The Shawnee Indians called the Elk “Wapiti.”
I’m not sure there are enough words for these images.
Just so beautiful.
Yesterday, I was able to get in about 7 miles of “hiking” in an urban setting. At some point I’ll put together a travel piece for that experience, but for now enjoy a little beauty I discovered along the concrete trail.
I still have to identify this one, as I do with so many other of my flower pictures.
The morning sun hit this one just right 🙂
As writers we are continually on the hunt for words. Words drive us. Words are our souls. And a couple of days ago I found one. This one is from the Sioux language and I think it is absolutely beautiful.
It means to place and hold in one’s heart.
It can be used to describe a special place or person or persons or, for that matter, any soul or anything where ever you might encounter it.
I just recently left a place and souls I have placed in my heart. Of course, there is already a collection of souls and places that occupy my heart too. My heart is filling up. It feels good. Warm and glowing. And even better to have a word to describe it.
Do you have a favorite word?
Photo: A lake shore from up in the north country. There are so many pictures I could choose of locations and special persons and animal friends that I really couldn’t decide which to use for this post. I might have to add an entire gallery under this same title 🙂
Found this little beauty on a hike by a lake in the high desert. It was about the size of a nickel 🙂
Scientific Name: Macroptilium gibbosifolium
Synonyms: Macroptilium heterophyllum, Phaseolus heterophyllus
Common Names: Variableleaf Bushbean, Wild Bushbean
If you had the chance to read my last post you probably noticed that I mentioned I was gearing up for travel again. Consequently, I won’t always have the time I desire, at a given moment, to write out some of my stories. At least not until I am settled long enough to hammer out some lines.
Also, there is a direct relationship, which could be graphed, between having adventures and writing about them. Have to have them first in order to have something to write about 🙂
So I thought I would launch another category in the blog today – Photo Journal. When I don’t quite have that next story put together, I can at least post a nice pic for the day. Some positive energy. Beauty without words.
I’ve noticed other blogs doing the same and they use the theme of being “Wordless.” Makes sense and sometimes, as the old expression goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
I have many pics of wildflowers that I haven’t had the chance to identify and this is one of them. Maybe someday I circle back with a name for this one. In the mean time, enjoy 🙂
Photo: While I try to use all of my own photos for all of my posts there are times that I must seek out others to match the theme, but every post in this category will be one of my own. I took this one on the trail yesterday 🙂
I’ll be gearing up soon. Time to cut roots, pick another dot on the map, and drive. As the time dwindles in my current resting place, urgency grows to take in all the sights and sounds possible in this oasis.
I study maps and locate a pristine spot that holds great promise. A place where perennial streams meander through desert canyons. A place bursting with life. But I discover you need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get there. Such are many places here. Primitive roads where only a bulldozer has preceded you. Signs warn that you’re driving at your own risk, and being out of cell range you want to be sure that car is up to the task. It could take a day or more to hike out if stranded and returning with a tow truck may even be difficult depending on where and how you get trapped.
Forty years ago, I off-roaded in an old 1970 Plymouth Satellite. It did ok for the most part. I knocked the muffler off once and a while bottoming out, but I’d just reattach it and move on.
It would have been quite the sight, if anyone had been there, to see me driving that car right through the middle of forests, across open grasslands, or over rocky flats. In search of the mythical Escalante.
Freedom then was being surrounded by Ponderosa Pine with fifty cents in my pocket, half a tank of gas, and some food to cook over an open fire. Most probably food I had caught that day after making the proper offerings.
But the world has changed and I’m outfitted quite a bit differently now. I’m driving a Prius with about 8 inches of ground clearance. Smooth ride on the highways, but cautious trolling on the back roads. I’ve had to turn around many times where the rains have washed out gullies big enough to swallow this car.
With one destination scratched from the list, I search out another. It’s not far away from the original target and promises a good hike through the mountains. Unusual mountains. They look like some giant had fun rearranging and piling boulders to the sky in very unnatural configurations. I wonder what this terrain must look like from the Eagle’s point of view.
How did this mountain range form? Was it volcanic? Was it upheaval? Metamorphic stone smoothen by the rains and bleached by the sun over millennium.
I have good road most of the way, but the last five miles are primitive washboard. I creep along at 10 miles an hour. Any faster and the Prius shakes violently. I bridge cattle guards in this open range country and cross four low-water washes. They dip gently enough to cross, and a few inches of water reflects the recent rains. If it rains again, they’ll fill rapidly. Flash flooding is common during this season.
