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Listening to Lessons from the Earth

Lessons from the Earth

One of the richest shamanic practices is that of listening to the lessons from the Earth. These are wonderful practices that involve training our ‘shamanic ear’ and ‘shamanic eye’ to catch hold of how the multitude of beings that make up the Earth conspire to lead us to a valuable lesson, or answer to a question that we set out to hear.

So, you ask... How can bugs teach me? Or blades of grass?

First, you learn how to open your eyes to, for example, a bug, but without relying just on what it looks like. Or perhaps, turning your ears to the flutter of the brasses in a breeze, without restricting them to just the sound of rustling... 

It is difficult to explain how the many creatures and phenomena of the Earth around us is constantly capable of providing us with signals, signs, and ultimately information that is deeply important to us. However, when learning shamanism, students are instructed in how to walk in nature and how to listen, observe, and discover these lessons.

Moving into a shamanic state of consciousness, hearing is beyond physical sound, and vision is beyond light-induced sight, yet the lessons are keen and significant. Sometimes it is easier to explain, by demonstrating an example.

Here is a short experience of a practitioner who headed out on a walk, knowing that the Earth was somehow going to provide her with important information that was significant to her alone. I have included it here, and interspersed it with comments and notes of my own, as it is a wonderful example of the groping, searching out sort of process that practitioners go through as they seek for lessons, and, the surprising discoveries that can come.

Practitioner: “I performed a sage self-cleansing before I left the house, got on my bike with a set city park in mind.  I thought that I’d been there before, but when I arrived, I realized I hadn’t. Kids playing, each with a single parent – some sort of play date group. I pushed my bike by and followed the trail towards more trees, cut through a path that followed the boat harbor and was tucked behind houses. I felt conspicuous. I didn’t want to trespass in others’ backyards.”

This was an excellent choice, to switch to walking from the bicycle. It seems that our ‘connection’ with the Earth is so much more immediate when we actually do so with our feet, than hovering above it on a vehicle.

Practitioner: “I kept moving and looped back up onto the road.  These roads, neighborhoods, near my house, near where I have biked, I had never seen before. Then, a highly wooded lush area snapped and crackled to my right – Things falling from trees, animal movement, I went in that direction, but soon there was a steep vine-covered descent into a deep gully.  The smells of eucalyptus – of dank Santa Cruz ecosystem.  It felt so wild, sort of raw.  A space that suits me, however I didn’t want to make my way down a vine-covered, steep pitch.”

Ahh, the practitioner is now entering a kind of ‘transition zone’… when doing so, It can occur to us as a very subtle realization that we are somewhere new, though this is not thinking in terms of geographic place, but rather that we are entering a transitional zone of consciousness where how we constructed the world can shifts, and where now step into a position to become conscious of things that we had previously not seen or fully recognized.

In this practitioner’s case, it is here, now, that that the calls from the Earth are starting to come to their attention: the crackle of animal life, things moving, the smell of the moist, lush greenery...

Practitioner:  “I quickly realized that I was in the back of a Church Bible Camp. Continuing along the back boarder of their parking lot I saw between two small trees and went in.  More of the lush greenery, but without the drastic gulch.  There were trees with small purple blossoms in bloom.  Another crackle of something falling from a tree – tumbling through suspended vines, taking out branches and debris as it went.  I followed the sound to another section of the steep edged gulch.”

Here, it feels as though the practitioner is sort of ‘swimming in this transition zone’, searching for their ‘right place’ with the same kind of antennae as if they were looking for a place to set up camp, but in this case, to learn something important from the Earth. Sounds are important here, as are color and movement. Unsurprising, as these are some of our primal senses.

