I’ve always liked snow leopards. I can remember discovering them in a “Big Cats” book in my elementary school library and thinking they were just the Best Cats Ever.
Snow leopards don’t have huge human fan bases like some other wild cats do, and I think that’s because they keep a relatively low profile. They’re not known for running at amazing speeds, living in large prides, terrorizing small villages or stealing farmers’ livestock. They’re very quiet; snow leopards can vocalize, but they can’t roar. They don’t have high- contrast stripes or spots, or big fluffy manes. They’re so solitary and secretive it’s hard to find them (experts can only guess at their population sizes), and that’s in the event you’d find yourself in their stomping grounds in the rugged mountains of southeastern and central Asia.
Suffice it to say that snow leopards aren’t ones for self- promotion. You might occasionally see them featured in a book or magazine, but they’re almost NEVER on TV. They just aren’t one of the “popular kids” of the wild cat kingdom. But I think that’s probably a big part of what’s keeping them alive. For all kinds of reasons.
As a kid I appreciated these cats’ solitary nature and their private, non-flashy manner of making their way in the world. I thought their subtly spotted coats were beautiful and their facial markings made them look like wise old men instead of scary predators. (Plus they had big, wide feet — this is something I could relate to on personal level. Only they wore them a lot better than I did. Or do. Sigh.) I don’t know that I was consciously aware of it as a child, but I’m sure I must have seen a bit of myself in the snow leopard and that’s a big part of why I was drawn to them.
Now, when I was little, every animal — stuffed, imaginary and living — had a first name, and for snow leopards, the name was always “Kyle.” I don’t remember picking that name out. It just came to me, and it felt right. So every time I’d see an image of a snow leopard in a book or magazine, in my head I would hear and see the printed name “Kyle.” (Yes, it sounds weird, I know. Welcome to my world.)
The nature of my connection to snow leopards finally became clear to me when I was taking a course on animal totems that was being taught by my friend-and-mentor, Denise Povernick. In the third week of this class we were exploring the attributes of our animal totems of the West. (This concept is shared in Jamie Sams’ and David Carson’s Medicine Cards deck and companion book.) The West totem helps us get in touch with our personal truths and inner answers — not societal or cultural, but our knowledge of what’s right for us — and illuminates the path to attaining our personal goals. After discussion of the significance of this totem, class participants went about working with their oracle decks to identify their respective animal totems. Guess who showed up.
We were using Steven Farmer’s Messages from your Animal Spirit Guides decks (beautiful deck in case you’re interested). With cards facing down so we couldn’t see the images on them, we shuffled our decks until we felt ready to select the card that intuitively felt right. I pulled my card and there it was, the Snow Leopard. “KYLE” rang loudly in my head. The subtext on the card read, “Take time out of your usual life and spend it in solitude.” I just smiled. I was delighted, and not surprised.
For the past several years I’ve worked from home by choice. A lot of people might find that lonely or isolating, but I love it. I had always felt a bit stressed- out working in conventional office environments with open work spaces. All the neighboring activity and conversations made it hard for me to think. When I was given the opportunity to work from home I jumped at it. The difference was like night and day. I was calmer. I was happier. I still interacted with people but I was able to get some solitude and silence to recharge my batteries, work through problems, and think clearly. I was able to function at my best.
I’m not a complete loner but sometimes… well… I just need to be alone. Carl Jung called it “introversion.” (My more extroverted friends call it “no fun.”) It’s not about being antisocial, shy, or not liking to be around other people. For people like me, it’s about disengaging from the outside world in order to get re-grounded. Creating that head space is our survival skill for keeping up with the manic pace of our lives. And when we get that space we’re happier and friendlier people. (Good to know: Introverts are actually better at being around other people if we have a block of time where we just don’t have to. So please don’t take it personally if we occasionally skip what promises to be a great party. You’ll be glad we didn’t go. Seriously.)
So how does Kyle function in my life? You could say he’s kind of a feedback mechanism.
When I’m in my groove I can sense him in the distance, perched on a cliff, tail swinging slowly from side to side, just hanging out with me from his vertical, mountainous world. He doesn’t say much, but then he doesn’t need to – we both get the silence thing. His being relaxed confirms that I am, as well, so that I’m in a good frame of mind to think through issues, make decisions, and so on.
He also reminds me when I really should NOT make a decision or take action. If I’ve been running around too much without a break and I’m feeling depleted, but someone is pressing me to make a decision, he subtly sounds an alarm. I’ll sense this image of him walking up the cliff, turning back and silently saying, “You ready to go now?” He lets me know when I’m off my game and that I need to stop, disengage, get some quiet time alone to think clearly, and then make the decision.
Believe it or not, he also lets me know when I’ve been holed up too long and need to get out of my head and get some interaction with others. Like right now. Kyle’s getting kind of antsy. “You need to step away from that thing. Let’s go find somebody to play with. And, hey, how about some ice cream, too…”
Gotta go. I’ll write more next week.
*I titled this blog entry in homage to Bernard Waber’s books about Lyle the Crocodile. The second in the series is titled Lyle, Lyle Crocodile. When my daughter was little I can’t tell you how many times I read this book to her at bed time. We both loved the idea of having animal companions that are like our best friends.