It is the Monsoons.
As I reach the base of the mountains, I discover the road is gated. This segment of national parkland is “closed for the season.” The sign doesn’t say what season, but I’m here and so I park on the road.
I check my gear, settle my backpack. Essential to fit it correctly to avoid strained shoulders, neck or back. But as I head towards the trail dark clouds start rolling in. They appeared so distant on the horizon only moments before. What appeared to be days away now envelops the area.
The temperature drops rapidly from the 80s to the 60s. And as the rain drops begin to fall, I scramble back to the car. This is not a time to hesitate. I have to make it past those low-water crossings and can’t speed to do it.
As I splash through the first one, I glance back and the sight is amazing. The mountains have virtually vanished in the veil of heavy rain. Like a magic trick of monstrous proportions, the Monsoon rains have made the mountains disappear.
No time to gaze, I creep back the way I came and I’m grateful to make it across the last wash intact. Now I can pause and reflect. Marvel at what I’m witnessing. But I can’t pause for too long. Time to finish finding my way back to that paved road.
Once back on solid ground, and with hiking out of the question, it’s time to pick a new destination. The rain forces me east, and I find an old historic town with the navigator. The navigator wants to save me time, but I choose the backroads.
As I streak out on that gray ribbon and back into the warm sunshine, I notice I’m in a valley, a flat plain between 4 different mountain ranges. The Monsoons blanket the north and the west, and I’m treated to a wonderful display of wrap-around lightening from the Thunderbeings.
This dessert grassland has been brought to life with water. Water that hides in underground streams. I’m driving through orchards, and pecan farms. Corn fields and pistachio trees.
Vineyards and wineries dot the horizon. The soil here perfect for developing the favor and sugar the grapes need for their fermentation.
Hawks ride on the trusses of the center-point irrigation systems that pull water from the buried aquifer. The perfect vantage point for any prey attracted by both the water and cultivation.
I pass a gin factory and a bean plantation. A cattle feedlot appears, surrounded by planted pines – an attempt to hide the final forced growth before the trip to the slaughterhouse.
Dust Devils spring up in the cultivated fields. Mini tornados spawned by the Monsoon winds not far behind.
Herded out of the mountains, I find myself in an almost two centuries old town. I park on the street next to the railroad tracks and soon a freight train rumbles through town.
First stop, a cowboy museum. Not where I expected to be, but the storm brought me here so I explore the town the same way I explore the mountain trails. I walk the streets and feel where my body is pulled.
Of all things, I find a bar of old-fashioned lye soap to purchase. Something suggested to me to avoid modern soaps and detergents to which I now have chemical reactions to. I didn’t know where I might find some, and wasn’t looking for it today. But here it is.
Next stop, an antique store. Now the Monsoon catches up with my retreat and as the high winds blow and torrential rain pours, I take my time in this shelter of shiny objects. Glassware, military medals, old clothing, hats and rocks and minerals.
The proprietor turns out to be a Cheyanne Indian and she gifts me with a beautiful feather.
The symbolism associated with feathers refers to ascension and spiritual evolution. A flight to other realms, Shamanic Journeying to gain knowledge. Feathers also represent the Thunderbeings, along with the power of the wind. Both clearly present today.
Feathers are also used ceremonially, fanning the smoke from sacred tobacco, sage, sweet grass and cedar. A way to carry prayers to the heavens.
The proprietor and I talk and trade stories of life as historic figures might have traded coffee and sugar for furs. It never ceases to amaze me how we meet kindred spirits on our paths. In the middle of nowhere. Some 1500 miles away from where I call home and a hundred miles away from where I’m currently based, my soul recognizes a familiar soul. Had we walked together before, a different time and place perhaps. Had I gifted her with a power object in that past life time, a gift now returned?
As we talk, she shows me many treasures in her shop. I elect to add one to my collection. A piece of rutilated quartz. Quartz with inclusions of Titanium Dioxide – golden filaments. This stone has also been called as the “Venus Hair Stone.” It is said to be an energy amplifier to aid meditation and intuition. To help free one from the feelings of suffocation or strangulation. It is also said to connect the physical and spiritual realms and to aid in bringing out one’s true spirit. It is an illuminator for the soul. An interesting mirror image as the heavens touch the earth with life-giving water and electrical charges.
