissing beliefs, more ancient than he was, that advocated the supernatural origin of disease.
The oath, which has frequently been summed up as “first do no harm” is actually quite lengthy. It has been modified multiple times over the centuries and, as it turns out, was not, most probably, written by Hippocrates.
Another irony is that, while Hippocrates disavowed supernatural origins of disease, the original oath translated from Greek, begins by invoking supernatural beings: “I swear by Apollo the Healer, by Asclepius [God of Medicine], by Hygieia [Goddess of health and cleanliness], by Panacea [Goddess of remedies], and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture.”
The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of texts associated with Hippocrates’ teachings, only part of which was authored by Hippocrates. And perhaps in another irony, the Paneth Codex, another medical text that was completed long after Hippocrates had passed, contains some of his writings while using depictions of demons as metaphors for disease.
It seems that it was hard for even the most objective early practitioners of medicine to fully eliminate the supernatural from the corners of their medicine cabinets. And maybe for good reason. For the supernatural, once identified and defined, can become quite natural.
So just what is the supernatural and what is natural or normal when it comes to defining illness?
My background and careers are largely based upon science and logical reasoning. Yet, I’m still willing to keep an open mind and recognize that science and human genius can’t always explain things. As most people would attest, we’ve seen or experienced things that simply don’t fit neatly into the boxes and shelves of the “normal.”
To say it differently, I believe in the metaphysical realm. I also believe in mind-body connections and what’s happening in the mind can find ways of manifesting itself in the body.
While I was working at a major research hospital, the doctors and nurses frequently described and linked personality types with specific diseases. And not always in the most positive terms. A more neutral example might be that “Type A” personalities were more likely to have heart attacks than “Type B” personalities.
Which brings me to today’s pondering.
Is every so called “unnatural” or “abnormal” condition truly an “illness?” What’s the interplay between mental and physical illness?” And what if instead of an illness that required treatment, people were really, in some instances, going through an evolution that should be allowed to progress?
And I guess before I dive in too deeply here, I should clarify that I’m not a mental health professional, nor am I a medical doctor. If you’re needing a medical opinion, consult your primary care physician, and if you wish to learn more about mental health from a real professional, check out the site of my blogging friend Dr. Perry.
That disclaimer aside, most illnesses would fall outside the definition of normal and some seem relatively simple to diagnose and identify their causes. Some are genetically related and some follow the pathogen-induced pathway. Sounds simple, you’re born with the genetic makeup that can be expressed as a physical ailment or you encounter a virus or bacterium and you contract a disease.
But many people have “bad genes” or have close encounters with pathogens and they don’t become ill. Why? They are usually said to have healthier immune systems. What makes a healthy immune system? Besides good nutrition and exercise there are plenty of correlations to good mental health, positive thinking, and being happy to having a healthy immune system and healthy body.
The idea of illness originating in the mind, or from a body being out of balance might coincide more with some Eastern medical practices, while germ theory most follows Western medicine. Although I will give Western medicine credit for having researched some things like meditation and meridians and finding scientific bases to support traditional Eastern or more holistic approaches to treatment. And many Western pharmaceutical treatments come directly from old-fashioned herbal remedies from the Shamans of old.
So if one is encountering an illness, or deviation from normal physical or mental health, something not occurring naturally, then, despite Hippocrates’ claims, could there be a “supernatural” cause, and just what would that mean?
The definition of “supernatural” doesn’t only include references to spiritual entities, but it more basically means transcending the laws of nature or being attributable to an invisible agent. So, before the advent of the microscope, a simple bacterium or a virus would not have been visible in the observable universe and an illness caused by such would have been a supernatural occurrence. Consequently, depending on the limits of scientific measurement at any point in time, many causes of diseases could, by simple definition, be supernaturally caused.
And when referring to the supernatural, does it have to be an external source? What about the person’s own spirit? Can’t a damaged soul be expressed as a physical ailment?
Or maybe an enlightened soul is causing a physical evolution?
My daughter sent me an interesting article the other day called, “Shamans Believe Mental Illness Is Something Else Entirely.” The article focused on a West African Shaman of the Dagara people who proposes that some mental ailments, like depression and schizophrenia may actually be a step towards transformation – even meaning the birth of a healer.
The Dagara believe that some of what we in the West call mental illness is really what happens when people encounter, and don’t how to deal with, psychic phenomena and the spiritual world. In their tradition, these individuals are seen as a bridge between physical and spiritual worlds.
