Three-Day Wilderness Solo:
The Blessing of Mountain Lion
With so much focus on thoughts and ideas as a PhD student, with so much time spent writing, I decide to start the year off by harmonizing with the earth in simple presence. Three whole days to just be still and present with whatever unfolds, without feeling required to record, or analyze, or influence a moment. And it works. Out of the stillness of three days of sitting quietly with myself and nature, blossoms abundant joy.
I am okay with being out in the wild as I love animals and nature and feel very centered and balanced in a natural environment. Nature and its frequency, the Schumann frequency, is an antidote to our fast paced life.
I also know the shamans well who hold this retreat on their land two hours north of Santa Fe in the high desert of New Mexico. So I feel safe to camp outside on a rocky ridge with all the creatures of the wild in a Monsoon season of rain, hail and thunder and lightning storms.
It is extraordinary to perch in a poncho on a ridge in the lone wild and watch the lighting charge the earth.
On this particular retreat twelve women arrive to reset their lives. We are an instant community and are amazed at the synchronicity of the number twelve. We are twelve apostles, although when the apostles are all female, no one is crucified. Everyone just gets fed a lot. I make a nonsense sentence with their initials as a memory trick and check in with them all each day: ANTS JJJK ELK- G! (If that means something to you, I am impressed).
I pitch my tent in a dry spell and am all ready to go for the first storm (the tarp was not tight enough). In the dry time I fill in and clean up the three medicine wheels that greet me at the solo site that I was assigned to: Vulture Cave, so named for the vulture that flew out of it into the shaman’s face as he explored. It is a breathtaking east-facing ridge hovering over giant boulders and rocks and crevices topped by all manner of pine trees, high desert foliage, driftwood and rocks.
I construct a family of herms out of the abundance of stones on the site. I love nature art, Andy Goldsworthy is a hero of mine.
I’m not physically comfortable during these days except for when I put my sleeping bag inside my hammock and cuddle into this nest to ward off the cold, which I do for much of the day. I watch three pastel and blinding gold sunrises from this position. Whatever essence or spirit we may or may not be made of, it is clear that without the sun we do not survive. How I wait for that sun on those cold, cold mornings and understand all those who worshipped the sun as life. In that very concrete cold, dark dawn it is indeed our only chance at life. I am present to that.
I receive a focus for each of my three days and together they form a sentence: Receive Magical Perspective. That is my new recipe for joy.
Receive: When I slow down I permit another (a plant, element, animal or person) to fill up my heart. Why is this so painful? I see how rushing around can allow me to block myself from receiving and filling up. I release the commitment to emptiness and disappointment.
Magical: When I slow down and am present with what is before me I notice the magic that it holds. This is truly a magical and glorious planet with a richness and variety of delight.
Perspective: When I am back to the basics my true priorities become clear again. It is easy to lose sight of what is important. It gets buried in a mountainous inbox. Note to self: annual perspective taking is necessary.
I am visited by many of my animal totems. This term is in reference to shamanic traditions, where animals are honored and valued for their specializations. When we encounter these animals we know ourselves to be working with their powers, or their “medicine”. I see hawks, a woodpecker, crows, a hummingbird, a dove, a bluebird, a lizard, the webs of black widows and numerous insects under the stones that I enlist for my art (I put those stones back).
The Blessing of the Energy of Focus, Will and Direction
On the second night I lie in my tent neither sleeping nor waking in an intermediary zone of meditative trance. Out of the dark stillness the earth begins to vibrate and then pound as a swift, coordinated pulsation buzzes my tent. What on earth? I try to convince myself that it is a deer or something hooved. All of my restless tossing and turning is easily cured in one moment of: what was that?! I think of the Stanford sound researcher who has differentiated between elephants short range audible sound communications and their long range “in the ground” sound communications that they hear through their feet. This vibratory communication came to me through my bed on the earth as I simultaneously heard and felt it. It feels like a predator. I lay as still as a dead person for the remainder of the night, feeling into the darkness for clues, fading in and out of sleep. During my first sleep I have a vision of a lion with a giant green eye looking through my tent. Should I pick up a knife and defend myself?
The next morning I go about my business not thinking much about the experience. Until I search for a flat spot to lay out my yoga mat and see the paw prints in the mud. They are the size of eight of my fingers put together. I track them and they pass within three feet of my tent. And the reality sinks in. I check in with the co-leader Lena and she tells me: there is no need to move sites. You are fine. Actually you have just been blessed with the energy of focus, will and direction in your life. Consider yourself lucky.