I am gifted again with a medicine bag for the stone.
The rain, thunder and lightening now paused, I give my thanks and say my goodbyes. I make one final stop. The retail shop of one of the local wineries. A glass of wine to top off the day’s unplanned adventures. As it turns out, the store’s owner, the only person in the shop, is a displaced mid-westerner from my home area. So, we remanence of familiar times and places we walked before our consciousnesses had connected in this distant town of less than a thousand households.
What are the odds of any of these encounters? These gifts – all cleansing, physical and spiritual connections, healing and growth.
Such is life in free-flow. Chance occurrences. Chance connections. Compelling feelings to head into the mountains, to drive to an ancient town, to walk inside certain buildings, to converse with complete strangers whom we’ve seem to have known for lifetimes.
But is anything truly by chance?
The storm cloaks the mountains I sought, chases me out of that remote natural world to a place with spiritual gifts, kind words, and communion.
It was a good day.
Photos: All captured in the moment. Below, a couple of shots before the rains.
Published ! Thrilled and honored that my story was published by The Urban Howl on September 12, 2018, under the title “Surrender Control & Let The Wind Take You To A New Adventure.”
Photo: The crescent moon, one beautiful night 🙂
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.”
Building on a theme I have going on brain development, I wanted to explore rule 3 of the book “Brain Rules” written by John Medina. You might recall my previous two posts on this, Move Your Body, Move Your Mind, and Writing to Survive. Well today, we’re looking at “wiring.” While we might think generally that men and women are wired differently, for example, fact is, all of us are wired differently.
To understand how we’re all wired differently, we first have to look at the cells that compose our bodies. Billions of cells, that are all acting independently from our thought processes. Thank goodness. Our minds are jumbled enough without us having to consciously think and direct the activities of all of the complex and differentiated cells in our bodies. Can you imagine having to think about absolutely every body function at the microscopic cellular level. Not to mention the macro-level of organ function. Come on, breathe body breathe, beat you silly heart . . .
And each of our cells become specialized when the 6 feet of DNA in each cell is folded in a particular way to fit in the microns-sized nucleus. For perspective, this has been compared to taking 30 miles of fishing line and cramming it inside an object the size of a blueberry.
While we could talk for days about all of the differentiated cells in our bodies and all of their unique functions, since we are looking at our brains, let’s talk neurons. These are, of course, the tiny structures firing off electrical charges like lightning bolts at 250 miles per hour and causing chemical neurotransmitters to be released that bridge the gaps between neurons called synapses and carry that signal forward somewhere into our gray matter where we interpret it. We are basically electro-chemical machines.
That always makes me wonder how all of the electronic pollution we are dumping into the airways affects us. Maybe that’s how we end up with mass shooters, who knows?
Turns out that as we learn, the neurons are shifting and solidifying pathways for communication to each other. We can relearn things too and reshape our neural wiring. That’s called neuroplasticity. What we do and experience actually physically changes our brains. And the more activity we make our brains perform, the larger and more complex they can become.
The author identifies three types of brain wiring:
Experience Independent wiring = controlling breathing, heart rate, proprioceptive sensations, etc.;
Experience Expectant wiring = things like visual acuity and language acquisition; and
Experience-Dependent wiring = hard-wired not be hard-wired = flexible, sensitive to external inputs and thus cultural programing.
The latter two forms of wiring explain how we are acculturated or assimilated into any particular culture or social structure. We must beware of our programming. Especially that programming that starts in early childhood. We should continually question everything and rewire our brains as needed 😊
No two brains are alike, not even identical twins, because every brain experiences the same phenomena differently creating different memories and the resulting changes in the physical structure to the brain. This is why neurosurgeons have to do brain mapping on each and every one of their patients before slicing and dicing. They can’t know ahead of time which precise areas of the brain are tied to which functions because each person is unique.
It also turns out that the brains of wild animals are 15 to 30 percent larger than their tame domestic counterparts. So, it would seem that living in the wild requires constant learning and adapting. A different intelligence, perhaps, is required for survival.
That might make one wonder if we become less intelligent the more we become domesticated and sedentary??? Or perhaps we’re just more specialized. This makes the concept of intelligence a bit more nuanced, which leads researchers to hypothesize about different types of intelligence – verbal, musical, logical, spatial, bodily, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Such brain differences can be detected when comparing brains of say musicians to athletes.
