I was on the hiking trail today, with Joe and a close friend, enjoying the early fall feeling coming to the mountains. We hike well together, quiet, not a lot of talking, just the sound our breathing, the crunch of our boots on the trail, taking in the magnificence that is autumn in the Rockies. We came along aspen families all turning fiery gold, other aspen families deciding to wait a few more days.
I’m not a fast hiker, not a strong hiker, can even slow down the group. I am however, appreciated for my ability to spot animals that others walk right by…a moose lying in shadows with only his diamond shaped ears visible…a snowshoe rabbit three feet off the trail camouflaged at the base of a tree…the eye of a long-eared owl peeking at us from behind a tree trunk…a mother bear and her cubs napping uphill blended in with fallen logs…the movement of a mountain lion circling around us and the dog, checking out a possible meal…the rump of an elk along the tree line.
I learned how to do this in the mid-80’s from a teaching colleague (shout out to Paul Z from Spring Wood Junior High.) Paul said that the mistake people make is they look too high for animals, that we look straight out from our eyes which means we’re looking about 5-6 feet above the ground. He said, “You need to lower your gaze, that’s where the animals are.” He then taught me to look for things that don’t quite fit in with the terrain, such as shape, color, size and movement. (Living in mountain lion country I bumped ‘movement’ to the top of the list of things to look for.) It’s a wonderful way to be in the woods, to see what may not want to be seen, to see what is hidden just below the surface of my gaze.
Our dreams are like this, there is the surface story that can seem mundane, maybe strange, maybe scary, but not much else and so most of us leave it at that. When I work with someone’s dreams I’ve learned to ‘lower my gaze.’ There is always something in a dream that has a different shape, size or color that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the terrain. There is always a movement or feeling that at first may not be visible if my gaze were to stay above it all. When stepping into the woods and when stepping into a dream, I am met with sights, experiences and presences that I would have walked right by but have instead learned to see…simply by lowering my gaze.