Every month I receive a 3-card Animal Medicine reading from my friend Laura at Wild Goose Guidance. Laura uses the metaphor of animal lore to bring attention the inherent wisdom of the soul, to “help with the stuck places” as she puts it. I maintain a healthy skepticism of the pseudo-scientific, but I am not one to turn up my nose at the use of mystical metaphor. For many years in my teens and young-adulthood, the Christian narrative of Jesus was a metaphor in which I sought refuge. It is only when one’s belief in a particular narrative shifts from helpful-perspective to only-perspective that it becomes dangerous. Thus, the space where wonder meets critical thinking is where I attempt to reside.
When I open my heart to these animal medicine readings every month, I do so with the full understanding that I am using the lens of these metaphors as an aid to help me unearth and flesh-out (and then to bring my conscious attention to) that wisdom which already resides within me. I pay cash money for this each month, an act that feels nearly as sacred as the readings themselves. In doing so I am making a tangible statement of self-care: my inner landscape is worth tending to. I think nothing of paying a monthly fee for a reasonably priced gym membership. Is not the exercise of following my own wonder into the depths of my being and there discovering the universal wisdom of my soul worth at least as much?
This winter, I chose a reading called Heartwood. In response to the the reading I made an animal totem collage. The deeper meaning of the collage was unclear to me at first: something about integrating my ability to observe objectively (the world around me, the sensations of my body, the emotions that arise) with the actual felt-sense of these experiences. To watch while on the ground, feet aflame. To feel and see at once.
I have spent a great deal of time and attention developing these skills separately. I am *such* a good feeler, but I only feel behind closed doors, alone, in the safety of my own home. I’m such a good manager of All The Things, but when I step into that role, I leave my feelings at the door. Integrating these aspects of myself seemed too daunting a task to tackle head-on, so I tucked the collage behind my desk and got on with my life, trusting that the necessary emergence would take place naturally.
Meanwhile, I developed another image in my mind to which I affixed my inward journey. This image was blue. A blue room? Somewhere warm and breezy but also crowded and foreign. And because this somewhere felt so unknowable to me, “…as if the passage from one to another involved not a journey but a change in elements” (Italo Calvino, Invisible cities), I made a playlist to take me there.
When I imagine myself in this city of spaciousness (location being here a placeholder for an inner sensation I can only as of yet imagine) I feel connected to a deep love of adventure, a kind of freedom I sometimes felt during frenetic irresponsibility of my early twenties backpacking around eastern and western Europe. This season of my life was rich in adventure but also with upheaval, heartbreak, and violence – with the inability identify where I ended and others began; marked irreversibly by my continuous and severe inability to utter the word ‘no’ and thus create any boundaries around my self, my body, my space.
The adventure of my season in Wallowa County is one of stability and safety, both deeply unfamiliar experiences to me growing up and thus things I believed did not deserve, didn’t know how to create, and was too frightened to reside in anyway. What freedom there is in these states! These four walls, these three meals, these precious routines have given me the space to settle into my own skin and befriend the darker passageways of my own mind.
Perhaps it is possible to live in a state of internal spaciousness and possibility, to honor that wildness and hunger for life, without losing connection to the adulting that supports it: the job, the groceries, the routine. As artist and author May Sarton writes in her diary:
“…however terrible the storms may be, if one’s life is sufficiently stable and fruitful, one is helped to withstand their devastating aftereffects. For most people their job does this – provides a saving routine in time of stress. I have to create my own to survive. And now it is time to fetch the mail and get the car started. -Journal of Solitude”
The golden rule, in my view, is not a mandate but a statement of observation: you do, you will, you can only love your neighbor as much (or as little) as you love yourself. It is my belief that the action of love in this context is simply to befriend. To love yourself is to begin to recognize your own sensations as beloved messengers of information, there to tell you what you need, prefer, desire, dislike. Thus, my relationship to the narrative of Jesus eventually evolved into something I value far more than a savior or mentor or teacher. Jesus, to me, is simply a fellow explorer, someone who courageously plumbed the depths of the experience of being fully alive as a human on this earth.
I recently hung a photo above my bed, ripped in careless delight from the back of a waiting room magazine. It’s the blue room in Portugal! It’s the passageway into my own wonder. I love that it turned out to be a street and not a room, not a destination but a passage to more discovery.
Only after I hung it up did I notice the striking similarity to the blue belt in the original collage, which I felt at the time, to be representative of my body: a self-contained unit that encloses my true home, my felt-sense. Synchronicity is ever the answer to following the call of the heart. That which we dub ‘spiritual’ or magical, then, is simply that instinct we follow before there are words to explain. It’s intuition. It’s the blue road of your own wonder. It precedes science but does not ever preclude it.