Since all of our brains develop at different rates and develop completely differently because we all experience things differently, wiring can predict performance. And education systems, with one set of standards fits all, end up mismatching performance expectations to linear age.
The implications are that smaller class size and individual attention results in, not only improved learning but, more equalized learning. Teachers with smaller numbers of students can make use of the Theory of Mind I brought up in my last posting on the brain. They can assess their individual students and gear instruction to improve individual performance. I guess we have an argument to support home schooling here.
Where does all of this brain talk lead to today? Well, if we are all wired differently, and if no one experiences any singular event in the same way, then are the images any of us try to convey with words the ones the reader or hearer receives? Or do each of us have a completely different experience filled with visions, tastes, touches, smells that the storyteller never imagined?
I’ve always said communication is difficult even on a good day.
Intriguing, isn’t it? Keep on firing neurons !
Photo: Not only are lightning bolts demonstrative of the way neurons work, they are actually similar in structure. I imagine a giant electrical storm going on in our minds constantly 🙂
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 you 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.
A while back I wrote a piece about how movement, physical movement, was necessary for our creative minds. In fact, this was a trait we learned and passed on by the forces of evolution. To eat, we moved. As we moved, we learned to think. We had to be creative problem solvers on the move, and we survived.
That article was called, “Move Your Body, Move Your Mind.” And there, I explored the first “rule” in the book, “Brain Rules,” by John Medina. This guy, Medina, is a smart guy. He is a developmental molecular biologist.
This technique works for me, by-the-way. I get some of my best story ideas when I’m out hiking on the trail and I allow my mind to drift. Evolutionary vestiges repurposed. I hunt for words as my food is all neatly packaged at the grocery store now.
Well, the second “brain rule” is our ability to engage in IMAGINATION! More specifically, our ability to substitute objects in our minds so that one object can represent another, or maybe a whole bunch of different objects. This has been called “Dual Representation Theory.” More basically, SYMBOLISM.
It seems our fossil history shows that our ancestors evolved a lot physically since humankind’s estimated beginnings somewhere around 7 to 10 million years ago, but there wasn’t a lot of mental evolution going on until about 40,000 years ago. And then. Bam! We went from stone axes to painting, sculpture, fine art and jewelry. Soon, there would be mathematics and science. And, of course, more advanced communication. What caused this big change?
Apparently, it was the weather.
The changes weren’t fast, but they forced adaptation. Brought us out of the trees and into the savannah when food sources shifted. To become more streamlined and save energy we became bipedal.
In order to master survival in all of the biomes on the planet, our brains enlarged. This brings in another concept – Variability Selection Theory. Two powerful aspects of the brain developed. A database and the ability to improvise using that growing database.
And since survival not only meant staying warm and eating, it meant not being eaten too, community concepts evolved. There was safety and better hunting in numbers. And this meant learning to negotiate.
This raises the “Theory of Mind” or the ability to make inferences. To peer inside another person’s mental life and make predictions, to understand their motivations. All necessary skills to develop allies, cooperative behavior, and group species survival.
This ability to draw upon our databases and make inferences reminds me of the “predictive processing framework,” described in my piece,“My Intuition Tells Me . . ..”
With basic survival skills being mastered, humans could focus on more advanced pursuits. Those beyond only the four F’s – fighting, feeding, fleeing and fucking. And thus, in addition to art, music, mathematics, and science, us modern-day bloggers have electronic storytelling.
I think most of us still like the fucking, we just have more time for more things beyond the big four now. 😊
Storytelling is an ancient art, and we wordsmiths spend a lot of time in the world of symbolic thinking. We don’t use this creative process for basic survival like our ancestors did. Or do we ??? Maybe writing and creating worlds is survival for some of us. And I suppose some us actually do feed ourselves by writing, a lean diet that is . . .
But basically, every word we use is a symbol, either a subject or an action or a feeling. Every word has to represent something tangible in the physical world or summon an image or feeling into the mind.
In fact, symbols can convey meanings or reveal details of reality beyond just a physical image. Symbols can carry strong emotions. They can summon memories of sounds and smells and touches. Of happiness and laughter.
And as writers, we employ that Theory of Mind in multiple ways. We try to look into our reader’s heads, make predictions, understand what drives them. Figure out how to lead them through the story.
