So I want to talk about something that’s really hard to talk about. Partly because it’s so personal, and partly because it’s so easily misunderstood. The experience is meeting one’s Spirit Helper.
Since I already wrote all the details of how it happened, what I’d like to highlight here is the experience itself—what it did to me, for me. And to offer the flavor of meeting this friend who goes with you and is available for consulting with on a regular basis.
Now I was at kind of a tough spot in my life. My first book had just come out, and suddenly I didn’t know what came next. And I was staring into the void. And I’d been working with a woman who worked with spirits of the Earth and who could help introduce me to them also.
And I was hungry. I was hungry for a closer connection; I was hungry for a way of relating to the larger reality. Because all the ways that I had tried over the years didn’t quite satisfy. We’re talking meditation of various stripes—Buddhist meditation, mindfulness meditation, yoga. Each practice, each tradition, offered something invaluable, but it didn’t quite touch the places in me that were hungriest.
So I was looking for something else. And I was at this crossroads, where life was telling me I needed something else. That’s a powerful combination, when your own hunger meets up with events in life that magnify the hunger a hundredfold.
So I consulted with this woman who worked with nature spirits. And the pattern she followed was one of listening to Spirit and making it available for the person consulting with her. So that I might ask a question; she would listen, and then she would report to me what she heard.
I had a few meetings with her like this over the course of a year. And then one day she suggested that I listen for myself, and see what would come into being. And when I did, a few images showed up that seemingly had no relationship to my everyday life. They appeared in my mind, and I didn’t know what to do with them.
But later that week I decided to try doing this on my own. Consulting with my Spirit Helper without the mentor present. And when I did that, it became really clear that those images, which had seemed so disparate and so far removed from my everyday life, in fact had something profound to say about my everyday life and about this crossroads that I found myself at.
And when I asked questions in that prayer time, that time of meditation with my Helper, I had the distinct feeling that my questions were answered. There was this experience of being met. There was an experience of a dialogue. In this quiet time, which happened to be, like, six o’clock in the morning on a winter morning, I experienced someone on the other end of the line. Which was a first. For me.
Now I’d been brought up in a Christian home, with prayer, family prayer; I’d been brought up in church. And I had never really experienced the presence of someone at the other end of the prayer line.
But this time, I did. There was somebody there. There was somebody who knew me; there was somebody who had a sense of humor, somebody who had some insights to share, and some comfort to share, and some reassurance about where life was going.
And it shocked me. I was shaken afterward. And I had to keep doing it to see if I was just making it up. Would this happen again, or was I just making it up?
Well, over the course of a year, I probably engaged in this kind of meditation on average every other day, often every day. And the book Tamed by a Bear chronicles what happened over the course of that year. My partner, Tim, who I’d lived with for nine years by that point, within the first few months said, “You seem happier!” And it was really true. My Helper was all about teaching me joy. Which was an ingredient that I didn’t have nearly enough of in my life.
But I want to go back to that experience of being met. That experience of finding someone on the other end of the line. So let me describe the scene and the preparation. I was wrapped up in a blanket. It was a chilly morning; it was still dark. And I was holding my smartphone in front of me because I was recording what I was saying. Because my mentor had said it just made things a little easier. It just helped the process of what she called a Journey to record it. And I felt really stupid.
And this is what a Journey is like: It’s like climbing into a boat on a vast water that you’ve never boated on before. Like a huge bay. Or an ocean. Or a lake that you can’t see the other sides of. Enormous. It’s like shoving the boat off from shore, and having no idea where the boat is going. And that’s a really scary feeling. It’s a vulnerable feeling. Because you’re not in charge of where the boat is going. You’re participating, but you’re really asking for someone else to help you steer this boat.
So my own process of a Journey—it’s a very quiet process. I don’t use any drums; I don’t use any trance-inducing methods or anything like that. What works for me is just something so quiet as a conversation. Perhaps that suits me so well because it was the way I began connecting with nature. It was the way the beings of nature let me know that they were available for conversation, was just in quiet pictures in the mind. A feeling of presence, someone else being present in your awareness.
And so when I sit down for a Journey, and when I sat down for a Journey that morning, it was just the experience of shoving off from the shore and indeed being met by someone who was ready to help me steer. So I would ask a question, and then I would pay attention to the images that would arise in response.
And this is where the path of Journey is so difficult. Because we’ve been taught so strongly the idea that any thought that appears in our mind has arisen from our own mind. It’s almost impossible for people—and it was almost impossible for me at that time—to be open to any other possibility.
So I had to make a conscious choice to pay attention to the images that arose. And to take them seriously. And that’s where talking into the recorder of the phone came in handy. Because it’s a little harder to dismiss the things flowing through your mind if you’ve just spoken them aloud into a recorder. So I had to take them a little seriously. At least seriously enough to notice them and speak them.
So the process of noticing what was going through my mind and speaking it into the phone led me step by step through the Journey. And that’s how one finds one’s way through a Journey. By following the images as they arise; by trusting that the images that arise are there for a purpose; and to do it all in the spirit of trusting in the greatest good. With one’s heart focused on the greatest good.
Because if you go in there intending to get someplace, taking that boat onto the ocean, intending to steer it yourself, you’re only going to find your own wisdom. You’re not going to find the wisdom of the Helper giving you assistance in the steering.
So it’s a process. It’s a process of letting the mind follow the heart. Letting the mind notice what’s happening without getting in the way of the flow of the images, or words, or however the Journey unfolds on that particular day.
In my experience, when the Helper has communicated enough for that day, there is a feeling of completion, and the boat is back at shore. And you climb out, and you resume everyday life, but with a difference. With the knowledge that there’s somebody there to help you steer. There’s somebody there to help you find your way back to shore, and there’s somebody there to show you something—or a few things—about how to get around in this boat.
When I experienced that over the course of, say, twenty minutes that morning, in the predawn chilly darkness, I was shaken. Because this was not something I expected. And it changed my life.
I recommend the path of walking with a Spirit Helper. There’s the companionship and love of it, first of all. It opens the heart, and it tames the mind in some of the most efficient ways I’ve ever seen. It certainly has done more of that with me than any of the other paths I tried over the years. It’s a path that a person can experience an immense amount of support and gain confidence in daily living.
And as I work with other people in this process and support them in meeting their Spirit Helpers, I find that happening over and over. A Spirit Helper assists a person in developing the qualities that make them more themselves. That help them move through the world with greater ease and with greater joy and with more simplicity. Because they gain access to the places where they feel most at home—in themselves and in the world. So it’s a very precious thing that people do when they open themselves to receiving this kind of love and to making it real in the world.
So I want to thank my own Spirit Helper for providing an arm to lean on as I make my way through life. And I wish each of you the courage and the confidence to find your own best way of relating to the Great Mystery that is nature, that is spirit.
For digging deeper
I told the story of meeting Bear, my Spirit Helper, in Tamed by a Bear, and how our relationship unfolded and deepened over the course of the first year.
For musing on how this shamanic-style Journey path parallels other spiritual paths of relationship and dialogue, see this earlier post: “When Your Still Small Voice Has a Name.”