I had been dreaming about being at school. That is not unusual for me. Last night I was back at Bowdoin College, but it really wasn’t anything like the Bowdoin I attended nearly 25 yrs ago. Instead, it felt foreign and strange. I was enrolled in four classes, yet hardly even attended the lectures. I couldn’t seem to remember where my classrooms were, let alone the room number of my dorm room. The dream was filled with angst, reflecting the, well, let’s just call it a semi-existential crisis I’ve been battling these days: What the heck am I doing here and where the heck am I going with my life?
Yep, I know that sounds extreme and dramatic. And, quite frankly it’s something I circle back to from time-to-time. I’m now at the stage of life when my kids are nearly ready to head off to college. As they get ready to embark upon life outside of their childhood home, I can’t help but think about what that means for me.
Once again, I’ve found myself circling back to the idea of returning to school, myself. It doesn’t matter that I’ll be 50 in less than three years, I seem to have a passion for life-long learning. The only thing that tends to hold me back is the money. Which is an underlying block in my current semi-existential crisis.
School seems a foolish thing to think about for myself when my own two kids will be heading out the door in just a few short years. Even though our household income is higher than most, it’s not enough to pay for 4 yrs x 2 kids’ college tuition costs. When my husband recently announced our current rate of college savings and how he had hoped that I would have been able to contribute more through my meager income, I felt a wave of panic and guilt set in. Every dream and hope I had for my life, and our shared life as a family of four, began to dance in spectral forms around me.
I don’t mean to be dramatic here, but I wonder how many other stay-at-home-parents feel the same way and are haunted by similar ghosts of a future that could have been, but never was…
Even though I wouldn’t trade back my time at home with my kids, if I could do it over again I would have a plan in place for this time in my life. I would have thought long and hard about a career that could be picked up again after a long absence, or one that could be nurtured part-time as I nurtured my children full-time from home.
I don’t life in a society that makes it easy for mother (or fathers) to return to the workforce after long leaves of absence, at least not in careers that honor higher degrees of education beyond the high school level. Nor does it assign monetary value to the work that is done by a stay-at-home-caregiver. It is, for the most part, an unpaid and thankless job.
Yet, despite this, I would not trade in my time with my children. I also know they are grateful for my presence in their lives. As the saying goes, it’s nearly impossible to have it all. So we must instead as ask what is enough?
In my present state I have come to realize that I tend to define my own worth too much by monetary values without allowing myself to accept how much value there is to the unpaid work that I do. That’s where my friend the cardinal comes in.
After a night of struggling with my inner-demons, I woke to birdsong. Mind you, it’s the middle of February and temperatures are below freezing when I wake most mornings, including this morning. I am not used to hearing birdsong in the middle of winter outside my window.
At first I was a little annoyed. I rather liked the idea of a few more minutes of sleep on a day when an early rise was not needed. But there was no further sleep to be had. The bird was insistent, and soon after I pulled the plugs from my ears I had a good idea of what type of bird it was. I wasn’t, though, quite expecting it to be so bold.
The cardinal was the first thing I saw as I pulled aside the curtains. Its crimson coat, a bold contrast to the snow-brushed hemlocks as it peered back at me and sang. It was eye-level. The only bird in sight. The only bird singing. Fine, I told it, I’ll look you up in Ted’s book later.
I should not have been surprised by what I read, but somehow I had not recalled that particular bit about the cardinal as a messenger. In the last sentence of Ted Andrew’s description of cardinal in Animal Speak, you will find these words, “…remember that everything you do is of importance.”
I am sharing them here, because if I needed the reminder, perhaps you do too.
As my husband and I continued our journey up the quiet mountain, I stopped now and then to place my offering of tobacco leaves in the nooks of trees and rocks. Noting, as I did, how sometimes others had made their own offerings. Small and large stones nestled into crevices of wood and stone, along with the more permanent and not so mindful markings of names carved into the skin of trees. I saw the carvings as a sad reflection of the ego’s need for permanence, forgetting that the mark that lingers is a mere shadow of the true self that never dies. How we yearn for something that is false, so often forgetting the harmony that beats around us. I found the buzz of the mosquitos oddly comforting, in its reminder of the cycles of life. The sacred spring below having given birth to the insects that followed my footsteps along a path older than the trees surrounding me.
