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Following the Spiritual Path of the Coyote

A coyote looking at the camera

Getty/seb-artz

“I’m in awe of the way coyotes practice mindfulness in their day-to-day lives. They display a calm awareness of everything that’s going on around them and give complete attention to what they’re experiencing on a moment-to-moment basis.”

Coyotes roam freely in the open spaces of New Mexico. Finding them on a church lot in a busy part of Albuquerque, however, is a little surprising. Even though the church is located between two busy streets, the coyotes seem to be quite comfortable in their surroundings. They spend most of their time in the natural area around the church but can be seen, at times, walking on the sidewalks and approaching the doors and windows of the church.

I watch the coyotes from my home across the street and reflect on how their way of going to church may teach us about the deeper aspects of worship and prayer. The coyotes go to church on their own time—not just at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning. Sometimes a coyote will go to church alone; sometimes with others. At times, the coyotes seem to join their voices with the choir; at other times, they stand in silent meditation. 

Coyotes aren’t known to anoint one of their own as preacher, yet their small congregation often listens intently to voices whispered by the grasses and the trees. They seem to gather meaning from the chanting of birds and the hum of insects. Coyotes have no need to burn incense, for the desert sage fills the air with its sweet perfume. Flowers, too, add beauty to the coyotes’ place of worship—not cut flowers in vases, but blossoms growing on shrubs and vines. This is all they need.

Coyotes don’t write books or read from texts about what they should believe and how they ought to live. They seem to just know who they are and how they should live in right relationship with the world around them. Their code of ethics doesn’t originate from any external source. It comes from deep inside and is based on the telos, or essence, of what it means to be a coyote. The elders in the coyote community gently guide the next generation on how to do this—not through religious education classes but by example.

The way of coyote isn’t to judge or trivialize the religious beliefs of others. As cars enter the church parking lot and people arrive for their Sunday morning service, the coyotes quietly retreat into the bushes and tall grasses showing no inclination to threaten, intimidate, or indoctrinate.

As I observe the coyotes, I notice holiness in the way they conduct their lives. I’m impressed with how they can be contemplative without withdrawing from the hustle and bustle of the city. The church lot where they live isn’t large or fancy, yet the coyotes aren’t out searching for something bigger or better. They seem quite content to have a place where just their basic needs can be met. These needs are simple—food, water, and a safe place to rest and raise their young. They find pleasure in the sunshine, the starry nights, the shade of a tree, and their interactions with each other. They sing together, play together, and—in their own way—pray together.

I see the coyotes being attentive and purposeful in everything they do. They don’t rush as they move from one place to another or from one activity to another. They seem to understand that attention is the beginning of devotion, and that for grace to enter, a soul needs to provide an open, welcoming space.

I see the coyotes being attentive and purposeful in everything they do. They don’t rush as they move from one place to another or from one activity to another. They seem to understand that attention is the beginning of devotion, and that for grace to enter, a soul needs to provide an open, welcoming space.

The way coyotes live in a place suggests they follow the principle of right livelihood. Their effect on the land is minimal. The only visible indications of coyotes living on the church property are a few flattened patches of grass and subtle paths through the shrubs and bushes. Without cupboards, closets, or barns to store their goods, coyotes hunt only what they need to survive.

Perhaps what I notice the most about the spiritual life of coyotes is how they seem so completely comfortable with who they are—they don’t strive for perfection or try to make an impression on anyone else. I’m also in awe of the way coyotes practice mindfulness in their day-to-day lives. They display a calm awareness of everything that’s going on around them and give complete attention to what they’re experiencing on a moment-to-moment basis. They are truly in the now—not wrapped up in the past or worrying about the future. The spiritual nature of the coyotes is something I feel I can only aspire to.

Read more from Ruth Wilson: "Ways of Knowing"


By Ruth Wilson. Click here for more!

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