Exercises in Perception

I’ve been attempting to get out and hike at least twice a month. It may get tougher as winter comes on and the roads become less reliable, but I’ll do my best–I may just end up going to a large park nearby if necessary.

I’ve been looking forward to today’s hike for a couple of weeks now. My husband spent the day at his life coaching classes, following the new stage of his own path, and didn’t need the car, so I had a perfect opportunity to spend as much time out in the woods as I needed to. I went out to my usual spot in the Columbia River Gorge. There are enough people there that I feel safe going out there on my own, but not so many as to feel too touristy. A nice balance all around.

Today I made it my goal to go all the way up to the summit of the mountain, which, if I went the whole way, would have added another mile and a half to my two mile hike up. I got up this morning a little before 9 am to get ready. The Animal Father nudged me and mentioned that meat and cheese proteins would be a good idea. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much beyond a partial box of precooked bacon that I used for pizzas this weekend, and some shredded cheese that I needed for supper tonight. Not wanting to detour to the store on my way, I opted to stash the bacon along with some trail mix and granola bars, and the big water jug (since I left the smaller bottle at work, not thinking).

So I got started on my hike right at 10am. Almost immediately I noticed that I was wearing out quicker than usual–I hadn’t even made it a quarter mile before I was out of breath and my legs started to feel like lead. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to make it up to the first stop, let alone the rest of the way up! But I decided to continue on; the message I got from the Powers That Be was “Slow down; take a break as needed; enjoy the scenery. You have all the time you need–don’t push yourself too hard. Allow yourself to be what you are right now”.

So that’s exactly what I did. I ended up stopping every couple hundred yards on the steeper parts, and took my speed down a couple of notches. Taking a layer off helped once I got warmed up, and I drank more water than I really needed specifically to lighten the load in my backpack. I figured, too, that I probably hadn’t gotten enough protein this past week; my appetite’s been a little on the low side. Still, with water and food and a good pace I managed to make it up to the first stop before the trail that went to the summit. Once I got to that point, it was time for a break. I ended up playing unofficial trail guide, helping the lost find their way at this crossroads. Having done a bit of reading on Jungian archetypes in storytelling as of late, I was rather amused at my temporary role as Gatekeeper.

I felt better after my break, so I decided to continue on up towards the summit. I only made it maybe another half mile, but that was all I needed–the rest of the trail was one huge loop that I went a little way down before I was told to go off trail to a small clearing–still in sight of the trail, but removed enough for some privacy. The clearing itself wasn’t very big, maybe eight square feet hemmed in by fallen trees covered in moss. But it was a nice patch of sunlight, too, and it was perfect for what I needed. So I set my stuff down in a corner and settled down onto the ground.

The first thing the Animal Father had me do was to lay back against a fallen log that had a nice layer of natural “mulch” on it. While there were some insects around, it wasn’t a highly creepy-crawly area, and so I didn’t end up swatting bugs the whole time. In fact, they didn’t bother me a bit, even though I knew some were around me. I spent about 15-20 minutes (times are estimated since I didn’t have a watch and wasn’t that concerned) doing so, allowing myself to ground and clear my mind of all the worries about things that might await me when I got back to the “real world”, and the other little annoyances that may interfere with meditation/etc. It was good to let everything clear out, including a couple of “false starts” as far as communicating with various spirits and entities went. I sometimes forget how useful relaxing thoroughly before making contact can be–makes it so much easier!

Once I was done, I sat up. I did a very mild invocation of the Animal Father–or, rather, he very “lightly” connected with my consciousness, just enough to help me shift my perception a bit. I had been looking for a bird that I heard a few yards away in the trees, and had had no luck in seeing it. The Animal Father slowed me down, and showed me how to take in what I saw without jumping from place to place to place. It was a much more deliberate way of seeing things. By that time the bird had flown off, but there was more for me to see.

He had me look down at the ground right in front of where I sat, about a twelve inch square space hemmed in by logs and sticks, as well as my legs. Then he told me to look very carefully at every individual thing I saw. I spent quite a bit of time studying fir needles in different colors, tiny little fir cones the size of my thumbnail, and two little mushrooms, each of a different species–I think I focused on about three square inches total. It was fascinating, the mixture of colors and textures of twigs and leaves, cones and needles. Occasionally an itsy-bitsy spider (with no waterspout nearby) would walk through, reddish brown with translucent amber legs, body no bigger than a poppy seed.

