Today I walked down the disused railway line, climbed over the wooden fence and made my way across the field to the stream. I love this place. I love the view from the top of the field. The copse on the crest of the far hill opposite. The way the sky is ever changing around the permanence of the trees, so that the view is always the same and always different. I love the way the field runs gently down to the stream. I love the way the stream winds through the trees. Most of all, I love the trees. One of them has a branch that stretches to the bank on the far side of the stream. Holly, thedog, enjoys exploring this land on the far side. I had never been there before but today I felt an urge see what the attraction was. So, I walked along the branch offered by the tree. It is wide enough to stand upon but covered in a bright green moss that shouts caution. I showed respect and proceeded carefully. Inched my way. A slip would result in a tumble into chilly water and, at the very least, a soggy, uncomfortable walk home. I did not fancy that. So, I inched. But, there came a point (there always does) where I had to take a small leap of faith. Throw my balance out into space and trust that I would reach the safety of the next branch before gravity pulled me down into the water. It wasn’t far but I was carrying my phone and camera and was beset by visions of them tumbling into the current. Still, I stepped. And it felt good. The act of stepping filled me with confidence and I danced along the mossy limb to the far side. I liked it there. It felt different. Like a world reclaimed from water. A secret world. Vegetation was different. Instead of trees, the beginnings of ferns and leafy bog plants. At this time of year, still green shoots. It felt warm and heavy there. Protected. I was glad that the tree had helped me get to the far side.
Which brought to mind a different time. A different journey. A different tree.
Some time ago, I went to see my chiropractor. I had pain in my lower back and knew that Clare would sort me out. I have been going to see her for years. During treatments, we talk about our thoughts on health, alternative therapies, the craziness of modern life and ways to deal with it. She knows that I am pretty open minded about how to treat health issues. On this occasion, she asked whether I would like to try a visualisation technique that she was learning to use. It was free and she thought it might be of some help to me. What followed was an experience that has stayed with me ever since and continues to fascinate me.
First she had me lie down on the treatment table. Breathe deeply. Slowly. Relax. As she spoke, I drifted into a calm, dreamlike state. She asked me to think of a tree. To visualize that tree. This presented no problem. It was our special tree. The oak tree to which my wife, Jo, and I took offerings. The tree with which we have a special relationship (see Meetings with trees #1). She asked me to imagine that I was that tree. To take my consciousness into the leaves on the tree. To feel the warmth of the sun on my leaves. Feel it flow through the leaves into the branches. From branches to trunk. Then, down into the roots. Deep into the Earth. To feel the sustenance coming from the Earth. Feel it meet the energy from the sun. Feel them together rising back through the root system. Up through the trunk. Out into the branches. Into the leaves. And out through the leaves into the outside world. Clare asked me to explore this world. She advised that, in doing so, I might meet some animals. Take note of these animals. They are significant.
Suddenly, a wolf burst into the world. Huge, powerful, wild. But not threatening. To be respected but not feared. I had a strong feeling that the wolf was a friend. Here to help me. He stood for a moment. Dark eyes flashing. Teeth gleaming. I felt his hot breath. The roughness of his coat.
Then, as suddenly as he had come, he turned and ran. Disappeared over the horizon. And, as my gaze followed him, a clamouring blackness rose over the horizon. Filled the sky. A flock of crows (I believe a “murder” is the collective noun). Like the wolf, the crows were overpowering, awesome but ultimately I felt that their presence was benign. They were helpers. To be welcomed rather than feared.
Both wolf and crow came in a flash and left as quickly. Each a brief explosion into my consciousness. Brief but profound. Lasting in their impact. I can still feel the force of their arrival.
And then Clare was gently bringing my awareness back to the tree. The tree was my anchor. My route back to everyday reality. To the treatment table.
“How was that?” asked Clare.
Let’s just say I was a little excited as I told her about my experience. The animals I had met.
“I’ll do some research. Send you some information about what those animals might represent.” offered Clare.
As I left the treatment room, Clare’s next client stood up from his seat in the waiting area. He was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a picture of a wolf surrounded by crows.
Later, at home, I opened my emails.
“Did you see that guy’s t-shirt!” wrote Clare.
She also had attached some pieces about the symbolism of wolf and crow in Native American traditions.
Wolf is basically about communication. Wolf is skilled at communicating with the pack. The howl in the night. Baying at the moon. Transmitting information. Finding ways to get the message across. Wolf is also about loyalty. Keeping the pack together. Relationships. Wolf is the teacher. Able to run long distances. Tireless. Loping. Making it look effortless but, nonetheless, putting great energy into holding the pack. Knowing that strength comes from community. Working together. Yes, there is the archetype of the Lone Wolf. And, sometimes, the wolf needs to roam alone for a time. But only to discover that, at heart, the wolf is of the pack.