This Shaman is said to have taken an 18-year-old suffering from hallucinations and depression back to his village. After 8 months of healing rituals this person was acting quite “normal” and returned to U.S. society to earn a degree in Psychology at Harvard.
While this may be an isolated example, it’s an amazing concept to contemplate. And I’m not saying that such non-traditional approaches would be a panacea for mental health treatments. I’m just saying there is still more unknown than there is known.
Given our acculturation, if we were undergoing a positive physical, mental, or spiritual transition we might very well be totally confused as to what was happening and think we were ill. Our doctors might be unable to come up with a definitive diagnosis and resort to traditional treatments or try to repress the evolution. You might be labeled as being mentally ill, which could, in turn, send you down medical corridors forever obscuring the inner butterfly emerging from the cocoon.
As more advances are made, and as more ways to measure the currently unmeasurable become available, finer distinctions may emerge as to what constitutes good or “normal” health. For the supernatural may be commonplace and just another source for healthy growth and development.
Photo: The book I picked up is titled: “The Medical Book” and it was written by Clifford A. Pickover. This picture is a portion of a photo used in the book and comes from the Paneth Codex, completed in Bologna in 1326 A.D. The book begins in the time frame of 10,000 B.C. moving through medical advances until 2008. Medicine, indeed, has come a long way from bloodletting starting in 1500 B.C., and I believe it still has a long way to go.
I can personally attest to the advances made in the treatment of asthma since the 1960s when many doctors believed that asthma was a mental illness. I had many a scary trip to the emergency room as a child, and when in full respiratory distress was even administered Thorazine, an antipsychotic medication, and knocked unconscious. Oh, the many things we’ve been fortunate enough to survive:-)
Hypocrite: I feel compelled to mention that the word “hypocrite” does not originate from “Hippocrates,” even though it sort of sounds like it does. Hypocrite comes from the Greek word hypokrites, meaning “an actor,” and translating more literally to “an interpreter from underneath” because actors at the time traditionally wore masks. Figuratively, it meant someone who wears a mask to pretend to be someone they are not. In early religious texts, its appears as “ypocrite” referring to those acting like they are morally good to deceive others. Today, of course, we accept the meaning that it’s a person acting contrary to their stated beliefs. In a loose sense, that could apply to Hippocrates – denouncing supernatural causes of disease while swearing to supernatural beings to practice good medicine 🙂
Update December 1, 2018: I stumbled upon another article today about this same subject and the Dagara. “A Mental Disease by Any Other Name.”
Link Rot Warning: No one can guarantee how long a link on the Net will last. The US Supreme Court got into trouble over this. One of the judges quoted from an Internet site, but after a couple of months the site was no longer there for reference. I also once went to check out a link promoted on our local TV weather channel only to discover it had been hijacked by a porn site – Yikes!
I love fire. Always have.
A Passionate Embrace.
Cozy snowy days by the woodstove.
Well, not quite a Haiku’s traditional 5-7-5, but fire is still poetic. Fire is symbolic of so many things. Transformation, purification, life force, power, strength, destruction, rebirth, transcendence, inspiration, enlightenment.
Truth and Knowledge. Light and Heat. The Intellect and the Emotions.
“Baptism by Fire” restores primordial purity. An intermediary between the Source and all of us tiny Particles of Awareness.
Fire is a good visual representation of our emotions. Anger, I believe, is the most destructive – a raging inferno. Passion, the most inspirational, a slow intense burn. Love, a steady light. Life, the precious spark.
The blaze in the feature photo above represents that out-of-control burst of anger. Hatred. The stare of death.
While this image . . .
the steady, passionate burn of the heart. That electric heat, tingle of fire, with the brush of a lover’s hand. A slow, deep delicious kiss.
And there’s another image I truly love, from my background of being a health care provider – The Keeper of the Flame. I found this pin at a military surplus store. I was told it was a German medic’s pin. The hands delicately cradling that life force.
And here’s one, a story for another day, perhaps, of a long ago camping trip in the mountains of Colorado. The howling winds channeling through the mountain pass. Filling our eyes with smoke and ash as we reached for those life-giving flames.
But anger. Yes anger is the most destructive. A fire that can consume us. Destroy us physically and mentally. We might think it’s directed outward, but the amount of negative energy that burns within can kill. An insidious suicide.
As for that spiritual burn in all of us – don’t let that fire go out.
