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6 Tips for Learning Hard Lessons

Photo by Felipe Neves
God gives us each a song. ~Ute proverb

Often I am woken up by the songs of coyotes howling in the predawn. It might be a single, mournful wail, but more often the entire desert hillside comes alive with the yipping chorus.

It’s a beautiful, eerie song that evokes something ancient and primal, almost like a genetic memory stretching back to the beginning of time.

As well as hear them, I also see them frequently. Wild and furtive, a coyote darts across the path during my morning walk, where I see her hiding among the sage and bitter brush watching me with wary eyes.

I wonder what she thinks. If it’s pure survival instinct, why doesn’t she run? Has the pack come to recognize me over the past two years as I walk several times a week along Rattlesnake Trail that winds up the hill by a cattle ranch, the same territory they occupy?

According to the National Geographic website, coyotes once lived mainly on open deserts and prairies, but now they are at home virtually anywhere on the North American continent and even into Mexico and South America.

One dodged my car late at night in downtown San Francisco, and I’ve heard reports of them in New York’s Central Park. They must be the most adaptable animals in the world.

The Animal & the Myth

Coyote myths figure prominently in the lore of nearly every Native American tribe. The Paiute, Modoc and Pitt River tribes where I live all have stories about his origins and escapades.

He’s both a creator and destroyer. He has unworldly wisdom and is so foolish and irresponsible that he’s constantly getting himself and others into trouble. He is the ultimate anti-hero, charismatic and crafty with a voracious appetite and sex drive.

There’s nothing straightforward about the coyote. He’s a shadowy figure, and like a smoky mirror points out our human foibles with tricks, contradictions and bad manners.

Coyotes are opportunists and well-deserving of their trickster reputation. A single coyote might lure in its prey while the others hide in the brush, waiting to pounce.

Some of the ranchers here probably think I’m overly sentimental and romantic about this wild and unpredictable animal. But I respect the animal and enjoy the legend.

Coyote Magic & Lessons

The coyote forces me to look more honestly at myself. A coyote lesson is not always easy, but it’s usually valuable.

In the early morning before the sun has broken through the clouds, I like to sip my coffee and ponder metaphors and archetypes while the coyotes sing the day into existence.

But even if you don’t live with these amazing creatures in your backyard, you can still make friends with the coyote spirit inside you and learn the lessons she has to teach us.

Here are six tips I’ve learned for keeping coyote magic alive my life:

1. Embrace the Darkness

We can learn much about ourselves by going to the dark places we all have inside. For many of us, this is where our creative magic comes from.

We don’t need to stay there all the time. And we don’t need to wallow in despair while we’re there.

It’s a place to learn. And when we come through, we’ll appreciate the lighter side of life even more.

2. Be Adaptable

The coyote probably wouldn’t choose to live in New York City, but the near annihilation of wolves, the coyote’s main predator, has led to over-population, and human encroachment has pushed the coyote out of many of her original habitats.

But this wild animal has learned to change and adapt and is now thriving.

If you’re a hard-headed person like I am, sometimes a better tactic is to learn to adjust to your environment rather than expect your surroundings to adjust to you.

And when you can do that, the world opens up, and you can experience magic you’d have never been able to see otherwise.

3. Stay Wild

I’m not thinking of this in terms of getting wild and crazy but rather to cultivate a certain healthy wariness.

If you have trouble with boundaries, take a lesson from the coyote. Step back and assess the situation before opening your heart and soul to someone new.

Boundaries give you the space to cultivate your own brand of magic and embrace the mysteries of your life.

4. The Pack Counts

A lot of us have the image of the lone coyote running through the darkness, but real coyotes live in packs. Usually, the pack is a family unit but may include others as well.

The pack hunts and lives together. They find solace in one another and realize their survival depends on cooperation.

When you have people whom you can depend on, you’re freed up to explore yourself and your surroundings in a way you can’t when you’re constantly on guard or fighting to survive.

5. Laugh at Yourself

The trickster coyote is known for screwing things up, but he never lets it slow him down. Don’t take life too seriously.

Being able to laugh at yourself opens us up to learning the lessons we need in life to access our inner-most selves — to self-actualize.

Once Coyote Man made love to Porcupine Woman and ended up with a dick full of quills. If Coyote can laugh at himself and move on, so can you.

6. Dance and Sing Under the Full Moon

Trust me on this.  You’ll be glad you did.

How do you deal with difficult lessons? How do you welcome magic into your life?

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About the author

Leslie Jordan Clary is a freelance writer, photographer, online college instructor and editor of Our Daily Zen newsletter. A global nomad, she now lives quietly on the high desert with family of rescue animals. For freelance writing services, see her website.

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3 thoughts on 6 Tips for Learning Hard Lessons

  1. Hello Leslie,

    I really enjoyed this post, thank you for sharing it.

    I have recently discovered the power of “embracing the darkness” myself.

    For me, that has looked like allowing “bad” qualities into my personal identity. In the past, I spent way too much energy and time beating myself up every time I strayed even a tiny bit from my ideal self. When I really embrace all sides of myself, I feel so much better. (Note: this is not the same as giving myself permission to behave badly).

    I don’t know if this is exactly what you meant, but this is what I was reminded of when I read your post. :)
    Thanks again,
    ~Katharine

  2. Thank you for this, Leslie! “Embracing the darkness” has been such a key for me. When we deny that shadow side, it effectively owns us. But by bringing it out, embracing it, we can use the energy while dealing with the less-than-stellar parts of ourselves.
    Enjoyed this!

  3. Hey Leslie,

    I want to howl a the moon with a pack a coyotes. We don’t have coyotes in Australia, but your writing has me sipping a coffee on a porch before the sun has risen, enjoying the eerie presences of these wild animals.

    They are opportunists and tricksters, what a wonderful reputation they have. I would like to be categorised under these banners myself. I think I might try and take some of this and when writing attempt to use the opportunity to create like a coyote. What a wonderful post. Thank you.

    Rachel.

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