I stayed in her silence. Her red coat stirred slightly in the wind and she stared back at me, still and poised for flight. I stayed in her stillness. I stood at the edge of the lake and she turned from me, to an unseen place along the shore, and barked her unusual bark. I imagined her mate, coiled and waiting in the earthen womb where they would soon lay. I imagined him listening. She barked once more to him, and then ran, very quickly, north.
Fox is clever; Fox is coy; Fox will trick you every time; Fox is quick; Fox is Lithe; Fox will clear out your hen house in one fell swoop; Fox is dogged; Fox will sneak; Fox is not to be trusted.
There is a creature in Japanese myth called Kitsune: a mystical fox of high intelligence, long life, and the ability to change into human form. Only the Kitsune’s tail — or tails, as older, wiser Kitsunes can have as many as nine — remain unchanged and the Kitsune must be careful to keep these hidden. A Kitsune can be clever and deceptive but they are not intrinsically good or bad. Humans were warned to be cautious of a Kitsune, but not dismissive; they were just as likely to grant a valuable gift as they were to offer a crippling curse, and so, despite their dubious natures, it was often worth the risk to entertain one, though warily.
Myth, born of our deepest, shared experiences of life, offers universal insight. Rather than duplicitous, Kitsune’s assumption of the human form can be regarded as an acknowledgement of our own ability to transform our lives. In this, it is important to distinguish that transforming our lives is not the same as transforming who we are. Kitsune assumes a human shell, as have we all, but in doing so, Kitsune is not Human. He experiences the life of a human, but does not mistake his humanness as an identity.
In meditation, I often return to the simple mantra, “I am here, now.” I run it through the fingers of my mind continuously and find rest in the belief that this, more than any of the multiple layers of identity and presentation cloaked around me, is true. I am here, now, and though here and now are always changing, this state of impermanence is also continually available. With calm, open hands, I feel it pass over me like an endless waterfall. Nothing that moves over me stays the same but I will always be in the here and the now; there is no other time or place to be. I can claim to be lonely, happy, or sad; Buddhist, Muslim, or Christian; healthy or sick; I can claim to be a man, but these are all merely impermanent states of being. They are streams of water in a waterfall that is continually changing. It can be helpful to recognize the state that we are in, but any attempt at grasping these things and cloaking them around us as an identity, or repelling them as something disdainful and to be thrown aside, is ultimately futile; water has a proclivity to move. Every experience we have, and every name we bear, eventually falls away from us, and although the occurrence of a difficult experience or the adoption of an uncomfortable name can seem too adhesive to ever be shed, it adheres to us only in our imagination.
We are not who we say we are. We name ourselves by the impermanence of passing thoughts, emotions, and states of being; by claims of accomplishment and competence; by our thoughts or the thoughts we imagine that others have of us; by our relationships and our reputations; by our shame or pride; by fear; by the memories of what we have done, or have had done to us. But we are not who we say we are.
As children we heard our names spoken clearly. We were called shy, sad, happy, quiet, funny, smart, difficult, bright. We were not who they said we were but we began to weave in our minds the cloak we would wear for many years after, and although many of us carry it still, and though we have continued to weave new names into the fabric, and though we have attempted to change the pattern to better suggest the person we would like to be, our earliest threads often hold fast. This is not to say that these names must all be cast aside, only that a cloak exists to serve the one who wears it, not to define her. And if a name does not serves the one who bears it, a choice can be made.
We are not who we say we are, but it is not wrong to say these things. I can say, “I am a man,” and recognize that I am claiming an impermanent state of being. In this way, I am served by the knowledge that a stream of water is flowing over me without deluding myself into identifying with that water. I can say “I am afraid,” and be relieved to know that fear is not who I am, it is only what I am experiencing, and as something experienced, I know that it will change. Furthermore, with compassion and attention, I can be the one to change it; I can choose to experience something different. I can change, not who I am intrinsically, but the state of being that I am experiencing in the present moment. This is not always easy; often it feels impossible, but it begins to feel more possible as I detach myself from what I am experiencing, and recognize that I am not that experience.
I begin with, “I am here, now.” And then I ask myself, believing in the mutability of externalities, how I want to live, but I ask it only for the present moment. Knowing that how I want to live is born of choice, I experience the freedom to live according to what I deeply believe is true, rather than restricting myself by the delusions that have so often defined me. I do not need to live according to the contrived, societal definitions of “Man” or “Christian”; I do not need to live according to the lingering memories of things I have done or have had done to me; I do not need to live by an experienced propensity for sadness or anxiety; I do not need to live by any of the labels I have adopted, striven for, or allowed to be placed upon me. Here and now, I am entirely free. Here and now is always.
Like Kitsune, transformation is fully available to all of us. This becomes easier to accept when we identify with the immutable, endless mystery of divinity at our core and see transformation as an alteration of the external aspects, which we may, in the past, have regarded as our identity, but which we see now as the ever-changing experiences passing over us. Our identity is eternal, but the lives we live are continually defined and undefined by a quality of impermanence. This can be frightening, but only if we identify with the life that we are living, which is destined to continually change and eventually move through death.
It can be difficult to release ourselves from the layers of identifying experiences, names, ambitions, and memories that we have adopted over the years. Once started, it is an ongoing process of uncovering, which continually asks us to return to the state of awareness that frees us from judgement and into compassion. To even begin seeing ourselves in this way can be difficult enough; beginning to see others in the same way can seem more difficult still. The truth, however, is that they are one in the same. The people whom we regard with hostility, mistrust, or annoyance are no different than we are. Each one of them, like us, is capable of changing his life in any number of radical ways. More importantly, who they truly are, and who we truly are, beneath every frail attempt at false identity, need not change at all. We are innately perfect, but to see ourselves as such requires a degree of such complete, non-judgemental compassion that everyone is included. Between us and them, there is no difference.
Take in your mind the one from whom you still hold back your love. See that the identity you are imagining is not an identity at all; it is a fragile delusion, an inky cloud of confusion, wrapped insidiously around a being as perfect as you.
I watched her dance upon the lake, and I understood how her tail could be thought to paint the northern lights across the sky. And the crow, dancing with her like the night, swooped and rolled in quick delight. Even their distinct forms, so different from one another, were never static. With swift impermanence, she leapt and twisted. And his constant movement, necessitated by flight, filled the space between them with careful grace. Their dance was singular; their forms were vastly distinct. There were two of them dancing, and there was one, and they were perfect.