There are times when we want our words to evoke a particular image and have that image be universal for all readers. But there are other times when we deliberately want those words to convey multiple meanings, to give the reader a choice. Or to show contradictions between choices. Maybe they’ll choose a meaning that even we never saw as a possibility.
If we are writing fiction, we have to develop the mental lives of the characters we create. We add predictability and motivations for their actions, even providing historic context. Their fictional life traumas that have helped develop their passions, their fears, their hatreds, their loves, their essence. So the reader understands the next move on the chess board.
So, this survival skill of making inferences has evolved into us examining the minds of non-existent entities and developing believable characters based upon what we anticipate would be their universal actions. Wouldn’t we do the same thing in the same situation? And we do this for entertainment, not for negotiating the next mammoth hunt.
Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, the art of writing is stacking symbols in some sequence to complete a portrait. And we want to draw the reader in so they feel like they are a part of the story. A bystander. A witness. Or maybe even an active participant.
Symbols may relate to objects, but they don’t equate to objects. They reveal essence. Symbols are inclusive and expansive and evolve over time acquiring even more meaning from multiple sources.
Meanings may differ depending on peoples’ cultures. The Owl, for example, to the Pawnee symbolized protection, while to the Ojibwa it symbolized evil and death. To the ancient Greeks, the Owl represented wisdom.
According to Joseph Campbell: “Symbols are only the vehicles of communication; they must not be mistaken for the final term, the tenor, of their reference.” This implies that no two people would experience the object of the symbol in the same way. Maybe so, especially with cultural variations, but it seems the essence of the experience can be shared more universally with a symbol than with bare words.
With context, it seems to me that symbols are the supersonic highway of communication. The brain is able to process a symbol as an all-encompassing experience in a nanosecond. Faster than the blink of an eye, a complex story unfolds in images and associated feelings.
Symbolic thinking is said to be a uniquely human skill, and it allows us the ability to understand each other and coordinate within groups. And with that, I’ll leave you with a few symbols to make of them what you will. 😊
What do these images inspire in your minds?
Note: If you want to read more, there are some quotes on symbolism below.
Photos: An angel inside an old Spanish mission. The great Horned Owl. A sculpture in an art gallery court yard. Street sculptures in an eclectic small town. A vulture crosses it’s folded wings to make a heart.
A sort of Rorschach test 🙂
“Symbolism is no mere idle fancy or corrupt egerneration: it is inherent in the very texture of human life.”
― Alfred Whitehead
“Things do not have meaning. We assign meaning to everything.”
― Anthony Robbins
“Symbols can be so beautiful, sometimes.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
“If you have to ask what it symbolizes, it didn’t.”
― Roger Ebert
“In many college English courses the words “myth” and “symbol” are given a tremendous charge of significance. You just ain’t no good unless you can see a symbol hiding, like a scared gerbil, under every page. And in many creative writing course the little beasts multiply, the place swarms with them. What does this Mean? What does that Symbolize? What is the Underlying Mythos? Kids come lurching out of such courses with a brain full of gerbils. And they sit down and write a lot of empty pomposity, under the impression that that’s how Melville did it.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction
“A religion is a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods in men [and women] by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing those conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”
― Clifford Geertz
“The same principles that make a spiral galaxy also create the structure of a seashell and unfurling of a fern. This is why ancient spiritual people used natural symbols to convey universal concepts.”
― Belsebuub, Return to Source: How Enlightenment is the Process of Creation in the Universe in Reverse
“[A] symbol, like everything else, shows a double aspect. We must distinguish, therefore between the ‘sense’ and the ‘meaning’ of the symbol. It seems to me perfectly clear that all the great and little symbolical systems of the past functioned simultaneously on three levels: the corporeal of waking consciousness, the spiritual of dream, and the ineffable of the absolutely unknowable. The term ‘meaning’ can refer only to the first two but these, today, are in the charge of science – which is the province as we have said, not of symbols but of signs. The ineffable, the absolutely unknowable, can be only sensed. It is the province of art which is not ‘expression’ merely, or even primarily, but a quest for, and formulation of, experience evoking, energy-waking images: yielding what Sir Herbert Read has aptly termed a ‘sensuous apprehension of being’.”
― Joseph Campbell, The Symbol Without Meaning