For thousands of years, the indigenous people all over the world have used various forms of oracular knowing in order to seek guidance when they’re feeling lost, confused, stuck or off track. What is an oracle? Merriam-Webster defines “oracle” as “a priest or priestess acting as a medium through whom advice or prophecy was sought from the gods in classical antiquity” or “a response or message given by an oracle, especially an ambiguous one.” What if nature can be your oracular priest or priestess, connecting you to the priest or priestess — the part that just knows the answer — inside yourself?
While the traditional oracle was a mysterious intuitive person, other forms of oracular knowing include Tarot cards, the I Ching, the Norse runes, the casting of the bones in African shamanism, the reading of the coca leaves in Peruvian shamanism, and any number of modern New Age Goddess cards, fairy cards or spirit totem cards.
With the right intention, anything can be used as an oracle — a rock, a cloud, an animal or a waterfall. You could wander out into nature, find a flower that resonates with you, and ask the flower a question from your heart. When you really feel into the flower, you may be surprised how much wisdom that flower has to share with you, once you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Any adventure out into the natural world can be experienced as a sort of oracular reading. This can be done anytime you head out for a hike in the woods, a visit to a waterfall, a trip to the beach, or any experience where you’re away from domestication and venturing into the wildness of nature.
Safari as an Oracle
I just went on safari in South Africa to Londolozi in Sabi Sands and Singita Lebombo in Kruger National Park. It’s been my mother’s life long dream to go on safari in Africa with me, and after deciding not to pursue conventional cancer treatment when she was recently diagnosed with an “incurable” form of leukemia, Mom and I decided to take the risk and venture out to Africa, even though my mother is quite ill and I was just attacked by a pit bull.
Every day on safari, we experienced two game drives — one at sunrise and one at sunset, when the wildlife is most active. Before each safari, we posed a question as a plea for wisdom and guidance from the natural world. I dedicated my first safari to the question, “What do I need to learn in order to minimize the risk of being prey?” I’ve felt preyed upon — by romantic partners, by business partners, most recently by a pit bull that attacked my leg and then, a few days later, a tick that was sucking on my left nipple. I had to wonder, “Do I have a label on my forehead that says, “Bite me?” I suspected I might have a blind spot around this issue, and I prayed that the animals would help bring my blind spots into the light.
Within two minutes of our safari, we arrive at a watering hole where four hippos were submerged underwater, only their eyes scanning the environment. I wonder if there’s a message in this for me. I ask Hippo, “What are you here to teach me?”
Hippo says, “If you want to attract fewer predators, lay low. When you’re out in the open all by yourself, you’re more vulnerable to becoming prey. Don’t be frightened, but consider staying just below the surface for a while as you hone your discernment and learn how to protect yourself. Keep your instincts alert until you know others can be trusted. Take your time ascertaining whether it’s safe to get out of the water.”
As we continue, I notice a large bird flying overhead which looks like a much larger version of the turkey vultures we have in California. Then I notice two more vultures roosting in a tree. Grant, our guide, says this is unusual, to have three different species of vultures all concentrated in one spot. We sit and watch the vultures, and I wonder whether the vultures have a message for me.
I tune in, and Vulture says, “I am opportunistic. I don’t do all the work that the birds of prey do. I am not Eagle. I wait for others to go for the kill, then I swoop in and take advantage of the hard work of others. Please don’t make me wrong for my opportunism. This does not make me evil or worthy of judgment. It is simply my nature to feed off the hard work others do.” I feel the plunk in my gut. It is more in my nature to be Eagle than Vulture, so of course, I attract Vulture.
Mom felt attached to seeing giraffe and rhinos, so we headed off into giraffe/rhino territory, but the game drive had other plans for us. We hit one big wildebeest herd after another. Wildebeest says, “The best way to avoid being prey is to stay in the middle of the herd.”
Next, we unexpectedly found fresh female leopard tracks, heading for the border of Londolozi property. Our guides spent about an hour going back and forth into the bush, following her trail. Her tracks got fresher and fresher, until they headed right to the border, where Grant was certain she could come out of the bush onto the road. Just as we wondered whether she would appear, she strolled right up to us, only about ten feet away. She was lactating. Grant said she would be hunting, trying to feed her cubs during the day, without leaving them for long, vulnerable as they are to predators. She was on the move, stalking a herd of impala, but the lone male impala protecting the large nursing herd starts calling out, making a loud alarm sound. The guinea hens chime in, as do the monkeys. The bush is suddenly blaring with alarm calls, almost like the bush version of an Amber Alert, as every animal that could be prey calls to the others to say, “Predator on the loose! Beware!”