Safety can be Stifling.
Sometimes we need to take risks, to be exposed to the elements, and to leave our comfort zones in order to learn and grow . . .
I was hiking up into a beautiful canyon. The transition from chaparral to tree line with over 4000 feet of elevation contrasts three completely different worlds. From scrub oak and mesquite, to cottonwood, sycamore and willow, to ponderosa pine and alligator juniper. All at finely demarcated lines of altitude or water course. The canyon’s green armies of pines climbing beyond the highest point I would reach today.
It was hot and there was a dry breeze channeling through the mountain passes. I stopped at an overlook, a cliff perched midway into the canyon. I was taking in all that surrounded me. It’s a mystical sort of beauty. It draws you in. Captures all of your senses. Takes you on another journey. An infinite landscape.
And then I “heard” something. Maybe “sensed” is a better word, because I just knew I needed to turn around for a moment. Turn my back to the captivating view because something else was happening. Or was about to happen.
The feelings of curiosity, excitement, and fear all hit simultaneously when I saw it. Bounding down the trail behind me and coming right towards me was a Black Bear!
I quickly stood on the rocks, and waved my arms to try to make myself look bigger and more menacing than I am – not easy to do. And we exchanged growls. Fortunately, the bear was just as startled as I was and it turned and ran off into the woods. I continued to yell out and heard it scrambling further away.
This had all happened in the blink of an eye, so I replayed what I saw in my mind. Over and over again. It was a bear all right. It seemed to me that it was in an almost playful stride. Happy to be facing another day in this peaceful forest. Its forest. Until it saw me jump up.
This was the first time I had a close encounter with a bear. Fortunately, it was a black bear and not so aggressive.
As you may know from my prior writings, I don’t believe in coincidence. Everything happens for a reason. Nature is constantly giving us messages, if we take the time to read them. So what meaning could I derive from this encounter? Regardless of how brief it was.
The bear’s symbolism is rich. While awake it has been portrayed as having strength, courage and male energy. It is also said to be a teacher of boundaries, for itself and others. But it seems it greatest powers lie in its ability to sleep through the winter.
The bear doesn’t go into a true hibernation, rather its metabolism slows way down and it enters a state called “torpor.” It can still wake easily, and the females can even give birth in this semi-conscious state. The bear draws upon its fat reserves for nourishment during this time of prolonged rest.
While in torpor, the bear is said to be in a receptive state. This energy of introspection is said to be female in nature.
The ability to go deep within to find resources necessary for survival mirrors a state of deep meditation. Go deep within your soul’s den, draw upon your inner stores of energy and essence. A time to awaken your personal power during this solitude to bring it out in the Spring. Spring itself symbolizes birth and renewal. Resurrection.
The bear is considered to be a messenger of the forest spirits. It demonstrates more than just strength, but a supernatural power. Fortitude. The whirlwind. The will.
It’s been immortalized in the constellation Ursa Major, the Greater She-Bear, more commonly known as the Big Dipper. According to Iroquois legend, the quadrangle of the dipper forms the bear that is being pursued by seven hunters. The three hunters who are closest form the handle of the dipper. The four farthest hunters drop below the horizon in autumn and abandon the hunt. At the same time, the bear rises to stand on its hind legs and one of the hunters wounds the bear with an arrow. The bear sprays blood back on the hunter and blood falls on the forest to turn the trees red. The bear is eaten but its skeleton remains, traveling on its back during the winter. But in the spring, a new bear leaves the den and the hunt begins anew.
In Chi Gong, the bear is one of the five frolicking animals. The exercise practiced mimicking the bear is believed to aid the stomach and spleen. And these are considered the energy centers for applied thinking, for generating ideas, and for aiding memorization and concentration. The digestion of knowledge.
To the Seneca tribe, the bear is a symbol associated with the West Shield. Again, it relates to the pathways of attaining knowledge. Entering torpor represents entering sacred space to be receptive of information. This information is digested and integrated to discern truth. And once we tap into our personal truth, we can seek out our desired goals.
So, what message can I derive from this brief meeting in the woods?
While many would think this encounter had little meaning, other than being glad the bear didn’t maul or eat them, examining the symbolism carries a major life lesson. Recurring themes of introspection, digestion of knowledge, and attainment of truth span multiple cultures. Once attaining truth and direction, one then should seek out their goals with strength and fortitude.
