Encounters of a Certain Kind
The impetus to follow a spiritual path was always part of me—a questioning, seeking part. From childhood I sought inspiration in the out of doors, a kind of joyful solace among living creatures, brooks, trees and aromatic earth. I got along well with them.
My own kind often puzzled me, perhaps brought on by frequent uprooting and migration of a military family. I left behind dozens of budding friendships, and was spared the harder lessons of fidelity and perseverance that long-term relationships require. I believe, now looking back, that my love of nature was my child’s way to feel rooted to a place.
These early experiences, and the tales in my family of our Cherokee relatives, cultivated an early interest in Native Americans. When I became a seeker, it was natural to wish to learn more. Then I studied ecology and that added another impetus to discover the world around me. As I learned about the interconnections among soil, air, water, plants, and animals and the symphonic manner in which life and earth interact to achieve dynamic balance, I first sensed the deep wisdom of native people.
Before I traveled to Arizona to study with Native Americans, I’d experienced an early brush with death and several unexplained spiritual phenomena. The encounter with death happened when I was 2 years old near North Beach, Oahu, Hawaii. A wave caught me at the water’s edge and drew me under into a long running rip tide. Tumbling through the surf, I must have known I was going to die, though I do not recall anything about the accident except what my parents related. When my father found me, I was choking for air and had swallowed sea water. Surely, buried away in me is some sense of the fragility or uncertainty of life.
The second knowing came when I was 13 in dark forested hills near Lake Champlain on the Canadian border. On an emotionally stressful day, I escaped to the woods to clear away family tensions that are part and parcel of military life. Our beagle, Johnny, accompanied me on a long walk over soft paths where moist leaves from the early fall blanketed the forest floor.
Our house sat just outside of Plattsburgh, and the land on which Johnny and I travelled was owned by a nearby abbey. Along its quiet trails, wood-hewn benches had been placed by the monks for rest and contemplation. There was little foot traffic, and one could be quite lost in blissful wonder, birdsong, and the activities of forest animals.
After hiking for about an hour we came to a clearing in which sunlight penetrated the towering pines to flood the multicolored leaves on the ground and surrounding trees and shrubs. As I stood there allowing the reflected colors to fill my eyes, a chimera lifted from the actual place, appearing like a wavering mosaic of which I was an inseparable part. I felt the greatest relief come over me as I lost the sense of my body as it blended with everything around me. I do not know how long I was in that ecstatic moment but when I came into my body again, I remember feeling the pull of gravity like the weight of a wet bag of soil.
A certain kind of peace and joy remained with me for weeks afterward. Robert Frost’s poetic line, “the woods were lovely, dark and deep” best describes the peace and silence of the woods I experienced on that morning. Yet, for me, it would be another 25 years before I took “The Road Less Travelled”.
In my 30’s I began long-distance running, a spiritual path of its own kind. Like a mantra, breath is noticed and cultivated by the athlete. In top form, I began to run intervals at the track to achieve more competitive times in foot races. One afternoon, well into the intervals, I suddenly saw myself below me. I could see the top of my head and knees and feet below striding along the track. Then I purposefully directed “myself” higher up to see the whole track and field and the Croton River below it. I watched myself running around the track. As soon as “I” comprehended that I was separated from my body, I was in it again. I’ve never had a similar experience since.
The most recent encounter with other realities occurred just before I embarked on the spiritual journey that took me to Arizona. I lived and worked in San Diego where I studied shamanic journeying with a professional guide. The shaman follows a process with prayers and guidelines similar to any spiritual practice. For example, entering a journey one prays for protection from evil spirits that are just accepted as part of the universe. I think of the psalm, “Yeh, though I travel through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for Thou art with me…” The novice is instructed to recall a favorite natural place from their life. It might be a tree or a brook, or some beautiful meadow. Then, she is instructed to find an entrance into the earth, perhaps an opening below the gnarled root of a great tree. This will become the novice’s entry place into altered consciousness. Some can do this kind of work easily, for others not so. I was one who could descend down the tunnel into the brilliant, multi-dimensional other worlds. This did not mean I was special in anyway, but rather I have a vivid imagination.
Down into that tunnel I went as my teacher drummed and sang softly helping my mind move to other frequencies that opened up long unused parts of the brain. Perhaps buried in all of us is the whole book of life, all that has ever been, and all the wisdom of the ages.
During sessions, I experienced realms unlike our own and met other guides who helped me answer questions I brought to them. These experiences were as real as the one I am having now, writing this story. I recorded the wisdom I learned, painted and sketched my experiences in a small red journal. Much later, doubting the validity of these experiences, and questioning my explorations into other realities, I buried that little journal in the back of a house I rented in Tempe, Arizona. I imagine the earthworms, microbes and yeasts have turned it into dust, just as it should be. The lessons I was given, however, remain, woven into the fabric of me.
I share these events and activities not to imply that I have any special abilities, but more to show how I came to understand that life’s mysteries, however they may be revealed to us, are far grander and more useful than we can imagine. It just requires that we pay attention.