I have a new tradition. I suppose it became a tradition this year, because I started it last year. All great traditions have to start some where, some time! Every year, when my kids are on vacation with their Dad, I take myself on a week-long spiritual retreat. I’m just now starting to understand what that really means. It is often spent exploring my inner-self through silent meditation, where I can be alone and literally “retreat” into myself. It’s a precious uninterrupted time when I can simply be my most authentic self and connect deeply with who I am as a soul. A spiritual retreat is also about connecting to community, such as a group of like-minded individuals whom I may have never met before, or a community of nature: the trees, the ocean, the mountains, including all the animals that choose to present themselves to me. On this year’s retreat I experienced all three connections. I experienced a connection to myself, a connection to my human community, and a connection to the natural world. Each experience of connection provided me with something different, a unique way to heal my wounds, to cleanse my thoughts, to lift my heart, and to inspire and restore my mind, body and spirit. Although my week was filled with amazing people, places and creatures, one connection in particular stands out above the rest. It happened at a very unique place and involved an eye-to-eye connection with a bobcat.
I’ll start with the place… Sunburst Sanctuary. Founded in 1969 by the late Norman Paulsen, Sunburst Sanctuary is a utopia nestled in the hills north of Santa Barbara, California. A small community of people there farm the land and live in harmony together guided by the principles found in the spiritual teaching of Paramahansa Yogananda. Many of the same people who first started the community still live there today. Everyone was truly welcoming and kind to me. It was evident that members had been working together for many years. No one person was in charge. Some people who had special talents were focused in certain areas, but when it came to delivering the programming and teachings, it was like everyone took turns. Each individual had a time to shine.
I spoke with several members over my stay and the consensus seemed to be that the sanctuary was moving in a direction of expansion in the realm of spiritual teachings and that they were scaling back on the organic farming business. Over the next few years the property will be transitioning from an agricultural zone to a more commercial zone. This will allow for Sunburst Sanctuary to cater more to a growing interest for eco-tourism. Whole Foods has already bought out all but one of their retail markets. So, in some ways, this small community could be expanding its potential and be transforming from a unique rather isolated locally known community to a world recognized spiritual retreat destination. I feel for them as they experience these growing pains. Some of the decisions they have had to make over the past few years have been difficult, but continuing to turn a profit as a small organic farm has proved to be even more difficult.
I wish them the best for their future and I hope to visit them again. They offer unique programs such as Kriya Meditation and Yoga courses and their rates are unbelievably reasonable. This is because their philosophy is to make the knowledge accessible to people of all income levels. They are a group of big-hearted people, no doubt about that. As an organization they are on the verge of transforming from unseen to seen. I feel that if they are seen and represented authentically, they will continue to grow and support the community they have worked so hard to create. I believe that there is great value in this day and age to provide a living example of what it looks like to live and work in harmony together. Many people can talk the talk, but not everyone can walk the walk. There are sacrifices that every individual must make in order to support their community as a whole. It takes cooperation, compromise, and hard work to reap the benefits of a true utopia. Sunburst Sanctuary has accomplished this in the past and now they are being challenged to make some big changes in order to survive and thrive. One of their greatest challenges will be to preserve their founding mission as they experience expansion in less familiar markets.
One night after a spiritual service in the temple, we all stepped out into the evening air and a beautiful rainbow was there to greet us. Almost instantly, one musician started strumming her guitar and before you could blink the whole lot of us were singing and dancing and celebrating that rainbow connection. It was an inspiring moment and I suddenly realized that it takes a spiritual being to recognize that perfect opportunity when it arrives and to embrace the beauty in life for what it is, to let go of any worries about the unknown and to celebrate gifts of beauty with spontaneity and joy… to allow yourself to be SEEN by the loving eyes of the divine!
Soooo… what about the bobcat? Well, as a spirit guide the bobcat is all about the unseen realm. The bobcat is not an endangered species. In the US there are estimated to be over a million running about. They thrive in California, especially in the hills where there is plenty of food to hunt. They are also very well camouflaged. The reason so many people have never seen one is not because they are not there. It’s because the animal chooses to be unseen. So, when a bobcat does present himself to you, it is a powerful sign.
One afternoon, I had some quiet time to walk about the property at Sunburst Sanctuary. It seemed no one else was around and it was very quiet, only the sound of a gentle breeze blowing through the summer yellow grasses covering those signature California hillsides. I decided to have a walking meditation in the beautiful stone labyrinth. After I finished the walk, I felt very relaxed and almost like my eyes were opened a little wider than before. All of my senses felt sharper, more receptive. There was quietness in my mind, an absence of language, and my physical body felt more primitively connected to earth. I looked out at the field beyond the labyrinth and something very subtle caught my eye. I shivered with a realization that I was not as alone as I had thought.
I began to slowly walk closer to the creature watching me in the field. It was small, but I knew there were no dogs on the property. At first I thought, maybe it was a fox, or a coyote, or maybe… a bobcat! I secretly wished for the latter since I have seen the others before in different places and at different times. Then I quickly dismissed the wish and just moved in closer, hoping to see the truth, whatever it might be. The animal did not flee. He just sat on his haunches and his head slowly followed me as I walked around a fence. I stepped on a branch, which cracked and caused the animal to stand up. Suddenly he was revealed to me. I could see his rounded ears, his white whiskers, and his dark spotted coat… It was a bobcat! He started to walk slowly out to the road. I was now close to the road. Some trees obscured him from me for a moment and then I, too, was on the road. He was a mere hundred feet in front of me, still walking towards me down the road. I was slowly walking towards him. Then I stopped. I heard a voice in my head say, “How close do you really want to get?” He stopped, too. Our eyes engaged for several moments. He was not alarmed, he just seemed to be curiously mirroring me. When I took my next step forward, he took a step sideways, changing his direction and retreating into the woods. There was a sudden uproar of bird squawks from the place where he disappeared from my sight. … and just like that, he was again… unseen.
For me, the experience was a metaphor for where I am in my career path. I am much like the folks at Sunburst Sanctuary, on the verge of really being seen! The bobcat spirit guide reminds me that this power is in my hands. I can choose how and when I will be seen. I need to make sure that I am represented authentically. I need to continue to strive to walk the walk as I talk the talk and always be mindful of my words. I hope that this story represents my best intentions and reveals this powerful message to you in a way that inspires you to muster the courage to reveal your authentic self. You have been made the way you are for a reason. Know who you are as a soul and reveal that through your words, interactions with others, and stewardship over this planet we belong to. You have the choice to remain apathetic or to reveal your authentic self through your passions, your beliefs, and your beautiful creativity.
For an example of how to access the unseen in your life try my Creating Exercise: Checking In On Your Intentions.