Howling with the Coyotes
By Jan Beaver (CCSS Collective Member)
Life completely flipped upside down for me when my children were born. There I was, working in the perfect job with the Ministry of the Environment. I was exactly where I needed to be to fulfill my Divine purpose, or so I thought. Suddenly, all of my priorities changed. I felt my path was about to shift.
I began to seek out wise elders and traditional teachers to learn more about my culture as an Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) woman. I met a wonderful elder, Sugar Bear, who had the gift of finding Spirit names. I asked him to try and find my Anishinaabe name for me.
A few weeks later, Sugar Bear called and said he had found my name, Yellow Cloud Woman. In the dream, he said he saw a powerful thunderstorm coming in from the mountains in the west. He could see the dark purple and blue thunderheads and heard the loud rumbling of thunder and the flashing of lightning connecting Earth and Sky. Coming ahead of the storm was a big yellow cloud. I was that cloud. Sugar Bear said I would draw my power from the west and I would use my voice of thunder for teaching.
When I left Sugar Bear, I was bewildered and confused. What did he mean? I wasn’t a teacher, I was a scientist.
Within a year of receiving my name, I had quit my job and entered the Faculty of Education. A year after that, I was teaching in a school in one of the toughest areas in Toronto. It was surrounded by a concrete jungle of high rise buildings which were public housing, filled with many refugees and immigrants from all over the world . Incomes were low and many families had only one parent.
I found myself in a Grade 5 classroom where the students spoke at least 15 different languages at home. Their reading levels ranged from Grade 1 to Grade 5. Not only that but there was a lot of conflict and a lack of respect. The students seemed totally disconnected from their own Spirits, from each other and from the Earth. By November, I was totally disheartened and ready to quit teaching. Nothing I was doing was making any difference.
By a Divine stroke of luck, the class had been booked to go to an outdoor education centre north of the city the following week. How would I ever survive 3 days and nights with these children away from home?
The very first night, we went out on a night hike. What was I thinking? We left at dusk hiking along the trail into the forest with a lot of yelling and misbehaving. As it got darker and darker, the children got quieter and quieter. I realized that most of them were scared out of their wits to be in the forest in the dark. The air was thick with their fear.
These children never went out after dark in their neighbourhood. Though there was no forest there, there were lots of rival gangs jostling for power. Crime and violence were everyday things.
Soon, I stopped everyone in a clearing and we formed a circle. I had planned on playing a game to lighten the mood but before we could get started, coyotes started to yip and howl all around us. Some of the students started to scream and everyone was terrified.
Without thinking, I quickly got their attention and said “Isn’t this amazing! The coyotes have come to sing you their song! They never do that when there are people around. You must be very special!”
I had their attention now. I knew I couldn’t show any fear. I had to be the one to show them what it looked like to be connected to nature.
I gave them a challenge.
“See if you can sing their song back to them.”
I began to yip and howl like the coyotes. Soon everyone joined in and it was an amazing sound. Then I held my hand up and everyone went quiet. Within seconds, the coyotes began to yip and howl back to the students. They were so excited and happy to hear the coyotes singing!
We did this back and forth serenade for at least 10 minutes and then the coyotes continued on their way. It was a completely different group of students who hiked back to the centre that night.
The next day, the students seemed completely different. The cliques had dissolved and they were playing together, cooperating, talking and laughing. I couldn’t believe it!
Going through the curtain of fear together had changed them and bonded them in a way that months of penalties and discipline would never have done.
When we returned to school, I began to use the circle every day for teaching, storytelling, social skill development, self esteem building and conflict resolution. I used an amazing program called Tribes (http://tribes.com/) that provided excellent training and teaching resources for inclusion of circle work in the classroom. By June, my students were a cohesive team, looking out for each other, helping others in the school and modelling student leadership for the younger students. It was unbelievable!
I think of this experience often as I reflect on my teaching career. It was the pivotal moment that illuminated my path into outdoor education where I spent my last 7 years of teaching .
One of the books that we always recommended to teachers and parents was Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv (http://richardlouv.com/). He came up with the term Nature-Deficit Disorder. It describes how people, especially children, have been affected by their disconnection to the natural world. The book also offers many excellent strategies to help people reconnect. Richard has since written another fantastic book entitled The Nature Principle. He is a very wise man and this is a very important subject. We would do well to pay attention. The Earth and her Children are calling us now.
At first, it may seem that this story is about fear: fear of the darkness, fear of the unknown, fear of wild animals, fear of the forest. In truth, the story is actually about disconnection from Creation and a loss of a sense of belonging. When we feel a strong sense of belonging within our circle of friends and within Creation, it is much easier to be courageous.
Exploring the pathways of your senses and imagination, journey deep within your body to find any fears you may be holding. Allow yourself to feel those fears fully and track them to their location within your body.
* What happens when you focus on the fear?
* What does it feel like when you offer love to that fear?
* Reflect on ways to strengthen your connection to all living beings and the natural world. What actions can you take to strengthen your sense of belonging within your circle of friends and Creation?