The theft of wildness.
Last summer while visiting my family’s favorite spot in Maine, my little one Adrian and I were joyfully clambering over some of those ancient glacier-scraped rocks on the shoreline by our cottage.
Alas, we were quite shocked when came upon a dead harbor seal pup who had washed up on the shore of our little inlet. I took note of her gentle, glowing black eyes and beautiful silky, mottled skin. And I was very upset, but more concerned about A’s response to this traumatic sight.
My little one calmly replied, “it’s ok, Mommy. It’s part of Nature.”
So we decided to let Nature follow her own course, and knew that soon enough the lost pup would return to sea when the tide rose again.
Little did I know that that sad, beautiful seal was a harbinger of a tidal wave of transitions and transformations.
I was about to be faced with illness, anxiety, a move to a new state, and a bevy of big life questions with agonizingly slow responses. I spent the vast majority of my time of the past eight months or so wandering around in a kind of sacred, painful confusion, holding onto the knowing that something crucial was unfolding, and that some truth will be revealed, and this insanity couldn’t possibly last forever… right?
(I know I am not the only one.)
Just about everything in my life seemed kind of muddled. I was seesawing between the explosive and unpredictable yang energy of new creative surges, and the yin energy of swimming through the healing and transformation that was happening under the surface.
I had no sense, when we climbed those rocks in Maine, what that little seal pup would come to represent. Because a few weeks ago, I had a remarkable dream… about seals.
The Theft of our True Nature
I dreamt that I was sleeping (in my own dream!), and awakened by two very enthusiastic seal pups snuffling my tired face and nudging me awake in my very own dream bed. It was as though the seals were saying:
“You’re awake! you made it! we are so proud of you! we love you!!”
The dream was so wonderful, when I woke up I laughed and cried at the same time. It felt like a Victory Dream.
Synchronistically, an acquaintance had suggested that I read the myth about seals—a symbol for the wild soul—in Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ magnificent book, Women Who Run With Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.
I almost died when she mentioned this: I had literally bought that book (for two bucks) a few months earlier, not really sure why. (I always say that books are my spiritual love language. Do they talk to you, too?)
So I gladly sat down to read the story entitled “Sealskin, Soulskin.” And I cracked into a million pieces. The story is about a seal-woman who is the victim of a theft.
In the story, there is a lonely man rowing at night and comes upon the sight of wild women dancing under the moonlight. In his desperate loneliness and admiration of their beauty, he steals what seems to be one of their hides, lying close to where they are dancing, and he remains hidden in the darkness to wait.
When the women are finished dancing, they redon their pelts and slip back into the water. But there is one remaining who is frantically trying to find her sealskin, the one stolen by the man. He appears and says to her, now aware of his powerful position: I am so lonely, come and be my wife.
She observes the man—and the situation—and replies, I will stay with you for seven summers, then I must return to my home. (You can read a shortened version of the entire story summarized below.)
In stealing the sealskin, the man has stolen her wildness. Her true nature is held hostage. And so she lives for some time separated from the sea and her wildness. As time passes, she begins to… dry up.
But the woman knows herself. She understands that she will not survive. Yet her life is very complicated: there is a child. Ultimately, she knows that she must do the unthinkable.
She must retrieve her precious belonging and return to the sea. She must honor her true nature, or else she will perish. She leaves the child and returns to the sea, and thus she is returned to life.
Honoring Inner Wildness
This is not a tale pertaining to only women, or relegated literally to one-on-one relationships, but rather a tale of how we become unwilling victims of a personal Theft.
“there is in the individuation processes of almost everyone at least a one-time and significant theft. Some people characterize it as a theft of their “great opportunity” in life. Others define it as a larceny of love, or a robbing of one’s spirit, a weakening of the sense of self. Some describe it as a distraction, a break, an interference or interruption of something vital to them: their art, their love, their dream, their hope, their belief in goodness, their development, their honor, their strivings.” (p. 262)
One need not have dreams about seals in order to receive this particular message. My seal experience awoke me to my own theft (and subsequent desiccation). And this conscious awareness signaled a profound turning point, the denouement of my personal Wild Woman myth.
I needed to reclaim what I had not even realized had been stolen when I was dancing under the moonlight.
My theft was the value of my very own nature.
I had lost trust in myself. In my own knowing. In my feelings. In my wisdom, mental gifts, and intuitive superpowers. I was led to believe that my nature was weak, my needs were unnecessary, and my sensitivity was untrustworthy.
It took some time, but I see now. I understand. I recognize the unwilling bargain I made with the thief of the World. And now, in the present, it is time to unlearn what I was taught, and relearn how to be Wild. That is, I must find my sealskin.
And thus we are charged, as conscious adults navigating the waters of life: do we choose to honor our truest nature, or allow ourselves to slowly dry up?
The seal-woman is wise, willing, and courageous.
We are those things, too.
She is a part of nature, she knows the ways of both land and water.
We are those things, too.
She is self-knowing, she is self-honoring, at all costs.
We are those things, too.
My heart still breaks for that seal pup on the beach, and the mother who lost her innocent babe. I don’t believe in “bad omens,” but I am deeply aware of the interconnectedness of life. That lost little seal was a symbol of my very own childhood lostness.
The past few months have been very difficult, but utterly necessary. Frankly, I’m amazed at what has transformed. I am so grateful for my seal victory dream. Because after the fear, confusion, deconstruction, and sacrifice…
I retrieved my sealskin.
Maybe I’ll meet you back in the sea?