We switched things around this week, so Chuck’s blog appeared on Wednesday and here is mine today. Have a great weekend, I’ll be back on Monday with a message from Jeanne!
I’ve been hard at work on the next book in my Recapitulation Diaries series. Today I publish a couple of excerpts from the Prologue. One about an encounter with an ostrich, the other, in keeping with Chuck’s theme, is about an encounter with a coyote. These two animal omens not only predicted events in my life, but also bracketed the fifty-year pact of silence that I unknowingly upheld before beginning my recapitulation—information that remained hidden inside me until I was ready to receive it. I invite you to read on. My intent is that the new book, On The Edge of the Abyss, be published in January. I’ll keep you posted.
An Ostrich Bite
As the story goes, I was about a year old when my parents pushed my stroller up to the ostrich exhibit at the Bronx Zoo. Without warning or provocation an ostrich simply poked its head through the bars of its cage and bit me on the arm, only releasing me after being whacked repeatedly over the head. I received a nasty pinch, but other than that little damage was done. This curious tale was told often during my childhood, though the retelling was always brief, the details left to the imagination. “An ostrich bit you!” my parents would say, in the same dumbfounded tone they would have used had a dragon bitten me.
“But why?” I’d ask, seeking deeper meaning. “What does it mean?”
“An ostrich bit you!” they’d simply say.
By the time I was twelve this story no longer intrigued me; in fact, I was rather bored and embarrassed by it. I’d often wish it had been some other bird or noble creature, or that it had happened to some other girl. Why couldn’t a handsome peacock or beautiful swan have bitten me, why the ugly ostrich? And why did this have to be the only story my parents ever told about me as a baby, and why did they have to tell it so often? I was never satisfied by their presumption that it was just a plain and simple fact of my life; I knew there had to be more to it. Now, after all these years, the possible significance of that bite emerges.
Both an omen and a warning, I believe the ostrich was marking me for the journey ahead, for shortly thereafter, by the time I was two, my trials began. Perhaps, with that nip on the arm, the ostrich was saying: this child will be challenged, but this child will also find the means to transcend the ugliness of those challenges. Perhaps the mark of the ostrich signified strength and groundedness in this world, but the severing of all ties to this world as well, for only in having experiences of transcending this world would the innate abilities of the spirit self find reason to emerge.
I believe the bite of the ostrich was preparing me for what was to come, predicting the encounters with the sexual predator and the lessons I would learn during my life. And so began my solo journey, ritually initiated by the ostrich at the zoo, stamped by the keeper at the gate so that I would be recognized in the dark and dreary world I was soon to enter. I believe I was guided as my journey transgressed from the world of protected infancy into the unknown, into the shadows of a forest filled with dangers more fantastical and abhorrent than that meager nip on the arm.
Within a few months of that ostrich bite a new baby brother took my place on the lap of our distant mother, my brief year of maternal tenderness over. I was sent out into the world to play, to explore, to gain sure-footedness, to become self-sufficient and strong, worthy of the bite that had been placed on my arm by that ostrich at the zoo.
A Coyote Tale
I began my life encountering the bite of the ostrich and much later, a few years before beginning my recapitulation journey, I encountered another animal totem, another sign of life’s potential unfolding. I was in the midst of change, having experienced a brief moment of clairvoyance that had precipitated a move the year before. I was living with my then-husband and our two young children in a farmhouse on the edge of ten acres of land, our backyard enclosed by a white wooden fence and a rush of tall pines. One early spring day I walked back to the compost pile in the corner of the fenced area farthest from the house. Surrounded by open fields, I was just about to empty my bucket of compost onto the pile when something caught my eye. Looking up, I saw a coyote standing no more than five feet away on the other side of the fence, an enormous groundhog hanging limply from its mouth. Catching sight of me at the same moment, it dropped the dead animal. Our eyes locked.
Unable to break the intense scrutiny of the coyote’s eyes, the world around me dissolved and I was pulled into a different world by its stare, a world that was timeless, dark and silent. I had the sense the coyote was assessing whether or not I was a threat, while I silently sent it the message that I would not harm it, nor challenge it for its prey. After what felt like several minutes, the coyote shifted its eyes, breaking the spell, and the ancient silence between us dissolved. The world reappeared and I dared to breathe again.
I watched as the coyote slowly bent down and picked up the large furry animal in its powerful jaws, tossing and juggling it to get a good grip, before it slowly turned away. Taking one last look at me over its shoulder, it pranced off through the field at a brisk pace. I stood there for a long time, looking after it, amazed at what I had just encountered. We had stood so close, both surprised to find the other creature intruding upon our private space, our private thoughts, our private experiences, yet we were simultaneously caught in the same state of utter calm knowing, ancient and unthreatening.
So what did this mean? At the time I was uncertain, but I took it as a good omen. My spirit uplifted by the experience, I felt sure it meant something important. A shaman friend told me it was an unusual occurrence. “The coyote rarely shows itself,” he said, “especially rare to see one on a sunny afternoon.” So, why did it show itself to me and what was I supposed to learn?
Although its message evaded me, the magic of the moment stayed with me, and I gradually allowed myself to envision positive change coming my way. Within a few years the fragile world I was attempting to uphold would crumble, not through anyone’s fault, it was simply done. There was nothing left to be gained by staying there. Similar to my experience of moving on from infancy, after receiving the ostrich bite and being released from my mother’s lap, it was simply time. Moving on this time meant discovering that it was time to recapitulate my childhood, to rediscover the world I had lost, the world I had blocked out, the secret world of the predator and its prey.
In recalling the encounter with the coyote, I began to wonder what it was hinting at, for I knew our encounter was deeply and personally meaningful, even more so as time went on and change did happen, much as I had dared to foresee. Was the coyote hinting that I had once been locked in a battle with a predator like itself and that I would only rediscover this by going into the dark past and reliving it? This seems likely to me now, though at the time it would have been a far-fetched idea. At the time, I had only a vague awareness of the shaman’s world, and yet I was deeply struck by the encounter with the coyote, a significant shamanic symbol, and I could not let it pass as mere coincidence. I had learned a long time ago that everything was meaningful in some way, though that meaning could be as illusive as the memories that lay hidden in my inner darkness. Or was I just a fool, tricked into thinking I was being offered something by the wily coyote? Only time and hindsight would tell.
Indeed, what I could not have imagined then has transpired. Warning of what was to come, what was to be reawakened, the coyote signaled that I had the strength to go back into the predator’s world, telling me not to be afraid, not to flinch at what I would see and experience. It was telling me not to fear or back down when I went back into the past and looked the predator in the eyes. It was telling me to use my own adult eyes to gain clarity about what happened to me in that world and to pay attention to everything I encountered along the way. In utter silence, the coyote told me these things.
Though these two tales bracketed the first fifty years of my life, I made the choice to remove the brackets, to let in memories and experiences that would transform my entire world, and me along with it. My books are about taking such a journey, about finding meaning and purpose in even the most dire of circumstances and discovering a direct connection to that ancient self that the coyote briefly reconnected me with. It became my job to allow that knowledge to fester, to remain in my awareness, and then to elect to go inside, taking the inner journey of self-discovery, reawakening it more fully. Glimpses of meaning must be taken seriously and allowed to fester, for they are what lead us to real change and transformation.
Everything is meaningful,