As importantly as are specifics, be aware of the bigger picture of your journey when we seek to learn from nature, a journey which really began when our initial intention to do so was set. For instance, when her ‘not feeling quite right’ feeling behind the houses, or feeling the draw, but then noticing that a certain section was too steep, or of harkening to things falling and that ‘debris’ is being cleared when it happened… all of these things may be part of the unfolding of the lessons she is being given, for when we are listening with an attuned shamanic ear, all of these are potential ‘voices’
Practitioner: “I opted to stay away, turned around, and quietly looked at the ground a few feet in front of me, under the blooming tree.  Pieces of monarch butterfly wings.  I go for a closer look; move a small blade of grass and a piece of the wing tears a bit.  That is when I realized, ‘Every movement, no matter how small, has an impact’.”
Excellent! Bingo. She did it, at least so far. It all adds up! This is often how the lessons come. Many people learn in gentle steps along the way, many others upon reaching a certain spot and then listening to it all start to unfold. For many, it is as if there is some sort of ‘critical mass’ of information that must be reached, and then the lessons start to tumble forth.
Practitioner: “I sit down and look about the small space a bit closer.  Fallen leaves with tiny nibble marks all along their edges.  It brings me into their world.  A space below the vines.  I think and feel, ‘There are worlds, larger and smaller (dependent on perspective and definition) than the world of the human being.  Each does its thing and plays its part.  There is no judge of what is more or less important.  Mutual significance of all being’.”  
Notice here how the lessons are continuing as she continues to let herself be drawn into what is being said to her.
Practitioner: “I then hear the clack of a skateboard, more skateboards. People doing their thing. I sit longer, a young girl cries out in glee. Teenagers come around the corner, sit and commune together, doing their thing. I am presently aware. Sitting on my own...  On my own, visiting with the different worlds that live here – that dine on the leaves that I sit by. Thinking, thinking slowly. What if I stop thinking? What will I learn?”
“Crawling on me. On my notebook, then on my jeans, and onto my shoe. My leg is crossed and I lift my bottom knee to view a closer look. I watch this teensy tiny round beige spider. I wonder what she/he is thinking. Then, the spider belays off my shoe and there it hangs 2 inches off my shoe, 5 inches above the ground.  Oh, dropping now.  Nope, in the blink of an eye the tiny beige being is back on my shoe. Oh to be able to move like that. Ha ha! What sweet spider do you have to teach me? I ask. My answer came quickly… ‘Be Curious’.”

Yes. We can listen to what the ‘whole’ is saying (the whole of the blades of grass, the wind and the butterfly wing and she as a ‘participating observer’, all interacting with one another), as well as what the ‘part’ is saying, which in this case is the spider.
This practitioner has promise, as she is able to hold her shamanic state of consciousness even as other, uninvolved human beings pass by.
Practitioner: “I feel that the whole experience was meaningful. I was able to slow my pace (this past week was particularly fast-paced for me) and to hear and see beyond my stress. I enjoyed dropping into the world of the bugs and butterflies and it opened me up to healing thoughts and positive teachings. The little spider friend was particularly wonderful in his movements and interest in checking me out. When I received the message of curiosity, I felt his curious nature. He did not fear me, he curiously explored. It livened my spirit and I feel that I can live my life and all that I do – painting, mountain biking, schooling, listening to music, being with family, socializing, meeting new people, all with curiosity. This suits me and works with my playful spirit and opens to all sorts of “curious” possibilities”.
In a way, Spider is encouraging her curious self. This might be meaningful to her generally in her life, though she might also understand it as pertaining to a particular curiosity she has been holding. This is the one of the enormous aspects of opening oneself up to listen to such voices: they provide us with not mere ‘information’, but rather, reach down deep inside of us to clarify something or provide an important lesson about something that is already significant, perhaps crucial to us.
She is being directed towards discovery. Here, her curiosity is being encouraged. Moreover, she has received a strong prompt to embrace her fearlessness.

Her lesson or lessons could have been just about anything. The way to open oneself up to following the signals, listening, and then receiving such a lesson simply take shifts in consciousness and ways of letting oneself be. They are not hard to learn, and the process is extremely enjoyable, though sometimes surprising. After all, it is about oneself that one often learns!