My Encounter with a Bobcat
Yesterday I hiked with a friend through the Marin Headlands near the San Francisco Bay, not far from where I live. It was a cool winter afternoon with steel grey skies and a rainstorm brewing off the Pacific Ocean one hill over.
We walked in silence. The pause in conversation reminded me of the quiet camaraderie I shared with my late husband when we traversed these same hills or sat home gazing into a fire. Now my hiking boots crunched on the rocks of the trail with each step.
Up ahead, an animal streaked across the trail and into the brush. We stopped when we came to that spot and sighted a bobcat five feet away. She was facing a knarled oak tree, ears erect, tail twitching, hunched low, stalking her prey.
My friend and I are both experienced outdoorsmen and have spent time in remote wilderness locations as diverse as the Canadian outback and the Amazon rainforest. We respect nature and are at home there. We knew how important it was to be very still.
I felt no fear of this animal that had the strength to tear me apart. I deliberately slowed my breathing to neutralize my energy, then imagined admiration and deference going out from my heart toward this wild creature.
She had white tufts of hair jutting out from her ears, and sideburns that fanned out when she turned her head in our direction. She blinked as she rose to all fours and walked toward us at a nonchalant pace.
I still felt safe. There were no hints of aggression from from her. All three of us were calm, symbiotic elements of nature.
As she passed me, her curled bobbed tail brushed against my boot—I was thrilled—then she trotted down the trail in the direction we’d come from, her lanky body resuming the hunter’s crouch. One moment later, she’d disappeared into the high grasses.
My friend is a well-respected teacher of shamanism. We both perceive nature as an ally and teacher. He said that we shape-shifted our energy so the bobcat didn’t distinguish us as separate from the surroundings and understood that we were not a threat. He believes the bobcat risked appearing because we were open to being with her.
Shamanic teachings say that if a bird or animal shows up in your life, you can study that animal’s talents, habits and habitat to discover the animal’s medicine, its unique teaching. Unlike the majority of humankind, the animal kingdom operates out of a deep, instinctual knowing that transcends intellect or emotion.
Our encounter with the bobcat was intimate and extraordinary, so I felt compelled to investigate Bobcat Medicine when I got home. (A good online resource for this purpose is http://www.starstuffs.com/animal_totems/index.html)
The one teaching (out of many) that struck me is this: Bobcats are solitary animals. They always hunt alone. After mating season, the males and females go their separate ways. They encourage us to come to terms with being alone without being lonely.
This is an essential skill for all people to develop as part of being self-sufficient: to enjoy the pleasure of your own company. But when you lose a special relationship (i.e. a beloved to death, divorce or other break-up) the loneliness is excruciating and can be experienced as physical pain.
Over the course of our eight-year relationship, my late husband and I spent the majority of our waking hours in close physical proximity to each other. We both ran businesses out of our home. So, we often ate lunch together, and came into the other person’s office to discuss something or take a break. When the day was done, we sat in front of the fireplace, feet crossed on the hearth, one cat curled up in each lap, sipping a glass of wine, resuming the conversation.
After he died, I tried to locate him: I’d be working in my office, forget he was gone, and ponder where he was so I could speak with him. Was he in his office? No. Out at a business meeting? No. Taking a mid-day run? No. After going through a mental checklist I would remember he was gone. Every part of my life had been interwoven with him and I was empty, my yearning unrequited.
It has been 22 months since I lost him, and thanks to the bobcat, I see that I am adjusting to his physical absence. Last week I was alone in my new home, evening had come, and I was settled in my favorite chair to read. My two cats were curled up in the same room, and I was content, tranquil. For the first time in two years, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling that visceral physical and emotional longing for what cannot be. In that moment, I had everything I needed. Yes, I would prefer that my husband be in the next room powering down his computer, preparing to join me, but I’ve adjusted to my new reality. Accepting reality and adjusting to it are two different things, intertwined but unfolding at their own pace.
Thanks to that bobcat for this lesson, and the reminder that developing true power and strength require solitude and silence.
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This blog was first posted in January 2012.