The mountain remained, to me, quiet and reserved. Welcoming, yet not offering too much. Not yet. This was my first visit, after all, and as the miles slowly rose, I realized that I would likely return someday. Perhaps not to the same trail. Perhaps not with the same companion. I didn’t yet know, and that was okay.
Life cycles as it will, and it behooves us to allow it to play its rhythm without resistance. When we push, we are often met with a counter-push. A simple law of physics. Perhaps this is why the snake appeared. Not once, but twice, as we hiked the long, winding trail, slowly losing the mosquitos as we gained elevation.
I have found the snake to be a frequent messenger that appears at points in the cycle of life that call for a surrendering. A letting go of the old “skin” I choose to wear to make way for the new, lighter sheath. They remind one of the wheel, ever-turning. Endings moving into beginnings, endlessly repeating.
I had thought that the mountain might harbor hurt. A long held wound from the legend of the chief who fell from its summit. Cursing, as he met death, the white man who had poisoned his son. As I walked the first half of the mountain, I found that I was also, in essence, curing the “white man” who had felled all the trees, and placed the wall of stone beside the path of the sacred waters. Yet, as the snake reminded me (twice), time moves on, whether we allow it to or not, without judgement. The cycle weaves its circle of life and death, over and over again, and we can be a part of it, or we can use defiance to try to resist its flow.
I could not forget that I had breathed acceptance into my body before I had left my hometown that morning. There are no true accidents to life. I realized, as I walked, that it mattered little, if at all, that I was not seeing the faces of the long passed in the rocks, or feeling the pull of the familiar through my cells. Instead, there was that quiet harmony of belonging. Of being present with my beloved in human form, and the sacred landscape around us.
There was no denying the many gifts that had been offered. The crow who had welcomed us, the “ghosts” beside the stream, the white feather in the path before the call of my feathered seer, the snakes of renewal, and even the mosquitos buzzing life. There were also berries, full and ripened to the deepest blue of truth as we approached the final mile. Tempering greed, we reached, now and then, to pick small handfuls of the fruit and felt the renewal of life in each magnificent bite. Agreeing that there was never a better blueberry than those grown on the nearly soilless top of this mountain. A grateful gift that was even more welcomed when we discovered how little water we had left and how warm it had become during our journey, as well as how unsatisfying the apples were that we had brought. Mealy and soft, whereas our mouths hungered for a cool, crisp bite. I thanked the land for the blueberries as I offered it more tobacco in return.
As we sat on the granite ledges and took in the views of the landscape around us, my husband and I noted the time and how far we had come. We felt the ache of the climb in our bodies and the hunger in our bellies. Ahead of us was the head of Chocorua, perhaps another half mile away, we could not be sure. Its side looked steep and a bit dangerous as we realized we would either have to make our way around it to find a more gentle side, or allow ourselves to finish our journey below its peak. I was surprised that I did not feel disappointment. That there was no resentment bubbling up inside at the possibility of not “completing” our journey. Instead, I felt acceptance. It was enough, all of it.
We did not turn around then, though, but decided to walk a little further. I was grateful, as we continued on for this small final leg of our journey forward, for the soft presence of the land and it’s hallowed feel. For the berries that continued along our way, and for the knowing that we had just enough daylight ahead of us to get back down, and just enough water to quench our thirst if we needed it. I thought of that sacred stream and the yearning of my body to feel its cool release. And, as I turned my gaze one last time to follow the path of a vulture around the neck of the mountain, the mighty bird moved toward a cloud that hovered beside the rock face. Perhaps it was my imagination, but to me it looked like the head of a chief in profile. Its face pointing away from the summit that would need to wait for another day.
