Schooled by A Stag

Mule Deer Buck standing in the woods

I recently attended an urgent retreat called ReVersing Extinction, where we sought out-of-the-box ways to reverse the accelerating rate of species extinctions. During a break, I found myself in conversation with Stan Rushworth, a Native American teacher and writer of rare power. He told me about an encounter he had some years ago in the forest. He was walking among the trees, unarmed, when he saw a young stag. They looked at one another. As Stan resumed walking, the stag walked parallel to him a short distance away. They were simply enjoying each other’s company, warily, but in growing comfort. This went on for several minutes. Then, for a fleeting second, the thought crossed Stan’s mind, “He would feed my family for a year.” It was so quick, it was barely a thought—nothing more than a recognition—yet in that instant, the stag wheeled around and leapt away.

Stan felt that he had betrayed the stag, the trust, and the beautiful moment of connection. But he was also shocked into a lasting revelation of how little it took for the delicate thread of trust to be broken, at how instantaneously intentions travel, and of their powerful effect.

Stan wrote later, “My grandpa always told me it was instantaneous, but you know how youngsters can be; we don’t believe it really deeply until it happens to us! Sigh.”

In another communication he wrote, “You know, it always strikes me that human to human interaction has exactly the same dynamic, but many forms seem to get in the way of feeling and knowing another’s intentions, and even one’s own, while it should be the priority.”

I asked if he would write the story. He suggested I write it. I said it was his story. He said it was my story now as well. We agreed that in a sense, it was both our stories. So as I write it and share it with you, it becomes yours as well—your experience. Deena Metzger, who hosted the retreat said, “Stories become spirits and begin to live in the field in which the stories exist.” I wanted to add this to the field. I think it’s important.

My telling of it lacks the immediacy of the direct experience Stan had. I can only write of the effect on me, which was an increased awareness of the exquisite sensitivity of animals to energies and intent. It can awaken us to the magic all around. It could rescue us from the numbness brought on by our civilization and our dependence on verbal language. What a loss! How do we bring some of that magic back into our lives? We long for it, even if we don’t realize it. The moment we have a taste of it, it resonates deeply within us. It is part of our heritage.

More about Stan and his writing can be found at his website His books are stunning in their power and beauty.

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