How Woo Woo Are You?

Fate, luck, opportunity, chance, divine intervention–I struggle with how to name the many intersections of people, places, and events that make the hair on my arms raise. For me, this is currently about career. Where am I going next?

Cover of Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In
This is a great read, even if you’re not a woman in the workforce with children.

In her best seller Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg described moving along a career arc as climbing on a jungle gym rather than the traditionally metaphoric ladder.

Well, if we’re all traversing the career jungle gym, I like to think that life in general must be one big parkour jam. We’re all just bucking up, using personal momentum to propel ourselves from one obstacle, event, and opportunity to the next.

But what spurs us to choose the handholds we grasp?

What keeps us flying through the air rather than crashing to the ground?

How do we know when to release, when to close our eyes and trust, when to take the leap?

And that is where the “woo woo” comes in.

woo woo:

Unfounded or ludicrous beliefs. Belief in talking to the dead, belief in telekinesis, any belief not founded on good evidence. The poorer the evidence, the more ‘woo woo’ the belief.

I believe that when we live life passionately, open to the possibilities that come up every day, ready to enter through the door that opens rather than walk a predetermined path, we discover these strange, unexplainable convergences.

Now, my woo woo definition would include language such as “beliefs that fall outside mainstream Christian tenets,” which would incorporate the mix of ideas I’ve gathered from a variety of religions, philosophies, and downright weird personal experiences.

My woo woo is more about possible explanations than it is about “lack of good evidence.”

Does Luck Exist?

Trail runner coming downhill on rocky path called Devil's Kitchen in Guadalupe Mountains, TX.
Me, coming down the trail in the Guadalupe Mountains. Life is like running down a mountain; you do what the trail allows. Photo Credit: John Frierson

My husband always says that he is a lucky person. Being the word geek that I am, I prefer fortunate, as it implies a bit less randomness. When I think of luck, I think of throwing dice–though any mathematically-inclinded person will point out that odds are all about a finite set of possibilities. Aint no mystery there.

But we are fortunate. Much like the proverbial cat, my hubby and I always manage to land on our feet, no matter what roof we’ve gotten thrown off of.

Take, for instance, his brush with cat scratch fever. Back when we were newly married, Hubby found a lump on the back of his knee. After many examinations and tests, the last at The University of Texas’ Health Science Center in San Antonio, we’d been prepared for a cancer diagnosis and briefed on possible amputation.

When the biopsy came back as non-cancerous lymphatic tissue, we were referred to a local infectious disease specialist, who took one look, asked if we had a cat, discovered an old scratch, and provided a lasting family history connection to Ted Nugent’s 1978 hit (if not his later, ahem, “politics”).

You can look at the story two ways:

  1. Unfortunately, we were subjected to an intensely scary experience over a common infection.
  2. Fortunately, what could’ve been a horrible experience was merely a common infection.

Are we lucky/fortunate, or do we just focus on the positive in negative situations?

The Dead Among Us

When I taught 7th and 8th grade at Martin Jr. High here in Austin, my kids were convinced that my husband was Mexican (I did try to point out that my married name was resoundingly Swiss, but that didn’t seem to deter speculation). They were right, though, in that I absolutely adore the culture. I wish my family gatherings were like the one depicted in Carmen Lomas Garza’s gouache painting, Tamalada (Making Tamales), shown below. 

Screenshot of Carmen Lomas Garza's website and painting Tamalada
I fell in love with Garza’s work as a docent at her Laguna Gloria show, Pedacito de Mi Corazon (Oct. through Dec., 1991)

And then there’s Dia de los Muertos (if you’re not familiar, click here for a look at this beautiful National Geographic Media spotlight on the November holiday).

I do believe the dead are with us in some fashion. Perhaps through reincarnation, perhaps residual energy. I know this because of my friend Dano.

Dano was a trail buddy. We’d come to know each other through preparing for the 2005 Pikes Peak marathon. The distance was nothing new, but running to the top of a 14,000-foot mountain on predominantly single-track trail was. The group bonded over that shared experience, forming a lasting “band of brothers.”

Group of runners before a workout
The original 2005 Pikes Peak training group coached by Steve Sisson (front, with bloody shin), Rogue Running. That’s Dan, back row, second from right, in the dark clothes and cap. I’m near the front, wearing a bandana.

Outside of the class and well past that goal race, the two of us often managed to wander around Austin’s Barton Creek greenbelt, Dano usually guiding, but sometimes the two of us roamed, exploring the woods for miles.

As runners do–especially those out on trails, prepping for ultras–we talked for hours. When he was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), I looked for things that I could do for him. Mostly, that involved visits to keep him company. We watched movies and talked, me telling stories and passing on gossip, trying to take Dano out of his bed and confining body with my words.

Spirt Animal Encounters

During that time, I began having interesting interactions with hawks. Red-tailed hawks are beautiful, wild birds who have special significance for Native Americans. If you knew Dano, you knew how the hawk tied into the man he was–and I wasn’t the only one in our close circle of trail-running friends having these encounters.

Hokahey 5K poster with black panther, eagles, and shoes hanging from bandanas
Dan designed this poster for the Hokahey 5K. The birds shown are eagles, one for each of his children. And Dano was never without a bandana on the trail.

Toward the end of my friend’s life, as his physical condition rapidly deteriorated, those visits were rough for me.

The drive from his home to mine took about 45 minutes, and on one particular rainy, dismal day, I was crying as I made my return trip. Traffic was terrible, so I made an unaccustomed turn to avoid downtown’s snarl of cars.

As I paralleled Austin’s Lady Bird Lake, a trio of birds swooped down–two small birds with a hawk in hot pursuit.

The three held a tight formation, looking for all the world as though I had an avian fighter escort. They stayed directly in front of my windshield for about a quarter of a mile and then soared upward, out of sight. Shortly afterward, Dano chose to give up his physical fight; I wrote about his death in a blog, “Sign of the Hawk.”

Since then, hawks have found me many times over the years, usually on a solitary trail, one that he and I might have wandered together. I can interpret these appearances several ways. The most logical being that, because I associate hawks with my friend’s indomitable spirit, I am more aware of them now than in the past.

Or I can go woo woo and believe that my friend chooses this form to find, comfort, and watch over me in this life.

My heart chooses the second truth.

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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

2 thoughts on “How Woo Woo Are You?

  1. This is a wonderful post. As a trained scientist. I am fairly skeptical of non-evidence based claims. However, there are certain things that happen (e.g. hawks appearing for you) that are utterly without rational explanation. They happen when you \”need\” them and they open your eyes or heart to something greater. So, like you, I believe we have to just leave some room open for possibility of what may be…

  2. Great post Leah!

    Dano was one of a kind, I worked with him for many years at Motorola and it was always fun to see him out on the trails. I still have vivid memories of him finishing Bandera in a colorful, oversize sombrero. It was a great honor to help organize and also time the Hokahey 5K, what a great memory that still is. I still have a few posters and t-shirts from the race if you\’d like one.

    I\’ve facilitated the grief recovery group at my church for many years and stories like yours happen way too often to too many people to be coincidence. I\’ve come to refer to them as \’God winks\’ and if we\’re observant and open to seeing them, He sends quite a few our way. Little encouragements, just when you need them most, from those who\’ve gone before us.

    I don\’t know that I\’d refer to them as woo-woo as much as I would call them evidence that we are miracles, and we\’re not alone.


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