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Once we learn to look for the cloud level in our own lives using archetypes and symbolic imagery and circumstances, our entire world changes and becomes more “alive” with meaningful opportunities to engage with God directly.    This is what I call engaging the cloud level directly, and just as Twilight has an ant level and a cloud level, so does your life.   The following stories are simple examples of this principle in my own life, but there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of these examples in my, and YOUR, life if we open our eyes to a different way of engaging our experiences.   Look for the cloud level in your life, and the archetypes and archetypal principles will emerge more clearly — they are already there and waiting to be appreciated, so go see what your cloud level is trying to tell you!!

The Deer Story

The weekend before my birthday last year, I attended a Caroline Myss conference in Arizona, and one of the central themes was learning to see one’s life as an “impersonal but intimate” experience with God.   Obvious examples are cancer (cancer isn’t a “personal” attack on anyone in particular, but it is intimate); age is similar (age happens to every one of us, so it isn’t “personal,” but it’s surely intimate to the self), and then more glaring examples such as death (again, not “personal” but most definitely intimate).   Examples are basically every crisis, confusion, difficult or painful experience, and also every joy, smile, love, and relationship – all to be appreciated through the impersonal but intimate lens as God works to set wheels in motion in our lives.

The week after the conference, the evening of my birthday, I had a stark and bizarre example of this principle.   I was driving home from the gym, and a few miles from my house, I passed a small doe literally on the edge of the road (inside the white stripe, so she was practically IN the road).   As I blew past her at 60 mph with everyone else in traffic on the two-lane, winding country highway, I noticed she was curled up in a seated position with her legs under her body and her head tucked (the way dogs curl up).   I drove another few yards and wrestled with what to DO.  I turned around and doubled back to pull into the driveway closest to her position with my head lights aimed off to the side to provide some light on the situation.   I wasn’t sure what I was doing – pulling over for hurt or lost dogs and cats is one thing, but this is a wild animal, and I have zero experience with first aid for deer. 

I kneel down to her, and there are cars and trucks whizzing past both of us (stupid, stupid, stupid – this particular two-lane highway is responsible for many deaths, deer and cyclists alike).    I reach out to her to touch her hind-quarters, and she picks up her head to look at me.   This is seeming really crazy to me at this point, but I start assessing her limbs and any apparent injuries anyway.   She lets me do this and actually rests her head on my outstretched arm.   Her whole body has tremors, and I realize she’s in shock.  She has no idea what to do, and now neither do I.  I go back to my car to find my phone to call my husband to ask him to come help me move her off the road (for both our sake), and I realize I’ve left my cell phone in my office.  Which I’ve never done before.  I go back to the deer, and two trucks pull over in front of me because the drivers see a crazy woman on the side of the road “comforting” a deer.  Two women naturally.   One of them loans me her cell phone, and I call my vet’s office to talk to the after-hours person.  He says to call the Sheriff’s department to get animal control to move her.  No answer there.  The woman lets me call my husband, and I get voice mail because he’s in the shower.   I leave a message.   The deer is still tolerant of my hands moving all over her body trying to gently determine where she’s hurt.   Cars are still whizzing past, so I try to pick her up to move her a few feet off the road.  This wild, beautiful creature lets me pick her up like a child, and we move into the gravel a few feet away.  By now I’ve got blood on me, but I can’t take my eyes off her to focus on how WEIRD this whole thing is.  

My husband thankfully got my message, and he walks up and realizes his extraction plan (me from the scene) isn’t going to be as easy as he hoped.   I pitifully convey there’s no way I’m leaving this poor creature – she’s terrified, she’s in shock, and IF she lives, she’ll just run right back into traffic when the stupor wears off.   The woman next to me whispers, “Men don’t get it.”   I go back to tending the deer, and my  husband decides to settle in for whatever is next.   The two women decide it’s safe to leave now that I have help, and I thank them for stopping.   I’m sitting on the ground now with this deer, and I don’t know what else to do but to pray for her and to keep stroking her head and her neck as long as it takes for something (in either direction, life or death) to change.   My husband says I can’t stay here all night (and of course I know he’s 100% right), so I suggest we bring her home and put her in the fenced pen beside our house (the barn) where she’ll be safe for the night until we can get her to the vet (this is not making any sense, and I recognized that truth as the words came out of my mouth, but they came out anyway).  He’s staring at me like I have eight heads (yes,I saw the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles and the hilarious scene where the deer (moose?) wakes up in the back seat and totally TRASHES the car).    He’s now strategizing how to get this poor animal into the back of his Tahoe with minimal damage, and then another truck pulls up. 

