My Soul's Journey with a Cormorant

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When someone says,“I’mgoing on a journey,” I immediately picture a solitary place in nature where one could allow themselves to unravel into a gooey mess of“Idon’t know.” I call this the Soul’s journey. It is the ultimate journey that takes you within yourself, where a deep listening happens and you wake up one day realizing you can no longer ignore the impulses that drive you to Live your most authentic self—even if that means other people judge you.

You’ll be confronted by everything that terrifies you, but it is exactly those experiences that are standing between you and Living your most authentic self. You are tested. It is painful. Maybe you run because it’s just too scary right now, but eventually you are tested again.

There comes a point when it is more painful to continue living as someone you’re not, so you begin to say“yes”to those things which scare you the most, and this is when you begin consciously participating in your Soul’s journey. 2013 was the year I began consciously participating in my Soul’s journey and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought to myself,“Why,oh why didn’t I take the blue pill?”(Formy fellow The Matrix fans). I have been tested in ways I never could have imagined, and through it all, Mother Nature has played a primary role in my unraveling. She always shows up at exactly the right moment, in exactly the right form and guides me to understand something about myself that I hadn’t previously understood. I’ll be honest, it’s often not pretty.

In January 2016, I was walking along Surfside Beach, S.C. and I was in deep contemplation about the state of my life. I felt totally untethered and had for the past three years, but then something up ahead caught my attention. At first, I thought it was one of those huge black trash bags that was buried and only partially sticking out of the sand, but then I realized it was a Cormorant—an aquatic bird that can weigh up to 11lbs who not only flies but also dives and swims underwater to hunt fish. I approached the Cormorant and immediately saw that it was injured but still alive enough to hiss at me. I couldn’t see its injury, but there was blood in the water that was getting drawn back into the ocean as the tide continued rising.

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I felt this immense pain begin to rise up in my chest while at the same time feeling like I was getting slugged in the gut, and I immediately said to myself,“OhMichele, don’t let yourself get attached or upset, it’s going to die anyway. Just keep walking. There’s nothing you can do for it.”

So, I kept walking.

I got about 100 feet away and stopped. I asked myself,“Whatare you afraid of? What are you trying to avoid feeling?” I couldn’t just walk away knowing that dying bird was going to slowly drown as the tide rose; it seemed cruel. I went back and that immense pain in my gut and chest immediately returned. I couldn’t numb it if I was going to engage with this bird and I felt panicked because I didn’t know how to help. I needed towels to wrap it up so I could move it clear of the high tide which was coming in quickly, but I was a good distance from my hotel.

Have I ever mentioned I really dislike beach running?

I ran to my hotel, got towels, ran back, wrapped the Cormorant up and moved it higher on the beach…whew made it. Next part of the plan was to find a veterinarian who might treat an injured sea bird, so I started making calls and to my great surprise, I found one that was a few miles away.

On my way to the vet, I held the Cormorant in my lap. It was wrapped in several white hotel towels(sorrySurfside Beach Hotel!), and it was still bleeding but no longer fighting me. After checking in, a woman called my name. I handed her the Cormorant and explained what happened. She said,“Thegood thing about you bringing it here is that dying from dehydration is a painful experience, and that is what it would have faced had it been left on the beach. If this Cormorant dies, it won’t suffer that pain here.”

A few days later, I was back home still thinking about the Cormorant and how I tried to intentionally numb out my pain by dismissing it. By saying“yes”to that which terrified me the most, I had to acknowledge my own powerlessness to alleviate another living Being’s suffering, and that meant I had to feel the pain of that harsh truth. Mother Nature was teaching me how to“be”with another’s suffering and my own inability and powerlessness to end it. I understand why people choose to keep walking. Feeling powerless to help while witnessing another’s suffering is the worst kind of pain. Who wants to feel that? And yet, my Soul’s journey invited me to confront this.

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In case you are wondering, I called the veterinarian the day after I dropped the Cormorant. The woman told me that it died, but it didn’t suffer, so maybe I helped it a little bit. Because I was willing to feel my own pain, it ultimately gave the Cormorant some relief in its last hours on Earth.

Nine months later, my non-profit, the Center for Earth-Based Healing (earthbasedhealing.org), received its first funding in history. My staff and I offer trauma-informed ecotherapy(nature-based)programs for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. The Cormorant’s gift to me was the awareness that I will feel pain while bearing witness to other’s suffering, but I am strong enough to hold even that, and I needed to learn this about myself if I was going to do the work I do today.