Thursday, August 19, 2010

Monkey Business

in this world
has a hidden meaning.
Men, animals, trees, stars,
they are all hieroglyphics.
~Nikos Kazantzakis

Monkey Business (c) MJohnson.

I was never one to carry around a camera, and I never really understood those who did.  I mean, why not live the moment instead of trying to freeze it in time?

Even when traveling abroad, I carried a cheap digital camera, at best; sometimes, a plastic, disposable one, feeling obligated to return with proof of my journey.  Often the pictures were grainy or out of focus, and sometimes the subject was so far away that, when printed, the photo made no sense.  Just so, good camera equipment seemed to me yet another thing to keep up with on my mission to travel light.  Besides, how could a one-dimensional photograph ever capture the magic and beauty of my multi-dimensional experience?  At least that's what I thought . . .

Then a fabulous holiday in Bali and a little monkey business changed everything…

Monkey Business (c) MJohnson.

They came from the Ayung River Valley--from behind bushes, swinging from trees--wild monkeys running toward me from the dense tropical vegetation surrounding my mountain villa.  One-by-one they came, more than a dozen in the clan, and as they played on the terrace railing I photographed them.

My friend called me the Monkey Counsel.  He said they came to tell me of their endangered habitat and share with me their monkey ways.  I think he was right. 

I dared not feed them, but I welcomed them with sincerity and a pledge of non-violence.  I talked to them like any old friend, watching their gestures and listening to their chatter; trying to intuit what they might be saying.  We were very different but we understood each other well.  They reminded me to play, which I did; and they stayed, greeting me each morning as I read the paper on the terrace and again in the evening when I returned from a day of exploring.  We definitely had some moments—me and those monkeys--that fed my zoological curiosity and forever changed my mind about photography. 

Soon after, I began to rearrange my life.  I relocated to the mountains of Colorado.  I invested in some quality equipment, including a professional camera with an extra-zoomy lens.  I studied art and photography.  I read voraciously on issues of human rights and wildlife conservation.  I started working with animal and human rights groups dedicated to finding global solutions.  And as I learned the art of Animal Speak, they all came out to play.

Before long, I found myself engaging in paparazzi-like behavior as I followed my new friends around in the yard; hiding behind big Spruce trees, lying in wait behind rock outcroppings, patiently surveying the land at dusk and dawn, all in the name of the ungettable-photo-get.  (Don't try this at home kids.) 

Who knew that I would share this land with so many amazing four-legged and winged friends?  I love my neighbors.  They are patient, fascinating creatures, and they teach me the secrets of the land.

For instance, a visit from bear reminds us to call on our powers of introspection to help bring balance to our lives, drawing on bear’s most noted habit of hibernation.  Coyote lurking about can signal the ways in which we may be tricking ourselves or others, or herald the arrival of unwelcome news.  Rabbit hopping across our path encourages expression of our creativity or speaks to the fears we carry with us through life, reflecting her most paradoxical characteristics of abundant creator and fearful animal of prey.  Hummingbird reminds us to drink in the sweet nectar of life.

Our Native Ancestors call this “animal medicine,” encouraging us to look at the very qualities, habits and characteristics of an animal from which we may draw strength and wisdom, for there we find great lessons on how to harmonize our world.
And it was through this lens that I looked for bobcat’s wisdom when she came round a couple of weeks ago.  There I was in my bedroom trying on suits, hoping to pull together a polished look for an important meeting the next day, when this mysterious beauty caught my eye.  She was sitting on the top step just outside the French doors leading from my bedroom to the back yard. 

Slowly, I approached, moving towards her like a cat so as not to startle or chase her away.  And there I laid belly down, with my face just inches from the glass.  She looked at me, then moved closer, touching her little bobcat nose to the door.  I couldn’t believe my eyes, but there she was.  And when she crawled onto a neighboring rock and lounged, crossing her paws all lady-like, I watched with anticipation for what might happen next.

Minutes later, she rose slowly from the rock, looking in the grass below, and pounced with precision, returning to the top step with a furry little four-legged treat, which she ate in three bites while looking at me through the glass door.

Whatever else she may symbolize, I viewed it as a message of encouragement and a reminder to be patient with my process of change.  Fear and immaturity will not serve me now.  Rather, I need to be in it for the long haul and persevere in my efforts to forge this new path—one where I seek to blend my business and legal interests with my passion for creativity, philanthropy and value-driven social change.  No small task, to be sure.  But this bobcat reminded me to slow down, look carefully and then move with confidence.

Looking back, my life is very different now than when I first began my career.  Today, I’m a different kind of lawyer, finding inspiration in both man’s law and in the universal wisdom left behind in the delicate footprints of nature.  And to think it all started with this monkey business . . . animal medicine, indeed.

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