Mind you, it’s pitch black on this busy highway and cold at this point.   This guy (a total angel of a human being) pops out and says he RAISES deer and often rescues them when injured in the road.  He gingerly pokes around on her while I’m still trying to comfort her (God only knows what this man thinks of my cooing in this animal’s ear), and he decides she doesn’t have any broken bones and that she is just stunned from the impact of being “clipped,” but not full-on directly hit.  He advises that she won’t come out of shock as quickly with human intervention and that we need to move her into the woods so that she can “shake it off” a far, safe distance from the road.   He picks her up and I hold her hand (hoof?) as we move.  He gently puts her down and readjusts her limbs so that she’ll hopefully “come to” faster and on her running feet.   I’m frozen in place because now it’s time to leave her, and I can’t bring myself to walk away.   The man puts his big hand on my shoulder as I’m still kneeling over her, and he tells me he’s certain that this is what’s best for her.  I believe him because I watched how kindly he handled her, and I know he knows what he’s talking about.  But still, by now my whole body is shaking the way hers was on the road, and it seems like torture to leave.   I pet her again, long and slow, down her head and the length of her neck, and I say as many additional prayers as I can squeeze in before I’m dragged away by this sweet Samaritan and my concerned husband.

 It was AWFUL to leave her.  It was painful to leave her there without any sense for what the outcome would be or whether she’d live through the night.   This was the most real example of the “impersonal but intimate” principle I’d experienced since the weekend’s conference in Arizona, and it was painful to let her go.  Whatever “let her go” would mean.  Because it was out of my control and it was totally in God’s hands.  I could only pray for her peace and comfort, and the rest had NOTHING to do with me.   Impersonal but intimate.

The next morning, she wasn’t where we left her – I checked.  I have no idea what became of her, and I never will.  But I’ll never forget her.  This wild, magnificent creature in my arms, looking straight into my eyes as I whispered to her.   That’s not something I’ll ever forget because in her own way, she whispered to me, too.   It was like God Himself saying, “Impersonal but intimate.  Now let her go.”  “You did your part; you showed up; you tended my task; now let it go.” “The rest is up to Me, and it doesn’t matter whether you understand it or like the outcome because I alone have the answers.”   I’m usually pretty good at the first test (showing up), but I royally suck at the second test (letting go of the outcome).

Anyway, that was my night with the deer and the angel/man (fantastic example of the Samaritan archetype) who thankfully showed up primarily to help the deer, and to a lesser degree to spare my husband from a hellish night worrying about me sleeping in the barn with this creature.  Here’s to letting go of outcomes – in whatever form the test takes.  The angel/man was God’s messenger.  I really believe that.  There to take over.  There to tell me it was time to give up the reigns and that outcomes are often painful, but always divinely scripted.    That sweet deer was God, too.  There to invite us to show up when called.  But without expectations or a need for “tidy” or satisfying results. 

All we can do (and are supposed to do) is pour our hearts and souls into everything we do with total devotion, and then let go of any personal need for particular outcomes.   God is always preparing all of us for the next challenge, and what looks or feels like confusion or a struggle today is the next brick in the house He’s helping each of us build.  Impersonal but intimate, one brick at a time.

At the ant level, this was a surreal experience with a deer.  At the cloud level, though, it was a symbolic experience with a Samaritan who taught me the beauty of “impersonal but intimate” in real life and on real terms.  Your cloud level is rich with lessons and real-life examples, too — here’s another story to further the illustration of how this works…

The Squirrel Story

Two weeks after the deer experience, I had another weird animal encounter while driving to and from a workshop with Jim Curtan.

The week before the workshop, I found myself one afternoon struggling with mental distractions that prevented me from being very productive at work.  I kept drifting back to what I wanted to think about, which was a) not a subject I should be thinking about, and b) totally unrelated to anything my clients needed from me that day.   And yet, every few minutes, there were those delicious thoughts again like proverbial sugar plums, or evil shriveled dates as they perhaps should have been considered.   I fought with myself for a while and then finally said this prayer, “God, thank you for the ability to multi-task, but can you please help me pull these weeds out of my mental garden because this is driving me insane, and I really don’t like myself very much right now.”

The response came the next morning as I awoke.  “Keep your eyes on My road.”  My retort (my nerve often stuns me in these conversations) was, “But you put such amazing people and events and circumstances on the side of the road — how am I supposed to whiz past all of them without paying any attention?!”    Again, the response was clear.  “There will be experiences I choose for you at your next rest stop, but until I tell you to pull over, focus on the road I put in front of you and not the distractions in your periphery.”   This conversation continued with my childish protests, but the gist was that God is my navigator, not my driver.   God wants us in the driver seat so that we are responsible for (and have total delight in) our journey.  God is the ever-trusted, ever-present, never-failing navigator who hopes we will follow His guidance, but when we don’t, He is still right there helping us get our individual “car” back on course.    This discourse and this particular Car and Driver analogy made perfect sense, and it helped me immediately refocus my attention on what was indeed in front of me that day and the rest of the week.    I was comforted by the idea that God is my co-pilot and that in the warmth and safety of my “car,” I am totally in a cocoon of grace as I speed through my life.  I never know where or when the next rest stop will appear, and none of those details are supposed to matter because my job is to be a good and conscientious “driver” until instructed to pull over for the next instructions.

