Dream of the Mountain Lion, My True Self


There were two rooms in the house in my dream and the mountain lion was in one of them.  All our animals, the donkeys, sheep, dogs, cats, and chickens were close by and I was afraid the mountain lion would try to kill them.  So I walked around the edge of the room that she was in trying to close all the doors to keep her contained.   

But there were so many doors, each time I closed one, another one appeared. 

I realized this wouldn’t work and by now, I also knew that the mountain lion just wanted to get out of the house.  So I let it walk into the other room where there was another door leading outside.  

But in order to open the door to the outside,  I had to walk across the room with the mountain lion in it. I had to turn my back on her and trust that she would know that I was trying to help her get out.

I was afraid, but I also knew it was the best thing to do.  And I did it.  I woke up watching the mountain lion walking away, down the middle of the dark suburban street that the house in my dream was on.

Although most of the sites I looked on said something similar about the symbolism of the mountain lion, Spirit Animal Totems put it most succinctly for me. “… 

“…if cougar symbolism has come into your life, then take it as a sign that you have come into your power. Thus, it’s time for you to take charge of the situation and show your strength. Cougar symbolism also asks us to balance our power. …use your leadership skills without the ego…. lead by example rather than forcing others to follow.”

As I retold the dream to Jon I realized that it was showing me that I had been afraid of the mountain lion in myself.

As a child, I learned to hide my true self from my family.  The ridicule I experienced and the feeling of not being understood or belonging was terrifying to me.  I always felt that at any moment I would be left to survive on my own.  As unknown and fearful as I felt around my family, at least it was a familiar fear.

As in my dream where I tried to lock the mountain lion in the room, I had done the same with myself. Even as an adult, after I was capable of caring for myself,  I still carried with me the irrational fear that I couldn’t survive without my family.

My dream of the mountain lion showed me that by hiding myself, I was also hiding from my own power to take full responsibility for my life and decisions.  Having the courage to let the mountain lion go free in my dream was my subconscious’ way of making me aware that I was already doing the same in my own life.

I now had the courage to act with my own power.

A while back I wrote about trying to figure out my relationship with my mother.  About how I was going to be able to live my life the way I chose without giving in to the old and deep fear of being ostracized by my family. I no longer wanted to give in to the guilt, co-dependence, and manipulation that has always been a part of my dynamic with my mother.

This is something I’ve been working on for years.  And the holidays always bring it into focus because they are a time when this family dynamic intensifies. If my family has a religion, it’s in the rituals of holidays, birthdays and family dinners.  And it has always been at these times that I felt the most alone, invisible, and unknown.

Ten years ago, I stopped going to my family Thanksgivings, and that was the beginning of a new reality for me.   I resisted the guilt that pulled at me and the deep childhood fear that if I didn’t go along with what was expected of me I would be abandoned.

But there were some rituals that I still participated in.

One of them was my obligatory visits to my mother.  I had altered the ritual and was able to see her in a way that mostly worked for me, but there was always the kick-back.  The trigger effect of losing confidence in myself, of believing that because I wasn’t doing what the other people in my family were that I was a bad person.

This year, I did something different.  I decided I would not visit my mother out of obligation.  I would only visit her when I wanted to.

It wasn’t easy.  And there were times when I was certain that if I didn’t visit her something terrible would happen.  Although I could never quite say what that thing would be.  It was like an addiction, 55 years of unlearning.

My goal was to stay away until the impulse and fear were gone.  Until I could visit my mother without the guilt, without taking part in the manipulation.  To spend enough time away so I could sink into who I truly am.

Last week, for the first time that I can remember, I had a phone conversation with my mother that was not fraught with the emotional baggage that is usually there for me. I called her because I thought it might be nice to talk to her.  I told her about my Thanksgiving without feeling the usual guilt of not being at hers.  And when she told me about her day, I felt none of the old anxiety that the thought of the traditional holiday usually brought me.

I knew something had shifted after that conversation.  I felt different.  Like I finally believed I had the right to live my life, the way I wanted without being tied to my family’s way of doing things.  And that it didn’t make me a bad person because I didn’t see my mother every week or even every few months.

Reading the book Gods of the Upper Air, about the first American anthropologists including Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict, helped me to see my family as a culture that I didn’t fit in to.  And that this didn’t make me lesser than them, only different.

