Note: It’s always so exciting to meet amazing wild sisters who share a profound connection with the wild Earth. I’m always blown away by the similarities in our experiences and am glad to find women who share common interests and views. Fellow author Stacey LL Couch is one of them. In her book, Gracious Wild, she writes about her incredible spiritual journey with hawks and how she went from being a scientist to walking a shamanic path. I’m grateful that she took the time to answer a few questions about her experiences and deep connection with Nature. (All pictures courtesy of Stacey LL Couch)
Wild Sister Guest: Stacey LL Couch
Have you always had a strong connection with or interest in the natural world? When did you first become aware of that connection?
I have always had a strong draw to the natural world, animals in particular. A lot of my initial encounters with nature were through books actually. I lived in suburbia where there was little evidence of wild, untamed nature, but still I inventoried the birds and plant life in my neighbourhood. I kept ladybugs as pets and had a caterpillar spin a cocoon in a jar in my room. Whenever we went on vacations I brought my field guides with me. I loved picking wildflowers, collecting stones, and pressing leaves. I couldn’t fill my cup full enough of all the beauty and variety in the natural world. I wanted to know the names of everything I encountered from the tiniest flower to the biggest tree.
What led you to walk the shamanic path and to form a deeper spiritual connection with Nature?
I was lead to form a deeper spiritual connection with nature via a calling that came deep within my soul as well as an overpowering love in my heart.
I first learned about the shamanic path as a young girl through Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series. The main protagonist in Auel’s books, Ayla, was a shaman and healer. I wished I had been born in another era so I could be her. Of course I never admitted this to anyone because I thought it was pure fantasy. Clarissa Pinkola Estes also talked to me about the shamanic way through her book Women Who Run with the Wolves, but I thought I needed to be from a particular tribe or lineage (which I wasn’t) to even entertain the idea of being a shaman.
Regardless of my belief in my own unworthiness for the path, I still encountered a shamanic initiation. During my time living alone on an island I experienced what I call an “accidental vision quest.” Here I was flooded with dreams of animals and loved ones who had passed. During the day I had hawks, owls, ravens, and the wind as my only companions. I surrendered to the inevitable in my private life, giving in to what my soul hungered for, an experience of the Divine.
Not too long after that I had the opportunity to meet a current day shamanic practitioner and the combination of knowing it could happen as a vocation and seeing a live shaman at work changed everything for me. I first pursued it as a hobby. The path quickly became my vocation and now is my devotion.
What kinds of challenges did you face when you shifted from a scientific background to a spiritually based shamanic path?
Most of the biggest challenges involved wrestling matches in my mind with fear. I was terribly afraid to let go of rational thinking because I had relied on that skill and honed it over the course of my whole life. I trusted my rational mind to offer me a sense of certainty, regardless of whether that certainty was an illusion or not.
I didn’t know how to trust my heart or my intuition. At first it felt like jumping off a cliff into a great abyss. I literally had panic attacks. I spent a couple of years wandering about professionally and grieving the loss of my reputation as a scientist. I felt small and insignificant in my ego, but overwhelmed and grateful in my heart.
For many years, I had to give up scientific thinking all together because I could not reconcile it with my intuitive self. Over time however, with the help of great teachers and great books, I was able to bring the two together. It was a marriage of the feminine and masculine, rational and intuitive.
What is the most profound lesson you’ve learned from your shamanic journey with hawks?
I learned that the wild ones, the animals, are speaking to us all of the time. We just need to practice awareness and learn how to listen. Opening up to their messages be they metaphoric or literal, results in life changing experiences that cause great healing.
How has your journey changed your perception of Mother Nature?
Initially “Mother Nature” was a concept to me, a lovely one, but a concept none-the-less. I liked the idea of Mother Nature and honouring her, but my tendency towards logic kept me from sensing her for a long time. In my move to shamanism, I came into a deep love for her, but still the relationship was a one-way street as far as I could sense it.
I have a distinct memory of a spontaneous vision I had where Mother Nature appeared to me. In that moment, I understood that I was her employee. That’s when I got that I was her journalist and publicist. It was strange how literal the message was and how still to this day I feel like I’m working for her.
I also sense Mother Nature in the grandest form now. That took years and years of praying in silence as well as countless hours being outside and just listening. The relationship has grown from a one-way street to an interconnected web of which everyone and I are a part. I have the fortune to glimpse the enormity of this on occasion.
You talk a lot about power animals. For those who may not be familiar with this idea, what is a power animal? How does one find their own power animal?
Simply put, a power animal is a guardian angel. A power animal is an animal in spirit form that travels with us, offers guidance, and protects us. Power animals are the same as totem animals or spirit animals. There are many names for the same thing.
There are a number of ways to find your power animal. You can find your power animal by having one appear in your dreams, by having an encounter with a wild animal out in nature, or by simply having an affinity for a certain animal. I have a free ebook on my website titled What is My Spirit Animal? How to Find and Understand Your Animal Guides. You can download it by going here: http://wildgratitude.com/what-is-my-spirit-animal/
Do you believe that Nature can play a role in our personal healing? How so?
Nature can most definitely play a role in our personal healing. So much illness today is initiated and encouraged by our fast-paced, artificial lifestyle. Coming into a deeper relationship with nature helps us slow down and settle in to the magic that surrounds us. It is very easy to find hope in an emerging daffodil and love in birdsong. Both of these are great curatives.
It is nearly impossible to know all of the reasons why we fall ill or are injured, but when we have the opportunity to learn how to trust in the inherent genius of the natural world we are comforted.
From a shamanic perspective, I believe that healing of the soul is necessary for healing of the mind, heart, and body because the soul is the larger container in which these rest. Healing of the soul in shamanic work takes place in collaboration with nature’s healers. A soul that is whole and hopeful cannot be corrupted by any other ills and can endure great struggle.
Do you have any suggestions on how one can form a more soulful connection with Nature?
Silent time in nature either sitting or walking with no goal in mind starts to open the door to a more soulful connection. Practising mindfulness and opening your awareness to all that unfolds around you outdoors is also very effective. Really taking in how one plot of land changes through the seasons can be a great practice. Cataloguing the plants and animals that live in your neighbourhood and learning more about their life-cycles first engages the soul. As we discover the world through the eyes of an animal and see the drama of their lives unfold, we understand that they too have souls. Our soul wakes up to meet theirs.
What can we do to make a more positive contribution to healing the destruction done to Nature?
Love. I can’t stress loving kindness enough. We can think rationally with the mind what would make the most impact, but our actions will not make a ripple unless we move our action into the world with love. Thomas Merton wrote that “the beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” This is an amazing model of how to love with our souls. If we can learn to stop twisting our relationships with each other and with the natural world to serve our own needs and love for the sake of loving like our soul longs us to do, the tiniest gesture will cause a cure. When we love for the sake of loving, we know at any given moment what is needed to heal.
Stacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey: http://wildgratitude.com/about-stacey-couch-shamanic-practitioner/