Jump forward to the conference the following weekend with Jim (one of Caroline Myss’ faculty).  The workshop started Friday evening, and I returned home late that night refreshed and eager for the rest of the material to begin on Saturday.  I awoke early and hit the road so that I could take in the pretty country road that connects my house to the home where the class was being conducted.   I came around a curve in the winding two-lane road (the same highway that served as the stage for my recent deer experience), and I saw a squirrel run across the road from my left to my right.  I saw him in time to swerve to the left to give him more room as he crossed, and I immediately thanked God for sparing the squirrel (and me, frankly, because I’m selfish like that) from a bad outcome.   As I continued through the curve, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a tiny, nondescript object in the lane behind me.  I thought, “No way.  There’s no way I hit that squirrel.  I saw him in time, and I totally missed him.  There’s NO WAY I hit that squirrel.  There is NO WAY!!!!”   I had a few seconds of stand-off with the voice in my head, “There’s no way I hit him.”  “Then why are you scared to turn around?”   “Because turning around is paranoid and stupid if I already KNOW I didn’t hit the squirrel.”  “Then what’s the spot in the road?”  “I don’t know, but it’s NOT the squirrel.”    Feeling truly exasperated with myself at this point, I did a U-turn in the middle of this country road and headed back — to face what, I didn’t know.    

As I got closer to where I had been, I could see the “spot” growing in size until there was no denying that indeed, somehow, I had hit that poor squirrel.   I pulled over on the side of the road, still facing opposite my original direction.   I sat there for a second staring at my hands unable to wrap my head around why or how I hit this animal when I was so certain he had made it safely across.  He really DID have plenty of time and plenty of room, and then it occurred to me that just because my calculations suggested victory, none of those maneuvers would have made a difference if the squirrel froze at the precise second I expected him to keep running.  

I was distracted from my internal physics lecture and spiritual flogging when I realized a car passed me.  There wasn’t any other traffic in sight this early on a Saturday morning, so I jumped out of my car and moved the squirrel to the side of the road where I was able to confirm, yes, he was in fact gone.  Just like I’ve never touched or stroked a wild deer until two weeks ago along a different stretch of this road, I had never touched or stroked a wild squirrel.  Except this story wasn’t going to end like the deer story, and I couldn’t understand it.  I crouched over him petting him and whispering how I sorry I was for being responsible for his death.  The tears didn’t touch my cheeks until I got back in my car, and I said another prayer for his safe journey across whatever road he was now travelling.

I made it to my workshop, and all day I thought about the squirrel and the impossible nature of killing him.   There was no traffic.  There was good light.  I wasn’t listening to music or singing with total abandon.  I wasn’t at all distracted.  Conditions were perfect, I saw the squirrel in time, and he SHOULD have made it across.  It didn’t add up!!!!   I tormented myself all day running through those variables and coming up empty every time.   Late Saturday evening, it was time to head home again, and I knew I’d be panicked about another squirrel, or deer, or raccoon or whatever I might encounter – me and my death machine.   And then I heard the sweet voice that often comforts me.  This time it softly said, “Sometimes there’s a squirrel in the road.”    And I started to cry, and I begged, “But why that poor squirrel?”  The answer again came, “Because sometimes there’s a squirrel in the road — sometimes despite perfect road conditions, our car will experience obstacles, and sometimes nothing you do will be enough to avoid those circumstances.”  Thoroughly confused, I pleaded desperately, “But you said if I keep my eyes on the road, I will be able to avoid the distractions that keep me from being closer to you.  And I DID, quite literally this morning, keep my eyes on the road!!!!”   The voice softly said, “I told you to keep your eyes on the road, and you did, that is true — but I never said careful driving would eliminate all of the obstacles and experiences you are still supposed to encounter when they are chosen to directly cross your path.  Those experiences are equally meant for you, just like the experiences that await at the rest stops where I’m leading you.   While you may never understand the difference between distractions on the side of the (symbolic) road that are not intended for you, and the directly intended experiences in the middle of the road that are, it’s enough that I know the difference.  And sometimes – there will be a squirrel in the road.”   

I understood this time.  Being in God’s presence, and even being as centered and focused on God’s presence as one can be, does not mean immunity from death, from grief, from regret – or any other human emotion or challenge.   The road is full of distractions, full of peril, full of other crazy drivers – but even the absence of all of those hazards does not guarantee that our road will be clear or easy or without lessons.   It only means that when the proverbial squirrel crosses your proverbial road on the way to your next proverbial rest stop at God’s direction, you will be prepared to bless that squirrel in present time and with gratitude, to reflect on its impact on your awareness of God’s will, and to thank the squirrel for his life and his place along your journey.  And then you have to keep moving because the next rest stop still awaits.

So again, at the ant level this was an experience with an unfortunate squirrel.  At the cloud level, the squirrel taught me that just because we keep our eyes on God’s road, there will still be challenges, difficulties, even death – those are experiences intended to teach us about ourselves, and symbolically, we must keep driving because the next rest stop is still around the corner.

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