All stories are about wolves. All worth repeating, that is.
Anything else is sentimental drivel.
That night my meditation ended quite differently.
That night some dark, sad stuff had been arising and there I sat, again, just trying to hold it all. Meditation done, I went to bed. As I was slipping into that liminal state between wakefulness and sleep, something strange started to happen: I felt as if a huge dark cloud was shifting out of my body. It surprisingly took the shape of a large black wolf seated beside me on my bed. “The psyche speaks to us in pictures”, I reminded myself. I took a deep breath and just tried to go with it. The wolf leaned down and started devouring me. As quickly as the experience arose, it dissipated, the pieces breaking up and blowing away. The moment was over and I slipped into sleep.
The next day, I received an email from a friend asking me if I was interested in joining a creative project that has been going on for 29 years every summer in the deep Canadian woods. It’s called The Wolf Project.
The Wolf Project was initiated by Canadian contemporary composer R. Murray Schafer who is well known for promoting the inherent wealth of the natural soundscape. It began as a bit of a creative lab for Schafer along with his singers, production staff, and friends. The basic idea was to return to the source of sound and the source of all, nature, in order to tap primal energy for artistic inspiration and transformation. While half the week is devoted to creating artistic "encounters" and their performances, the focal point is really a ritualistic piece of operatic theatre created by Schafer and company called "And the Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon".
The basic story: the Great Wheel of Life is imbalanced due to the arrogance of humans. The polar archetypal energies of the Wolf and The Princess of the Stars must be united so harmony can be restored. Wolf rages throughout the world through various incarnations seeking the love of the Princess for healing.
For psychological pioneer Carl Jung, archetypes were instinctual behaviour patterns that became manifest as images, myths, and dreams. These universal patterns, sourced from the collective unconscious, show up in our conscious cloaked in different guises relevant to that particular person, place, and era.
The Wolf, as archetype, is a rich one. It symbolizes, among other things, our instinctual defensive and aggressive natures. From Egyptian to Scandinavian mythology, in fact the world over, the Wolf resurfaces as the embodiment of our primal, protective wildness.
Within the human being, this archetypal energy is sometimes represented as the Hunter. (Who is also a character in “And the Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon”.) The ancient Yogic tradition has the hunter Rudra who is the Rigvedic God of the Storms. His story is a telling one. Initially nameless, he goes to the depths of the forest and he screams. Brahma, the Creator God, thus names him Rudra, which means “The Howler” in Sanskrit. (The adjectival form “raudra” also means fearsome, awesome, cruel, and violent.) But Rudra’s suffering continues unabated. He weeps inconsolably. His tears summon the purificatory rains and Brahma recognizes him as a Healer. His energies transformed, Brahma bestows Rudra a boon of seven other names, each representing an aspect of his being. Among these names is “Shiva” which means “Blessing” or “Auspiciousness”.
This beneficial, transforming aspect of consciousness is personified within Schafer’s “And the Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon” as The Princess of the Stars. She is drawn from the stories of the Cheyenne and Ojibway people who revere Star Woman, an aspect of the providing Earth. But throughout the ages and across the globe, the star has been a powerful symbol of an archetypal energy within consciousness that guides us, a symbol of our own inner wisdom. In Sanskrit the world for star is “Tara” and is derived from the Sanskrit root 'tAr', signifying protection. Within Yogic mythology, the deity Tara suckles Shiva after he has drunk a poison unleashed from the depths of the Ocean of Consciousness. Her maternal instinct saves him and also restores balance to the world. Within Buddhism, Tara is a female Buddha and the embodiment of compassion.
But these archetypal, instinctual patterns don't just manifest as images of course, they also have sound forms and Tara, as an aspect of Shakti, represents the feminine animating power of the universe and particularly the power of the Word. "She" is the multitude of possibilities and meanings that shine through sound. The Princess of the Stars/Tara/Whatever You Wish to Call "Her" holds the capacity for unification and transcendence through the Word.