I had brought one more thing for my journey, which was not mentioned in Part 2. In the pocket of my shorts was a small bag stuffed with tobacco, the procuring of which is a small story by itself. When I asked my friend Darlene what I should bring for an offering, her definitive answer was “tobacco.” There was no budging her, but I tried. The thought of buying a tin of tobacco, or a packet of cigarettes, filled me with mild terror. Irrational perhaps, but a childhood that involved the illegal growing and smoking of “pot” by my parental figures turned me against all manner of smoking. The only cigarette I’ve smoked was in one very vivid dream. That was enough for me.
So, here I was faced with one of many tests during this journey, before it even started. How to procure some tobacco. And, as I was thinking about how best to find some, a little voice inside my head came to the rescue with one word, “Etsy.” You can find just about anything on Etsy and sure enough a quick search led me to a source of natural tobacco. Perfect. I could handle buying tobacco safely through the internet with the happy knowing that it would be packaged as pure, unadulterated leaves. My little bag of tobacco arrived within a couple days of ordering, accompanied by a lovely handmade floral magnet. I had my offering.
Which, as I walked along the wooded trail filled with mosquitos, kept creeping out of my shallow pocket until it finally dropped somewhere not too far away from the white feather. Like the crow, the feather seemed perfectly placed before me, another sign often found during my journeys. And, although I had yet to feel the familiar nudging of spirit through my left hand, which may be because it was too busy grasping a walking pole, I took it as another positive omen that I was on the “right path.”
It is sometimes said that true signs come in sets of three, and number three that day came in the form of a song. Sharp and sudden the voice of the pileated woodpecker pierced the silence surrounding us. Once again I found my breath stop inside my throat. My “feathered seer had appeared. I should not have been surprised, but somehow I had forgotten the dream of this sacred messenger seven months before when it flew before me atop a “Native American hill.” Looking into my eyes with the message, “Don’t be afraid to see.” Weeks later, I had met Chocorua capped in snow. And now, here I was upon its oldest trail.
Funny how the mind works, only now I am recalling the dream through my old blog post. Putting the pieces together as I write. “Do not be afraid to see.” I had been thinking, as I walked, how much I was trying to see with my outer sight. The bent trees to give me clues to the sacred places. The faces in stone. “Are the bugs flying into your eyes?” I eventually asked my husband through frustration as I every time I brought my sunglass to rest atop my head, my eyes became magnets to the swarming insects.
No doubt another messenger, but not a wholly welcome one. Sometimes we try too hard to “see” outside of us. I am thinking of the “ghosts” I glimpsed while walking beside stream that felt sacred at the base of the mountain. I had felt the impulse to pause. To look back as the outer eyes blurred to the inner. And there they were, a small group of people from the time before white men, gathered at the waters, their heads turned slightly sideways towards me. “We see you,” they seemed to be offering in a welcome without judgement.
I did not linger, but took the gift of their presence and tucked it inside. It would be a mostly quiet walk. The other hikers not making their presence known until 2/3 of our way to our destination. Instead, we had one more messenger waiting to greet us as we worked our way uphill through the heat and bugs.
To be continued…
I used to keep a journal of my animal encounters. Not just animals, insects too, and birds, and all manner of non-human life forms I met up with each day. I was interested in their symbolism and what it might mean to me. Synchronicities and patterns. The universe talking in code. I used to do a lot of things I no longer do, and these days I am acutely aware of how much I am allowing myself to be wrapped up in the mundane, favoring it over the magic of life. Not because I want to, but because I have somehow convinced myself that I must. I must not search for encounters, but for what feels like artificial messages. Messages that I must send to get readers for my new book. It is a task I do not like, but that in itself is a lesson and, therefore, a gift. How do I make magic out of the mundane? Somedays it’s easier than others.
When the jobs we feel we must do become a chore, should we continue on in toil, or should we pause and breathe into the depth of being to find the magic contained within the moment that is always offered to us? The moment upon which we trail our breath and our thoughts, whether they be rapid, or peaceful? Today there were many encounters throughout my day which felt forced, labored, and without the fruits of joy. Yet, there were also pauses when I stopped to be present.
I watched the squirrel, boldly wearing red fur as it masqueraded as an acrobat climbing up, then down my “fairy” tree stealing apples in its mouth and leaping through limbs as though gravity is a ruse. I could almost believe anything was possible until I returned to the drudgery of musts. “You must do this to sell books.” “You must do that.”
