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The Mystery: Approaching the Elephant People After Seventeen Years Part II

The Mystery was published in issue # 5 of Dark Matter: Women Witnessing, edited and published by Lise Weil.

http://darkmatterwomenwitnessing.com/issues/June2017/articles/The_Mystery-Approaching_the_Elephant_People-Deena_Metzger.html

Dark Matter  publishes writing and visual art created in response to an age of massive species loss and ecological disaster. It is a home for dreams, visions, and communications with the nonhuman world…especially those with messages for how we might begin to heal our broken relationship to the earth.

Here are some words from what may be a last essay (see below) on our meetings since 2000:

“Accepting that direct communication and analysis came from the Elephant People allowed the field we were in together to become visible. We realized that we had been in ‘spirits’ theater for seventeen years, simultaneously actors and audience.

Neither Elephant nor human could have designed such situations in which members of both species appear to each other as if explicitly summoned. While our meetings were both intentional and circumstantial, the sum total of our many interactions over time, hours, days, weeks, years, cohered in nested living stories that became the language through which we, different species though we are, spoke to each other. This occurred both within and outside of time and space. We had been transported to another dimension where meaning and action are simultaneous and indistinguishable. The story that emerged from and enfolded us challenged all conventional assumptions of reality and hegemony.

We had returned to the Elephants, again and again, at the behest of the Ambassador, and in return we were allowed to participate in a common field of consciousness that manifested unpredictably. Clearly both human and non-human were impacted by each other. Attuned to one another, we began to share a critical DNA of mind from which future connections and understandings would emerge. That is, we melted toward each other and, ultimately, without changing shape, we melted into each other….

***

 

Deena Metzger

The Mystery: Approaching the Elephant People

This is a response to the darkest times. We know all life is threatened, and increasingly so under the current administration, yet we inevitably respond from our human perspectives and fears. However, we will not understand what we must without recognizing non-human wisdom. In 2010, several of us had dreams indicating that there are hidden passageways, different for each of us, to saving the earth and restoring the natural world. For me, making alliances with animals and other non-human beings became an essential path.

In 1997, as co-editor of the groundbreaking anthology, Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals, which testified to animal intelligence and agency, I was introduced to one of the great mysteries: the true nature of the beings with whom we cohabit the planet which I could only begin to understand by stepping out of my own mind into the consciousness of others.

As many of you reading this know, I met an Elephant we call the Ambassador on Epiphany, January 6th, 2000, in Chobe National Park, Botswana. Traveling to various African wild animal reserves over the next seventeen years, I realized I was engaging with different Elephants and herds while fulfilling the mandate implicit in the original meeting to regard the Elephants as kin.

A few years ago, I was alerted to Elephants in Assam, India occupying an airstrip to prevent military planes taking off and landing. There were also a series of attacks on humans in India and around the globe that seemed to avenge earlier assaults on Elephants, interruption or prevention of mourning rituals, and loss of habitat. It seemed like a global organized activity on the part of the Elephants and I was able to speak of Elephant sovereignty in an article translated into Hindi and circulated in Indian papers.

Very recently, a female Elephant in Hwange killed a big game hunter who was tracking her and her herd. A great white Shark leaped into a fisherman’s boat in Australian waters and a Bear attacked a hunter in Ontario Canada. Regarded as random, these incidents can be understood as conscious non-human responses to intolerable human activities. Animals have a capacity for outrage and retribution as well as surprise and wonder. Once it’s accepted that non-human species have agency and spiritual lives, the world changes and we recognize, against all assumptions, who these others really are.

In the early sixties, a black Panther escaped Jungleland in Thousand Oaks, California. Then a lion escaped from a Midwest zoo and children were bussed to view the hunt. Instinctively, I identified with the animals, imagined what it might feel to be lost and hunted in suburbia and wrote a novel, What Rough Beast, (unpublished) from a Lion’s point of view. I entered into his consciousness, his view of being imprisoned, then hunted, and his thoughts about the nature of human beings. Looking back at my life fifty years later, I see a thread, a calling to bear witness to and speak of the true nature of the non-human beings with whom we share the planet and Creation.

January 2017. I returned to Africa for the ninth time to be with the Elephants, holding different questions and marveling at the unpredictable ways they had been addressed by events Cynthia Travis, Matt Meyer, our guide, and I traveled first to Thula Thula, the South African reserve started by Lawrence Anthony, author of The Elephant Whisperer, and then to Chobe where a group of Elephants gathered around us, seemingly out of the blue, at 5 pm on Epiphany, just as the Ambassador had appeared on Epiphany 2000, and then walked back into the forest exactly at 6 pm when we had to leave the park.

[https://deenametzger.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/beginning-awareness-approaching-the-Elephant-people-part-i-thula-thula-and-chobe/]

Such meetings constitute the ways the Elephants have been conversing with us over time and space. Sequences of events are a language through which we communicate across species–no translation needed.

On January 9th we arrived at Mashatu in Southern Botswana and on January 14th in Damaraland, Namibia. Given that this might very well be a last visit, it was time to approach all the trips and encounters as a single Story, which viewed as such could provide new insights and guidance for human connections to the wild. I was calling on memory – a very Elephant way of being – in order to see the entire pattern of our relating to each other and what arises from that integrated perspective. Alert to the subtlest possible transmission, still I could not distinguish between the Elephants’ intent and Spirits’ objective.

Back at home, I could not speak of the journey. Then I wrote about Thula Thula and Chobe – humans and Elephants communicating with each other about drought (see link above). When Frankie the up-and-coming Matriarch of Thula Thula reproached me and our species for creating drought and bringing misery and death to her people, she was engaging in a direct, grave and strategic transmission. Too often people speak of the Animals’ inviolable love for us. It eases the human heart to think so. But I wouldn’t console myself with the illusion that this communication was tempered by love.

There was more behind it: Humans must change. How? Think with the heart as Indigenous people do. Think ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. Become more Elephant. Become less of what we are and more of the Indigenous and non-human that we have attacked and violated. Become like they are – earth-centered, spirit- centered, relational beings who would never hunt the way we hunt, kill the way we kill, destroy the way we destroy.

Yes. These are good beginnings.

It takes years to step across the species divide and to recognize different species as peers and equals on this planet. It shatters the mind – as it should. It requires undoing the pervasive structures, apparent and subtle, of the dominating, imperial human cultures that have assaulted Indigenous wisdom and what remains of the true nature of the world. The future existence of the planet depends on creating honest working alliances with all the myriad sentient, intelligent non-human beings. Each meeting with the Elephants had been a gift and a mandate leading us to this understanding.

However, the gift of such extraordinary meetings cannot be received without knowing the gravity of extinction, pollution and climate change we have created and without finding ways to heal what we have wrought.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerThe animals, the Elephants, are aware of our criminal activities and are responding. Integrity requires us to change our ways and minds. This is what they are indicating when they come to meet us.

***

Mashatu Game Reserve consists of 72,000 acres located in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve of Botswana, situated between the Tuli Safari Area, a national park in Zimbabwe and the Mapungubwe National Park, a World Heritage Site in South Africa. As it shares unfenced borders with both the South African and Zimbabwean national parks in the south and north respectively, the animals have a vast area, a long wildlife corridor, to wander through. However, as they are know they are safe within Botswana where hunting is illegal and threatened in Zimbabwe where trophy hunting is encouraged, many animals, if food allows it, avoid crossing into Zimbabwe.

Arriving at Mashatu, we knew we would not experience the intimacy with the animals that we felt with the single herd of Elephants on the 3,000 acres of Thula Thula nor the sense of destiny that came with multiple encounters with Elephants on six different occasions at five in the afternoon at the Chapungu tree in Chobe National Park.

On the last day in Mashatu in 2016, we had been allowed to approach a large herd at a water hole. They departed just at the time we had to repair to an elevated place for a last cup of tea before going to the airport. We were stunned when the herd, split into several lines, approached the Mashatu tree so closely we took cover in the truck. But undeniably, they had come to say good-bye.

Now we were returning a year later. The one desire I had had to listen from within a herd and to greet the Matriarchs formally had been met in Thula Thula and was unlikely again with such a large Elephant population. Earlier, our time in Chobe had confirmed the magical connections we had had there over the years. We accepted that we had been incorporated into a field of co-existence that made communication possible. Now I wondered what insights or messages might come from our next two destinations?

***

In a dry country, rain is luck. Abundant rains had come to Mashatu and were continuing. A pulley system helped us cross a swollen river where the year before we had driven across a dry ravine. Within minutes of going out on a first game drive, the winds picked up and we stopped the Land Rover to put ponchos on before the downpour. In an open vehicle without a roof we were as exposed to the elements as the animals. It was a good beginning.

The rain accompanied us intermittently until sunset as we drove across darkened and then brilliant yellow fields of devil’s thorn with which the female Elephants adorned themselves.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena Metzger

Accepting that we were not at Mashatu to repeat earlier experiences, confirm previous perceptions or gather new proofs of connection, we tried to look at everything with fresh eyes. It was Cyndie who first noticed the gestures of a herd of Elephants moving with great deliberation and intent into a small grove. We followed them curious. There they divided into little groups leaning against the trees, caressing them with their trunks but not eating the leaves. It can be nothing less than devotion, Cyndie said. We had not expected to come upon Elephants in prayer. But… why not?

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerReturning to the grove several times, we never encountered the Elephants there again. How empty it seemed without their presence converting it into a temple. Although we didn’t see them in prayer, we did come upon them blessing each other.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerBeautiful and awesome as this was, I didn’t initially grasp what was being revealed. Anticipating relationship with the Elephants, or continuously hoping for it, I wasn’t aware of what was, in fact, occurring. In retrospect, stepping out of the confinement and limitation of individual events and examining them within a progression over years, writing this piece, seeing the photos again, I understand what I couldn’t then.

We were shown perfect beauty. We were shown … Creation. We were shown the spiritual lives of the Elephants and the animals. We were shown that we had been born into Paradise and had been exiled by our own hands.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerWithin minutes of driving out of the Camp the first morning, we were astonished by two turtle doves making love on a tree branch. A wondrous instance on a brilliant morning. Several minutes later, we came upon a terrapin in the road and our guide following his intuition looked into the underbrush about twenty feet away where two terrapins were mating. Spirit was getting our attention.

For the rest of the days at Mashatu we marveled at the profusion of life forms. There were newborn and young — Elephant, kudu, impala, zebra, wildebeest, cape buffalo, monkey, baboon, lion, giraffe … — everywhere.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerAnd in Namibia, where we were to go next, even rhino calves.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerAs if to emphasize the message of fertility, everyone was mating. So it wasn’t a great surprise when we came upon an alpha lion we had seen the day before, sleeping under a tree while ten feet away, a young lioness, stirred restlessly. Unable to control her inner agitation, she approached the lion, circled him, prodded him until he stopped resisting her. What struck us was his kindness.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerOur guide indicated that she was immature, had never had cubs, was overwhelmed with estrus. While the lion entered her, almost as if bidden, he did so gently, lowering his mouth to her shoulder to ease her before his thrust.

This sequence repeated again and again.

The last hour of the last day at Mashatu, we found a perch at the summit of a small hill that allowed us to look back toward the plain where we had been present as a great bull Elephant had been courting an Elephant matriarch before the entire herd. Then a startling shriek from a little one who resented the bull’s attention interrupted them and the bull strode away.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerBehind us to the east, the herd was dispersing for the night. To the north, two Giraffes, their bodies rosy from the setting sun were standing, enchanted.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena Metzger

We could see that they wanted each other, though they were very still. Then he arched back in a parabola of desire and in seconds they mated in the purple dusk.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerIt was the last moment of the last day at Mashatu. Then the full moon rose.

We left the field of vision of fertility and creation for Damaraland in Namib, the oldest desert of the world. Here desert Elephants having adjusted to the environment and able to go without water for a few day are frequently born without tusks as a rapid genetic response to poaching. Last year, we saw a tuskless herd in the reserve and this year we were aware of many more tuskless Elephants among the others on the narrow oasis along a sand river where three very small herds sustain themselves.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerAs at Thula Thula, we were able to have some intimacy with the Elephants, following one and then another in their daily life. While we recognized individual conversations or connections as they occurred, it was only afterwards that I saw a pattern that could appropriately be acknowledged as interconnection. We were a small group, they were a small herd – we were with each other as distinct from observing each other. I was hoping to be able to see the Elephants and other species for themselves, independent of my own understanding. Over time, moments cohere into a Story, a field of vision, and it is the human task to see it for itself.

Thula Thula had prepared me for Damaraland though I didn’t know it at the time. The continuity of drought was an essential element. The abundance, even extravagance, of life forms at Chobe and Mashatu seemed to deny the grave danger of climate change caused by human activity, the on-going struggle for existence, the conflicts between the herders and the wild as a consequence of the lack of water and resources. In Damaraland, we remembered.

