Nature As Mirror
a soulcraft journey in the redrock canyons of the Utah desert,
our group included a Mexican-American man, Miguel Grunstein,
who had studied the Peruvian flute - the quena - with
an Incan master in Peru. Early each morning, while still in
my sleeping bag, I would hear Miguel somewhere near camp,
on a ridge or in a hollow, playing the most serene and delicious
song to greet the dawn. For several days, it was more or less
the same haunting tune. But later in the week, after we had
moved camp, the tune changed.
Over breakfast, I asked Miguel about
the source of his melodies, suspecting they were traditional
Incan songs. But he said he was playing the songs of the
canyon. Each place has its own song, he said. He followed
the canyon walls with his eyes and heart and played what he
saw and felt there, as his Peruvian teacher had shown him.
When in the high country, Miguel played the songs of the mountain
ridges, letting his flute sing the notes flowing up and down
the horizon like a musical score, inviting nature to offer
itself to his imagination.
Each song that emerges from Miguel's
flute reflects a unique facet of his soul that comes alive
in the particular wild place he visits. It is an interaction,
a conversation between Miguel and the wild. An award-winning
documentary filmmaker who captures the eloquent gestures of
the human heart and soul, Miguel is himself such a gesture.
His elegant quena songs are a mirror of nature, both
within and without; they are a communion, an exchange of essences.
Our relationship to the wild unfolds
through several developmental stages. In a healthy childhood,
nature holds great fascination and wonder, the wide arena
in which we discover and explore the world of our inheritance.
By imitating the animals, birds, and trees, we acquire a vocabulary
of gestures that we assemble into our own way of being human.
Then, in adolescence, our relationship
with nature changes. The natural world becomes a mirror of
our developing adolescent personality, a screen upon which
we project our fears and hopes for belonging. But we don't
yet know we are projecting. We experience our emotions as
if they are qualities of nature rather than our own. We enter
the wilderness as a place of danger, self-testing, and self-discovery.
The next stage occurs in the second cocoon
as we become conscious of our projections. But now it is not
only the personality but also the soul, we discover, that
we are projecting. Like the poets, we begin to observe in
the patterns of nature the essence of courage, love, sacrifice,
desire, faith, belonging - all the possibilities of our own
humanness in their primary and most vital forms. In time,
we encounter reflections of our deepest individual natures
and perhaps hear our true names spoken for the first time.
We come to understand that what is reflected by nature is
not just who we are now but also who we could become. And
so we begin entering nature as pilgrims in search of our true
home, wanderers with an intimation of communion, solitaries
with a suspicion of salvation.
The mirror of nature is not always pleasant
or comforting. On a vision quest in the redrock canyons, a
psychotherapist named June, whose mother died when she was
ten, arrived with a curious history of being tormented by
bats. One evening under a full moon, accompanied by drums
and rattles, we danced on the compacted sands of a dry creek
bed. Several times a bat landed on June, on her shawl or dress,
her arm, or in her hair. It never flew into anyone else though
there were fifteen of us and we were dancing wildly and weaving
among each other in a small forest clearing. On three occasions,
the bat became entangled in June's hair or shawl, and another
person carefully freed it while June squirmed and the bat
squealed. The bat, apparently an abandoned juvenile, was at
least as traumatized as June.
During her subsequent days alone and
fasting, bats visited her again. June knew the bats had something
to communicate, something about her but also about
them and her relationship to them. Finally, she accepted
the inevitability of conversing with Bat. At sunset, while
two bats flew circles overhead, June introduced herself out
loud and spoke openly of her fear of them. She asked what
they wanted to tell her. Suddenly she became painfully aware
of how she had felt, ever since childhood, like a victim of
other people and circumstances. This awareness was her catalyst
to dive into her sacred wound, and dive she did. Alone in
the wilds, June relived heartbreaking and sometimes harrowing
memories, especially her mother's death. She came to understand
that the young bat at the dance was mirroring her own sense
of being abandoned, orphaned, and yet emotionally entangled
in another (her dead mother). She reached the central core
of her lifelong experience of being a victim and vowed to
disentangle herself from the ghosts of her past.
June's encounters with nocturnal fliers
did more than facilitate her healing, however. The bats, she
discovered, were also mirroring her unclaimed soul power of
navigating in the dark, her exceptional capacities of intuition
and imagination. On her fast, she was able for the first time
to experience these powers as awesome - not merely terrifying.
By entering her sacred wound, June beheld nature reflecting
her soul's gift as well as her childhood traumas. Her encounter
with Bat held the potential for profound changes in both her
social life and her work as a psychotherapist. Yet only time
would tell how adept she might become at navigating in the
Earth so effectively mirrors our soul
powers simply because our souls are elements of earth's soul.
Archetypal forms and patterns exist not
only in the human psyche but also in the outer world of nature.
Wind, water, fire, mountain, rain, rainbow, bird, bat, butterfly,
fish, snake, bear: earth archetypes. In the shamanic traditions,
the apprentice learns his craft by using the refined powers
of his imagination to become the various animals and qualities
of nature, by merging with the earth archetypes and "re-membering"
as he remembers he has always been nature. Moving from
one archetypal nature identity to another: this is the genius
of the shape-shifter within each of us. By becoming earth,
through her forms and forces, we regain our souls.
The earth archetypes illuminate the edges
of our understanding. We see the rainbow, and if we allow
our imaginations to be generous, we discover the possibility
of realizing our fondest dreams, the longing for treasure,
the enchantment of the world, the thinness of the shimmering
veil that separates us from the sacred, or the bridge to this
world for the gods.