The voice inside my heart forever whispering against the pull of musts, “just let it be.” “They’ll find the words you wrote for them, somehow.” I don’t always believe in somehows, but the voice inside me tells me I should.
The crow that stopped my feet today was dead. Its head pointed downhill. Black feathers tucked above the vibrant green of grass on this sunless day. I couldn’t help but think of magic extinguished. It had fallen beneath wires. Was it electrocuted by too much force? Energy coursing outside its bounds? The owl had been found in nearly the same place, also dead, one month before. I cannot help but think of the two bird messengers in my book. Grandmother Crow. The owl who haunts the last pages with a warning…
Yet death, I am reminded by yesterday’s snake, is not an end, but a beginning. Decayed life breeds new life in that ever-lasting cycle. How can I forget the wisdom of Shesha? Did I not write his story upon the pages too?
Briefly, today, I thought about fairies. Sue had reblogged a post about the fey and for some wonderful moments, I was transported into the realm of magic not often seen. Perhaps that was why I was led by the turkey feather, which floated up from the blackened road as though wanting to be seen. To be caught, as I drove home. So I took the ever-willing dog for a walk, and there it was. In the middle of the road. Large, curved, and perfect. Banded in brown. A solitary turkey feather waiting for my hand to receive its gift.
So I twirled it in my fingers, feeling the life still present. Blessed life. A reminder of abundance. Down the road, a red fox wandered from the twilight woods and stopped to fix my gaze. We stared as though each daring movement, until a car passed by. Some say foxes hold the secrets of the fey. Cunning, bold, stealthy. Red, like the squirrel. Have I lost touch with the red blood of Earth? I wrote the words in this book, in part, to save her. Created six warriors with a mission to repair her broken veins, forgetting, after I had finished, that one must care for the inner body, always, while caring for the outer. And so I look back upon today. To the red squirrel taking with ease the fruit of the apple back to its nest. The dead crow charged with too much power. The lone turkey feather in the middle of the road. One perfect blessing waiting to be held. And the red fox who had ventured, for a moment, out of the hidden realm to say hello.
Reblogging this wonderful post on the mouse/rat as an animal messenger by Julianne Victoria:
Sometime Spirit likes to hammer the point home until we get it. I find this happens when I am really being called to shift and get rid of old energies and systems of belief that are not serving my highest good. Since my mind likes to work with symbols and metaphors, I often get these messages in the form of animals and vividly detailed dreams. When I put all the pieces together the puzzle becomes complete and I really “get it.”
I’ll share my most recent series of messages as an example. It’s rather amusing when one lets go of self-frustration. Two nights ago I had a series of vivid dreams, of which I would now recall in more detail had I written them right down after waking. But, I think what I retained was enough to get Spirit’s point across, especially when combined with the other messengers that ensued.
In the dreams I found myself in a landscape of water (the element of emotion). The water was an ocean, and it was rising. As I made my way through the water I encountered a large (too large) seal. It was alive, but unmoving, floating like a buoy with its bloated belly turned toward me.
The seal as an animal messenger beckons us to awaken our imaginations and creativity. In his book Animal Speak, Ted Andrews writes, “If a seal or seal lion has shown up as a totem, it is time to do some questioning. Are you getting out of balance.” (pg. 311). Considering that my seal was bloated and unmoving, I would have to say yes. Since I am a writer and my soul needs this form of creative nurturing, the seal was a “gentle” reminder to find space to feed this part of my soul.
What of the bloated belly though? One might say that the seal in my dream was over-fed. Now, let me tell you about the other vivid image that stayed with me from that night. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say I was on a toilet and a lot of waste was moving through me. Our physical bodies are responsible for storing, processing and getting rid of the energy we take in. Sometimes, when we harbor fears, these energies find a home within us and grow – they quite literally bloat our bellies, or cause dis-ease of some kind. As a former sufferer of IBS, I know too well this type of energy retention and the body’s struggle for release and balance. Although, two nights ago, I was not literally having an episode of IBS, spirit was showing me that it was time for a release of fears.