The bare but startling beauty of the landscape resembles the moon more than earth, and the Elephants themselves seem to have emerged from the land. In Damaraland as in Thula Thula, it became possible to focus on particular members of the herd. Following their lead when we came upon them, rather than our inclinations, we repeatedly found ourselves in the presence of a great bull Elephant. Only on our return home, at the airport in Frankfurt, did we realize that this great bull had dominated the landscape on the last day we had spent in Damaraland the year before. He had been posed like a sentinel on a rocky incline at the entrance to the lines of trees and desert springs along the sand river.

We had stayed with him for almost an hour, mesmerized. This year, the same; whenever he appeared, we gave ourselves up to him. Without acknowledging us, he silently directed us to stay and we did for long periods of time. The first day, we were parked below an earthen bank where a female was feeding on a tree when he appeared and displaced her. Though we remained with him, there was no indication that he was aware of or interested in us.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerAgain in our presence, the second day, he approached two young bulls who were trying to topple a tree. He advanced as an elder, demonstrated the right technique for grazing on trees and leaned against it so as to instruct them properly.

When they became rambunctious, he turned abruptly and left. We followed but he went off into the bush.

We were finding him an interesting bull Elephant, but on the third day he astounded us. Then we began to consider that something extraordinary was happening and we were, and were not, peripheral to the event.

We had spent a good part of the afternoon unsuccessfully tracking desert lions along the small dunes, always slightly behind the new footprints in the sand. Then we turned back to the sand river to look for Elephants. Pausing to determine our next move, we saw the Bull Elephant approach the hillock above us and we turned the truck to watch him.

He came slowly and determinedly, tore away some branches and threw them aside as if to extend the space. As was the case seventeen years earlier with the Ambassador, his actions seemed conscious and deliberate. To our astonishment, he then carefully eased his great weight down onto the sand and went to sleep, facing the direction of the lions and allowing his back to us.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerNeither Cyndie, I, nor Matt, who had been Head Ranger and Head Photographic Ranger at the private South African game reserve, Mala Mala, had ever seen an Elephant lie down to sleep.

What was communicated?

Trust.

Accepting that direct communication and analysis came from the Elephant People allowed the field we were in together to become visible. We realized that we had been in ‘spirits’ theater for sixteen years, simultaneously actors and audience. Neither Elephant nor human could have designed such situations in which members of both species appear to each other as if explicitly summoned. While our meetings were both intentional and circumstantial, the sum total of our many interactions over time, hours, days, weeks, years, cohered in nested living stories that became the language through which we, different species though we are, spoke to each other. This occurred both within and outside of time and space. We had been transported to another dimension where meaning and action are simultaneous and indistinguishable. The story that emerged from and enfolded us challenged all conventional assumptions of reality and hegemony.

We had returned to the Elephants, again and again, at the behest of the Ambassador, and in return we were allowed to participate in a common field of consciousness that manifested unpredictably. Clearly both human and non-human were impacted by each other. Attuned to one another, we began to share a critical DNA of mind from which future connections and understandings would emerge. That is, we melted toward each other and, ultimately, without changing shape, we melted into each other.

And so we entered the last day. Toward the end of the afternoon before we would have to leave Damaraland, we again came across the bull whom I began calling The Great Elephant. He was waiting for us in the central island of the sand river.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerWe didn’t know he was waiting for us then, but I know it now. It has taken months to understand this, to see pattern and Story, too often hidden by time and doubt. A deeper understanding, one that encompasses all the years of engagement, beckons. Indigenous people knew this realm, this dimension beyond ours, this field of knowing and being where humans, non-humans, the spirits and earth co-exist beyond relationship.

The Great Elephant was waiting for us …

For the next hour or two, we followed him through the valley as he grazed or hid in the brush until he led us to the vast desert plain that all of us would cross at sundown. Just as night was falling, he would be on his way to a water tank set aside for the Elephants in return for the government digging wells for the Native people living there, and we would be returning to the Lodge.

Soon after we arrived, he left the tree where he had been waiting, turned east and meandered from place to place. At one point, he stopped, certain that we were watching though not glancing at us, and began to twist his trunk into a strange knot that I recognized as the gesture through which the Ambassador greeted us in 2000. He continued contorting his trunk while we observed, moved and mystified.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerFinally, he unfolded his trunk, turned and went on.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerFollowing him was complex. We had to be rigorous about not leading, finding a vantage point from which we could see without interfering or challenging him. When he stopped by a small tree, we were already directly in his path and he knew it. There were moments when we felt his love for the tree in the manner of the Elephants in Mashatu and we were simultaneously aware of his comedic threat to topple it upon us. Still, we remained quietly.

Sometimes when he approached, there was a divide between the Damaraland guide’s experience and training in caution and my own deep conviction that we were safe and needed to yield to the bull’s leadership not our fears.

So many minutes passed. It felt like hours or days. Soon he began walking again and we assumed he was leading us out of the valley toward the desert and the mountains.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerBut, unexpectedly, he entered a thicket and virtually disappeared. We waited and waited, agreeing among ourselves that we would wait no more than twenty more minutes. When the time was almost over, he emerged so dramatically he seemed angry to everyone in the truck. Believing we were completely safe, I begged them to be still and not startle him by turning on the engine. I had been speaking to him in my mind, explaining that this was our last night, actually our last hour, and had pleaded with him to come out as a sign or confirmation of the connection we were all feeling. And so, yes, he emerged.

There was no attack, no threat, nor had there been for all the time we had been with him over four days.

Now he ambled very slowly ahead of us down the stone-faced incline that was also masking the diminishing light. We might have thought he was oblivious to us if he had not defecated several times along the way. A sign of honor. Connection. (When Elephants meet after being separated, sometimes only for hours, they are overjoyed to be in each other’s company and this is expressed through pissing and defecating.)

I kept reminding our impatient guide, eager to return to the Lodge, to slow down and to wait. It was 7:30 and we were an hour late and tired. It was difficult to contain all the energies and stay parallel or behind the Great Elephant so that he could lead.

The Great Elephant came to the stony edge of the slope where the wide plain of the desert opened before us. He stopped. He pissed and defecated again. Not one of us had ever seen such frequency. Slowly, then, with utter presence, he proceeded up the rise and as he paused to spray himself with dust, he caught the exact and fleeting angle of the ruby light of the setting sun.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena Metzger

Then he went on, his footsteps, mysteriously filling with a sourceless light.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena Metzger

The Great Elephant looked back at us one last time.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerAn Elephant Ambassador came to meet us on January 6th, 2000, Epiphany. Now again, at the very last hour of the very last day, another such meeting.

A spirit? A messenger? An angel?

In the presence of the Great Mystery, it is best to remain wordless.


Deena Metzger

Deena Metzger has been writing for fifty years. Story is her medicine. Her latest novel, A Rain of Night Birds, a confrontation between indigenous knowledge and the modern scientific mind, bears witness: climate change arises from the same colonial mind that enacted genocide on the Native people of this country. It was published on Earth Day, April 22, 2017. Her other books include the novels La Negra y Blanca (2012 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature), Feral; Ruin and Beauty: New and Selected Poems; Doors: A Fiction for Jazz Horn; Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing and Tree: Essays and Pieces.

Returning to Africa and the Elephant Ambassador

I am refering you to the essay The Language of Relationship: Engagement with Elephants again (see below) because it is the reason I am going to Africa with Cynthia Travis of Everyday Gandhis. Not for my / our own sakes, but because we are so heartbroken about the world. As you, who are reading this are, as well. While I am alive, I will not accept that we cannot save all life from the current trajectory of global destruction. Certain realities have not made enough of a difference in our behavior: that the climate is changing drastically, that we are responsible, that our disregard for the earth is criminal, and that modern warfare is a primary culprit. And so I return as a humble seeker to see if something unexpected and, perhaps unprecedented, might emerge from a soul and mind alliance with another most intelligent and similarly heartbroken species, unable, as we are, to change current non-indigenous human activity and violence. Some synergy on behalf of all species.
My first journeys, as chronicled below, confirmed elephant (animal) intelligence and agency, incontrovertibly. Understand that the elephants in the wild met me/us four times on four separate occasions, over twelve years, but at the same time in the same place! At a certain tree, in Chobe Wild Animal Park,between 5 and 6 in the afternoon in Botswana. Cynthia Travis, Valerie Wolf, Michael Ortiz Hill and I were together in Botswana on one of those occasions when the Elephant Ambassador met us directly and threw us the most precious gift possible, a bone of one of his ancestors.
Elephant culture speaks loudly of heart and relationship. We humans are not the experts in the realm of the heart. The encounters with the elephants speak to their spiritual and psychic awareness and skill. But now, what feels like an urgent journey, is on behalf of the possibility of a spiritual and pragmatic alliance between members of different species so that we, who the Kogi call, and rightly so, the younger brothers, might somehow shift all our ways.
I am /we are praying that the elephants will appear, that the Ambassador will come again, and that this meeting will, in ways I cannot predict or imagine, actually serve to align our human species’ heart, to re-tune, entrain us, that it will …. I do not know what, but that some way will appear that will serve all life, all our relations. I am going to this other species as a supplicant.
We will be in the Wild in Africa from January 4th to the 19th. Please keep the elephants in your hearts and prayers and open yourselves to whatever may be asked of us on behalf of all life. I had a dream some months ago in which I was recruited by the Radical Elephant Movement to participate in actions on behalf of the earth that were far beyond any ideas I had of how we might proceed at this time. This journey arises from that dream. And from our belief that such dreams are sent by the spirits and so we are deeply called to listen.
In hope and prayer, Deena.
(Feel free to share this if you think it might have value beyond ourselves.)

THE LANGUAGE OF RELATIONSHIP: ENGAGEMENT WITH ELEPHANTS

“There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language of bodies, of bodies on…
deenametzger.wordpress.com

LIVING BY DREAM

LIVING BY DREAM was published in the inaugural issue of Dark Matter: Women Witnessing, edited and published by Lise Weil. http://www.darkmatterwomenwitnessing.com

Dark Matter publishes writing and visual art created in response to an age of massive species loss and ecological disaster. It is a home for dreams, visions, and communications with the nonhuman world…especially those with messages for how we might begin to heal our broken relationship to the earth.

***
A Map to the Next World
Joy Harjo

In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map for
those who would climb through the hole in the sky.

My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged
from the killing fields, from the bedrooms and the kitchens.

For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.

The map must be of sand and can’t be read by ordinary light. It
must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.

In the legend are instructions on the language of the land, how it
was we forgot to acknowledge the gift, as if we were not in it or of it.

Take note of the proliferation of supermarkets and malls, the
altars of money. They best describe the detour from grace.

Keep track of the errors of our forgetfulness; the fog steals our
children while we sleep.

Flowers of rage spring up in the depression. Monsters are born
there of nuclear anger.

Trees of ashes wave good-bye to good-bye and the map appears to
disappear.

We no longer know the names of the birds here, how to speak to
them by their personal names.

Once we knew everything in this lush promise.

What I am telling you is real and is printed in a warning on the
map.

Our forgetfulness stalks us, walks the earth behind us,
leaving a trail of paper diapers, needles, and wasted blood.

An imperfect map will have to do, little one.

The place of entry is the sea of your mother’s blood, your father’s
small death as he longs to know himself in another.

There is no exit.

The map can be interpreted through the wall of the intestine—a
spiral on the road of knowledge.

You will travel through the membrane of death, smell cooking
from the encampment where our relatives make a feast of fresh
deer meat and corn soup, in the Milky Way.

They have never left us; we abandoned them for science.

And when you take your next breath as we enter the fifth world
there will be no X, no guidebook with words you can carry.

You will have to navigate by your mother’s voice, renew the song
she is singing.

Fresh courage glimmers from planets.

And lights the map printed with the blood of history, a map you
will have to know by your intention, by the language of suns.

When you emerge note the tracks of the monster slayers where they
entered the cities of artificial light and killed what was killing us.

You will see red cliffs. They are the heart, contain the ladder.

A white deer will greet you when the last human climbs from the destruction.

Remember the hole of shame marking the act of abandoning our
tribal grounds.

We were never perfect.

Yet, the journey we make together is perfect on this earth who was
once a star and made the same mistakes as humans.

We might make them again, she said.

Crucial to finding the way is this: there is no beginning or end.

You must make your own map.

***

People lived according to the dream spirits in the old, old times. Then the Church, the State, and later Science taught the people to distrust and disregard them. Attending the dreams in the old, old ways was prohibited and the priests and secular rulers persecuted dreamers. Learning to live by dream again restores the ways that honor the spirits and realigns human activity within a web of relationships.

The sacred ritual of the Eleusinian Mysteries was practiced in Greece for 1500 years until 396 CE, when the Christian/Roman empire suppressed them. (See Birth and Rebirth in the Eleusinian Mysteries on my website The Mysteries were extensive ritual and narrative events that were prepared for rigorously in March of one year, and then enacted eighteen months later in September. During the Mysteries, as many as 1500 people at a time walked the nineteen miles from Athens to Eleusis, engaging in complex activities on the way. Much of what we associate with rites of transformation was practiced here: purification, fasting, dietary restraint, rites of endurance, meditation, theater, sport competitions, and visioning. Women and men, citizens, slaves and foreigners were all able to participate if they prepared for and committed themselves to the beautiful extremity of the event.

My consciousness was reawakened to the old ways of dreaming through the means of a play I was writing that drew increasingly on the spiritual context and intent of the Mysteries. As has happened to me many times, the writing of the play revealed the nature of dreams far beyond what I had understood until then. I don’t remember why I started studying the Mysteries, only that they pulled me down into the sacred underworld as they were meant to do. I was immediately ‘entranced’ when I learned that the underworld had been a destination in the Mysteries, a place of wisdom and transformation. (Pluto, the Roman name for the equivalent god, Hades, means ‘treasure.’) Christianity, to gain hegemony, had demonized the ritual event, declaring Hades to be hell, Dionysus/Pan to be Satan. A ritual required by the ancient world on behalf of soul-making was forbidden. Soul, as the ancients would have warned us, began to disappear and was increasingly replaced by secular materialism.

In the late 70s, I was working with an improvisational theater group. Our work led to the development of different characters who became important to me and to the actors. Unexpectedly, the characters began to create relationships among themselves in my imagination, and the play Dreams Against the State was born. Each of the contemporary characters was based on a figure from the Mysteries and, in the first draft of the play, there were entre-acts in which the Gods – Demeter, Hecate, Persephone, Hades, Hermes – appeared. Later, their roles were incorporated into the characters so that the audience could see that we can each live the intensity and passion of divine energies if we allow ourselves our real lives.

In the play, the contemporary characters were drawn together ‘underground’ through the power of dreaming at a time when dreaming was illegal. The dangerous upper world was inhabited by police and other forces of conformity and repression who sought to stifle all vital and individual life energies. When one of the dreamers was captured and incarcerated, the dreamers had to develop the ritual means to retrieve her and restore her body and soul.

Theater director Steven Kent and I re-enacted the Mysteries in 1980 (and twice again in the 90s) for the first time since 396 CE. We began the long ritual at the Cave of Dicte where Zeus had been born on the isle of Knossos. As we descended the narrow spiral of stone stairs, each myste carrying a lit taper to illuminate the way down into the dark, I knew that we had found the entrance into the ancient way of the dream. We were stepping into another world, not only the underworld from which we would emerge ritually, but into the old, old world whose ways would continue to guide and sustain us from that time forward. Rising quietly in the morning, telling dreams before speaking and before breakfast, and using the dreams to enhance and understand our experiences was our way then of beginning to live according to our dreams.

More than forty years later, the necessity is even greater to live the dream, to live by dreams and the values they teach when the dreaming community is aligned with spirit. The centuries since the Mysteries have ricocheted between a search for spiritual consciousness and increasing cruelty. An age of unprecedented brutality is upon us as on-going violence is directed against humans, animals, the earth and the spiritual life. One can argue the many reasons for the agony of these times, but the phenomena of urbanization, militarism, media saturation and control, and the forces of economic, political and social domination have left few, if any, safe havens for any beings. Perhaps there have been people who have suffered some of our ills before, but never has such pain, suffering and dispassionate cruelty been the fate of so many, if not most of the world. If the imperium of technology and power has its way, everything may die.

But as we grieve this time on earth, we also see that there is a parallel return of vision, dream and spiritual presence, which, if attended, may save us. This vision, these visions, are the reasons we gather together to see how we can sustain the future.

At the time when the Eleusinian Mysteries flourished, Greek citizens, then others, were enjoined to participate once in a lifetime in order to gain a soul in this life and the next. It may be that we are being similarly enjoined to gain a soul by listening deeply to our dreams and living according to their sometimes very demanding wisdom. Since the advent of psychology, dream analysis has been a familiar process designed to help people improve or heal their lives. Living by dream on behalf of community and the future is quite different. It is not important to tell our dreams or to understand them unless we are willing to live accordingly. Dreams received in this way, fully respected and honored, can teach us how to live. To live by dream is to change one’s life and mind entirely.

In the old days, dreams came to an individual on behalf of the community. Such dreams have the potential to reveal and drive the essential shifts of consciousness and behavior that can save the earth. To invite such dreams again, to open ourselves to the dream spirits, to accept the dreams as wisdom-givers, to gather in community to ponder their instructions and to live accordingly, are ways to live on behalf of the future.

Not every dream is of portent for the future. Not every dream contains ethical instruction or direction for the community. Dreamers may be involved in nightly narratives, but only some are essential guides. Over time, often with a teacher, elder or companion, or in dream circles, we learn to distinguish them. Sometimes it takes several dreams over time to reveal where we are being led. I will consider several dreams together, as they constitute a field of consciousness that has guided me, with increasing intensity, over the years. Contemplating the dreams, sometimes for years, I have also chosen at times to offer them to others so that we might be guided as a community to incorporate the wisdom being transmitted. Because we are not grounded in a dreaming culture, not everyone who hears such dreams can take them to heart. But increasingly, as we consider the state of the world, as we grieve together and dream together, we are awakened to ways of supporting each other and the possibility of change.

When these dreams came to me, I recognized them as significant, even urgent, and offer them to you to contemplate in that spirit.

Spain. Around the time of World War II, of Franco and Hitler. A film is being made. The first scene is of a young woman too poor to become a great dancer, though she is gifted. The second scene is of a street festival becoming a riot. A man pulls down his pants so a demented king can anoint his penis with firewater. Joy turns into debauchery. The third scene is a group of men who will kill anyone. We look for a place to hide from the coming blood bath. Scene four shows a parade of polished sedans. The wealthy class, young men and women in formal dress, are aloof to the dangers around them.
At the end, Brown Shirts are marching down the street, filling the roadway, ten abreast. I climb a steep wide flight of stairs, as steep and broad and narrow as the stairs to the top of the Mexican pyramids, but these are European stairs. There is nothing at the top. No structure. From above, I see the Brown Shirts approaching. There are not that many yet. They are not the majority yet, but they are very dangerous. One scene leads to another of increasing dehumanization, soullessness and violence.
We must leave Europe today. If we stay longer, it will be too late. We have twenty-four hours to leave Europe.

In 2001, I brought this dream to Daré, (Council) the community healing event that has been meeting at my house for fifteen years. The last lines translated quickly into urgent instructions: Twenty-four hours to leave European mind.

Over the last years, EuroAmerican mind and Western civilization have come under great scrutiny from non-Western people and developing nations. European mind is associated with the hegemony of the Church, the military, science and materialism that set out to conquer the peoples of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres in 1492. In that year of the Inquisition, Jews and Moors were expelled from Spain. This same mind prohibited dreaming, the inner life and earth-centered, spiritually-aligned, indigenous wisdom traditions wherever they were encountered. That legacy of persecution exists to this day across the globe.

As I am well acquainted with World War II, I didn’t think the dream was giving me a history lesson. It was asking me to see where I was carrying the destructive qualities of Western mind without realizing it. I was being asked to consider where I and my peers are unconsciously aligning with power and riot. I was being asked to scrutinize my life so that I do not inadvertently invite fascistic thinking into the world. The dream was asking me to scrutinize my soul.

The stairs in the dream resemble the pyramids of pre-Columbian peoples. They link the Holocaust implied by the presence of the Brown Shirts with the holocaust against the Native people in North and South America which began in 1492. The dream invokes the global European occupation: a history of violence, brutality, burning, slavery and torture, land and resource appropriation, exploitation, pollution and all the possible ills of war and conquest. The dream awakens me to the urgency of changing my/our minds.

In the dream, the Brown Shirts, Nazi Germany’s Storm troopers, the SA, are returning. Observing from the sacrificial altar at the top of the stairs, I see the return of such violence as led to World War II and the Holocaust. I see what led to the Inquisition and the Conquest of this country. I have twenty-four hours to end my identification with the values, all the values, that led to those times and which are threatening to reassert themselves.

When I had breast cancer in 1977, I knew I had to change my life in order to be healthy, and I did. I moved out of the suburbs to a very simple house at the end of a dirt road. I gave up community college teaching and taught writing at home. I tattooed my chest instead of having reconstruction. I began speaking and writing about cancer as silence, as a particular affliction of women, as a metaphor for our political lives, and a consequence of our increasingly violent relationship to the environment. Having created the Writing Program at the Woman’s Building and the Feminist Studio Workshop, I was very sensitive to the fact that our EuroAmerican culture treats women and the earth in similarly brutal ways. I lived as closely as I could to the values I held dear, trying not to compromise on anything that was important. And as the title of one of my books suggests, I practiced Writing For Your Life.

While cure is instant, healing is ongoing, a practice. In 1986, nine years after I had breast cancer, I developed a program called Personal Disarmament, which calls us all to self- scrutiny. Participants were asked to examine their own inner governments. Are we living under the dictates of an inner general? An inner war machine? Are we armed? Are we developing the equivalent of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons? Did we stockpile weapons? Do we have armies? Will we agree to no first strike? Will we disarm?

Writing the scenario of our inner governments was like writing and living in a dream. I was shocked to discover that my inner government was a theocracy that denied full citizenship to its creative members, confining them on reservations. I had thought I was a free spirit. I discovered I was not. I discovered I ruled by force. I set myself the task of changing again.

Years later in 2001, the dream of the Brown Shirts emphasized an inner system of repression and also dramatized the global danger to all life. The dream’s critique of how we live went far beyond the personal or psychological. The earth, its peoples, the natural world, all are endangered.

First I had had to learn what is making me and others so ill. Then I had had to learn what is destroying our communities. Now I had to learn what is killing the earth. Stepping out of European mind became the focus of my intellectual, ethical and spiritual work.

Again in 2006, I dreamt the Nazis were coming. I could easily interpret these as precognitive dreams warning me/us about the developing fascism in the U.S. and globally. We can, foolishly, use such dreams to confirm our fantasies that we are innocent and the others are the enemy. But I prefer to understand them also as a reflection on our lives and our history and so as instruction, as an increasingly urgent call to awareness and living in different ways, both for myself and the community.

In 2007, another dream:
There is an occupation in the works. It isn’t clear in the dream whether it is a foreign army or a home army. This seems not to matter, for the army is dangerous in ways I once associated with the Nazis, but which are now rampant across the world. This is happening here and we are in danger. We are trying to pack the car that is in the room of the apartment where we are living. The room is dark and the images are vague. There are children in the car, lying down in the rear behind the back seat and we are packing food, clothes, supplies for the dogs, between the children. I have no sense of the personalities of the children or the people in the car, only the fear that we will not get out in time, that we will not find the route to avoid the soldiers or police, that they will recognize us as among those to be arrested or killed, that we will not be able to cross the border or find a place to hide.

This dream came just after I led a Circle, The Council of Possibilities, in Oakland, CA. A conversation about water boarding was occurring in the public sector. Michael Mukasey, who supported enhanced interrogation techniques on al-Qaeda suspects, had been approved by the Judiciary Committee to be U.S. Attorney General. Accordingly, protesters had been demonstrating water boarding in the streets in Washington, DC. It was clear that Cheney and Bush approved and ordered torture; Rumsfeld had just been indicted in France for torture, as Kissinger had been earlier for his role in fomenting the brutal golpe against the democratically elected government in Chile, in 1973. Neither can now travel abroad for fear of being arrested. Extreme unwelcome changes challenging all our democratic values were taking place in the United States.

The dream made it clear that we had to give up innocence. We are all endangered. Fascism is here and we are its vehicles and its victims. There is no place to hide.

These dreams indicate momentous changes in our culture and society and in the world. They call us to action.

In 2009, I had another dream, set in Europe and in America. It challenges the belief that some can be safe while others are endangered because the rich or powerful can successfully negotiate with evil to protect only themselves and their loved ones. The dream starkly emphasizes the need to leave the European mind that creates privilege:

This is another time. Central Europe. Early twentieth century. A candelabra appears like a heraldic symbol on a shield in the sky. A miracle. Words in red are inscribed beneath the shield. 100 days.
She, the old woman, or my mother, warns us: There are smugglers outside. We go back into the European manor house. Our rooms are above the wide staircase that, as in the first dream, resembles the stairs of an Aztec pyramid.
Watching through the window, we see a group of men dressed in black taking things from the house at the corner. They will be here soon. I ask my mother to find something to give them. Silver, not her best but antique, good enough, is stored in an anteroom. We find a solid candelabra. It has not been polished in a long time, but is a fine silver piece that turns dark green- blue, like brass or metal that has aged. I know that she must give away something valuable. I know she wants to hold on to everything. I am trying to protect her and I am also hoarding her valuables, so she will have them, so she will have something for the next time, as if she could bribe them and remain safe.
I wait for the doorbell but the smugglers jimmy open the door and come up the large staircase into the house. Trying to find out who these smugglers are, I speak to them about the Mob in Brooklyn and the possibility of buying ”protection.” Even so, I understand that there is no guaranteed exchange and they will be back for more.
Through the window I see an old woman running. They have taken her things too, but things don’t matter to her. She yells to me that she left her doors unlocked. Nothing matters, as they won’t ever find her real house. She is running very fast, especially for an old woman, and I follow her, barely keeping up. We run through the entire country. A single red dirt road turns here and then there. We are no longer in Europe. We are in two time zones simultaneously—contemporary New Mexico and New Mexico before the Conquest. We enter a labyrinth of clay tunnels and stairs that lead down into a vast cave house, with a clay floor. The dwelling is essentially a workshop. A kiln occupies one area. She works in clay and silver. While there is no evidence of her work, this is the place where she works, where she is entirely happy, where the smugglers will not come, where her life is. Where I will stay.

When I awakened, I thought first of the number 100 in lights. I had recently read that several Native American tribes believe it is necessary to repeat an activity for a hundred days to make it a habit, in order to integrate it into one’s consciousness. I was being instructed that I had to do what was necessary so that the old, European mind would give way and the new way of thinking would become habit. It was clear to me that I/we must give up valuing things and possessions, the antiques and valuables we are clutching. The two candelabras indicate the difference between a sacred sign and a battered object that had value once. The 100 days of creating consciousness are heralded and the dangers of hoarding are revealed.

The teachings were clear: The old (European) world is a dangerous place. Making payments is a way of staying connected to the system. We must come to a new world. As with the Mysteries, it is necessary to go underground and return to the earthen ways.

Dreams are not linear events and do not yield to the kind of analysis associated with European mind. Rather, dreams often present a field of relationships in which images and events resonate with each other. Sometimes our lives are like dreams. The silver piece offered to the smugglers to protect my mother is a flattened version of the brass elephant that is by the door to the patio in my house in non-dream life. The elephant was a gift from Lisa Rafel, who came to Daré at a critical time and by her singing into the body of a woman who was ill, initiated our particular form of healing. Lisa’s gift of the elephant and her gift of healing is flattened in the territory where European mind dominates. In the dream, the silver candelabra has great value to those who adhere to European mind. In life, the brass elephant represents the sacred.

In 1998, I went to Zimbabwe with my then husband Michael Ortiz Hill, who introduced me to a Shona medicine man, Mandaza Kandemwa, a nganga. As I had become a healer, it was very gratifying to recognize that we worked in similar ways, though we languaged our work differently. Mandaza would say, “The spirits are heavy upon me” and I would say, “Illness is a path,” but we would mean very similar things. Within a short time, I was working with his community and patients as he worked with the people we brought from North America. By unspoken agreement, we initiated each other, exchanging our own teachings, ceremonies and ritual. From the beginning of our friendship, we entered into dream work together, each of us knowing from our own experience and teaching that attending the dreams is an essential form. These profound experiences altered me deeply and I was able, upon my return, to further teach and train others in healing ways.

Meeting Mandaza and his community, participating in his Daré, watching how he worked as an indigenous healer in an urban setting, revealed to me the depth and value of native healing ways. I began to ponder how equivalent healing communities might develop in the United States. In 1999, I was called to sit in Council with Mandaza’s community and also to sit in Council with elephants. I did not know what this could possibly mean, but several of us including Mandaza went to a wild animal preserve in Chobe, Botswana. There on the last day in the Park, I met and entered into a relationship with an Elephant in the wild whom we now call the Elephant Ambassador. I write about my history of becoming a healer, about my meeting Mandaza, and this remarkable exchange with the Ambassador in Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing.

Healing from EuroAmerican mind means stepping out of hierarchy into relationship. Elephants have complex and developed social systems extending from their young calves back to their elders and ancestors, and from which we have much to learn. Indigenous people know this about the animals. They have great respect for other beings and live in a harmonic web of relationships and alliance.

Meeting an Ambassador from another species brought the understanding that the animals and the beings of the natural world are equal partners on the planet. (See The Language of Relationship on this blog). They are our peers, and the old, old ways teach us how to live in right relationship with them. I have met the Elephant Ambassador in the wild four times over twelve years. I have also met in dreams other elephants that I know in waking life. One we call:

Spirit Sister. In the first dream, she comes in from the forest and we nuzzle each other. In the second, she is living in the house as kin.

I believe she came in my dreams so that I would remember these truths about the nature of reality that are at the lived core of the old, old ways.

After the meeting in Council with Mandaza’s community and with the Elephant Ambassador, I introduced Daré to my community. Fifteen years later, that Council-based, spirit-led, dream-focused community healing circle continues. By 2001, I began to understand something of what might shift if we changed our relationship with animals and the natural world. By 2004, the Lakota wisdom mitakye oyasin, all my relations, became central to Daré.

There are many indigenous traditions that speak of the Fifth World or the Next World, a real place that we can access only if we leave our dangerous Fourth World ways behind. Joy Harjo references this world in her poem, A Map to the Next World, above. The next or Fifth World is ruled, as is this universe, by its own cosmic laws. To be able to live in this world, one’s entire nature and being have to be resonant with these intrinsic ways. This cannot be negotiated; one is aligned or one is not. In this instance, ethics, values and actions are as absolute as are the laws of physics. The values of interconnection and deep respect for the beings of the natural world and the spirits are fundamental.

To live in the Fifth World we must strip ourselves of our Fourth World qualities and become other beings. This activity is as rigorous as the imagined journey through a black hole into another universe. To enter the Fifth World means we change our ways entirely.

People often speak of dreams or other ways of knowing as being given to us. What we mean by this is that the understanding is not a creation of our minds, but comes from beyond us. Sometimes such gifts come in a single unit, like a dream or a story. Sometimes they come over time. As a teacher and healer, I have over time received or been given directions for transforming our lives that I call the Nineteen Ways to the Fifth World. These are a distillation of the paths we are called to take so that we can live in ways that serve the future.

It could well take a lifetime to understand and incorporate and truly inhabit any one of the Nineteen Ways. We don’t have lifetimes. I began to explore and teach them to myself and to others. The Nineteen Ways create a field. It is the field that creates the world. (See 19 Ways of the 5th World on this blog)

After receiving the Nineteen Ways, I had a dream that changed my life again.

I have won a contest that I have not entered. I have won it three times. The award is a trip to New York for a year, where I will be educated and trained. After the year, I will be an indigenous woman.

I understood this dream as a mandate. I am to apply myself to becoming an indigenous woman. I am taken back to my origins to begin again on a different trajectory. I must discover how an indigenous woman would think and act in these times. I have taken on these instructions far beyond 100 days. I have entered into a different way of living. Before I speak, before I act, in the face of any important decision, I ask myself: How would a wise indigenous elder, free of the great damage of the on-going Conquest, act? I model my life accordingly. Over time, I see my mind changing and my ways of living, as well. Living as an indigenous elder calls one to put the community and the earth before oneself. It means one is loyal to and committed to the future. It means we respond out of relationship, not out of self-interest. It means alliance, not competition. Harmony not conflict. It means we know the earth and all her creatures are alive. This has come to me from the dreams.

Let us return to the initial premise. In the old, old days, and now, once more, the dreams come on behalf of the community and these times. They are presenting us with the dilemmas we are facing and will face in the future and they are teaching us, as they once did, how to live. These dreams, then, are available to guide any one or all of us.

It is possible that the world can heal. Dreams are showing us the ways.

THE LANGUAGE OF RELATIONSHIP: ENGAGEMENT WITH ELEPHANTS

“There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language
of bodies, of bodies on body, wind on snow, rain on trees, wave on stone. It is
the language of dreams, gesture, symbol, memory. We have forgotten the language.
We do not even remember that it exists.”
Derrick Jensen, A Language Older than Words.

On September 13, 2011 I traveled to the Chobe National Park in Botswana with Krystyna Jurzykowski, founder and former Chair of the Board of Fossil Rim, a preserve in Glen Rose Texas that was originally for endangered African animals and now includes animals from North and South America. I wanted to see if communications that had occurred between me and one individual elephant on three separate occasions, and whom, accordingly, we named the Elephant Ambassador, might occur and be witnessed again. I was choosing for the second time to be with the Ambassador on my birthday; Krystyna was also choosing to be with the white rhinos in the area of Ghanzi, Botswana, a week later, on her birthday. We dared not speculate about the meaning of such events except in the ways that they accord with the developing understanding about the mysterious nature of the world in which animals and other non-human beings reveal themselves capable of intentional activity and of originating inter-species communication. We chose to do this on our birthdays so that, if the elephants came forth yet again, we would be open to being catapulted onto new paths to realize the work of the rest of our lives.

It is difficult to speak of this because western languages lack the vocabulary for such experience. Indigenous people from many parts of the world would understand our journey having lived with such assumptions and experiences until imperialists, colonizers, westerners denounced, diminished, prohibited this knowledge and, ‘cleansed’ our language of the means of this discourse. In the way of ‘ethnic cleansing,’ the languages, and the beings themselves, are being disappeared. The right, the means, to speak with the animals and of the animals as sentient companions as essential to the planet as human beings, is regularly dismissed. It is replaced by the ever increasing human passion to dominate animals and the natural world, to use, consume, and enslave,or, at its “best” to confine these non-human beings in circuses and zoos for our entertainment or education. And finally, to only allow them to live in designated areas or on reservations that too often become the equivalent of displaced persons camps.

In this century, preserves such as Fossil Rim, or the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary are necessary tiny sanctuaries protecting the species’ existence, attempting to preserve the gene pool and to provide some peace and quiet for a few members rescued from the violence of habitat destruction and hunting. But they are not able to replace the wild and vital life that was once original to the planet. Traveling to be with the elephants in this way, Krystyna and I were treading in the area of the forbidden.

Both Krystyna and I have had many encounters with animals that could be considered a dialogue. Both of us know that animals are intelligent, sentient and adept at communication. However, this was different. We were traveling to the wild, or a small strip of what is left of it, half way across the world, with the hope of keeping an appointment that could be made only in our hearts but would call us to change our minds, and so our lives, in the most profound ways.

***

We have not yet learned fully why Krystyna was called to be with the rhinoceroses. The experience with them was different than with the elephants in Chobe. They live in the wild but this wild has to be fenced. Wherever they live, they must be protected or they will be slaughtered for their horns. For awhile, conservationists hoped that if their horns were removed, they would be safe from poaching; this has turned out not to be true. Poachers who track rhinos from the air have taken to killing those without horns so that they will not spend the efforts tracking them only to find there are no horns to be gotten. It seems hopeless.

Krystyna was greatly surprised to see that Edo’s Camp in the Kalahari near Ghanzi is a mirror image of Fossil Rim. Similar antelopes and small predators, like cheetahs, populate the preserve. Like so many private preserves, they were both once used for hunting. The question, in Africa in particular, is whether eco-tourism can finance what hunting once financed. Can preserving life be as profitable as destroying it? Krystyna was intrigued by the ways in which Edo’s Camp and Fossil Rim resembled and differed from each other and what might come of their learning of each other.

The first night we were there, we toured a small portion of the preserve, watching the rain clouds come in two weeks early, mesmerized by the flashing lightning and rolling thunder. A good sign and a relief to Krystyna because Texas had been in flames for the months before we left. (When we had arrived in Botswana, she received a text saying that an inch and a half of rain had fallen at Fossil Rim. Just days after her return, seven inches of rain fell. The pans were being replenished and the first tufts of new grass and red flowers were emerging.) We were at home at Edo’s camp: there were impala, wildebeests,

kudu, sable antelope, springbok, waterbok–

the antelopes that Krystyna knows so well from Fossil Rim.

Then at night, as the African sunset was bathing the earth in its red light, seven of the twelve rhinos moved with an unexpected determined grace down to the water hole.

Two of the rhino were pregnant, their young sons keeping close contact with their mothers, knowing that as soon as the birth contractions begin, they will be sent out to be alone. There are no longer small groups of bull rhinos to receive them and teach the ways of the species that existed for 50 million years. Rhinos are the old ones. The ancestors. These young bulls, however, despite their heritage, will be alone and lonely and untutored for the long time until they are ready to mate and then they will have to fight the dominant bull for a female to begin their own herd. There are not enough bulls to sustain this natural conflict and replenish the species without human intervention moving bulls from place to place.

Edo’s camp, like Fossil Rim, is one of the few places on the planet where rhino breeding has been successful. So again, Krystyna was at home there. When she had been drawn by intuition to this area of the Kalahari, she hadn’t known of Edo’s Camp nor was she aware that we would be with the rhinos in the (protected) wild. Another strange circumstance to be fathomed over the next months as she cogitates on the possible connections between these two preserves and works to understand where and to what the rhinos, so so so endangered, might be calling us in their own slow and powerful ways. What is rhino intelligence, rhino legacy and how might we meet it?

***

We were going to meet the Elephant Ambassador that I had met before on three separate occasions: Once on January 6th (Epiphany) 2000, with four other companions, a Jungian analyst, Michele Daniel, a shamanic practitioner, Amanda Foulger, my husband, a writer and RN, and a Zimbabwean medicine man or nganga, Mandaza Kandemwa. Again, in August in 2001, when my husband, Michael Ortiz Hill and I made the pilgrimage alone, the Ambassador came to our car from a great distance, aggressively pushed through a small circle of females to stop inches from the front of our car and trumpet. The third time, that we met the Ambassador was also on my birthday, was in September 2004. Filmmaker Cynthia Travis, also founder of the peacebuilding NGO, everyday gandhis and I had gathered a small delegation of Bushmen, Africans from South Africa and Liberia, and participants from North America to meet the Ambassador and encounter the wild. a similar group, including ex child soldiers and ex combatants, would travel with us again to Tanzania where we would once again have unprecedented real meetings with elephants.

Each time the connection was made with the elephants at the same place in Chobe, at the same tree, at the same hour 5 pm, which was the very last hour of the very last day that we could be in the park. That last time, there was material evidence of an incomprehensible but irrefutable exchange between the Ambassador elephant and ourselves. After becoming the audience for a carefully choreographed display or performance, we were thrown a bone. Literally. Those who know something of elephant culture, who know the enormous significance of bones to elephants, might guess what gifting us with such a sacred object implies.

This return to Chobe was six years later. As we entered the park, Krystyna asked if the elephant that had come the last time, was the same elephant. Did I recognize him by his tusks or ears? Did I recognize him at all? I didn’t know. “I believed it was,” I said, “but I don’t know. It may be that it is the same energy carrying the same intent but I do not know if it rests in a particular individual or moves to another or other beings.”

I was also wondering whether the elephant’s intention emerged from a single elephant, or arose from the consciousness and intent of the species at a critical time in their history, or was an expression of Spirit’s intent using elephant, or none of these, or was some combination of all. I continue to wonder if I will ever be able to answer this question with confidence. In the same way, I do wonder whether I am Spirit’s instrument or whether I am merely acting with human agency even though I always hope that I am aligned with Spirit on behalf of the future of all beings. Am I intuiting? Am I being guided? Are these my ideas? Is Spirit working through me? Can anyone of us answer these questions with certainty?

At our last meeting, the Ambassador had introduced us to his female partner, another younger female and a calf, a very young bull elephant who wanted to stay with his father. We had also been a tight knit group that afternoon, my husband, Cynthia Travis and shamanic practitioner, Valerie Wolf. The others in our group had decided to explore the park on their own. When we saw what was being presented, the four of us assumed that the Ambassador wanted our family to meet his family. We began to understand that our communication was to be focused upon family and its meaning among his people.

As I write this, I realize I had attributed all agency to the Ambassador without considering that the Matriarch might have been collaborating in the meeting, or that the energy and agency was moving through them, not only through him. The new understanding fits the social structure and wisdom of elephant culture – which is tribal at its best, is relational, not individualistic.

As a writer, I am immediately within the dilemma. I am comparing elephant culture to human culture, anthropomorphizing. The error is not that elephants can’t attain human development but rather the opposite; these experiences indicate that Elephant may be communicating beyond what we have achieved, that Elephant is a culture that may in many ways be more developed than our own. That Elephant may be coming forth to teach us as we increasingly fall into brutishness.

There – I have said it!

***

In the years that have followed this third meeting, there have been other experiences and many opportunities to compare notes with others who have found that the hierarchical thinking that places humans above all other non-humans is wrong and unacceptable. These hierarchies merely serve the industries that exploit animals and other beings as food, resources and subjects of experimentation Such hierarchies, and the criminal intentions they serve, are at the core of the myriad forms of racism, sexism, colonialism, economic and political exploitation. Science, for example, is not likely to recognize sentience and intelligence in the beings it tortures for prestige and profit.

The first three meetings with the Ambassador challenged everything I had been taught to believe. I was/ we were astonished and grateful. Those of us who were working with everyday gandhis would soon learn that elephants are seen as peacemakers in Liberia and that they have played a mysterious role in helping to end the Liberian civil war, 1989 -2003. As a writer, and Senior Advisor to everyday gandhis, I was trying to detail what was being revealed about elephants as I was trying to integrate these three experiences into my life. To be honest, I might have been trying to normalize them as they challenge the very basic assumptions of civilization itself.

It is easy to write such a sentence. It is very hard to live with it. The foundations of my life were shaken as my heart insisted that I meet what was being revealed sincerely and without bravado. It was very important to refrain from exploiting the experience or my knowledge for my own enhancement. My loyalty had to be to Creation, to the elephants, and the nature of what was being unveiled.

The first time we met, I had said to the Ambassador, “I know who you are. We are both from a holocausted people.” Then I continued, “Your people are my people.” I have to live according to my word. One does not want to invoke rhetoric with a species that knows truth.

This morning I spoke with a writer who said that truth is the entire foundation of culture and identity. Without truth, there is only violence, disorder and despair.

***

I understand now that it took six years to be able to return and be worthy of, that is readied for, what might occur. As I prepared, inner understanding cautioned me to be more concerned that the Ambassador would show up than that he would not.

I was preparing for another experience that could be entirely discontinuous with modern or post modern life, with Western culture, with the dominant assumptions of the media, and with current religious, scientific, commercial, political, technological and military ideologies (or ideology). I was preparing for the possibility of an experience that constitutes a significant cognitive and ethical challenge to our way of life.

In the intellectual and spiritual communities that I serve, we have developed a common response to extraordinary events: “What is the true nature of the universe in which such things occur. And how then shall we live?”

The advent of the Ambassador had been leading me to ask what is the real nature of the universe that we inhabit. What is the real nature of the universe in which such events are occurring? Hardly the first to ask this question, I was grateful to be companioned by Krystyna who has also been reflecting on this for many years.

I had met Krystyna in 1995 when I interviewed her for the anthology, Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals. In her essay, “Dance with a Giraffe,” she wrote, “When I am in direct, intimate relationship with an animal I am more able to ask questions from within the cycle of nature. Animals take me into the nature of nature. The universal dance of form and relationship–creation and destruction, of which we are all part.

Krystyna’s words came out of her deep, unconditional respect for animals and the complexity and sentience of their lives. “Being with the giraffe, Old Nick, brought this feeling to me, especially when I was summoned to participate in his dance with death,” she wrote as she described the hours she had spent before he died with his head in her lap, as the other giraffes circled and circled him in the ritual moment.

Hearing this story from the Founder of Fossil Rim, who is deeply involved in conservation on national and international levels, was fundamental to understanding animal intelligence. We had not expected some of the conclusions that developed from gathering the essays for Intimate Nature: “At the center of empathy and compassionate understanding lies the ability to see the other as true peer, to recognize intelligence and communication in all forms, no matter how unlike ourselves these forms might be. It is this gift of empathy and connection, embodied in the relationship between us and other species, that enables us to thrive now and into the future.” Krystyna’s essay and her experiences were critical to our understanding of the field of relationship between women and animals that had been challenging the more conventional beliefs held by science and western culture.

If the Ambassador came again, in whatever way and form, I would have to transform my life entirely to meet this real event and its implications. I could not imagine what would be asked and was glad that I was not pretending to know. However, I am carrying the question each moment of each day since my return: How then shall I / shall we live now?

***

I am always alert to events at the threshold of a journey. Just days before the trip, I learned of an attempt in South Africa to save a particular bull elephant, the patriarch of a small herd, from being the object of a hunt. The price on Ngani’s head was $20,000+. He had been sold to a hunter by the owner of a small preserve who had been in financial difficulties. Now the old owner wanted him back but the new owner who had organized the hunt for very wealthy international clients, wanted twice the money he had paid. From the moment I learned of Ngani’s situation, I felt as if a brother of mine had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom. I was impatient with all the maneuvering as everyone, even those with the best intentions, had agendas to fulfill through serving Ngani’s story; I wanted to secure the life of my kin.

The appeal for Ngani was prescient. Most of the conversations we had with guides and tourists in Botswana and Namibia centered on the economics of eco-tourism, buying and selling animals, stocking and restocking, hunting, canned hunting (shooting an animal such as a white lion confined in a cage) and the technology and munitions involved in the poaching of elephants, lions and rhinos. Poaching has become a militarized industry using advanced technology, helicopters and machine guns. Modern warfare at its most insidious.

At the time we left, we did not know the outcome for Ngani, but we did learn to our horror, at the end of the trip that even if he were to be ransomed, another elephant would be hunted in his stead. It was hopeless.

I had once dreamed that my father and I had been given the task by Nazis to choose ten people who would saved from the Death Camps. In the dream, we tried to find those who had the most life in them, who would live longest, who would be able to … who knows what. In the dream, the task was horrible and haunted me for a long time. Another instance was occurring in real life at a time when I was preparing to make an unprecedented alliance with another very intelligent, socially and ethically developed species.

Now we were both searching for ways to respond to Ngani’s situation and to hunting in general, an activity that Krystyna knew well from her professional history of animal activism. In her essay, Krystyna recalled a pledge she, as a child, had repeatedly made to a baby anteater. “You are my friend, you are safe here, you will be taken care of.” She has been living according to this pledge her entire life. But, at the very beginning of our journey, we were being challenged by the dangers that animals experience each day and were wondering if / how we could create safety for them.

(Editing this on Wednesday, November 30, 2011, I know the terrible outcome of the terrible situation. Ngani’s life was saved but another elephant was offered up. The hunter was given a “destruction permit” on the very last day that it could be issued. He came upon Beuga, the matriarch of the seventy elephants in the herd, darted her and killed her. (See http://www.corporate-wildlife-teambuilding-adventures.com/2011/10/further-elephant-communications-saving-the-life-of-ngani-and-beuga’s-plea/)

There are no words to describe this tragedy.)

When I was considering going to Chobe to see if I could meet the Elephant Ambassador on my 75th birthday, Krystyna had said, “I want to go with you. I want to meet him too.” When I heard her words, knowing who she is, I knew that we would go.

***

I traveled to Africa, this fourth time, with the stated intent or, hope, to meet with elephants, to sit in council with them, and to see how we might, together, act on behalf of a viable future and the restoration of the natural world. For the fourth time they came. They came even though we do not have, or I did not know we have, an established means of communication.

Krystyna and I could exercise our human will to the extent that we could board a plane and make our way to an established meeting place in Chobe. After that, what would occur was in the elephants’ trunks, so to speak.

We had three and a half days to stay in Chobe. We would go to the appointed place. We would see what if anything, outside the realm of tourism, might occur. I knew that we had to be very sensitive to any gestures, movements and activities so as to distinguish which, if any, were directed toward us, and which were part of ordinary elephant activity. Yes, we had come to see the elephants as they live their lives, but we had also come to be with the elephants.

We do not have a common language. If there were to be a conversation, a language would have to be created. And so it was. At first it was a language of gesture and response, then a language of event, then of events becoming motion. Motion and meaning became one. That one can also be understood as Story. Then all the other stories integrated to become one Story. Except by arriving each time, it was not a language that we initiated. The elephants had agency; we were the respondents.

I don’t know the first sentence of the communication between us, because I do not know if they called me/us or whether we called them. I know that each event or moment might have been understood as static, as a noun. Then the nouns gathered, one after another, like a procession that had a dynamic energy that could be called a verb. Syntax: noun – verb – object became verb, became dynamic, became resonant relationships, like an Athabascan language. Utterance by gesture, then reply and acknowledgment. And again. Call and Response, inseparable from each other. Music. A divine order that includes all.

We, the two humans, who met the elephants, as we had seemingly agreed, in the years before, at a certain place and at a certain time, did not create the language except by making the journey and keeping our word. This was already a great leap out of the conventional human world into another dimension. We went toward the elephants who, we came to believe, called us, with eagerness and without expectation. That they had come before had been an unimaginable gift, not for us alone, but for the future, for consciousness, and creation. That they might come again, might recognize the gesture we were making toward them, was more than we could hope. It was enough to see ourselves as willing to set forth because this alone might have the possibility of changing the field. But then they came.

Immediately, yes, but at first not from within Story. We were just, it seemed, passersby, even merely tourists, different beings in the same place at the same time. Then we realized we were in a dialogue. And the dialogue became a Story – a coherent, complex, inter-connected, resonant set of events that gathered meaning as they progressed. Then this story began to merge with the previous stories and we saw that we were in another field of knowing and being altogether. Story. Story as I have known it and have been teaching it for more than thirty years. Story: A series of comprehensive, interlocking events, experiences, and understandings that arise determinedly and spontaneously, from within and without one’s life, that cannot be willed or controled and that,ultimately, create, establish and reveal a little world, a singular and integral cosmology.

The reality, according to which humans, particularly westerners, have lived for several thousand years and which they consider absolute, was being shattered as these two humans and the elephants were considering each other as peers with the ability to converse in the ways and field of another dimension. We met in the field called trust. As humans, Krystyna and I hoped to be trustworthy. It is a new territory, a manifestation of ancient knowledge and current experience.

Needless to say, this is not the first time that animals and humans have had such an exchange. Such is the very basis of indigenous life, myth and spiritual understanding. Such meetings have been increasingly recounted in the last years. Nevertheless, the experience is awesome and those who participate are left undone – as they should be. It is required that we fall apart and reconstitute to meet the new reality. I knew this and Krystyna knew this and we offered ourselves to it.

***

After we left Chobe National Park, we were traveling with Wilem Barnard, the son of Izak Barnard who had introduced photo safaris to Botswana, and the grandson of Bvekenya Cecil Barnard, the notorious elephant hunter, who had given up elephant hunting when he saw that it had become a terrible, commercial business and was no longer remotely a sacred or respectable activity. At age 43, he had hunted a great mammoth of an elephant and at the last moment, Barnard recognized who, indeed, the elephant was and risked his own life by letting him go. Barnard quit hunting and forbid his sons to ever hunt again.

As I watched Wilem interact with the animals, and the ways he avoided our being surrounded by them, or the way he avoided elephants who were coming toward us, as he had to do as a responsible guide, I understood how remarkable the experience was that Krystyna and I had had. We had gone ourselves where few go unguided and mutual trust had allowed us to truly come together.

From the beginning, when we were alone in our car in the Park, we were always directed by mutual intuitions to be in a certain place when the elephants would also be there. Within minutes of our coming to a place where we felt we should stop, an elephant herd appeared and quickly and gently surrounded us as if we were not there, as if we were ourselves elephants. Though there were very young elephants in the herd, some nursing, and though the car often separated the young from the adults as they crossed behind or in front of us where we were parked, there was never a sense that we were disturbing them or intruding upon their lives.

In contrast, we saw a white car make its way down the road by the river when elephants were crossing to the waterhole blocking the road. The driver of the car insisted on continuing and we watched, alarmed, as a matriarch reared up and trumpeted in rage. Frankly, I was concerned for the consequences to the elephants should they have been provoked to defend themselves.

When it was time for us to leave the Park at 6 pm on the night of the 16th, we made our way carefully without incident. Soon, we found ourselves enveloped by elephants coming toward us – we stopped instantly – and then released toward the Park exit just before closing.

On the 17th, the elephants were always with us during the hours we spent by the river at our meeting place, the tree. Then at six, we made our way toward the exit. We were taking our last photos when Krystyna spotted another tree. “An elephant ears tree,” she exclaimed. I took the photograph. I was astonished to see that the tree appeared with a rainbow on it.

“Rainbow as a covenant” had been a theme for Michael and myself in the summer when we had gone to Canyon de Chelly. At the last hour of the last day we were at the Canyon, rain clouds had gathered, a greatly welcome sight at a time of drought and fires. As we stood at Face Outlook we watched a rainbow descend into the canyon and then rise up again making a double rainbow before us. Then the rain came.

I had met such a rainbow on the summer solstice at the Arctic Circle in 1996 and had written a song which ended, “Rainbow as a covenant/ God exists /And Beauty has won. / God exists / And Beauty has won.”

A rainbow preceded our journey to Africa after Canyon de Chelly and welcomed me as I was telling the story of the journey to Michael on our return.

The strange appearance of the rainbow on the tree caused by the light bouncing off the car mirror echoed the time in the Canyon and Topanga and alerted Krystyna and I that we were being asked to enter a covenant with the elephants.

On the last day, we went toward our meeting place early but on the way we saw a herd of elephants out on the field across from the river and we stopped to be with them. They were not close but we did not feel we could leave unless we had permission from them. Much out of character, and perhaps playfully, I asked the elephants to give us a sign if we should go to the tree where we had met the elephants each time. We were aghast when the elephants broke out of the clutch they had formed and stood, evenly placed, in a line facing south to the tree. It would have been rude to ignore this sign and so we went to the tree. To the south was another group of elephants standing in random order. When we arrived, they also briefly formed a line and faced us. We were now, it seemed, in the right place at the right time. The area where we were at the water hole was, however, empty of animals.

In awhile, a small elephant, three years old perhaps, came down on his own to the water hole. We were alarmed. Lions had been in the area in the morning and they would not hesitate to take down a lone little elephant.

I began, we began, to pray for its safety.

Soon a truck came by with a guide and tourists. They stopped to photograph the baby and I flagged them down as they passed us. I asked why this baby might be alone and the guide said that it was probably ill and had not been able to keep up with the herd. From all appearances, however, despite his thirst, this little one was not in dire straits and the herd was not threatened and needing to go on without one of its own. Everything I know about elephants contradicted what the guide said, and we were troubled by this anomalous situation; elephant mothers do not desert their child, nor do the herd members, unless it is dire.

So, we continued meditating, praying both for the health of the baby and for the appearance of his mother. As we sat there, I found myself in the grip of strange emotions. I have been visiting Africa and participating in Safaris since 1985. I am deeply respectful of the rules and the ways humans are ethically required to behave in the wild. The first time on Safari in Kenya, we were witness to a young male lion testing himself by stalking a baby elephant behind his mother in the midst of a herd. Even when the lion was perched on a great rock above the little one, slowly hunkering down into leap position, we were enjoined to be absolutely silent and let the wild enact itself. Human restraint is essential. In that instance, just seconds before the leap, the elephant mother flapped her ears, even without looking up at the lion, and he slunk away.

Now I was observing a baby elephant without a herd and without his mother. What would happen if a lion came? I tried to gather myself into disciplined silence, but another part of me suspected that I might not be able to control my impulse to run out of the car and protect the elephant. It was a mother instinct that I had not known before with non-human beings. It would be wrong. it would be foolish, it would be dangerous, and it would be ineffective as the two of us might easily be taken by the lion. But something was occurring within me. The words I had first uttered to the Ambassador were becoming real: “Your people are my people.” These words were not sentimental. This was my kin. This was, as if, my child or grandchild were threatened. I had crossed the species border finally into unexpected and entirely, for my life, unprecedented relationship.

In about fifteen very, very long minutes, two older elephants came to the water, a mother, we thought, and a sister. They spent some time at the water hole and then went on toward the sand bridge that led to a wide plain along the river. Again we were alarmed as the baby did not move. But then the two returned and stayed with him.

At this moment, another white car approached and a stopped. A photographer stepped out of the car and approached the elephants closely. I yelled to him to return to the car, afraid of a repeat of the elephant anger that we had seen the day two days before. Ultimately, the man returned to the car and the car took off and we were left alone, again, with this tiny group. Soon the three began walking toward the sandy plain.

We watched them for a long time, relieved, as they were staying together. Then we were stunned as elephant after elephant came down to the water hole. So many elephants of all ages.

The Gathering of the Elephants at the End of the Story

We were together for a long time when the sun turned orange and began setting and we knew it would soon be the end of the last hour of the last day we would be in Chobe. Then more elephants were coming toward us from every direction, as if all the elephants in the area were gathering around us. In the last minutes, we saw that the elephants with the small bull were returning.

The female we thought was a sister stayed at the break in the sand bridge, directly across from us,

reminding me of the photograph by Cynthia Travis of the Ambassador on the cover of my book, From Grief Into Vision: A Council.

The larger elephant had gone forward to join the others and we were enfolded, again, in a very large herd.

Now, it was time to leave. How very difficult it was. But if we didn’t leave, we would be locked in the park for the night. Not a comfortable situation. So I turned the key and began moving very, very slowly onto the road. Immediately, the largest elephant of the herd bounded up the incline from the water hole and stopped in the middle of the road. Others joined, including another little one, and we were effectively and adamantly blocked.

I remembered well the incident with the first white car and so I leaned out of the car and told them that I would not insist my way. We would not be willful. We would yield to their wishes. I turned off the engine and we sat looking at each other. Then they ambled down to the water again. Regretfully, I started the car and we crept slowly past the herd on the road they had vacated. When they were behind us, we stopped again. They were forming a long line with the great elephant in front and, we saw, the little elephant who we had prayed for earlier, the last, following the female elephant and kin up into the brush. Within a moment, they had all disappeared.

The next day as Willem Barnard was driving us on the highway that bisects the park, we slowed for three elephants crossing the road who looked exactly like the three we had prayed for the night before. They were together and it was clear the little one was healthy and vital.

***

Yes! Another part of the story inserts itself on October 10, 2011. I am writing this essay and looking at the photographs I took for the first time. I stare at the photographs and revisit the scene I could not concentrate on before because of my concern for the little one. The large elephant is a bull.

The smaller one, obviously now, the mother of the little bull.

We have been met by a family as we had been the time before. A most unusual circumstance and so an event to be noted and seriously considered.

Elephants do not travel in nuclear family units. The older bulls stay to themselves. Breeding herds consist of the females and the young ones including young bulls.

We have been in the presence of the Ambassador without knowing it.
The question I was asked before? Does the Ambassador always come in the same form? Will you recognize him?

The Ambassador came. It takes time to understand what is being said in the language of the Elephant People.

The Ambassador came and did not announce himself but engaged us in a Story, as is his nature, or is the nature of this gathering. We have been met again, family to family, and we have been taken into tribe. The great elephant who ran up to block the road and test us was probably also the Ambassador. We have, indeed, crossed the barrier and have become kin. I am awed and frightened in the way one is shaken by the Presence.

How, now, shall I live?

***

I am reminded of Krystyna’s questions upon the death of Old Nick. “Am I willing to imagine the possibility of true partnership in nature? Am I willing to engage in the mystery of language beyond words? Will I trust what I hear? What am I being called to remember?”

***

The first time we met the Ambassador, he had stood a few feet from the side, the back and then the other side of our own truck and looked in our eyes for no less than ten minutes in each place. Then he had disappeared. But as we drove along the river to leave the park, all the elephants in the area lined up along the river and bowed their heads and flapped their ears as we passed.

The second time we met the Ambassador, he came at the same hour from a very great distance, a mile away, perhaps, and shouldered his way aggressively through a group of female elephants at the water hole, then climbed up the embankment and stopped directly before our car and trumpeted, then disappeared.

The third time, as I have written, we were introduced to his little family and then were given a sacred bone.

We have had four remarkable, unprecedented, irrefutable meetings with elephants acting with agency, intent and grace. This time, we were enfolded into the herd. But also, they tested us, as well they should, to see if we are trustworthy. Would we be honorable? Would we yield to the circumstances they were clearly creating, even to staying overnight in the park if required? Would we follow their directions and their lead?

In the proximity of these great gray beings, I understand that they are not merely another species; they are a formidable and beautiful people inhabiting the earth with us, capable of complex communications and wiser than we can imagine. The Elephant People are essentially kind, exceedingly intelligent and conscious presences, increasingly maddened and driven to acts of unnatural violence by our destructive behavior, tortured beyond endurance by their clear understanding that the earth, all life, their little ones, will not survive unless we human transform entirely, become more like they are again.

( See http://www.kerulos.org/learn_more/elephants_edge_assets/BradshawSchoreEthology07.pdf”)

Krystyna and I were allowed to cross the barrier that humans beings created when they separated themselves from all life and manufactured cultures entirely incompatible with the life force. Barriers as hideous and real as the great stone walls we arbitrarily erect to isolate ourselves from all others.

In contrast, every gesture, every action from these great beings revealed or involved us in vital and dynamic relationship which is the very core of elephant life. The Elephant People made visible the depth and profundity of their connections with each other, they reached out to us and spoke to us in profound and irrefutable ways, and they reminded us that human beings have fallen out of the network of all our relations and the consequences for all life are tragic.

Their communications were clear and the language precise. As we were leaving the area, they appeared again, as to underscore what we could barely comprehend. The Ambassador and the Delegation from the elephants called us to them from across the world. And now I am transmitting their call to you. Come meet with us in the way of beauty. Be aligned fully once more with an inspirited world. Become whom you must become in order to communicate with these great ones, in the field of their understanding, in a language older than words.

