For over a year now, I have been engaged in Soul Craft, which is a body of work that comprises specific nature tasks, or exercises performed engaging in the wild, created by Bill Plotkin. Google him. Plotkin created this work, in part, because he realized that western society is in dire trouble because of how far we have come from a deep and spiritual connection with Nature. He cites this lack of conscious interconnectedness at the root of what we find going so desperately wrong in our world. Essentially, we in the west have never matured as a collective. Our behavior is adolescent. Soul Craft is amazing, magnificent and necessary work if one wants to grow up. Soul Craft is not for sissies or the faint of heart. It is deep and difficult work because in order to get to our core, we must release our ego identities that might keep us safe, yet often keep us stuck. And immature. And it will take you right to the heart of what is unhealed within, allowing nature to become an ally for growth, maturity, and your mental and spiritual health. Let me know how that part goes for you. Because for me? It’s been one battle after the next as my familiar way of life continues to unravel, as all I thought I was certain of comes up for re-evaluation, as I recognize the enormity of what is inside crying out for attention. And I am not kidding when I say ‘crying’. It strikes me as ironic that on the path to maturity, my inner child seems to be at the helm. She has not been a happy camper. This unraveling has not been pretty. I am working with a mentor doing this work and if you plan to engage in Soul Craft, I recommend you do, too. The terrain is too unfamiliar and you cannot read the map yourself. You are going to need someone else to be your eyes, your witness, your guide. I meet with her about once a moon. We spend some time talking about how I’ve done with my homework since last we met, how the journey has been for me, and then she always asks what my ‘edge’ is at the time which informs the work of my next step. She then gives me a soul task and sends me out into the forest to do it. An hour or so later, we meet up and process the task, and I scribble as fast as I can to preserve every pearl that comes out of her mouth so I can savor it again and again in between our sessions. Just recently, after a particularly tumultuous emotional time of things, I got a chest cold that turned into pneumonia which took me down for the count. It’s over a month since I recovered enough to return to the tasks of everyday living and I still don’t feel I have regained my former energy level. When I say ‘down for the count’ I mean just that. I couldn't even read I was so woozy. I spent over two weeks unable to do anything but lay on the couch and watch television. That to me, is really sick. In more ways than one. If you want to shed the last shred of your ego identity- who you think you are based on what you do- get really sick and watch how it slips away. And then watch how you try desperately to hang onto it-standing dizzy at the stove waiting for the soup to heat up until you finally surrender, barely making it back to the couch without falling over after a coughing fit so deep and painful, you literally see stars spinning in your peripheral vision. But don’t doze once you get there. Because the next thing you know the fire alarm awakens and deafens you all at the same time because the soup is burning at the bottom of the pot, smoke is billowing everywhere ( which is great for your fragile lungs) and you end up too exhausted from getting it all under control that you just skip it anyway. And the pot sits in the sink for close to three days because you don’t have the strength to scrub the cooked on blackness. Guess what?? Dirty dishes don’t matter. I have amazing friends, who knew I was alone for this ordeal and brought me food and those drinks that have a lot of electrolytes. All of them called to check on me and asked if I needed anything and I told them all, no, no, I’m fine! Listen up, Peeps! If someone you know is sick enough to miss work for over a week, much less closer to three, they are not fine. They tell you that because they want to convince themselves it is true by speaking those works out loud so they can hear them. But they are not fine. Visit anyway. Bring food anyway. Plan to sit with them for a while. Tell them how brave they are. Hold their hand. Thankfully, my friends didn’t listen to my cheerful but out and out lies, and came with help anyway. Where was I? Right, Soul Craft. When I next met with my mentor it was not long after this bout with pneumonia. It was a typical cold and rainy, northwest day in early June and I was reluctant to be out in it for fear of relapse, but there was no way I was going to miss our session. I tell her how I need to take it slow and so we walk up the gentle slope instead of the steep switchbacks to the top where we usually begin our time together. She leads me to a shelter on the land so we can stay dry while remaining in the natural setting. We sit on one of the benches and I begin telling her about my recent illness and the insights it has yeilded for me, when I look out at the tree standing maybe 30 feet from us and gasp! “Is that real?!?", I exclaim. Because it looks like one of those fake owls people buy at nurseries to put on their roofline or in their garden. As soon as I ask this question and as if to answer, the owl swivels its head and looks right at me. I am seen! I have never been this close to an owl that was not in captivity and, of course, I cannot tear my eyes away. My mentor asks if Owl has any special significance to me and giddily, I tell her that Owl is my Power Animal in the upper world when I do Shamanic healing work for others. She asks me what Owl brings to me and I reply that she lifts me up to see the bigger picture, where I can often spot unhealthy patterns from the lofty perspective. There are no accidents and everything we encounter in nature during Soul Craft informs the work. So today my task is to write a letter to myself about my recent dance, albeit a prone one, with pneumonia and all the preceding events that led me to that dance floor. To have a conversation with Owl about the patterns in my own life. The reason for this letter is to have a record of the intensity of my recent experiences. Time can dull them as we recover and life normalizes again. It’s so easy to forget how we have been changed because we go back to a life that has not changed, a life that expects us to return as we were. I begin my letter with this, “I am afraid to tear my eyes away from you and look at the words I am writing on the page for fear you will fly away!” I didn’t want to miss seeing its wing span or in which direction it would fly if it took off. I continue to write a few words at a time, constantly looking up at it, until I finally decide to stop and allow myself to just feast my eyes on this enchanting bird. I do as I know to do; begin a conversation by asking a question. I mentally ask Owl, “How are you, Beautiful One? Is there anything you want to tell me, anything I should know?” I have read accounts on interactions with Power Animals and unless and until you experience them yourself, they all sound hokey and contrived. I expect this account might sound the same but I swear to you it is true. As soon as I asked my question, Owl looked directly at me and we locked eyes. Soon that kind of 3D thing began to happen where the owl seemed to loom closer in sharp contrast to the lush green that softly fuzzed into the background. I don’t remember anything but taking in the detail; its feathers of brown and white stripes, the blackish eyebrows that seemed to frame its dark gold eyes. The Barred Owl, also known as a Hoot Owl, is about 20 inches tall. A magnificent creature! I wish I could say I received a clear and conscious transmission of esoteric information, but I didn’t. All I remember was finally looking down at the page and writing these words: “All the mistakes I have made don’t matter. What matters is right now. “ And when I looked up from the page, Owl was gone! Gone! I jumped up and ran out into the rain to see if I could catch sight of it in flight. No luck. Damn! I looked beneath the tree. Maybe it left a feather for me. No luck. Damn! Disappointed, I came back under the shelter. I picked up my journal, read what I had written and realized my question had been answered. Don’t dwell on past mistakes. Just be here now. Walking back to my car after the session, my heart leapt when I spied it again, sitting in another tree nearby. I stood there looking up hoping it would look back. But it didn’t. It was no longer my Power Animal, it was just an owl in the woods I was lucky enough to spy during daylight. Good thing I had written myself that letter, although I doubt I will ever forget this encounter.