The following day, I went for a walk with the dogs and my eyes were pulled to the side of the road where a black snake lay curled in the sand. Again, my animal messenger was unmoving, although alive. The snake as a messenger seems to make an appearance in my life when I am in the process of, or am about to undergo, a big shift. As a totem/messenger, the snake awakens the dormant energies inside of us (it’s associated with the awakening of the kundalini energy at the base of our spine) and, through its ability to shed its entire skin, calls us to release our old self and rebirth.
The snake energy is associated with the 2nd chakra, where we house our sexual and creative energies. A chakra area that has been calling for attention and healing in my body. The point of Spirit was really starting to hit home, but there were still two more messengers to consider.
Over the past few days I have, much to my dismay, encountered more than a few ants in my house. Through much investigation and cleaning, I discovered the lure – a jar of honey with a loose lid. Now I must confess that the ant is not one of the animals I tend to spare when I encounter them in my house, so I did my best to thank the universe while I sent the messengers down the drain with a good dose of the element of water.
It’s likely the message here was multifaceted. The ants were lured to honey – a sweet substance of life (and there may be an indirect message from bee here too, see below). Ants, as most people are aware, are quite industrious. They work in a complex social unit of cooperation and order. Andrews writes in his book: “The ant is the teacher of how to build, how to become the architect of your own life. It can show you how to construct your dreams into reality. It will show you that the greatest success occurs with persistence.” (pg. 336). I can safely say I have a few dreams I’d like to manifest into reality, some of which are directly related to writing.
Now let’s side-track a little and look at the bee, because we really should consider the lure of honey. Andrews states that “Bees are long-time symbols for accomplishing the impossible.” (pg. 337). Of course one might say that the impossible is only impossible inside the confines of our minds. Could it be that I am being called to actually enjoy, and find the sweetness inside, the process of manifesting my creative endeavors into reality (yes, there is a tone of irony here)? Sometimes we do forget that life is supposed to be fun and filled with light and joy.
There’s just one more messenger I want to consider before I end this blog. The catbird. I seem to have a resident catbird outside my home that likes to make itself seen in my presence at the most telling of times. The catbird, with its talent for a wide range of songs, is a messenger of communication. This morning, when my friend the catbird appeared before me, I was quite literally thinking about my own communication blockages (related to the throat chakra in particular).
And so, it seems, spirit is calling me to the two chakras in most need of my attention – the 2nd, and also the 5th. Two chakras I feel are intimately connected. For when we manifest our creative gifts, we want to be sure we sing them in the clear, beautiful and enduring voice of our truth.
Often, when I look to the sky these days I see the majestic form of a great blue heron flying a silent, solitary search for the next body of water. In flight, the great blue heron evokes the image of a prehistoric bird from a time when dinosaurs ruled the land and sky.
The great blue heron is often seen alone and there is a sense of awe instilled when we are lucky enough to glimpse this shy bird who walks and flies soundlessly through the elements of air, water, and earth. It is a bird of great grace and beauty with long appendages adorned in watercolor feathers.
The heron, when its presence graces our lives, reminds us of our inner strength and ability to adapt and survive on our own. That when we live a life of quiet grace, our inner beauty radiates and affects those around us.
Although it is not a water bird, the heron is a wader of shallow depths in the areas where land and water mingle. Here, the heron walks with stealth and grace on long legs, bending with ease to find sustenance in the form of fish, frogs, or other small animals living in or near the water.
The heron not only moves between the elements of land, water, and air with effortless ease, it is a master of balance, able to support its large, slender form on one long leg. Balance comes to the individual through wisdom and the ability to go within to find harmony. The heron evokes ancient wisdom. It is a sage for the soul who seeks balance and the harmony of inner truth, as well as a guide for the individual who finds peace in solitary endeavors.
The photographs in this post were taken by a good friend of mine who dances with heron. Much love and gratitude to you, Rachel, a woman who embodies the grace and beauty of inner strength. The journey of the heron can be lonely at times, but offers great rewards.
I’ve been meaning to blog about the bee, and found this wonderful post today: