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Omens & Portents:
The Dance of the Lizard and the Humming Bird
  I was walking along one day last spring, in the oak and bay covered hills north of San Francisco, when suddenly a small lizard darted out from beneath a shrub to my right. In the same moment, a humming bird flew out from the same shrub, and hovered in my path about a foot above the lizard. The lizard froze in its tracks. Then it darted forward a few inches, and the humming bird followed, a delicate thing of beauty to me, perhaps something very different to the lizard. The lizard darted back towards the shrub, then froze again as the humming bird followed, maintaining its ominous position directly above it. Finally, after continuing this dance for several moments, the lizard made a dash for the safety of the shrub, and the humming bird flew on to other things. The event was so startling and delightful, and played out so close to me, that I was instantly drawn into the connection.

Often, when we see things in nature that arrest our attention in this way, there can be some spiritual significance waiting for us to discover it. In shamanism, with its age-old teachings about the interconnectedness of all things, it can become second nature for us to follow up on unique or unusual experiences like this with a journey, or a divination practice, to ask if there is something there for us to learn. Often the reverse can happen. We might be holding a question in our hearts, or asking for wisdom about a decision we’re making, and something in nature will hold an answer for us. It could be an animal or a bird we see, or some event like the one I described. It can be a sound like a sudden clap of thunder or crashing wave, or a sight of striking beauty in the night sky. If our hearts are open, we will not miss it.

The words ‘omen’ and ‘portent’ come to us from Latin, and have been imbued through the centuries with mysterious and sometimes dark connotations. An omen is thought to be a bad omen, a portent foretells something calamitous, and both words have supernatural overtones. Strictly speaking, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, both words refer to signs that are spiritual in nature, and can presage either positive or negative events. In indigenous cultures, shamans have many different techniques for acquiring knowledge from things they see in nature, and they understand that the knowledge comes from the spirits. Through time and practice they have learned to read the signs and interpret the significance of them for their communities. Our tendency to look for meaning in dramatic things we see in nature is as old as humanity itself, and even in our times, our connection with nature can be a rich source of wisdom for us.


The more I learn and practice shamanism, the more I see that this quest for connection through nature is far from unidirectional. As often as not - maybe more often - it is the spirits who are seeking connection with us. Have you ever had the experience of something in nature happening so often that you finally get the idea that someone might be trying to get your attention? My favorite example of this is when I’m doing a Power Animal retrieval for a client. I’ll tell them who the animal spirit is that I’ve brought to them, and they’ll say, “I just saw one of those on my way here!”, or “I’ve been seeing those every day for the last week!”, or “Every time I’m going on an important trip, I see one of those flying along the road.” If you’ve had something like this happen to you, my guess is, it’s the spirits who are trying to create connection with you.

For myself, I asked my spirit teacher if there was a message for me in the dance of the lizard and the humming bird. Why was the lizard afraid of the humming bird, I wondered, when it clearly had the devoted attention and company of such a beautiful creature? “The humming bird is like Life,” my teacher explained. “You’re like the lizard.” Message received.

Here’s an invitation for you. The next time you see something remarkable in nature, especially if it happens more than once, try a journey or your favorite divination technique, and ask if there is information there for you. And the next time you’ve got a big decision to make, or a situation you really need the wisdom to handle, try taking a walk in nature. Hold your question in your heart, and just see what happens.

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