“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
After carefully selecting a small piece of orange selenite from the box being passed around the circle, we were told to close our eyes, hold the crystal in our hand, let the beat of the drum be our spirit canoe and to envision with the mind’s eye a sacred place, somewhere that carried a particular meaning for our lives. Upon seeing myself in that place, I was to wander until I found an opening of sorts: a cave, a hole in a tree, perhaps a waterfall. Once that opening was found, I was instructed to enter, pay attention, and see where the hole might lead. Okey dokey. Sounded simple enough.
Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. In Cleveland, the air was crisp, the trees turned colors, the Buckeyes played on Saturday and the Browns played on Sunday, apples of every color hung from tree branches, and Thanksgiving (an entire day devoted to gratitude!!!) was just around the corner. For my sacred place I chose an apple orchard. Not a specifically known orchard, but one that felt familiar and comfortable. The trees were situated not in perfectly planted rows, but strewn about many hills. At the pinnacle of the biggest hill was a massive and old apple tree with a triangular hole at the base, just large enough for me to squeeze through.
As I crawled through the hole, I was surprised to find that the back of the tree was nowhere to be found. Instead, I began to float down a deep hole past scraggly roots jetting out of the rich loam. When I reached my hand out to touch the sides, I could grasp the texture of soil and smell its musty funk. This experience was markedly different from the imaginative travels I’d experienced before. There was an overwhelming sense of “realness” to this adventure, a sense that perhaps I’d been here before. When I reached the bottom of this great chasm, I crawled out of another small hole and into a vibrant world of natural beauty. I turned to investigate the arrival point, but behind me, where a hole should have been, was merely a pile of rubble. Wait…what? How was I supposed to leave? I had only a faint recollection of the body I left behind just moments before, laying on the floor of that beautiful country home and clutching a fiery gem. This technicolor realm of hyper reality would have to serve as my new home for the time being.
Deciding to explore this new terrain, I wandered in the direction of an oddly fetching stream. There, among the jagged silver stones and mossy fallen trees, was a large green frog, knee high in size, who seemed to be waiting there expectantly . “Hello.” I said, and then asked the only question I could think to ask of this random, seemingly sentient being: “Are you my spirit animal?” Silly, I know. Talking to a giant frog that is probably just a figment of my imagination and wondering if it has some special significance to me is probably grounds for a 5150, but this frog didn’t appear to be the judgmental type and phones weren’t really a “thing” in that place, so I asked anyway. “Are you my spirit animal?” It’s reply? Three consecutive back flips; a definitive yes in Spiritese. “What’s your name?” “Don.” He croaked out. “What am I supposed to do?” “Fly.” was his reply. And my feet were swept out from under me and I began to float upward toward the sky in this assumedly underground, yet very much open and magical realm.
I flew for what could have been either moments or days. Time was seriously warped in this place. On my back, riding like the captain of this journey was Don, croaking out directions. He guided me through magnificently deep canyons and dense, moist jungles, over impossibly high mountain ranges and expanses of green-gold prairie, above crystalline meandering rivers and within lush forests glowing with every hue of green available to the eye. My first foray into the spirt world was a tour of scenes more vibrant than vibrant, more real than real.
When the tour concluded, Don had me land on a plateau situated at the base of an unfathomably gargantuan, vertical cliff wall. On my feet once again, Don hopped off my back, looked up at me and told me that now, this too was my world. He assured me that I could come back any time I wished and all I had to do was call out to him and he’d hop along, that he’d offer counsel in Earthly matters and guidance in spirit matters.
In the distance I could hear the rapid and fluctuating rhythm of a drum. Wasn’t that the “call back” we were told to listen for? Suddenly remembering my other self, a hole opened where the cliff face met the flat grass. I turned and said farewell to Don, walked into the dark cave and was forcibly sucked back into consensual reality.
I wriggled my fingers and toes, opened my eyes, and found myself back in the den of my gracious hosts. Fifteen or so middle-aged folks laid on buffalo and bear skin rugs like sun rays around the formation of a cross made by a cluster of immense chunks of quartz, selenite, and pyrite, each nearly two feet in length. This den, with its walls frugally decorated with depictions of Native peoples, its floor strewn with massive semi-precious stones, and the stuffed bobcat and bison scull gazing eerily from the broad entryway, became my home away from home. This room, with its great stone hearth and mantle covered with rock clusters so valuable you might as well put wheels on them and drive them home. This womb, perpetually perfumed with the invitingly familiar scents of sweetgrass and sage doubled as a spiritual launchpad. Every other Wednesday for the next four years, this was my sanctuary. This was my tribe.
Over the years, Don and I had many adventures. He was a secret pal and mentor, my most trusted advisor. Perhaps it sounds crazy, but I never made a life decision without first consulting my froggy friend. As contrary as this may seem, I am actually quite skeptical by nature. I know that it’s entirely possible, if not likely, that this “spirit animal” was simply a splintered fragment of my own consciousness, offering solutions to problems I had already worked out in the substrata of my typically inaccessible inner world. I know that, in reality, talking animals don’t exist. But what is real? Phenomenologically speaking, experience is the only discernible criteria for reality. As difficult as it sometimes is to believe, my experiences over the years in that warm country home tell me that there are many worlds to explore, that the repeatedly verifiable confines of science are limiting our potential as humans. Let our technological advances depend on the reliability of the scientific method, where it has proven itself useful time and time again. But please, let our inner advances depend solely on our limitlessly creative connection to all that ever was, is, and ever will be. At some point, I think we’ll all agree with Robert Anton Wilson; “Reality is what you can get away with.”