This fourth meeting with the elephants, with the Ambassador, with his family in an unusual and notable configuration, and then also with an entire Delegation is the unequivocal answer to a prayer that we, as a species, might truly be in alliance with other species. That the human people might meet the Elephant People as peers. That the original ways of Creation can be restored and, together – “Your people are my people” – we might strive to help the earth and all its beings survive and flourish.

Another Meeting With the Elephants

The Gathering of the Elephants at the End of the Story

Friday, September 30, 2011

THE ELEPHANTS.

These are the only words I have to speak from the cleft between awe and wonder. Soon, I hope, the Story will be able to be told.

i arrived in Africa on September 15th.

Many meetings with the elephants occurred over the first days when
Krystyna Jurzykowski and I were in The Chobe National Park, Botswana, with our own 4 x 4 vehicle. Some of the meetings might be dismissed as ordinary or happenstance, except that the individual events formed one indisputable Story enacted over those three days.

The final confirmation or small wonder occurred as our guides,having arrived for the rest
of the journey, were driving us toward our next destination.

At the last moment in the park on September 17th, the second day, my
birthday, an almost invisible event, but one no being could have orchestrated, occurred that was as true a sign as any I have ever experienced.

And again, on September 18th, as has occurred before at the last hour of the last
day on three different days of three separate years, there was a final event
that could stand on its own as a meeting and was, itself, incontrovertible. It transpired over the last two hours, 4 – 6 pm, of our last day in the Park.

The Delegates Meet Us Eye to Eye

We were not met by a single Ambassador, but by an entire delegation.

The elephants came. The message? That they came!

And so this event and its implications become the foreground of my life at this time.

***

Poem from Ruin and Beauty: New and Selected Poems (Red Hen Press 2009)

MANDLOVU

Suddenly, I am of a single mind extended
Across an unknown geography,
and imprinted, as if by a river, on the moment…
A mind held in unison by a large gray tribe
meandering in reverent concert
among trees, feasting on leaves.
One great eye reflecting blue
from the turn inward
toward the hidden sky that, again,
like an underground stream
continuously nourishes
what will appear after the dawn
bleaches away the mystery in which we rock
through the endless green dark.

I am drawn forward by the lattice,
by a concordance of light and intelligence
constituted from the unceasing and consonant
hum of cows and the inaudible bellow of bulls,
a web thrumming and gliding
along the pathways we remember
miles later or ages past.

I am, we are,
who can distinguish us?
a gathering of souls, hulking and muddied,
large enough – if there is a purpose –
to carry the accumulated joy of centuries
walking thus within each other’s
particular knowing and delight.

This is our grace: To be a note
in the exact chord that animates creation,
the dissolve of all the rivers
that are both place and moment,
an ocean of mind moving
forward and back,
outside of any motion
contained within it.

This is particle and wave. How simple.
The merest conversation between us
becoming the essential drone
into which we gladly disappear.
A common music, a singular heavy tread,
ceaselessly carving a path,
for the waters tumbling invisibly
beneath.

I have always wanted to be with them, with you, so.
I have always wanted to be with them,
with you,
so.

***
Mandlovu is the word the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe use for female elephant, It is connected in resonance with Mambo Kadze the name for the deity that is both elephant, the Virgin Mary and the Great Mother.

***
Blessings,
Deena

THE WORK OF THE NEXT FIVE YEARS

The Work of the Next Five Years

A Letter from Deena Metzger   

Dear  Community:
 
If we want to change our mind, we have also to change the means through which the change occurs. In the process of real transformation, everything changes.

I moved to Topanga on April Fool’s Day, 1981. It is good to start one’s real life with a bit of humor.
 
Many visions and ways of knowing have been pioneered here related to writing, healing, council, peacebuilding, revisioning medicine and developing true and profound spirit-based relationships with the natural world, the ancestors and non-human beings.

In 1981, I was just beginning to understand the way the stories we live can reveal the ways to meet physical and spiritual illness, and beginning to conceive the forms that led in 1999 to establishing Daré – an improvisational healing community based upon dreams, council and alliance with the Spirits. Last week several of us acknowledged this site as a Village Sanctuary for the Future. Though I could not have imagined the point that we have come to, I have always known that we must search for the forms that invite and hold the visions we are given to carry. And also that these visions need to be on behalf of all beings and the future generations.
 
More than ever, I am looking for the right flexible and generous forms to hold the necessary work that calls to be done in the next few years. If we are fortunate, the essential work we are called to in the next five years will be realized. 
  
I have been devotedly following a dream since January 1, 2011.  In the dream, I am to be trained to live and work as an indigenous woman, according to the old, old wisdom traditions.  I am not to be trained in any particular way, but in the way that underlies all the old ways. 
 
The seeds of the dream lie far in the past, so far back I can’t identify the beginning.  But as everyone likes an origin story – (it’s like the Big Bang – all of life issues forth from it) – let’s say, the origin was 31 years ago when I first led a re-enactment of the Eleusinian Mysteries in Greece, and verifiably experienced the real presence of spiritual energy and spiritual intent outside of liturgy but deeply connected to great respect and rigorous devotion. This continues into the present, and I have based my life upon it.  I carry two related and on-going question in the face of such continuous, unpredictable and radiant experiences:  “What is true nature of the world in which such events occur?  And how, accordingly, shall we live?”
 
The question of how we live is upon us as it has never been in the history of human beings.  We have never been asked to entirely change our culture within our lifetime – actually, to change even more quickly. There are no formulas and culture is so complex it must be not be defined or limited. This is an impossible task and we must pursue it.
 
The ultimate goal is the complex vibrant restoration of the natural world in all its beauty and intelligence with the human species in right relationship to all beings. The ultimate goal is that all life thrives.
 
In 2010, I developed 19 ways to the 5th World. You can read them here on this Blog.  They are an index to the work that I will be doing in the next years.  To work with me is to work in these realms in order to become adept.  To work with me is to pursue the unique and mysterious ways of Council and true alliance with non-humans and humans as a primary way of restoration. To work with me as a writer, is to work with the intention of imagining and participating in a Literature of Restoration. 
 
Emerging from a profound healing experience several weeks ago, I heard words in my mind answering a question I have been asking relentlessly:  “We cannot tell you how the times will change on behalf of the restoration of the natural world and the restoration of sanity for human beings.  These changes will emerge from myriad different, distinct, spontaneous activities on the part of so many human beings, they cannot possibly be predicted or articulated.  But your task is to recognize the validity of your experiences over the years and so hold to the knowledge that the change will come if all of you are devoted.”
 
I will be 75 on September 17th, 2011.  I mark the day by going to Botswana in the hope of meeting The Elephant Ambassador for the fourth time.  (Earlier Blog entries, “The Elephants are Calling Us Again”, and “Voices of the Elephants” will introduce you to him). I intend it as an act of reverence, deep respect and faith.  After such a life as I have had the privilege of living, I make the journey gladly — an offering to future. 
 
Whether The Ambassador comes or not, something will occur that will reveal the purpose of this journey and the hope it carries.  I am traveling with a friend who has also devoted her life to the animals and to consciousness.  Things will occur that we cannot possibly predict. We yield to what comes.  But she and I are thinking of ourselves, expectantly, as ambassadors to the future. 
 
My husband Michael Ortiz Hill and I just spent a week in Canyon de Chelly and were graced by the Presence once again.  A Story, as I have come to know Story in these years, manifested in such a way that I speak of it with the last lines of a poem I wrote at the Arctic Circle in Norway in 1996 when I was 60:
 
Rainbow as a covenant
God exists
And Beauty has won.
  
***

In the light of such events, aware of the preciousness of time, I am trying to determine – by deep listening – the exactness of my work as a thinker, teacher and writer for the next five years.
 
As a teacher my focus will be on training and mentoring. This will occur, for the most part, each month between Sunday Daré and the next Sunday’s Training for the 5th World. These nine days provide an opportunity for people to come to Topanga and engage intensely with me and with each other in the work of truly understanding, integrating and inhabiting the Ways to the 5th World.
 
These days will accommodate those who live in the area and work with me regularly and those who wish to come to Topanga for one or more short periods of time. It can include private work, classes, councils, solitude, and/or time on the land. We can meet in person and also by telephone and via Skype. There is a yurt that people can share, when appropriate, and there are hotels near by. Much of what you experience will come from your interactions with the members of the Daré community. I am looking for informal ways of meeting rather than creating inflexible structures. This flexibility allows us to meet the emerging work with the rigor and commitment required.
 
The Saturdays before Darés and before the Sunday Trainings will be designated for various focused councils and in-depth explorations in the hope of encouraging heartstorming and visionary, collaborative thinking by gathering those odd, unexpected and necessary companions to imagine and institute the future. There is an ancient symbol called the Flower of Life. It consists of a single form composed of 19 interlocking circles. I am hoping that the infinitely fertile communication possible from such interlocking councils will also be seeded here.
 
I will devote two weeks of each month to writing and some limited travel. That leaves a little time for improvisation and surprise.
 
I am trying to step out of a formal teaching or conference schedule into something more organic, compelling, profound, unexpected, conscious, and indigenous – as the dream directs.
 
When I first started living by council, I would speak of the tradition that so many, if not all peoples, had of gathering those necessary to meet a crisis. We are in extreme crisis. We have to gather, we have to learn, we have to transform. Such gatherings mimic, in the best ways, the dynamic complexities of ecotones and small niches of natural beauty. Let us bear with each other as we extract ourselves from and discard the limiting institutional ways and devotion to material things and violent solutions that have developed in the last years in order to find new forms for new lives.
 
We will be working in this manner beginning Dare’ week, Oct. 2, 2011. To make appointments, apply, to learn about the Sunday Trainings and other classes, or to explore possibilities that may not be articulated in this letter, please email or call Danelia Wild at 310-815-1060. (Different classes, circles, events are posted on my website www.deenametzger.com.) Please understand that we do not have a full-time staff person and are yet deeply committed to meeting what Spirit is asking of us, both individually and as a community.
 
Peace and Blessings
  
Deena
 
 

 

THE ELEPHANTS ARE CALLING US AGAIN

The Elephant Ambassador January 6, 1999, Chobe Botswana

It has becomes evident that the elephants and animals are truly calling us again in this time of such danger to the natural world. I take it personally, but I know I am not the only one to be called. Most importantly, I am not the only one to respond.

I started writing this to recount a series of events that confirm Spiritual agency and inter-species communication. I seem to be directed to review the ways that the elephants have come to me and the community in the last twelve years in order to understand what Spirit’s call might be now.

in 1999 I wanted to sit in Council with the Elephants. I went to Zimbabwe and from there we went to Chobe, Botswana, and that is how I met the Ambassador. He came to our meeting place at five p.m. at the Chapungu tree, at least three times in three different years. His appearance was incontrovertible. The last time and hour we were there in September 2006, he introduced us to his family and threw us a bone. These stories are told in Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing and From Grief into Vision: A Council.

Some years ago, I was alerted to the concerns of elephants in Assam, India who had occupied an airstrip, not allowing military planes to take off or land. Also a standoff between villagers and elephants in India after the death of one of the elephants. Then there were other difficulties between humans and animals and a series of attacks on humans in India, and around the globe, that seemingly had to do with revenging earlier attacks on elephants, the interruption or prevention of mourning rituals, and loss of habitat. It seemed like a global organized activity on the part of the elephants, but it could also have been a sudden global human decision to notice, not the elephants’ plight, but their anger.

I was able to publish a letter or article in English in an Indian newspaper that suggested ways in which these situations might be remedied respectfully. It was translated and distributed in Hindi, and then the newspaper and my contacts disappeared. But the passage was open long enough time for my writing to reach readers in India though without my learning what impact, if any, it had.

However, it is clear to me that the elephants had put out a call, and several of us received it, were willing to ‘pick up the phone.” I am one of them.

Animal agency in initiating the contact and communicating the dilemma psychically is important here. At the same time of the instances of “elephant rebellion”, births and dreams of births of white elephants were noticed and regarded as were similar births of white buffalo in the United States. Spiritual agency and animal agency. Something beyond our understanding is afoot.

In 2006, the annual meeting of the peacebuilding NGO everyday gandhis, working in Liberia, founded by Cynthia Travis, and to which I am Senior Advisor, opened with Charles Seibert’s October 2006 N Y Times Magazine article, “An Elephant Crack Up?” There was much concern among us about events relating to the elephants including the news that the most revered elephant elder of Lofa Country, Liberia, had either died or been killed. Accordingly, there were many elephant dreams among the Liberians and the extended everyday gandhis network of West Africans and North Americans that guided us to remember how interconnected the elephant people and the human people had once been.

