Ten years ago, when I quit my job in the hospital, I had just been through a series of traumas and I was hurting so badly I didn’t know how to cope. That’s part of why I quit my job—because I was in and out of feeling suicidal and I just wanted to stop hurting. So many of the people I knew were obviously hurting too, but they were trying to cover it up with addictions, overworking, dissociating, and defense mechanisms like denial. I didn’t want to numb or otherwise avoid the painful feelings I was having, but it felt like feeling my pain was going to be a full-time job for a while. My grief was so consuming, and I had stuffed down a decade of past grief alongside it, that I was afraid I’d be flooded if I allowed myself to feel the torrent of grief I could sense was running like a current of rapids under my barely dressed up heart.
When I came back from Bali after the US presidential election, I took a several month hiatus from Facebook because I couldn’t tolerate all the hateful, polarizing energy I felt on both sides of the left/right divide. Even off Facebook, I felt pain in my community. I live in Marin County in the San Francisco Bay area, and a lot of people here consider themselves progressive, loving, and “spiritual.” And yet everywhere I went, I felt this intense hateful energy aimed at Trump voters. While I am not a Trump supporter, I also am not a hater of those who do support him. In fact, my shock at the fact that half of my fellow Americans voted for him made me more curious than upset. Nobody can deny that Trump never even tried to hide his blatant racism, misogyny, narcissism, greed, and childish immaturity. If anything, he was prideful and even rebellious about his behavior and his points of view. Yet that didn’t stop half of our country from voting for him.
When I arrived in Bologna, Italy and saw the hilltop cathedral towering over the small town, I asked an elderly woman who was passing by, “What’s that?” She batted her eyelashes and gave me a beatific smile, as if she were talking about a beloved grandchild. In broken English, she said, “This where Madonna di San Luca lives. You go. You walk.”
I learned from asking around that the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca (Santuario della Beata Vergine di San Luca) is a historic pilgrimage site for those devoted to the Madonna. To make a pilgrimage to honor the Madonna, you walk up the hill to pay your respects. When I asked at my hotel how I would make such a journey, I was given instructions to walk to the 25 bus, then transfer at the Stazione to the 33 bus, then exit at Via Saragozza and walk to the Sanctuary from there. Cool. Easy enough.
After five days on safari in South Africa with my mother on her “bucket list” trip, I felt inspired to write about my practice of interfacing with nature as an oracle, using my safari experience as an example. I shared my practice with several of the safari guides and park rangers I met, and after speaking to them, I wanted to offer a few more opportunities that can help you spiritualize any experience in nature, whether you’re on safari or just going for a hike in the woods.
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?