Consciousness in Action: The Power of Beauty, Love and Courage in a Violent Time by Andrew Beath


An Elephant Journey
By Deena Metzger

This article is an excerpt from Andrew Beath’s book Consciousness In Action: the Power of Beauty, Love and Courage in a Violent Time (Lantern Press, 2005)

Introduction by Andrew Beath

Deena Metzger is a novelist, poet, essayist, ritual practitioner and healer. She works with individuals suffering physical, emotional and spiritual illness and teaches writing and creativity. Deena has developed a training program for the twenty-first century in the creative, political, spiritual and ethical aspects of healing. She and her husband, the writer Michael Ortiz Hill, have brought the African tradition called Daré to North America for the sake of restoring beauty and bringing healing to individuals, community and the natural world. Deena’s latest books include Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing; the novel, The Other Hand, and Writing for Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner Worlds.

In our conversations Deena Metzger told me how her consciousness was transformed as a result of an unexpected shamanic journey in which a visit from an Elephant’s spirit had a major impact on her future. The experience was different from a dream, yet she found herself immersed in an altered state of consciousness. There were no psychoactive plants involved. Deena explained:

"Amanda Foulger, a shamanic practitioner, was, as we would say, showing me some of her medicine and took me on a shamanic journey. I wanted to learn how she worked and she introduced me to what might be called Shamanism 101.

I met the moment with what I can honestly say is a familiar generosity of spirit and equally familiar skepticism. Attempting to meet an animal helper-guide, I expected, because I live at home with hybrid wolves, to meet a wolf, or certainly a North American mammal. So, I was completely stunned on this journey to meet an elephant, who called me into a circle where she was picking up leaves and flowers and petals with her trunk. She was laying them upon an elephant that was lying there dead. Poachers had excised his tusks. He had been her lover; this was her beloved. Her beloved was dead. The elephants in the circle were in deep mourning. Then matriarch looked into my eye. All I saw was her elephant eye, but then I felt something had come through me.

One is not asleep, but one tries to yield to what is happening as if one is dreaming. The task is not to direct the experience, but to see what happens. Something comes to you, almost as if you’re watching a movie. Drumming assists the moment. In this case Amanda was drumming, inducing, as is traditional a trance or dream state that allows one to surrender to the experience.

The experience perplexed me; it really stunned me. I started studying elephants and reading the extraordinary scientific research on their nature and intelligence. Afterward, through my reading I learned about the mourning rituals of elephants and how they can recognize a bone of an ancestor or kin from many years before. When they come upon the dead, they really grieve and participate in grief rituals. The moment astounded me. Afterwards I had a series of elephant dreams, now in the usual sense of dreaming.

After this dream series, I went to Africa for the first time and really wanted to be with the elephants. At Londalozi, a private animal preserve in South Africa next to Kruger Park, we were always three minutes too late to see the elephants and it grieved me that I did not see them.

The Encounter

I went back the next year, and again I had had dreams that were amplified by my research. This time we went to the game preserve in Chobe, Botswana, virtually an elephant preserve. We were five, my husband Michael and myself, Augustine, who is an African shaman, Amanda, and Michele Daniel, a Jungian analyst. We agreed to serve each other’s spirits in turn in a ritual manner.

I had been asking to sit in council with Augustine and his community, and to sit in council with the elephants. I did not know what I meant but I wanted to see if there might be an exchange of mind. When it was my day, I prepared ritually, meditated and prayed, and then we went out into the preserve. We drove in the park and stopped to make offerings. Elephants like oranges, but since only grapefruits were available, I offered them. We stopped for a mother and her calf but though I was so happy to see them, I did not feel we had any particular connection. Then as we were driving, Augustine saw an eagle and stopped the car by the tree where it landed. A half-mile down the road was a bull elephant we had not seen before.

Michael and I were in the back of the pickup and I started chanting my form of prayer, the name of God in Hebrew. The elephant began walking towards us and stopped directly in front of the truck. He twisted his trunk in an impossible manner, and then he untwisted it and he bowed. Slowly, he walked toward us until he was a trunk’s distance away. Michael and I put our hands out so that he could see we had no weapons. In my mind I said: “I know who you are. I am also a member of a holocausted people. I understand what you are suffering, and I am so sorry. Is there any way we can communicate with each other’s minds so that we can change the nature of what’s happening on the planet for the sake of all our peoples?”

He looked in my eyes steadily for at least ten minutes, eye to eye. Then he went to the back of the truck, and we gazed eye to eye for another ten minutes. Then he went to the third side. Again. All in all about 30 minutes passed. He was no more than four feet away. Then he disappeared. We all got out of the truck. I looked at Augustine and I asked, “Did this really happen?”

I was in the back of the truck. I could have touched him easily. Augustine, Amanda and Michelle were in the cab. Michael and I were in the open back. It never occurred to me to be afraid. It was so like dreams that I had had. Then he disappeared, and we were undone. Amanda was weeping. Augustine was flat on the ground in prayer and gratitude. Then we had to mobilize to leave the park before it closed.

As we were driving toward the exit, many elephants started crossing the road toward the river. It is dangerous to get between an elephant and a calf. Augustine wondered what to do. Should we find another way out? I said, “They know we’re here.” We drove cautiously and respectfully as they lined up along the riverbank and seemed to bow their heads and flap their ears for a quarter of a mile.

They were Facing us. Bulls, babies, cows. So we bowed. Now it was all the women in the back of the truck. We bowed, they bowed, and we bowed, and they bowed. The truck was moving very slowly. Afterwards, people asked, “What happened to you when the elephant was with you? What did he ‘say’?” I wasn’t aware of anything happening. But it was when we came back to the U.S. that I started the community gatherings called Daré.

The One Mind of Creation

I think that it was Mandlovu consciousness that was transmitted. Mandlovu means female elephant, and also elephant spirit, in the Ndebele language. What was transmitted may have been an understanding of the profound intelligence and nature of herd mind, where each individual contributes his or her intellect and idiosyncratic knowledge to what becomes the one mind of the herd. So even that solitary bull, miles and miles and miles away, is part of the herd and connected to it.

The animals participate in a dynamic intelligence that is constantly forming and reforming from the input of the individuals. This became our model for Daré. I believe it came to me through spirit, through the elephants and not through a rational process of knowing, and I believe that we are now, as a community, in a field of intelligence with them.

That is the wisdom that I’ve come to realize – there’s a constant dynamic between myself and whomever I meet, a vibrant form that includes the invisible, the visible, the animals, and the people. My motivation is to attempt to make the connection between our minds for the sake of the whole.

Intention Is a Critical Element

The experience did depend upon intent. Michael and I are returning to Africa soon. I will be making a special trip to Chobe to see if I can reconnoiter with this elephant whom we now call the Ambassador. He may or may not appear, but there is something important about the intent to honor this relationship that much. At the very least, I think it will create something in me. Whether it affects the outer world or not, whether it actually touches the Ambassador, it does create something in me. On the other hand, the Ambassador may be calling me, may be initiating all of this.

The experience may be the result of the Ambassador’s intent. I may have nothing to do with it except to yield to him. But what is also important is that this is not a private experience, because Mandlovu-inspired Darés (community gatherings) are happening, and we are witnesses to the ways people are being shaped and changed by them.

And while we only meet one Sunday a month, I see people carrying Mandlovu mind – which you could also call Daré mind – outside of the event in the way they treat others with such kindness and consideration. People are meeting each other by asking: What is the need here? What can we offer to meet it? How can we carry each other, care for each other? It is so sweet and so reciprocal."

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