It also made me aware that I had created my own culture with my own family that was just as valid as theirs.

And I think there was something in the physical act of cooking my own version of Thanksgiving dinner and spending the day with the people I chose that was in a way, a rite of passage.

As the dream of the mountain lion was telling me, I had come into my own power.  And instead of arguing or pleading my right to live my life the way I chose, as I had in the past,  I was just doing it.  I owned my decisions and looked inside of myself, instead of to others for approval.

And what I’ve discovered as a result of this,  is that what the rest of my family chooses to do, no longer bothers me the way it used to.  Because I don’t feel the pressure to participate in it, it has no relevance for me emotionally anymore.  And I have no reason to judge it.

I know, because I’ve already experienced it in that one phone call, that this can only better my relationship with my mother.  At least in terms of how I feel about it.

I have been working a long time to get to this point, and I know I still have work to do. I don’t want to lose this feeling I have inside of me. So I’m going to nurture it, by meditating on the mountain lion as a power animal and by acting on my decisions and owning them.

I’m determined not to let this new strength I’m feeling to slip away.  Because I have learned that the best thing that I can do for myself and the people in my life is to be my true self.




19 thoughts on “Dream of the Mountain Lion, My True Self

  1. This is a most remarkable post, Maria. The story, the introspection, the awareness and the photo is unbelievably beautiful and creative. Can you share how you took that without giving away any of your secrets? Thank you. You are multi-talented and expanding every day.

    1. oh yes, Wendy. Thanks for your words and for asking about the photo. I found an old glass insulator in the yard while I was gardening. It’s a circle of glass held by a metal screw. I took the photo through the insulator.

  2. Oh my. There is a lot to unpack in this post, Maria. The problem is that I think I am the mother, and my daughter is you. I hope to reach your level of introspection. Perhaps I’ll try that book.

    1. Well that’s really interesting Susie. I never thought of my writing working that way, a person seeing themself in my mother. I think you already have lots of awareness about it to see that.

  3. I just ordered the book with one of my Audible.com credits. The reviews of the book on the audible website make a compelling case for reading the book. Can’t wait to listen to the book. I’ll let you know what I think of it.

  4. Maria, I always admire your writing and don’t often comment but just wanted to say I see your bravery shine through. It’s not easy to let go of traditions and practices that do not speak to your true self. We are all striving to be our best selves and you are leading the way.

  5. Oh, Maria! Your insight is so profound!! Thank you for this amazing post. The photo is breathtaking, captivating. TAKEN THRU AN INSULATOR?? HOW DID YOU THINK OF IT??

  6. Oh Maria, there you go beautifully sorting your feelings out with your writing. I identify with this post on so many levels. I have learned that I am enough . You are enough also Maria. You have opened so many doors for many women. Thanks for being Maria Wulf. No more no less. Love you 🙂

    1. It’s true Cindy, the writing does help me sort it all out. And this was a complicated one to express. Thank you for being Cindy Chambers. Actually what a wonderful idea that is, to thank everyone for being who they are. I saw the movie about Mister Rogers and every time he said “I like you just the way you are” in the movie, I cried!

  7. What a strong piece. Can’t even begin to tell you the comparison I’m drawing from it. I took a lot longer break than you to protect myself so I could stay true to me.
    Thank you for sharing

  8. Oh Maria. I love this post. I had breast cancer in my thirties and I wore earrings with a mountain lion etched on them every time I went to chemo. They were sort of my good luck charm. I had a little Zuni carving of a mountain lion that I carried also. For me she represented the kind of mother energy I wasn’t getting from my own mom but that I intended to give to my children. I did not consciously know the symbolism but she became my power animal and eventually I had her tattooed on my ankle. I love her powerfully still. I wear her as a reminder of quiet matriarchal power. Why? Because mountain lions are fierce mamas. They stay close to their cubs for about two years (twenty percent of their lives). She is the hunter who feeds them and then ultimately teaches them to hunt. Roots and wings. I love everything about that. Mountain lion came to you with a message of power and strength. She is yours now

    1. I hadn’t read that part about the mountain lion and the matriarch Ellen. That adds even more meaning to my dream. Your story and connection to the mountain lion is a powerful one. I can definitely see the good mother energy in you and in your home.

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