Tag Archives: power animals

Here Be Dragons

Told ya there were dragons in my office.

James’ eyes were wide. “It was all around you!” he told me, in an awed tone. He’d just finished doing a set of adjustments for me, and I was unnerved to think he might have discovered some unsavory entity around me– as you know, I’ve had my share of those.

What was all around me?”

“It was so beautiful,” he continued, explaining that “it” was wrapped around my entire body in a spiral, protecting me– a large, gold with red, Chinese-style Dragon. The exact image of the wonderful Dragon friend I already knew and loved, but had never once mentioned to James. He had seen it in a way I never had.

If more than one person sees the same thing independently, without preconceived notions, I tend to think that what they see is real. But what kind of “real” is this Dragon? Does it have its own existence in some other plane of All That Is, as individual and self-aware as any other creature? Does it reside within the collective human unconscious, as an archetype? Is it a denizen of my own psyche, that somehow I can project outward so that it can be seen by others? Does it perhaps have aspects of all these possibilities?

When my first mentor in shamanic studies introduced me to the concept of power animals, I remember telling her, quite sincerely, that mine was probably a Dragon. She looked dubious, and seemed to consider telling me what a silly idea that was, but she was kind enough to keep her mouth shut. Later I was embarrassed to realize how ridiculous I had sounded. No one had mythological beasts for power animals; according to the teachers of shamanic arts, they were supposed to be the spirit representations of our normal Earth-based species, perhaps even the collective unconsciousnesses of those species. But then later still I discovered that I was in fact associated with a Dragon after all, so there!

My Dragon was as vivid as anything I’d ever experienced in the spiritual world, and he certainly functioned as a power animal on my behalf, but I always thought that was odd, since dragons are not real animals on our planet. That is what I told Christine one day in July of 2006.

“Dragons are real,” she replied, with conviction. She explained that she sees them all the time, but that they seem to exist in a different plane or dimension from ours, so that we aren’t usually aware of them. She had toured the stone circles and sacred spots of England not long before, and Stonehenge, she reported, was particularly filled with dragons.

We were at the end of the time available for visiting that day, and I didn’t get a chance to ask for the rest of this tantalizing story. At the next opportunity, I asked how exactly she perceives the dragons. She said that she sees vague outlines, enough to recognize them, but she doesn’t see them in detail. She couldn’t tell me, for example, whether they looked like Chinese dragons or Western ones. Sometimes there is just a “knowing,” she said, nothing visual. She said that other mythological beasts appear to have the same frequency and to exist in the same dimension; I took that to mean that they have the same sort of feel to her.  Her idea is that humans have a subconscious awareness of all these beings, which is why they show up in our art, literature, and religion.

Soon after, I had the opportunity to find out directly what Christine was talking about. She came to my office to check out the place and explore whether she would like to move in with me there. Looking into the treatment room that could become hers, she told me that there was a dragon right there and then. I couldn’t see a thing. She suggested that perhaps she could “put me on her frequency,” and then I might be able to see what she saw.

I had no idea how this could be accomplished. Christine explained that she does treatments mainly by putting herself on the appropriate frequency to interface with the patient’s distressed body parts, and that she can switch frequencies with no trouble at all. She put her hand on my shoulder and led me toward the room.

I still didn’t exactly see anything. I scanned the room from right to left, and as my eyes swept across the center of the room, toward the far wall, suddenly they seemed to “stick.” My gaze was drawn to a particular area about two feet across and four feet tall, directly in front of me. The air seemed thicker there. I kept looking away and scanning again, and each time my eyes were pulled toward the same spot. This, of course, was where Christine was seeing the dragon. It was almost as if something reached out and grabbed my vision, as if I were required to look right there whether I cared to or not. I had a definite sense that the creature was purple, definite enough that I could show you the exact shade.  A purple, living something, hovering in the center of the room.

We went back into the waiting room and continued to chat. Every so often I looked back at the treatment room and tried to tell if the beast was still there. For a long time it was. Eventually my eyes no longer felt that pull or the sensation of density in the atmosphere of the room. I assumed the dragon was gone.

The spot where the something was is now the location of my treatment table. I’ve never run into any unexpected beings there, though as I’ve told you in other posts, sometimes patients do bring guests of various sorts into the room. Last Christmas, Christine gave me a papier-maché ornament in the shape of a small, winsome purple dragon, to commemorate our sighting.

