It is famously said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Sometimes, that teacher comes as a coyote in a pick-up truck.

In Native American mythology, the coyote is a trickster. Like the court jester of old, he brings insight and wisdom with humor. Coyote upsets your equilibrium when you start feeling all high and mighty and takes you down a notch. If you’re feeling that you have everything completely under control, beware.

Here’s my story:

I’m taking a walk one fine afternoon, feeling very peaceful and enjoying the almost-Spring weather. I pass by a neighbor’s house, in front of which is parked a large pick-up truck with a prominent decal in the shape of the United States on its back window. There’s something inside the outline of the United States, so I walk up close to see what it is. There are four words that conform to the shape of the country and they read: “F@*% OFF, WE’RE FULL.”

I step back, struck by both the attitude and audacity of this, and resume my stroll, thinking. It brought to mind a similar incident during Christmas when, parked at the grocery store listening to “Silent Night” on the radio, I noticed a truck in front of me with a bumper sticker that read “God bless our troops—especially our snipers.”

Both sightings left me close to a loss for words—close, but not completely.

I made my way home musing in a rather long stream of consciousness that went something like this:

Unbelievable! The ignorance! The fear!

And then:

I have an idea: How about we get rid of your ignorant, redneck, fear-mongering, xenophobic self and make room for someone intelligent and nice to move here.

I liked this idea. It felt quite satisfying.

And precisely at that moment, Coyote darted in front of me, tripping me and causing me to fall over my own words.

“Now who’s full of hate and judgment, eh?” he said. “You’re so superior, so much more evolved, aren’t you? Yes, I can tell. Much more evolved, wise and compassionate.” He laughed gleefully and ran off into the woods, furry tail disappearing into the brush.

I smiled broadly. Coyote got me; he’d caught me and I had to respect it. It was pretty gentle, as Coyote medicine goes. It could’ve been a lot worse; I could have been saying all those thoughts out loud in front of lots of people, or in the newspaper….

Laughing at your own arrogance, hypocrisy and deleterious attitudes and judgements is Coyote medicine at its most useful best. It’s enormously important to be put in check now and again and even better when you can laugh at yourself, because that’s when defenses drop away and real growth takes place. Coyote medicine is about smiling with egg on your face.

Later, I thought about that person who put that decal on his truck and I felt not judgment, but gratitude. He was a good teacher for me. The whole experience, in fact, was a great lesson in humility and self-observation. It made me painfully aware of how judgmental I still can be; it also reminded me of how easily someone’s harsh nastiness can elicit my own darker nature—an insidious side effect of negative energies. Like attracts like.

Anyone can be spiritual when everything’s lovely and life’s going your way. But the true test for a spiritual warrior lies in bringing your higher self to the everyday challenges and interpersonal assaults of this life, be it dealing with someone’s disagreeable views on religion or race or politics, being yelled at, or simply slogging through the daily routine. Remaining aware, centered and peaceful, accepting what is without judgment or attachment and not allowing yourself to be pulled into hatred and anger … this is the thing. This is everything.

Coyote is a wonderful teacher because he brings levity to the overly serious attitudes we bring to just about everything. Coyote reminds us to check the attitude at the door or be prepared for a face plant. He’s wiley, this coyote.

KATE INGRAM, M.A., is a writer, award-winning author and soul-centered life coach who lives with all sorts of animal medicines, some of them easier than others. Find out more at