In a later annual meeting, the Superintendent of Lofa county, the Northern Liberian district where everyday gandhis is situated, expressed his desire to find ways for the villagers and the elephants returning from their war-long exile in Guinea, might co-exist. There were several dreams told in that meeting that called us to peacemaking on behalf of the seemingly conflicting needs of the two species.

The Siebert article introduced us to the work of G. A. (Gay) Bradshaw. The Spring journal issue, Minding the Animal Psyche, Volume 83, which Bradshaw edited arrived as I was writing this. It contains an essay, “The Art of Cultural Brokerage. Recreating Human- Elephant Relationship and Community” by Bradshaw and Carole Buckley (Founder of the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary).

I had already read Bradshaw’s essay, “We, Matata: Bicultural Living among Apes” (Minding the Animal Psyche, Spring Journal Volume 83, Spring 2010, P. 171.) about the common research performed by Susan Savage Rumbaugh and three bonobos. Matata, Kanzi and Nyota Wamba, (Pan paniscus) who live in a “mixed Pan/Homo community.” in Des Moines, Iowa. This seminal essay and the quartet’s seminal work confirm animal agency and intent.

The brilliant title “We, Matata,” refers to Matata Wamba’s thinking in terms of ‘we’ as she was “wild-born in 1970 and lived in bonobo society in Zaire until the age of five. She was then brought with four other bonobos to the Yerkes “field station” at Emory University. Kanzi was born to two bonobos …in captivity at Yerkes….” Matata is “his adaptive mother.” In contrast to “…Kanzi, who is a ‘second generation’ bicultural bonobo, and Matata who is wild born, Nyota, Matata’s grandson is a “third generation” bonobo reared in a bicultural environment. ” The two younger bonobos were influenced early on by modern, western culture and so have, as we have, “been honed by modernity’s dualist traditions and the split world St Augustine. When Matata speaks, she speaks of “we” reflecting a concept of self found in collective, interdependent societies like those in free-ranging bonobo groups in contrast to the individualistic, independent, “I” centered culture of modern, western humans”

Bradshaw’s work records and substantiates animal intelligence and agency. It requires us to rethink and re-imagine the world.

What is distinct about my meeting with the Ambassador and the communication from the Indian elephants, is that these events demonstrate animal agency and transmission. Transmission, that is, receiving wisdom or information through invisible, distant or spiritual agency, is not commonly acknowledged by humans even among themselves.

In 2008, a trip to Tanzania was organized for the peace building team of everyday gandhis including Christian Bethelson, Bill Saa, J.F. Sawo, William Jacobs, and seven young, “Future Guardians of Peace” – all traumatized by the brutal Liberian civil war and yet working together on a multi-tribal peace building team. One goal of the safari was to introduce the peacebuilding team to the wild as the Liberian forests and their creatures have been, and are still being, devastated by the civil war and its aftermath, hunger, in particular.

Arriving earlier, Cynthia Travis, members of her family, and I were met by the young elephant, Spirit Sister, in the Ruaha who orchestrated our meeting and ceremoniously invited and then introduced her brother to us.

When everyone joined us in the Selous, we met the bull elephant, Delegate, after ceremonially bidding the seemingly hidden elephants to be with us. Delegate, who had been obscured in the bush, emerged. He came deliberately to within an inch of our truck. The young people knew we had called him to us and they trusted the moment because they were longing for such a reverential connection with the animal world. It was a matter of deep yielding and trust. Every moment tests us. Trust, however, is no guarantee of safety. One takes ones chances and tries to be alert, respectful and not naïve. This encounter is written about in everyday gandhis’ book, Tanzania Safari and in my essay, therein, “Alliance in the Selous,” where you will also find a photo of Delegate.

From Tanzania, we went to Liberia where we met and interviewed an elephant dreamer who had been visited and protected by elephants for all the years of the war. There, we were, once again, informed that the elephants were eating the crops of the poor farmers, but also, that the elephants no longer had the corridors through which they had traveled for centuries. In recent conversations, Superintendent Kortemai has spoken of the difficulties of providing and protecting the corridors which are increasingly interrupted by modern roads, expanding human habitat and other obstacles.

in July 2010, Cynthia Travis returned from Africa, alarmed by the news that the government of Tanzania has approved a major commercial highway across the Serengeti National Park linking the Lake area Victoria with eastern Tanzania. This will entirely interrupt village culture, the migration of the zebra and wildebeest, and the movements of elephants. (http://www.savetheserengeti.org/issues/stop-the-serengeti-highway/#ixzz176Xez6JY)

In May 2010, listening to the news on the way to the airport, I understood the gravity of the recent hemorrhage in the Gulf. I spent the next four months in active concern about the fate of the oceans and the horrific wound to the EarthSea Mother – its extent is still unacknowledged. (Two co-incident events this first week of January 2011: the announcement that deep sea oil drilling will resume though restoration has not occurred and safeguards – if they can exist – have not been put into place while tar balls are, once again, washing up on gulf beaches.)

In Connecticut, I met Ray Hardy, of The Deer Alliance, a Vietnam veteran who attributes his healing to the presence of the deer. He now devotes his life to their protection. His history, and his life, support the everyday gandhis understanding that peacebuilding, environmental protection and restoration are essentially interconnected.

In 2010, I spent the summer attentive to the many on-going environmental tragedies that are the consequence of human activity. They ranged from various oil spills in the U.S. and Africa, the possibly on-going seepage of oil in the Gulf, to the effects of uranium mining on the Reservations and the danger from radiation released from the fires that surrounded Chernobyl.

We know not what we do. Intellectual, emotional and spiritual numbing has resulted from our being immersed globally, for the last hundred plus years, in violence, cruelty, torture, killing and war. We accommodate, permit and perpetuate what was unthinkable a few decades ago. Violence, whether official, as in war waged by governments, terrorist, or individual, breeds violence. ( As I edit these words, we are learning of the shooting of an Arizona congresswoman, a federal judge, a child, and others in Tucson.) A new psychology that is a pathology, is increasingly dominating the human species. Crippling alienation is passed on between generations as the traumatic mind reproduces itself through the cultural change that it generates. This understanding is exactly articulated by Roberto Bolaño in his masterpiece novel, 2666.

Trauma and PTSD, as experienced by veterans and all war traumatized people, are similarly experienced by elephants and others animals. We learned this from Charles Seibert’s article based upon Bradshaw’s thinking and as further articulated in her stunning book, Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity. The effects of trauma in their different manifestations are also passed between generations and between species

In July 2010, grieving, lost, not knowing what I might do or write, I put myself “on the hill” for two nights and three days of solitude. I was, as the Lakota word, hamblechya, implies, literally crying for vision.

Three essential communications came to me on the hill. I have been contemplating them since.

The first was a demand to us from the wounded EarthSea Mother: “Don’t just bear witness. Be with me! Feel everything I am feeling. Recognize the physical pain of such wounding as has been inflicted upon me. Share my great disappointment in the human species. “Don’t just bear witness. Be with me!”

The second is a call to be a medicine woman for the earth. I extend this call here to those with similar inclinations and devotion: Let us become medicine people for the earth.

The third communication revealed that a reliable, hidden passageway to the restoration of a viable world is a true alliance with all the animals and other beings.

Indigenous people have known how to live in such alliances but they are almost entirely hidden from the western, contemporary world.

“Truly learn the way of alliance. Yield to the intelligence and agency of the other species. Consider the future of the earth, rather than individual concerns, in addressing all dilemmas and issues. Let your work be to bring other two-leggeds into such alliances. Help such true alliances become accepted cultural forms.”

At the end of August, I went on a walkabout to Canyon de Chelly with my husband, Michael Ortiz Hill. On the first night there, praying as I do each day for the restoration of the earth, a rainbow appeared in the sky though there were no rain clouds. We knew it was a covenant, but I still didn’t know, pragmatically, how I was to proceed.

On October 31, I dreamed an ocean of stones without any water. I walked far out on the stone sea, climbing to the crest of a great stone wave. From that perspective, as I looked away from the shore to horizons, I saw only wave after wave after wave of stones. If I went any further, I would be lost without any hope of return. So I made my way back toward the shore. An elder questioned me: “Why did you go so far?”
“I had to see,” I said.” I had to see what it there.” Without approving, he understood.

Recently, I felt the call to travel to the stones to see what would be revealed about the dream. I prepared myself for this journey. I also prayed that I would be given specific directions for these last active years of my life regarding the paths i am to follow to fulfill the mandate.

I went into the studio to journey to the stones. But when I began, the Ambassador appeared and insisted I continue the journey with him. I began again and journeyed accordingly. We met at the Chapungu tree as we had in Chobe. I climbed into the open back of the truck as I had when we first met and showed him, as I had, that my hands were empty, that I had no weapons. He looked in my eyes the way he had, in the flesh, ten years ago.

He reminded me that I had been called to make alliances with the animals, other beings and the spirits, and I had, instead, become preoccupied and overwhelmed with human concerns, activities and forms. Preoccupied with stopping or healing our criminal behavior, I was not able to give attention to what truly matters.

He reminded that on my birthday, I had, once more, asked for a path to assist the future of the planet and I had been given a mandate to learn the way of alliance. I had been asked to defer to alliance in order to find the hidden passageways to the restoration of Creation. When I had asked, it was explained to me that alliance, by its intrinsic nature, was a vehicle of transformation. But I had, it seemed, disregarded this mandate by being consumed with the terrible and grievous crisis of these times: torture, rendition, Blackwater, private armies, mercenaries, child soldiers, rape and mutilation, drones, robots, the wars and violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gaza, and the on-going war against the land, the trees, the animals, the elementals; horror everywhere and without end. I was reminded of an understanding I had been given twenty years earlier when studying Kaballah and the Holy Letter Nun: “I had been serving Pharaoh when I thought I was serving God.”

Then the Ambassador took me back to the ocean of stones: “The stones are what the human race has become. You are no longer sentient creatures. You increasingly become the drones, the robots, the weapons that you have invented as you disconnect from, injure and attack the natural world and all its creatures. The only way to save Creation is to re-enter it.”

Then he turned, as he had the first time we had met, climbed the hill behind us and disappeared into the bush.

Within minutes, I received a note from a friend announcing the premiere of a film, “How I Became an Elephant,” that documents the horrific conditions of elephants in Thailand. Elephants used in the logging and other industries for years, no longer needed, unable to be return to the wild, constitute an abused, slave labor force performing in urban areas entirely alien to them.

I left the theater in a similar state of mind to the one that overtook me in 1989, when on a pilgrimage to the Death Camps of the holocaust.

This morning, a friend wrote that she had had a dream of an elephant in the woods. In any accompanying film by the same filmmaker, Coming Home, Lek, the elephant medicine woman of Thailand, brings several abused elephants home to the forest. She has rescued them from the horrific painful and inhuman treatment that elephants suffer in Thailand. She has convinced the local villagers to protect them, arguing that tourists will be far more attracted to their villages to see the animals as they are living in the wild than when the animals, in order to paint, play music, dance, do tricks and give rides, endure great pain and suffering.

After this email, another message from am acquaintance in South Africa included a photo of an elephant in Botswana.

Within another few minutes, Superintendent Kortemai and Christian Bethelson, a former General turned peacebuilder, called from Lofa County, increasingly worried about the elephants eating the farmers’ crops. I immediately told them about the film and the solution Lek is negotiating.

2011: The last few days have been filled with grave concern about global mass deaths of birds and sea creatures since December 31 2010:

Google introduced a map of 30 incidents of mass deaths.
Different newspapers cited:
Hundreds of confused birds plummeting to their deaths in multiple locations in the U.S.
8,000 turtle doves falling dead in Italy with strange blue stain on their beaks.
Two million dead fish found to have washed up on shores in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.
100,000 dead fish in the Arkansas River.
Dead birds in Sweden exhibited signs of ‘external blows.”
Other events in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Brazil, New Zealand and England.

On Epiphany, January 6th, the day I met the Elephant Ambassador in 1999, I journeyed to him again in response to these tragedies. He said:

“Live according to the Code of Benefits. Examine every action and behavior: Does it benefit the earth and all beings? Does each activity benefit elephants, wolves, whales, birds, trees, bees, etc,? If no clear benefit is visible, don’t do it!”
“Why should we follow such a stringent regime?” we ask.
“Because otherwise you, your descendants, everyone will die.”

Then he added:

“Think like an elephant, not like a human. 
Consider each being in your heart. Let your thoughts emerge to meet them. To hold all beings intimately in your heart, at each moment, can provide the understanding necessary to meet this moment.”

The elephants are calling us again. Even now, in the midst of events we do not understand, the call and presence of the animals is heartening.

How have they come to you? How are you meeting the Call?

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