We experience earth archetypes as significant,
evocative, emotionally captivating, enchanting. Why are we
drawn to particular elements of nature? Why those?
Possibly these are the earth archetypes to which our (unconscious)
psyches already attribute meaning, the ones that resonate
with the deepest possibilities within us.
In its attempt to be made manifest, the
soul takes every opportunity to resonate with any element
of nature that stirs it. As we offer our attention to the
world, we discover the beings to which we are most drawn.
Our fascination with a particular facet of nature is how our
souls say "Yes!" to an earth archetype that we,
as individuals, especially tune to. As we open ourselves to
that element of wildness, we discover a quality of our own
souls that longs to be embodied in the world, sung to the
world, danced, cried, celebrated.
The earth provides us not only the means
to be physically born into this world but also the spiritual
means to recognize our deeper identities. Why would she provide
one without the other?
Jerry, an accomplished fifty-year old
songwriter and recording artist, took a walk high in the summer
mountains of Colorado and came upon a small spruce at the
edge of the tree line. He noticed part of its top had been
sheared off, probably by a massive spring snowslide. He sat
down beside the tree and spoke to it out loud, something he
had never done before. He said of the experience:
The connection between us was extraordinary.
I felt such compassion and strength from that tree - about
how you must hang in there through the storms of life, about
standing firm in your spot. Our connection was so amazing
I just sat and wept with love. Yes, I saw myself in the
mirror of that tree - a bit ragged at fifty, but still strong
and open and willing to bring all of me to the world.
Jerry does indeed bring all of himself
to the world, courageously sharing his radiant heart through
his soulful music. A year later, Jerry visited the tree a
second time. It was still thriving at the edge of the avalanche
path. Even from his home on the edge of the avalanche path
called Los Angeles, Jerry says he can feel his bond with that
During the most life-changing soul encounters,
nature holds up a mirror and shows us the face we have longed
to see but had been terrified to behold, at once bestowing
the greatest of blessings and burdening us with a seemingly
impossible charge. In the lightning-strike moment, the soul
confronts us with our true name, the one we were not brave
enough to say or embrace.
In the midst of a storm in the Mojave
Desert, Annie Bloom saw her soul image mirrored by nature,
and her life was transformed, profoundly and irreversibly.
I sat in my circle of stones upon
a knoll. I was in the middle of a dry wash in the upper reaches
of Death Valley. It was the fourth day of my fast. The day
began dark and filled with brooding clouds. I watched big
black thunderheads roll over the mountain range in the west
and march down the valley toward me. The wind began to howl
and gusts raced past me pell-mell like specters for some unknown
destination. The intensity of the sky and wind and my feeling
of being completely exposed roused me to dance and drum within
my circle. I raged with the approaching storm, shouting all
the things of which I was sick and tired. I implored God,
"What shall I do with my life?!" Finally, utterly
spent, I fell exhausted to the ground. Astonishingly, the
thunderheads soon passed and the wind died to a whisper. All
that intensity and yet no rain - and no thunder or lightning.
This drama of storm and then nothing
repeated itself several times through the day. As dusk drew
near, I watched yet another thunderhead roll over the mountain
range and begin its descent toward me. This was the biggest,
darkest one yet, and I thought "Okay, this is it, I'm
really going to get slammed now!" I bundled up and sat
in my circle hugging my knees. I considered retreating to
my tarp, but I felt pinned to that spot. The cloud approached
and the tempest roared. The sound of it was deafening. I trembled
from head to toe, terrified I was about to die.
The cloud stopped, suspended directly
above me, and I looked up into its vast blackness. I saw the
image of two hands opened wide within its velvet darkness.
I reached out my own hand as if to touch it and heard myself
cry out, "Why hands? Why hands?!" a lament torn
from a primal place inside. I had been seeing hands in the
clouds from the moment I entered my circle on the first day.
The hands were always benevolent, always forming gestures
of caring. And now a voice came booming from the cloud, saying,
"You are Hands to the World. We are honoring the work
you do through your hands. This tempest is fierce, but gentle;
this is your nature as well."
Seconds later, the thundercloud passed,
the wind died down, and I was left shaken and alone atop my
little knoll. Tears of gratitude and fear streamed down my
face. In agitation, I ran up and down the knoll, repeating
to myself over and over, "Hands to the World. Hands to
the World." Then the doubts began: Did I really hear
that? What had just happened? For an hour, I fluctuated between
wild ecstasy and agonizing self-doubt.
Gradually, the evening unfolded, serene,
clear, and crystalline. The stars came out in their abundant
radiance. Deep in the night, a lady appeared to me in the
stars, with lights shining from the palms of her hands. She
sang words of encouragement and I was left with the terrible
and awesome task of carrying the gifts of my soul into the
Despite her awe and terror, Annie has
lived as Hands to the World ever since that day. She uses
her spiritual and physical hands in her daily work as a soul-oriented
massage therapist, a "hands-on body-soul worker,"
as she says. She listens to her clients' body-souls through
her hands, which she experiences as extensions of her heart,
and responds with healing touch.
Annie also extends Hands to the World
through her work as a wilderness, ceremonial, and soulcraft
guide. She has committed her spiritual hands to breaking open
people's wild hearts and tending the raw, shimmering vulnerability
that arises in that breaking.
Excerpted with permission from SOULCRAFT:
Crossing Into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche by
Bill Plotkin, Ph.D., New World Library, $14.95, Trade Paperback,
Available September 2003, www.newworldlibrary.com, Toll-free-Ordering:
1-800-972-6657 Ext. 52.