Within a month of graduating from college, I headed West to Vision Mountain north of Spokane, Washington. That summer I spent four days sitting on the mountain, praying for a vision for my life.
Never before had I sat in one place on the Earth for several days in a row. In truth, other than being ill, I probably had never sat in one place for longer than an hour or two.
My quest circle was about 20 feet in diameter, marked by a circle of pine cones to the west, south, and east, and bordered by a rock outcropping to the North. A small, lone pine tree on the eastern border of the circle provided the only shade in this bone-dry, high desert landscape. That eastern boundary overlooked a breath-taking view of the distant valley floor.
For the first day and a half, I twisted and turned within myself, like an insomniac awaiting the blessed release of sleep. I was struggling to find some sense of quiet and recognized that the noise was internal – my motor-mind, ceaselessly machinating over plans, past experiences, relationships – anything that would take me away from the present moment, and thus myself.
Finally, after two days of fasting and sitting in one place, my body and mind began to slow. Sleeping, waking, meditating, and dreaming all blurred into a timeless sense of presence.
On the third morning, I lay on my sleeping bag, staring at clouds in the sky.
I sensed a flash of blue to my left and slowly turned to find a blue skink staring at me. He pumped up and down on his shiny, splayed toes, watching; then, he darted under a nearby rock.
“Under,” I thought, in my now stone-paced brain. “Stand under.” The thought landed. “Ah, my job is to understand.”
In that moment I understood that the skink in particular, and creation in general, had messages to share with me if I was able to listen deeply and understand the world around me.
I began to realize that “listening” comes in many forms, not just auditory signals. I can “hear” through all my senses, and even more importantly through my deep-felt experience of connecting with another being.
A couple of years later a mentor taught me another method of listening deeply to all aspects of creation. I learned to let go of the intellectual ideas or knowledge I had about a particular plant or animal and merge with that being so that I could experience its life from the inside-out.
You might say I was connecting mentally with another being, in my “mind’s eye,” but this is a deceptive term because it implies a visual phenomenon. The experience of becoming another is far more profound than simple “visualization.” When I merge with another being, I have a felt sense of them and their relationship with everything in their environment.
For decades I have shared this exercise with others, and I’m often surprised by how someone will report, “Well, I really don’t know anything about this animal,” and then proceed to perfectly describe their habitat, growth pattern, life cycle, etc.
When I hear or read a contemporary scientist’s wonderment about what ancient peoples knew, I smile inwardly. Those scientists who rely on using probes to explore the outer shell of a being would have a hard time understanding how intimately most ancient peoples, and today’s First People, know the world around them.
When I am learning about a new plant medicine, I do read research studies and study traditional “folk” information about the medicinal properties of a plant. My deepest learning, though, comes from sitting quietly with the plant and merging with its presence. I come to understand the pine tree and its aromatic, protective sap on a much deep level by walking and sitting and napping in the pine forest. I come to know violet’s healing presence as it releases its floral sweetness in my mouth and then, through the alchemy of digestion, as it becomes part of my own body.
I know these beings because I have become them, and they have become me.
The Earth and all its inhabitants are always listening expectantly, hoping to find a welcoming audience. When I slow my over-amped intellect to Earth pace, I can join the conversation and discover the extraordinary wisdom inherent in the beings around me.
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