Crow is about the shadows. The realm of the spirit. Magic. Mystery. Crow is about moving between realms. Bringing secrets from the unknown back into the known. Crows are powerful in flight. They fly high. But they also walk on the ground. They scavenge. Eat carrion. Tidy up the detritus of our world. They are about change. Shape shifters. They are mischievous. Jokers. Tricksters. They carry sacred messages to the mundane world. And they do so with a caw. A disdainful laugh. They are not impressed by Man’s Law. They are carriers of Sacred Law.
So, what does this mean? Do I believe that I have animal helpers? Do I align myself with Wolf or Crow? Do they tell me something about myself? Do I need to do anything?
I don’t know. The experience did have an impact. It changed me. No doubt. But I am still not sure how. I think that it has something to do with metaphors. Metaphors are one of the ways that we understand the world. No, they are the way we understand. All our ways of seeing the world are essentially metaphors. By which I mean that we as human beings can only make sense of the awesome complexity of the universe by filtering it through metaphor. By applying a lens to the total spectrum that is reality that orders the chaos enough for us to make some kind of sense of it all. So that we can work with it. Total reality, the whole spectrum, is just too much for our brains to handle. We need metaphors to bring order. To enable us to get our heads around it.
Science is a metaphor.
Religion is a metaphor.
Economics is a metaphor.
Politics is a metaphor.
None of them alone is the whole truth. Each is a system. A system that stands for reality. But it is not reality. It is just a metaphor. A tool. To help us see an aspect of reality. Just an aspect.
The danger arises when we mistake metaphor for reality. The aspect for the whole. Then we get religious fundamentalism. Or scientific fundamentalism. Or fascism.
At the moment, we live in a world where the dominant metaphor has become Economics. Politicians behave as if economics is the ultimate truth. They talk of the bottom line. As if God were an accountant. That the ultimate test of any action is whether the numbers add up. Whether it is financially viable. Cost effective.
Crow finds this highly amusing. Crow, if offered a million in dollar bills, would eat it.
But the Economic metaphor world view is presently beginning to feel the presence of an opposing metaphor. The world as viewed through the Religious metaphor. A force that sees reality in a very different way. Is prepared to blow itself up to protect its metaphor. A metaphor that sees no truth in numbers. Its truth it sees in words. Words in holy books.
Crow, if offered a holy book, would eat that too. And fly away, laughing.
Meanwhile, Wolf roams the wilderness. Oblivious of Numbers or Words. Howling his truth to the pack. Stay together. Together we are strong. Do not be drawn by the glitter and bright lights. The numbers and words. They are dangerous illusions. Our place is out here in the wild. We are part of the wild. Part of that which will not be reduced to numbers or words. Remember the wild, the untamed chaos of reality. We cannot understand it, own it or control it. We can only roam over it. Trust it to provide for us. Work together. Take what we need to survive. But no more. Give thanks. Howl to the moon. And move on.
You walked with/on trees today whilst I heavily pruned mine. They fought back too. I like to think I am rejuvenating; cutting away the dead wood; letting them breath where they grow too closely together….. I hope that’s what I did at least. Gardening on this scale is very new to me. Time will tell. Meanwhile I have war wounds.
I was fascinated by your visualisation story. I have very little experience with this but the little experience I had was profound. It reminded me of the relaxation/mediation session you led once at school. Do you remember? In the drama studio? Everyone who attended said they slept really well that night. Happy times.
Happy times indeed. I was so lucky to work with the staff at Pool Hayes. I remember that relaxation session well. I now teach a class in Much Wenlock, Tuesday evenings, doing much the same thing. Tai Chi, yoga, chi gung, breathing and relaxation. It is better for my health than being in school. I am a school governor and have a son in 6th form, so I still maintain an interest in the UK education system, but a lot of what I see fills me with despair. I am relieved to no longer be in the belly of the beast. My admiration goes out to all teachers who manage to do good work within it all. You were always most definitely one of those, Steph. Hope that you are well.
Quite a powerful piece you’ve written here. An awesome experience.
Maybe those animals do tell you things or maybe the man in the shirt will be of some importance someday. Who’s to say?
I really like your reflections and thoughts. Well written.
Beautiful. A raven presented itself to me years ago and spoke a truth into the heart of me. Coyotes (mythically, as well as biologically related to wolves) have been a part of my life since my early adulthood. I scan my environment for both, hoping to hear from them in my daily life. They are both fairly abundant here where I live. Sometimes I don’t listen, sadly, but you’ve inspired me to be more mindful now.
I have long been fascinated by Coyote in Native American myth. As a Trickster figure, he holds a special place in my heart. I love the Trickster myths. Love that they are common to all cultures. Love that Trickster holds contradiction as a source of wisdom and power. Trickster teaches us not to take ourselves too seriously, to be humble, to accept that truth may not be straight forward and things are rarely what they seem to be. Our monolithic consumer culture needs to take note of Trickster.