After class on Sunday I went walking with my dog through the nature preserve near my home, enjoying the subtle shift between day and night. In the distance I heard an owl, softly cooing. And then a few moments later another owl, with a lower voice, or perhaps farther away, gave a knowing reply. I remembered the work we did in class as I walked, and began thinking about the beliefs and values which underpin my skills as a hiker and lover of the woods. I recalled myself saying to my partner in class that the belief I carry that enables my ability as a hiker has something to do with acknowledging that we are, ourselves, a part of nature. That our lives are interdependent and interwoven with the lives of plants and animals. And that being in nature is simply healthy for us.
As I continued around the bend it dawned on my that my even deeper belief is that the forest itself, and everything in it, is conscious and aware. And that everything in the natural world has something to teach us.
I communed with this belief as I emerged from the thickness of the forest and turned onto the bright open dirt path leading back to the neighborhood.
The feathery hoot of the owls wafted above me, and I stopped in my tracks to get a sense of where they were.
A few paces ahead, and up, I spotted the first owl. Alighted on a powerline, and looking down at me with calm surprise. I bowed to him as an offering of friendship and humility, and found myself wondering what his teaching was, and how to model an exemplar such as this fine screech owl.
A little farther up the trail I heard his comrade. And found him resting in a treetop, visible against the fading glow of the western horizon. I stood underneath and asked again inwardly, what is your teaching? How do you do what you do? The owl turned and looked down at me, and I stared back up, openly. As I watched the bird rotate his head to peer directly behind itself, I recalled a story from class about a consultant who was paid $25,000 a day to fix problems within companies. The secret to his success was his ability to look at the problem from every angle, until the right perspective was found, and it ceased to be a difficult problem at all.
To see things from all perspectives, and to do so from on high, in a detached, curious, and objective way, seemed to me, to be the teaching of this owl.
The next morning I watched the doves outside my window walk up and down the branches of the big oak trees in the backyard. Curious, I asked again, what is your teaching, dove? How are you so good at what you do?
The dove softly beat its tail, up and down, up and down, as it walked and rotated on the branch. As it turned toward me, I noticed its chest and wings formed a heart shape, and I smiled as I realized its message was about the heart. About the rhythm, the tenderness, and the innocence of the heart.
A crow swooped down and landed on the same branch and after a moment I heard him say, even before I asked the question, logic.
Wisdom, the inner eye. Tenderness, the original heart. Logic, the pure mind.
Upon completing this short passage, and looking for a thumbnail image, I do a google image search for “owl medicine” and find the picture above. A nice reminder that these three teachers have many more students than just myself.