At the other end of the spectrum is the capacity for primitive sound to release us from our emotional fetters. Such was the anecdote one of my private students related upon my return from The Wolf Project. Before I had gone away, I had given her a garland of sounds thought to be a powerful method to unblock the throat. “How did it go?” I asked. “Fine. But one day I just wanted to scream and scream. So I did! I hope the neighbours didn’t mind”, she quipped. I smiled to myself for Wolf also represents the primitive power of the voice to release and transform emotions through primal screams, wailing, and guttural sobs.
While I was writing this blog I happened to pick up an old meditation journal from just a few years ago replete with visual sketches and written entries. I would jot down any images, sounds, thoughts, perceptions that arose during meditation or after. The over 500 entries pay testament to the fact that it was a particularly intense period of my life with lots of changes to navigate. There are sketches of vast landscapes, images of destruction, and images of growth. I smiled as I noticed most of them have a star shining on high.
But the very last entry in the journal surprised me: “Dream: A large black wolf enters the room and approaches me. I embrace it.”
Sometimes the storms of our lives are short and intense; sometimes we need to navigate longer cycles of unease and uncomfortable transformation. It’s important to remember there are deep aspects of our being that are often “overseeing” this. The kindness of others surely supports us but most importantly it is our own capacity for self-compassion and acceptance that allows us to integrate our emotions and the more challenging components of our being.
Now despite my esoteric leanings I am essentially a practical gal at heart. So how might we actively work towards transmuting the acute anger and defensiveness which may occasionally threaten to consume us? How do we stop it from destroying our capacity for inner harmony and to be in harmony with others?
Schafer advocated getting out into nature:
Listening to the healing sound of the winds,
The beating rain,
The voices of the waters,
The howling of the wolves.
Nature not only inspires, it informs us in the deepest sense of the word. We can even focus so intently that we attune to the implicate order enfolded within things. Such was the experience of the Rishi(ki)s, the ancient forest-dwelling poet-seers, whose sonic revelations have become the Vedas, India's sacred repository of sound.
These revelatory mantras are thought to arise from the deepest, primordial levels of existence. Within the Yogic system, primal vibration becomes sound waves which combine into complex rhythms and harmonies, resulting in natural patterns and forms. Mantras are considered to be the sound forms of these archetypal vibrations. Short mantras, such as the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, pattern powerful movements of energy and encode elemental properties (earth, air, water, fire, ether). Longer mantras may encapsulate and structure qualities of being and states of personality which correspond to the sonic form of psychological archetypes.
Now mantra is often defined as "a tool that protects the mind". Why? As we start to dive into the depths of the unconscious through meditation, mantra provides us with a sort of protection as we begin to encounter the more primal survival aspects of our being: aspects of the Shadow, the Wolf. Mantric sounds also act as ultrasound, purifying the mind-body, resulting in images, inner sounds, and feelings rising to the level of awareness. Through this process of purification, mantras trigger and align ourselves with latent archetypal fields within the psyche resulting in a sense of harmony. So much so, the master Yogi/ni can become consciously aligned with the unified field.
Arising from universal forces, mantra is the language of nature. Schafer understood this elemental connection between nature, sound, and consciousness. By working with these universal patterns manifesting as myth and music, I believe he sought to transform the fabric of consciousness itself. Healing within and without.
Did I experience healing out in the woods that week? I think I did! Whether I was waist deep in water hauling my canoe over a beaver dam, stringing a tarp over the fire in the driving rain, or marvelling at the meteor showers in the presence of my daughter and heartwarming company, my soul felt fortified. What happens to us if we lose the tenuous threadlike connection we currently have with the natural world? I don't want to imagine. So I think I'll take my kidlet canoeing tomorrow, listen to the loons, and marvel at a sunset. Because essentially, that's what the universal creative force is: the impulse for joy, playfulness, and marvel.
If you are curious about harnessing the power of sound for transformation, I will be giving a short talk and chanting/meditation session Thursday, Oct. 12 from 7-8:30pm at Cafe Zephyr, hosted by Transitions NDG. More info here.
Here are my "musings" on mantra and sound as a transformative path.