How A Coyote Returned Me to My Mindfulness Practice
I took an eight week course in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction based on the teachings of Jon Kabat-Zinn a few years back. I have been at best, a part-time practitioner ever since. Perhaps I would meditate three or four times a week for five to ten minutes. Maybe twenty percent of the time I would strive to remind myself on my walks to notice the nature around me instead of the notions in my head. I remembered the benefits of a dedicated MBSR practice, but life just got in the way.
I have experienced some major life shifts in the last few months. I left my well paid position as a senior leader at a local nonprofit to strike out on my own. Our second and last child went off to college, leaving us empty nesters. Throw in perimenopause and a husband whose company is not doing well and you get the complete picture. I know that particularly with perimenopause, meditation can be more effective than medication, so I had made a bigger effort in the last few weeks to meditate. I hadn’t tried to re-incorporate mindfulness practice into the rest of my life until an encounter with an injured Coyote dramatically reminded me why I should.
It was 4:30pm on a Monday. One of the advantages of my new profession is that I work from home. I took a break to take our dog Hanna for a short walk around the neighborhood. Lost in my thoughts of how I could help some potential clients, I was paying no attention whatsoever to my surroundings.
As we headed down a hill, a coyote crossing the road up ahead caught my eye and brought me back to the present. ‘A coyote’ I thought, and didn’t think much more, except that I noticed that this coyote had blood all over its back right hind quarter. We have had coyote in our neighborhood before and Hanna and I have encountered one a few times. Each prior time, the coyote either did not notice us at all or if it did, it made quick eye contact and continued on its way. This is what I expected this coyote to do and so while we slowed down on our walk, we did not turn around or stop. By then the coyote had crossed the road and was crossing through a yard when it made eye contact with us.
After making eye contact, it surprised me by suddenly changing course, crossing back over the yard and into and across the road to shadow us. Needless to say, I was now fully present and mindful. My dog started making the strangest noises and she and I turned around and started running back up the hill, while was screaming “help, help!” No one was out and about at that time. We ran back up that hill and around the corner to the main road. Luckily, the coyote did not follow us back onto the main road. Running for our lives had demonstrated to me in a dramatic and quick fashion just how out of shape I was.
The long and short of it was that I called 911 and reported the incident after heading off a boy who was about to head down the same road, coming back from school. Hanna and I returned home and Hanna spent the next hour running from window to window in our house, agitated and barking.
Animal control was notified but never came out. In speaking with them a week later, they informed me that unless the coyote was immobile, they could not do anything. Rather, the state Department of Environmental Protection should have been called. Two male joggers had also reported being chased by an injured coyote around the same time and in the same area. There have been coyote sightings on my street since. There was also a truly frightening story of a coyote attacking a pitbull mix dog while on its leash out for a walk with its owner at 10am in the morning in a town twenty minutes away.
Not being fully aware of my surroundings, fully fit or equipped with any defenses has taught me to change aspects of my life. I have really stepped up my exercise and fitness routine. The truth is many of my walks had not had me breaking a sweat. I had started lifting weights again and have now brought new attention to the importance of muscle building. I wasn’t going to let this coyote encounter stop me from walking Hanna who loves being outdoors. I purchased pepper spray the next day and attached it to her leash. While I understand that it is not recommended often because improper use of it will mean that you and your dog get affected by it more than your target, just having it is a reminder to me to be mindful and aware of my surroundings and that if needed, I will use it in very deliberate manner.
The wildlife biologist I spoke with at the environmental protection department explained that the increase of coyotes and the many bears we have also seen in our neighborhood are due to the drought in our region. That injured coyote has reminded me that the drought in my mindfulness practice has left me wandering like those coyotes and bears. Returning to my practice will bring me the energy source I need to navigate the major life changes and whatever else I (and Hanna) encounter on the path.