After what I think was about 15-20 minutes of this, I turned a bit and focused on an inch-long beetle, either dark blue or black, crawling through the leaf litter. Normally insects that close to me creep me out just a little, the worry that they’ll crawl on me or get into my bag. However, I thought about what it might be like to have a chipmunk bounce through the clearing, and the delight that might cause. I took that sense of wonder, and applied it to the beetle–and spent a number of minutes watching this tiny little animal share my space for a bit. (Crab would be proud, since once of her first observations was that I felt detached from arthropods because of the exoskeleton/endoskeleton thing.)

Then came the third exercise. The god had me look at a spot directly ahead of me, about ten feet out. I did this for several minutes until my perception began to narrow down to just that spot–extraneous thought floating through my mind stopped, and nothing else mattered except for that tree trunk. Next, he had me look at a leaf on a log about twenty feet away. My focus became sharper. However, at the same time, I found myself suddenly aware of everything in my field of vision. It was like one of those Magic Eye graphics, only instead of seeing a 3-D image where a 2-D pattern had been, my awareness of everything I saw suddenly popped into prominence, even though the center never wavered from that leaf. I took in falling leaves to my right, blowing branches to my left, clouds of insects dancing across the clearing–but I stayed focused on the leaf.

Finally, I looked out to about thirty-five to forty feet away, about as far as I could make out in the dense trees ahead, and focused on a small patch of sunlight through the leaves. By this point I was quite nicely nestled in an altered state of consciousness, and it was no trouble to continue to see everything at once. Everything became interconnected rather than being individual branches, leaves, trunks, bushes, etc. I saw angles, and colors, and lines, all creating one big tapestry–and once again, my focus stayed on that one sunny spot.

Then, for some reason, I began blinking very rapidly, in bursts of fifteen to twenty seconds, about half a dozen times in a few minutes. This created a temporary strobe effect similar to that gained by use of a Dreamachine or Mind machine. I couldn’t keep it up for very long, but I could tell that if I had kept it up, I would have slid into a much deeper state of consciousness. I believe this was meant to be a cue that at this point in such a meditation, the introduction of another form of sensory stimulus could be useful (I was still aspecting the Animal Father to an extent at this point, and I am pretty sure this was his doing).

At this point, it was suggested that I “come back up for air”, ground myself, eat a bit, and then start heading back down the mountain. So I did, stopped at the crossroads to record everything in my written journal, and then had a very refreshing hike back down the mountain–I felt tired from the hiking, but very recharged from my experience.

I think the main theme for today was in perception. I have the short attention span and impatience of many of us raised in the era of television and increased commercial stimuli, as well as the instant gratification of web surfing. Additionally, living in an urban area I’m exposed to numerous stimuli on a daily basis, from negotiating traffic (whether as a pedestrian or, less frequently, a driver), to keeping an eye on other people, to looking to see if my bus is arriving, and then some. So I’ve become very conditioned towards favoring quickly changing stimuli–I used to actually have trouble watching movies all the way through, and I still occasionally will get up in the middle of an hour long show (on DVD–I don’t watch TV on a regular basis) to wash the dishes or check my email. I found that this actually hindered my experiences in the woods–I’d miss small animals on the side of the trail because I wouldn’t look long enough to see them there, and I didn’t enjoy the scenery as much because I’d be looking all over the place.

My fatigue made me stop and really look at things as I was climbing the mountain; additionally, continued use of my elemental exercises helped me to connect to where I was. But it was the final exercise in perception that really cemented in me the need to be able to focus longer. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of it; working magic naturally requires focus. However, over the years I found myself finding ways to alter my consciousness more quickly so I could get into the ritual in less time, and I think this hampered my ability to hit deeper states of consciousness. Since deeper trances (such as those used for journeying and soul retrieval) are something I consider necessary to learn for therioshamanism, it’s not surprising that I was shown the importance of changing my perception, and told that I needed to practice this as I’ve been doing the elemental work.

Again, this seems like an incredibly basic exercise–and it is. However, I’m finding that being able to start all over at the beginning, rebuilding from the ground up, has been exceptionally healthy for me, just in the few weeks I’ve been doing it. I’m paying closer attention to my health, and making steps to make my life a better place for learning and developing. It’s not an instant cure-all, of course, but it would seem that answering the urge to formalize my path has had a lot of added benefits.

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