Dilemma. Who to believe? My shamanic co-leaders who I have been working with for 20 years? My own belief in interconnected nature? Or the endless layers of fear I am swaddled in from the teachings of my people. We are not just afraid of animals. We are afraid of each other. That’s the lesson in every sci-fi movie on aliens, the ultimate other, if you think about it. Do we kill what we don’t know or do we try to connect?
In the darkness of that long, stormy, and then quiet third night, I do not put my kitchen knife in my sleeping bag. How could I harm a beautiful creature? I put my emergency whistle around my neck and my headlamp on my head. If the lion comes near to me I will use sound and light to communicate that I am uncomfortable with the closeness and they must move away. In the same moment, my neighboring soloists will hear the alarm and come. I don’t realize it right away, but I have chosen the very tools that I study: sound, and by extension light. Sound and light are both at a fundamental level waves of vibration. I am living the antidote to Hunger Games: go out into the wild, befriend your fellow travelers, and be mindful of any other species whose paths you cross.
Yes, I know there are bad apples in every bunch. In every grouping there are those who will just do harm, animal or human. Accidents can happen to you. But I decide not to live my life in fear of those few. The price to my humanity is too high to pay.
Of course, the mountain lion does not come back to visit me. The lion has no interest in me whatsoever. I learn the next morning at our closing session that she and all mountain lions in the natural order are timid and scared of people and want to keep their distance. (Info and statistics click here).When she came over the ridge and saw my tent, I scared the heck out of her and she darted off. That is why there were no other prey footprints in the mud. In a nutshell, we can live and let live. We do not need to kill animals because we’re afraid or because mother animals are aggressive when defending their young—do we not defend our young too? What mother doesn’t? Why do we deprive “the other” of agency? Why are we so threatened of not being in total control? Is it our own shadow that haunts us?
Guillermo del Toro’s recent movie “The Shape of Water” asks this question: who is the real monster? The human capable of atrocity when disconnected from heart and soul or the unknown wild creature that we project our fears and shadows onto?
I decide that I will not be haunted by that shadow. I feel good and full of joy when I protect myself with reasonable and strong boundaries. I am safe here in this frequency. I find and use mantras with words like “whole”, “well-being”, “love received”, “presence”. I feel powerful and joyful. I learn that the mama lion has had several sets of cubs on that mountain. She lives in agreement with all the soloists that come to stay on that ridge.
(Jen, Sam, Leita, Elizabeth, Tricia, Gwen, Jane, Jessica and Kiki. Missing (staying on for 5 day solo): Agnes, Natalie and Katie)
Our agreements, our communication will be our path forward. As I return to Santa Fe I see a large pick up truck with a sickening giant metal cage on the back of it. For the moment, two large dogs ride in the back. The website advertisement reads something like: mountain lion catchers. I stare at the big cage and do my best not to react with fury and fear or see my mama lion behind those bars. Shortly thereafter I enter into the town of Santa Fe where the Fiesta closing all the streets is in honor of the Conquistadors. This is the 301st year of this parade, a parade to honor in effect the colonization of the American Indians, who in present time sit and sell their wares on that very main square that the costumed Conquistadors parade through. Last year the Native American’s stood and protested. This year there are as many police as participants. The riot police are standing ready around the corner. I put on my American Indian jewelry and hold presence in the square for the re-birthing of a people oppressed.
And so it is true. That mountain lion blessed me with powerful focus, will and direction. I feel it. In the face of these local tensions and the general state of the government I return to, I remain undeterred to spread the message of a gentler, subtler style of communication. It is at the level of vibration, which Einstein began to show us, where our material and energetic world are composed, that an opening and expansion of what is possible can occur. At the level of vibration, all indications point to a unity. One where we can find each other, or not, and live and let live without the crippling and fatal fear of our human journey.
The next morning the newspaper headline tells me that I am not alone. It reads: “Celebrating Unity”. After several years of protests and Native American activist arrests, the Fiesta acknowledges the painful history of colonization and begins a new chapter together with the Native Americans. This year they present the Fiesta together.
Last week, the head librarian at my school, CIIS in San Francisco, Earh Joan, announces her retirement. This fierce mountain lion woman now in her 80’s exhorts us to always speak our mind. And so the people have. And so I have.
Now… I am ready for the year to begin.