Encountering Spirit

Thanks to Netflix, Phillip and I have been re-watching the first few seasons of Northern Exposure, a series with profound respect for the spirit level of life. Last night, we saw an episode featuring Ed, a young man native to the indigenous people of the show’s locale, Cicely, Alaska. Orphaned and raised by his tribe, Ed was seeking answers regarding his parentage. The spirit of a long-dead chieftain, One Who Waits, accompanied him on this journey. Ed accepted his ancestor’s help and wisdom gratefully, and spoke with the spirit as they sought the truth of Ed’s roots.

The non-indigenous citizens of Cicely observed Ed talking with One Who Waits (played by the excellent actor, Floyd Red Crow Westerman), and worried, assuming Ed was having a psychic break, for they could not see his companion. “They cannot see me, because to them I am dead,” said the chieftain sadly.

It reminded me of the wonderful books on indigenous spirituality by Malidoma Patrice Some, that discuss the same concept: the wider our acceptance of mystery and the more we are able to understand that spirit permeates and animates all creation, the more we realize that everywhere is the Celtic “thin place.” Keeping the eyes of our hearts and minds open floods our every moment with meaning that otherwise goes unnoticed. We become fluent in the languages of myth, symbol, metaphor, and mystery; we see what others cannot, because they can’t conceive it to be so.

Some’s West African tribe, the Dagara, believe everything originates in the spirit world, the world where our ancestors abide, and that the ancestors travel between worlds and make themselves visible with frequency. They believe in the spirits of our ancestors, of nature, and of worlds other than our own, and the energetic exchange that takes place between and among these spirits and ourselves. The more conscious we are of these relationships, the clearer and more informed by wisdom our invitations and choices can become. And the wider our perspective regarding what is and isn’t possible evolves. Rigid definitions and rational boundaries demarcating life and death blur, we consent to mystery as a playmate.

Shortly after my mother died, I was visited by the owl pictured above. The day was bright and the mid-afternoon light illuminated the bird’s feathers. It remained in the tree outside my window for a long time, as we gazed into each other’s eyes. I took some pictures, which my visitor seemed to allow graciously. I went outside and stood on the deck, about 4 feet away from the owl, and reverently entered its space.

We began to breathe together, and the world closed around us in a golden timeless meditation. I really have no idea how long we were together, but the bond was strong and utterly peaceful, and then we both took a final breath together and “let go.” The owl’s long wings extended and it flew away, and I came back inside, grateful, and knowing my mother’s spirit had been somehow present in the encounter.

I’m not sure about enlightenment as a permanent state of being, but I’m open to the moments of insight and deep healing that an “eyes open” readiness has afforded me, and I welcome encounters with spirit whenever they grace my path.

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