Saturday, May 30, 2009


Animals are great teachers, it is true; especially for those willing to open their hearts and minds to the greater lessons on how to live and thrive in our two-legged world.
Look deeper than an animal’s biology and connect with its essence—those very qualities, habits and patterns from which we may draw strength and wisdom. The Native American people call this “animal medicine,” as they have long understood the healing power of the animal kingdom.
Photo: Summer Bear by Melissa Johnson; © 2008.
Take the bear, for instance. Consider its most well known habit—going deep within the cave to hibernate for the winter until it emerges anew come spring. True, each animal has many lessons to share, but it’s easy to see how our Native Ancestors view the power of introspection to be the bear’s great metaphorical teaching. By introspection they mean one’s willingness and ability to go within and engage the process of self-examination and reflection.
Call me crazy, but I’m driven to explore and understand the deeper, often unconscious, motivations behind my own actions; a real nightmare for those who would rather not deal with the messiness of why they do what they do. But try as I might to shut it all out, part of me naturally connects with the energy of the bear as I ponder: What’s triggering this emotional response? Why did I behave that way when . . .? Is there a connection between the thoughts I entertain and the day-to-day experience of my life? What am I holding on to that’s blocking my ability to move forward?
For me, the power of introspection has brought about healing on many levels—mind, body and spirit—so much so, in fact, that being a “bear in the cave” has become my personal metaphor for solitary reflection . . . when I have an important decision to make, when I need to work through a troubling issue or want solitude from the stressed-out world around me. “In the cave” I am free to connect with my creative side and establish clear boundaries when I feel pressured by the expectations and demands of others. Sometimes this involves focused meditation; other times, it is my way of spending time alone, which allows me to turn down the volume and connect with my intuitive self—that still, small voice within that knows what’s best for my life.
Experience has taught me well: When we don’t acknowledge our “stuff” it will always find a way to express itself, like water escaping through the cracks in a wall intended to hold it back; it could get ugly. And somehow, by ignoring what needs attention, eventually we find ourselves living out the same situations and dramas, over and over again—with a different cast of characters and slightly different story lines, perhaps—which aggravate our feelings of separateness rather than help us connect to the whole.
It’s sad but true—until we become aware of our patterns and learn what’s motivating our choices, we don’t stand a chance of understanding our Self or others and this can bring about great suffering. Sometimes we can’t do this on our own and we need the help of licensed professionals to work through traumas and issues of the past. But for others, going within to access our highest wisdom is a great place to start, and a wonderful habit to adopt from our bear friends.
So maybe we go in the cave once a week, or six times a year, rather than spending the entire winter in solitude; whatever works. But there, in the light of understanding, we can release the energy of hurt feelings, resentments, anger or whatever may be holding us back, and clear the space for new life to enter.
To be like the bear requires patience and trust. We must feel safe to enter the cave and know that we will emerge in the proverbial spring. And while there, we must learn to connect with our intuitive mind and the energy of our Creator, for this is where answers live and the solutions to our most pressing dilemmas can be found.
Bear medicine, indeed. . .
Legal Disclaimer: Remember, true intuitive messages are loving directives that offer insight and guidance for our highest good. Terrifying, debilitating thoughts or those that encourage you to do things that you know are inappropriate either come from manufactured fear or psychosis. If the latter please run, not walk, to your nearest psychotherapist’s office and do not enter the cave alone again.
By Melissa Johnson
This article first appeared in Colorado's Highlander Magazine (May 2009). Reprinted with full author copyrights and editorial permission.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two Sides of the Same Story

Even the Rose,
and full of blooms
requires just enough manure
to flourish.

Grounded, by TR Hughes [1]

My friend Tammie wrote this poem, and its dirty truth made me laugh—reminding me, once again, of the duality that exists in all of life.
For instance, consider this botanical curiosity: Water Hemlock (sp., Cicuta) is considered to be the most deadly plant in North America. Yet its physical appearance shows delicate beauty.
Toxic Beauty (Water Hemlock) (c) 2008 by Melissa Johnson.
But woe is she who mistakes the clusters of white tuberous roots for that of parsnips or dill, both edible plants; a fatal error indeed. For when swallowed, water hemlock’s poison is so strong that it results in almost instant, violent and painful convulsions. Even handling the plant can leave high levels of toxins on the skin that—when inadvertently ingested by hand to mouth contact—will cause explosive vomiting, or worse. In fact, so toxic is this plant that, throughout history, it has been used as an intentional poison: Think Socrates’ execution in Greece by the deadly poison hemlock.[2]
And ponder this zoological wonder: Humans do not hold the title on laughter and joy. Chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans, our closest furry relatives, make laughing sounds when tickled, and they regularly play with each other, a discovery first reported by Charles Darwin in 1872. So while we humans are keen to distinguish ourselves from our animal friends, research shows that the determining factor for these seemingly cognitive functions is the size of certain regions of the brain—in particular, the amygdala—not the simple classification of animal or human.[3] After all, aren’t we and our monkey friends polar opposites on the same continuum of life?
Duality [doo-al-i-tee] The quality of being twofold; dichotomy.[4]
It’s not just the world of flora and fauna that breeds duality. We, as humans, are riddled with it. From the moment of our birth, the nature of our human experience is twofold—we are at once invisible spirit and a physical body. And while it has been said that we’re all created equal, our lives and experiences are so incredibly different, even in our similarities.
We experience our thoughts, emotions and actions in extremes: Love and hate, strength and weakness, hope and despair, ambition and laziness, happiness and sadness, kindness and cruelty; one moment we’re riding high on a wave of joy and inspiration and the next, feeling low of energy and lacking the will to get-up-and-go. The same is true of our experience of others.
There is a tendency, I think, to view people and situations as being this way or that; black or white; either / or, but not both. Yet the world is filled with dichotomies. How often have we met someone and, having seen certain positive qualities within them, we automatically ascribe to their character other positive qualities and exclude other more negative traits, only later to be disappointed when those negative traits emerge? Likewise, how often have we surprised ourselves with extremes of thought, behavior or desires, all coming from within?
The spiritual principle of non-duality suggests that these extremes are simply different expressions of the same energy. Picture it this way: A long string is stretched tight before you. On one end is your spiritual essence; on the other, your physical body. Though separated by string, they are opposing expressions of the same continuous thread of life, connected and inseparable as a whole. Ultimately, we wouldn't have an inner world without the opposing dynamic of an outer world. We can't have a front without a back; or a left without a right (unless, of course, we're dealing in one dimensional realities, like a cartoonist).
I think the challenge is in learning how to soften our hard lines--balance our extremes--and bring together opposing thoughts, emotions, and actions into perfect synergy to create a beautiful new life energy, rich in depth and meaning.
In this way, for instance, we view the water hemlock as a toxic beauty, equally fascinating in its ability to enliven our senses and destroy our life; we relax our minds enough to see that it's not a case of either / or; it is both.
And, like the rose, we learn to view the manure in our life as a smelly, messy, yet beneficial catalyst for our growth.
By Melissa Johnson
Notes and Resources:
[1] Riddles, Rhymes & Stop Signs, by TR Hughes. To purchase a copy of Tammie’s debut collection of poetry, please click here: Riddles, Rhymes, and Stop Signs by TR Hughes
[3] Fish That Fake Orgasms and Other Zoological Curiosities, by Matt Walker.
[4] American Heritage Dictionary.