I wonder whether the impala will become prey, but Grant says no. The impala had already signaled to the leopard that he knew she was onto him. I asked Impala to help me, and Impala says, “Do not be afraid, but don’t be naïve either. Like me, you are at risk of being prey, so keep your eyes wide open. If a predator is near you, make it very clear, ‘I’m onto you. I see you. No, you will not take me by surprise.’” Impala advises, “Leopard is a beautiful creature, worthy of love and respect, but do not blindly trust Leopard to be your friend. If Leopard is hungry, you are at risk of being prey. Know this and just be aware of what is true.”
The leopard breaks my heart open with her beauty. She stares right at me and pierces me deep to the core. I ask Leopard if she has a message, and she says simply, “Predators act according to our nature. Do not judge me for preying upon Impala. My cubs are hungry, and most of them will not survive being preyed upon themelves. I am only trying to help them survive.”
Leopard takes my breath away with her grace and grandeur. My heart bursts and I am in tears. Such beauty! Such power! Such poise! Impala makes it away safely. Leopard and her cubs do not get to eat on this hunt. The minute the leopard walks by, the impala go back to grazing and relaxing. The babies in the nursing herd jump around and play. Some of them lie right down and go to sleep. Impala says, “I am not like you humans. I do not make up a story that says, ‘There’s a predator on the loose! We must never sleep! We are all at risk! Caution! Danger!’ No. The minute the threat walks past, let down your guard. Trust. Breathe. Eat. Sleep. Play.”
With little warning, we stumble upon a herd of elephants — maybe 100 of them. I ask Elephant, “What is your message for me?” Elephant says, “There’s safety in a tribe. 100 big strong beasts around you makes it hard for any predator to catch you unaware.” Amidst the crowd of elephants, one lone water buffalo prowls around. Our guide explains that she has somehow been separated from her own herd, but she is safe amidst the elephants. Water Buffalo tells me, “If you happen to get separated from those who keep you safe, find another tribe as quickly as possible. Do not try to navigate life alone. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
As the sun sets and darkness creeps in, Jerry, our tracker, spies a pride of lions, lounging in a cuddle puddle. We do not shine the light on them because one of the lionesses is missing. She is off hunting impala and we don’t want to give the lions away. If she makes a kill, she will share with the rest of the pride. We watch them to see if they all leap up and follow her, but they simply stay in their cuddle puddle, lounging. After a while, she returns empty-handed.
Lioness tells me, “I live in village consciousness. If I am successful in my hunt, I will share with my tribe. If I come home empty-handed, I am still welcomed back into the cuddle puddle.” The lioness lies down with the others, but after lying down, she decides she is not close enough to the pride. She gets up, repositions herself, and plops right on top of another lioness, who moves over to make room for her. They look quite happy, all five of them, curled up as close as they can get.
My little village is made up of lionesses. I can lean on them, and we take care of each other. When we hang out in our cuddle puddles and look out for one another, we are all less vulnerable to predators.
So . . . what did I learn from the animals on this game drive? “We are all predators and we are all prey. We are all doing the best we can and we will act according to our nature. Nobody is immune, and paradoxically, at some level, we are all safe. Anyone can become prey at any time, and this is unavoidable. We can’t control the mystery of life, and we can’t live in perpetual fear of becoming prey. But we can increase our chances of staying safe in this dimension by sticking with a community of like-minded others. We can be discerning and trust our animal instincts. We can stick together in the safety of a herd and call out to other vulnerable creatures when we sense a predator is nearby, everyone looking out for one another.”
The beautiful thing about the animals is that they’re not perseverating over such questions as “How do I avoid being prey?” They’re not strategizing and telling themselves scary stories about all the other animals they knew who lost their lives to terrifying predators. They just stick together. They eat when they can. They sleep when they can. They mate when it’s time. They hunt when they need to. They play — a lot. They rest even more.
So maybe that’s the moral of this story. How do I avoid being prey? “Eat. Sleep. Mate. Play. Hang out with your trusted beloveds. If there’s a predator that saunters by, simply say, “I see you” and keep your distance. Then go back to eating, sleeping, mating and playing.
Thank you Hippo, Vulture, Wildebeest, Impala, Leopard, Elephant, Lion!
What question might you ask to the oracular knowing of nature today?
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Lissa Rankin, MD, New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine, The Fear Cure, and The Anatomy of a Calling is a physician, speaker, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, and mystic. Passionate about what makes people optimally healthy and what predisposes them to illness, she is on a mission to merge science and spirituality in a way that not only facilitates the health of the individual, but also uplifts the health of the collective. Bridging between seemingly disparate worlds, Lissa is a connector, collaborator, curator, and amplifier, broadcasting not only her unique visionary ideas, but also those of cutting edge visionaries she discerns and trusts, especially in the field of her latest research into “Sacred Medicine.” Lissa has starred in two National Public Television specials and also leads workshops, both online and at retreat centers like Esalen and Kripalu. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her daughter. She blogs at LissaRankin.com and posts regularly on Facebook.