"We don’t need more gurus, more yoga teachers, more life coaches. We don’t need any more human teachers. We need to engage in an active, humble mentorship with the more-than-human world."
- Sophie Strand
Dec. 1: The Dance Of Life
It's the first of December and I'm sitting by the ponds edge in the late afternoon. It's quiet and the sky is mostly overcast with hints of smoky blue, dustings of ash, and silvery light cascading across the landscape. There is a softness in the air and I feel at home in this moment... What does it mean to feel at "home" anyways? I think it's a good question to reflect upon, because "home" for me is a feeling that emerges from my somatic experience. It has roots in the body, in the earth. I feel most at home when I feel settled and relaxed in my body, when I feel safe to be my most expressive and authentic self. Safety is an experience in my body where I am open and vulnerable, which means the ways in which I have learned to protect and armor myself through constriction and tightness falls away.
Nature is often where I feel most at home, because of the co-regulation that naturally arises. When I practice moving at nature's pace - which is slow, intentional, and very attuned to sensation and surroundings - my body naturally begins to relax and receive the immense beauty all around me. The quiet begins to permeate my mind, the sway of the trees, the whisper and cooing of the wind, the gentle caress of the sun's warm rays against my skin, all begin to work together to soothe and comfort me in the same way a mother soothes her child. In nature's embrace, I am held and met with a presence as deep and as old as time.
The spontaneous movement and events that emerge from the unfolding now are glorious to witness.. if only we take the time to see! What's even more incredible to think about, is that we get to choose how we want to participate in this earth dance! The way a gust of wind stirs the water into sparkling ecstacy; the way the confident Kingfisher comes wizzing through the landscape rattling their call as they glide above the water's surface to announce their presence; the Heron's stealth as they methodically wade through the pond's shallow waters, and in an instant, dive for their prey! How aware they are of my presence, and me aware of theirs.
When I consider my own participation in the great dance of life, I think of how I want to move through the world in a way that creates the least disturbance and contributes the most beauty and harmony. In practice this looks like moving slowly throughout my day, speaking softly when I'm in nature, taking pauses often to notice who and what's around me, attuning to subtle pleasures like aromas, textures, and micro details in the landscape. For me it also looks like singing or humming a morning welcome song as the sun rises, touching a tree softly as I walk by to say hello and to acknowledge their presence.
What helps me to cultivate deeper presence, awareness, and aliveness? This is my guiding question toward cultivating my Ecological Self. There are so many practices to deepen meaningful participation in the dance of life. What are some of your practices?
Dec 8: Nurtured by Nature
Note: in this piece I refer to the owl as “kin” instead of “it”. Ever since reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s article Nature Needs A New Pronoun: To Stop the Age of Extinction, Let's Start by Ditching "It" I have been more aware of how objectifying the English language is (separating object from subject) especially when it comes to animals and the more-than-human world. I want to practice expanding my language in a way that honors the spirit in all things.
This morning after having a hard conversation that left me feeling angry and upset, I decided the best medicine would be to go for a run to process my feelings, move the energy, and be nurtured by nature. She always receives me just as I am.
As I began my run, I entered into the section of pine trees not far from the house and was caught off guard when out of nowhere a huge bird appeared in my periphery view after just flying away from a low perch a few feet away. It was a barred owl. Fortunately it didn’t go too far. Kin stayed relatively close, albeit much further up in the trees peering into my eyes as I gazed back. I felt called to follow Kin as they swooped down and went deeper into the forest to find another high perch.
I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find Kin again, but when I finally did, I decided that they had something important to offer me today. I found a comfortable seat among the pine needles, let go of my plans for a trail run, and settled into witnessing and listening. Kin was very still and ever-present to the unfolding events taking place in the forest. A hawk was perched somewhere nearby screeching over and over again for a solid ten minutes. I wasn’t sure exactly why… but soon enough it flew off and all was back to quiet. I was amazed at how the owl sat quietly through the seeming chaos, simply bearing witness and taking it all in.
After a short period of calm, the forest shifted into action again, when a flurry of small songbirds came prancing through chirping and flitting about. I mostly noticed wrens and the tiny titmouse. It was at this moment when the squirrels began to sound the alarm, making known that an intruder was in their territory. I wasn’t sure if it was me or the owl or something else, but soon enough I noticed a squirrel making its way up the trunk of the tree where the owl was perched. Sure enough it slowly made it's way to the owl, face-to-face letting Kin know that their presence was not welcome in their territory. I couldn’t help but sense the courage it must take to be a little squirrel approaching a large predatory bird that could easily wipe you out. The owl seemed unbothered by the squirrel’s insistent calling though.