Recent times have been a period of solitude for me. Other than contacts on social media, I have been pretty much resting in a somewhat semi-conscious state. Waiting to be awakened.
In torpor, I examine myself, my life, my successes, my failures, my goals. I must integrate this knowledge into action.
The appearance of the Bear marks a metaphysical inquiry. Is your judgment or the judgment of those surrounding you in error? Do you fail to see the beneficial things happening in your life? Are you being too critical, or not discerning enough?
Time to venture inward and awaken potential. And then emerge from the den. Personal power must be brought out in the open to taste the fruits of such labor.
Whether you believe these messengers are sent by the Source, or that this is just mystical thinking, lessons can still be drawn. Introspection is always good. An examined life. The integration of truth. Acceptance of what has been. Strength to face what will be.
To hibernate, or cut oneself off, to simply achieve safety is ultimately a sacrifice of living. But hitting the pause button to gain knowledge, insight, and truth for a later emergence can lead to powerful growth.
Be the whirlwind. Hit the trails. Face the bear.
Photo: I found this photo on the Internet in the public domain. The link tracked back to a web publication called Cool Green Science. The article was titled: “When is a Black Bear Actually a Blue Bear?” Black bears exhibit a whole range of coloration from black, brown, blonde, and even cinnamon. I found a pic that closely resembles the one I saw.
Published ! Thrilled and honored that my story was published by The Urban Howl on August 20, 2018, under the title “Bear Wisdom — Venture, Awaken & Emerge From The Den.”
Many millions of years ago a volcano erupted with hundreds of times the force of Mount St. Helens. Later the earth would push the remains upward leaving the volcanic rock exposed to all of the forces of erosion. But the erosion was differential. Softer materials washing away first. Leaving columns of stone. Statues in precision alignment. Sort of like the Moai on Easter Island. Only here, they face inward to the center of the collapsed caldera. Covered in desert scrub, it is difficult to imagine the explosive forces that once coalesced here.
The monoliths can also have disproportional heads where the boulders appear to balance mysteriously on much tinier pedestals. All standing shoulder to shoulder like soldiers lining up on the parade grounds.
Before I enter these mountains, I sign in with the park ranger. They need to keep track if people go missing. Know whose body they may find days later if you don’t return.
They warn me that there is a high chance of rain, and the trails across the ridgetop I’ve chosen to hike will have me exposed to lightening. But I don’t believe the Thunder-beings have any interest in hurting me. They can be great messengers of the Earth and the source of replenishing energy.
I’m prepared for the 8-mile trek. As much as I can be. And as I wind my way through the monoliths I follow an undulating path. Up and down, back and forth, snaking my way along switchbacks. That image of the snake’s path accented by the mineral serpentine, mixed with green, blue and gold lichens, reddish rhyolites, and specks of glistening mica. A colorful cacophony. Discordant reflections of muted color that shift continually as the sun makes its daily journey across the sky.
After a couple of hours, I reach the ridgetop. Black char on skeletal trees, evidence of a fire from a decade ago, mixes with the light and dark greens of new pines and oaks.
All of the washes and creeks are alive with a torrent of water. Small waterfalls offer the perfect intonations for meditation. Worn trails fragment as you hit flat rock. And segments of it vanish completely.
There was a flash flood the night before and if there had been foot prints or trail markers they’ve all been washed away. Erased as if no person had set foot here for eons. And no one is here today other than myself.
Often, I find myself in the wilderness where there are no other people. But I’m never alone. A troupe of Painted Redstarts moves through. Lizards scurry away. Butterflies seek out precious nectar from the red and yellow columbine that burst forth sporadically.
I come upon a pine totally splintered from a bolt of lightning, probably from the day before because its needles are still deep green. No sign of this timber having dried. Totally debarked with pieces strewn in a thousand directions. I pick up a small piece of this now energy laden bark and place in my shirt pocket above my heart. You can feel the energy throbbing.
I hit another point on the ridge where the trail has cloaked itself. There are at least ten directions I could go. Four seem more likely. I climb up on a boulder to get a better vantage point and to my surprise a solitary white-tailed deer is right below me. The doe doesn’t seem to know I’m there. The wind coming towards me carries my scent the opposite direction.
I watch her quietly graze on low-lying tree branches. Then she raises her head and sees me. Stares right into my eyes. But I’m surprised by her actions. I expect her to panic. To run away as most deer would. She’s unconcerned. Apparently feeling no threat. And instead offers to help.