After about 45 minutes of sitting there, I felt ready to shift into the next part of my day. I acknowledged the Barred Owl by placing my hand over my heart with a sense of reverence and gratitude. I was feeling so much more settled and present at this point and as I made my way home, I began to contemplate my encounter and the messages received. Ultimately, the Barred Owl showed me a certain kind of equanimity in the face of another person's fright or survival based reactions. The Barred Owl was somatically undisturbed by the squirrel'ss threatening response to Kin's presence. A deep inner knowing and stability allowed the Barred Owl to be fully present without being triggered. The message I received from this encounter was to cultivate my center, to strengthen my inner knowing and stability, so that in the face of another person's trigger or behavior, I can remain rooted in presence and stay open.
Nov. 14: Our Spirit Guide
Winter allows me to witness and deepen my relationship with the forest and the residential birds-those who are climate tolerant and living among us year-long. As I meander through the naked forest, I can sense the shape of this landscape. Sometimes I like to visualize myself caressing her with my eyes and feeling her through my fingertips. I slowly and carefully walk among the fallen leaves, pressing my soma against Earth’s soma. I know that the wildlife is very alert, vigilant, easily spooked this time of year, so I am specially aware of every sound I make as the silence permeates the forest. I scan with each step, listening intently and with all my senses. Among these barren trees are the cardinals, blue jays, wrens, chickadees, tufted titmouse, a variety of woodpeckers, and then the large raptors - corvids, vultures, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, and the barred owl. Normally, the barred owl is the most mysterious out of this list of common residential birds. But not this time.
Along McGowan creek (which for me is more like a stream) which feeds into the wetlands where the beavers reside, there’s a grove of old Beech trees. One has fallen over, making a perfect bridge that I like to cross to get to the other side. Just as I jumped off the tree onto the ground across the stream, there she was… yes a barred owl! I knew right away it was an owl because I could see the broad, bulky build as she flew onto another nearby branch, not to mention her silent stealth. Her body shape allows her to fly in short and strong bursts. Another key indicator is that owls have silent flight because they have comb-like serrations that allow them to glide noiselessly through the trees unlike many other raptors.
As she landed, I stood completely still. She looked right at me with her piercing dark brown-black eyes. We stayed present, observant with each other for at least 10 min. At first I felt the constriction in my body, unsure if she was going to fly away from feeling threatened and unsafe. With each passing minute, I could sense the space between us settling and establishing safety and trust. My feet, legs and hips softened and my body relaxed into my standing posture as I maintained my gaze. With every muscle fiber and nerve softening into presence, the trust built. She began to move her head away from me, starting to scan for something to eat. In that moment, I felt something remarkable: a mutual respect, an honoring, a bond being formed.
I then decided to move closer to a nearby tree where I could get a clearer view. With every step, she would turn her head for just a moment, look at me and then continue to swivel in each direction, rotating up to 270 degrees scanning and listening to the forest. I knew she could hear my leg move before I even lifted my foot from the ground. Barred owls have asymmetrical ears, meaning that one ear is higher than another and larger. She would check in with me, I would pause, honoring her and then she would continue to rotate her gaze. I finally made it to a tree with a clear view. I knelt down until I finally just rested there, watching her.
It was about 3:30pm and I knew that the sun would be setting in about 2 hrs. I had binoculars in my backpack, so I carefully unzipped the bag and reached for the binoculars. Again, she would look for a moment and almost realize, oh its just her. I setup my binoculars and I felt like I could touch her with my eyes. Her fluffy neck, and brown vertical bars against her chest which is what gives the owl their name. Her orange beak and this perfectly symmetrical border around her face created dimension and mysteriousness. She titled her head a bit downward, gazing right at me as she perched. Her feathers covered her 3 toes to the 1 opposable toe wrapped around the branch.
Her posture demands respect. She is completely still, with a deep attunement to every subtle shift in her surroundings. She is a deep listener, attentive, and piercing. Her expression is stoic, consistent and patient. She carries the powers of restraint, waiting and timing. I sat there leaning against the small beech tree for hours, resting. I could see her blink her eyes and close them as if we were resting there together. The sun was setting and I knew that I needed to shift soon. I stood up; she gazed at me, so I bowed at her and then she stood up herself onto the branch, turned around and then flew off into the dark woods. I felt honored that she allowed me to see her, be with her and rest with her. I felt her touch and bond to my soul. I felt us commune spiritually.