She alters her path and circles back toward me and loops to my left. We lock gazes, and I follow her. Her gentleness lures me to the right path. And then she’s gone. In an instant. A blink. As if she wasn’t there at all. Her spirit saves me the time I would have spent trying to find the right route. Time is life out here.
Descending from the ridgetop, I make it to the center of the monoliths. How long have these statues stood? Holding this ground. Carved by forces that no human sculptor could match. They’ll be here long after my physical body has departed. Silently keeping watch.
I hear an Owl in the distance. Its affirmation tells me I am safe. I can take a break here. Take the load off my back. Hydrate and take in some calories to replace those consumed. Breathe in the surroundings.
Native Americans used to inhabit this place. It’s sacred Earth. I offer thanks for being allowed safe passage. I’m not the top predator here, after all. Black beer and mountain lions call this their home.
An injury here can mean death. Can’t let your guard down even as you grow weary. Pay attention.
I hear a noise, and a Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard perches himself on a rock next to the path. He does pushups and flares his neck in a display of dominance. I stop to observe. When I start to take my next step, I notice a large stone in the center of the path. I had not seen it before and if I continued unaware I would have tripped over this stone and have possibly been injured.
Falling to right would have landed me on the switchback 20 feet below. Falling to the left, into the rock wall there, could have meant a fractured skull. Falling forward, a twisted or broken ankle. I thank the lizard for his warning.
Such is nature. Be attentive. If your soul is open, nature’s spirits will speak to you. Warn you. Protect you. Give you energy. Keep you on the right path.
The hike complete, it is time to center and reflect. There are always forces around us at work. This day was my mother’s birthday. She passed away last year. And I can’t help but think that maybe she is watching over me too on this day. Protecting me from all the dangers that surrounded this solitary hike into the wilderness.
As I drive home, Hawks, Ravens, and Turkey Vultures line the telephone lines. All facing inward. Like the monoliths, soldiers. These are the protectors, the shape-shifters, the visionaries. And they guard my route. Almost like a salute to a journey well completed. So many of them. Their numbers far exceeding and mingling with their prescribed territories. An oddity?
Thank you, mom. Love you and miss you.
Photos: I took them all with a cell phone camera as I hiked 🙂
Published ! Thrilled and honored that my story was published by The Urban Howl on August 29, 2018, under the title “If Your Soul Is Open, Nature’s Spirits Will Speak To You.”
We live in a spiritual world. Every part and parcel of it is imbued with particles of awareness from the spiritual source. So why not tune in and receive unfiltered spiritual guidance . . .
You may have noticed in some of my other posts, especially in the spirituality section of my blog, that I talk about communing with nature. About being in the natural world and learning to perceive the messages that come to us through native signs and symbols. And I refer to the natural world as being the “real world.” Not an artificial or illusory construct by humans. Not temporary physical structures that will revert to dust. Mother Earth remains eternal.
People have changed the ways that they experience their worlds. They have a tendency to think that they have “tamed” the natural world, when in fact, they have simply walled themselves off from it. I think it’s better to open up and see what’s really out there. Experience it firsthand.
I realize that many people do not believe in such things. How can a coyote deliver a message about how to live, or awaken you to an inner calling? I get it, and no one has to agree with the things I’ve come to believe. That’s ok.
It may even seem counterintuitive that I would entertain such beliefs given that my educational background has largely been in either the sciences or in analytical reasoning. But I also believe there are many things beyond what science can explain, at least for the moment. And why write off such things and discount them simply because there is no logical explanation for them?
You can define your own reality in any terms you wish, but I encourage you not to deny what your senses perceive, especially your sense of intuition.
If it helps, a scientific way to look at this is that we are electro-chemical machines and we emit energy fields. So does everything else. And if our fields encounter one another there will be a communication of some type. A relaying of signals that may not require a spoken language or physical touch. Now you have to figure out what the signals you are receiving mean.
So, since this is becoming a recurring theme in my posts, I thought I would take a moment to elaborate a little more on just what animal “totems” or “familiars” are. They have also been referred to as “Spirit” or “Power” animals.
Spirit beings have been a part of every major religion and culture. Whether it be the serpent, said to be the devil, in the story of Adam and Eve, or the Greeks speaking to their gods through oracles, or aboriginal tribes taking on the forms of animals through symbolic dress and engaging in ritual dance to connect with the spirit realm. The symbolism of ties between the natural world and spirit world are universal, and many of the “messengers” of “God” are depicted as being surrounded by various animals. Why so, except for the symbolism they convey?
A totem can be defined as any natural object or animal or being where you connect with its associated energy or life force. A totem has also been described as a spirit being, or a sacred or power object, or a symbol associated with a clan or an individual. Once such a connection is recognized and accepted, the spirit within it can serve as a guide throughout one’s life. More commonly than not, the spiritual totem takes the form of an animal.
One definition I found on the Net equates animal totems with “archetypes that work with the subconscious mind, tapping into the energy that is present in all things” . . . that “can be seen as channels or frequencies on a radio with many levels of understanding.”
And just what is an “archetype?” An archetype is said to be a typical example of a certain person or thing. Although I never look at things as being “typical,” nor do I like that word. I find things living and inanimate, to be magical and unique, not typical. In Jungian psychology, an archetype is a primitive mental image inherited from our human ancestors that is supposed to reside in the collective unconscious.
However you wish to parse the words, I think we can derive that a totem, or symbolic representation of a spiritual entity or guide, can be said to have certain characteristics. A Bear strength. An Owl Wisdom. A Deer gentleness. A Fox invisibility. I’m using one-word descriptions for this example, but the symbolism for each is far more intricate.
As a guide, an animal totem can convey many different messages. An affirmation or a warning. Or you may be able to tap into that spirit’s energy at a time of need. A totem is said to be a life-long spiritual partner and it will appear in both your physical world and your spiritual world.
Another term you may have heard is that of an “animal familiar.” In its basic origins, this referred to a non-physical being, a thought-form or spiritual entity. But over time, the term has been applied to living animals. Familiars can be physical or non-physical, you can have more than one at any given time, and they can change over time.
How do we learn if we have a Spirit Animal?
Well, you don’t learn it from a “How Stuff Works” Internet quiz. One commonality across cultures that applies to totems and familiars is that they choose you. Not the other way around. And the way such a totem enters your life can vary. You might be visited in a dream. Or have a vision while you are awake. Or it may continually appear to you in the physical form, over and over again. If you do have such a totem, once you’ve identified it, you can start being observant for any messages it may send you.
In my case, it appeared to me in a vision when I was 15, announced its presence, and told me it would be with me. I then discovered its presence everywhere in various forms and I learned to interpret what its presence in certain situations meant.
Encountering an animal doesn’t necessarily mean it is one of your guides. Or if it is your guide, its presence doesn’t always mean something metaphysical is in the works. As Freud said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” There are no meanings to unravel. No symbolism being communicated.
So how do you tune into to your spiritual allies? See connections and messages beyond the ordinary?
Well, I recently read an article by Lissa Rankin titled: “How Can You Tell If You’re Being Spiritually Guided?” where Rankin lays out what she terms as being “15 Discernment Tools.” She provides a list of 15 questions you can ask yourself to attempt to answer this question honestly.
1–Does it feel like shackles on or shackles off?
2–Is it kind?
3–Is there Aliveness here?
4–Does it exhaust me or fill me with dread?
5–Does it nourish or deplete me?
6–Does it feel natural, efficient, easeful, peaceful and graceful?
7–Does it make sense?
8–Will it hurt anyone?
9–Would love do this?
10–How does this feel in my body?
11–Am I rushing?
12–Is it coercive or controlling?
13–Is it ethical and aligned with my core values?
14–Will this cultivate the stillness in me?
15–What’s true and not true about this situation?
I don’t think these questions are all required for every given instance in which you feel pulled or directed to take some course of action. I also think you need to begin with the symbolism of the totem. If you do feel you are being given some guidance, you have to know what that guidance is in relation to. And I don’t believe you can accurately assess what the guidance is unless you know what the totem represents.
You’ll also have to learn to trust your inner voice because you’ll have to interpret the message and how it applies to you at that given moment in time.
I know I’ll have future posts on this topic that may help illustrate specific nuances. I’m working a piece right now where I encountered a bear in the wild. Close up for the first time. It certainly got my attention, but did it carry any specific meanings other than “HOLY SHIT!?” We’ll see 😊
Photo: A Western Screech Owl, a father on guard. It is intensely watching a rattle snake that is too close to his chicks. Nothing could break this Owl’s gaze. This could have turned into an epic physical battle, but this father won a spiritual fight. Energy fields collided. And while this snake may have been too large for this small predator, its intense energy sent the snake on its way.