 

When my daughter was a child, she had a great deal of trouble with her health. At one point, desperate to help her, I journeyed to ask for a power animal to come to her aid. I encountered a noble but unsurprising beast, a Bison cow, motherly and comforting. I told Lenore about this animal and suggested that she could ask her for support whenever she felt she needed it. Lenore soon reported back to me that she had tried to get in touch, but that the Bison had refused to speak with her. Instead, she had been put in contact with a completely different creature, something that seemed much like a snake, but with some sort of long feathers or other streaming appendages.

I was nonplussed by the Bison’s lack of response, and went to see if I could find out anything about the snakelike being. I had a strong impression of it, but like Lenore, couldn’t get a really thorough view of it, only bits and pieces. When we compared notes, it seemed that we were talking about the same creature, whatever it was. Long and sinuous, sailing through the air, streaming feathers or something similar, and mainly lime green in color. It had a certain resemblance to a Chinese dragon, but only in its overall shape; it was distinctly different from any dragon images we knew of. We unceremoniously dubbed it The Snaky Thing– no disrespect intended, only description.

Long and snaky, feathered, and flying. That’s Quetzalcoatl, right? Or Kukulkan if you prefer. One early type of representation of this deity depicts him as twining in a spiral about the body of some noble personage as a Vision Serpent– not so different from what James saw when he was treating me. It’s unclear from the descriptions I’ve found whether the Flying Serpent is supposed to have actual wings or not; most representations don’t seem to include them. I don’t think I had an impression of wings with our Snaky Thing, but I couldn’t see it clearly enough to be sure. Perhaps I can get in touch with it again and find out more.

“The Snaky Thing”?
Quetzalcoatl by Dan Staten
(Thanks to ImageShack)

 

Dragon-like creatures seem to abound in the human psyche around the world, sometimes as sources of wisdom and power, sometimes threatening or even standing in for pure evil, as when they are used to symbolize Satan. I wonder at times if there may be some kind of ancient mammal memory of flying reptiles– and at least some dinosaurs are known to have had feathers. The huge model of a pterosaur hanging in the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, in fact, is meant to be a Quetzalcoatlus. Go figure. This flying creature, though, is mostly wings, with a long narrow beak, and looks nothing like Lenore’s friend, nor like a Mayan stone relief. But perhaps it did have its own colorful and impressive feathers.

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Land, Sea, and Air: Power Animals in Healing

Butterfly Pavilion, Albuquerque Biopark, 2008

A couple of examples of using the cooperation of power animals in healing.  The first comes from a patient, Patrice, and was written after a treatment she had with me.  The second is a description of a shamanic practice, a body part retrieval, done by Pam Harris on my behalf.  Thanks to both Patrice and Pam for permission to use these stories.

Patrice and her friends, in her words:

I don’t remember where or when this occurred but I think it was in NYC. I also realize from what you described it was a pseudo-Michael Harner type process and not as he actually outlined but I had a shamanic journey to find my power animal. My power animal was a butterfly. I was so disappointed. I’d wanted a bear, eagle, wolf etc. It wasn’t until years later that I picked up Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams and read about what the butterfly signified—transformation—that I really appreciated the power animal that had come to me. I read more, loved and appreciated the butterfly more and at times my wings are flitting off to all sorts of new adventures that make me a better person. I’m not a big collector so I don’t have a room of butterfly stuff but I do have a butterfly pin and key chain, and I recently saw a pair of pants (in my size and my favorite color) with butterflies on them, so I wear and use these things a lot to honor my power animal.

10/02
I’d just broken up with someone I thought I truly cared for (he was a lie of his own creation) and was truly heartbroken.  I asked the universe for a power animal to help me through this and if it would come to me in my dreams.

I had a dream about snakes coiled up on the jewelry cases in a jewelry store I had friends in and used to visit quite often.  I didn’t remember I had dreamt it (several times) until my last dream.  I was in the jewelry store, but this time one of the snakes started to slither off of the jewelry case and chase me and it bit me on my big toe hard enough to wake me up.  I realized this was what I’d asked for, and recalled my other dreams and apologized to the snake for forgetting my previous dreams and thanked it for coming.  I looked up the meaning for snake, and in short it refers to death, rebirth, resurrection, initiation and wisdom.  Not too long after this I found a book on Aztec healing and in a chapter for “Acupuncture for the Back” it said:

Come Now
Green Snake
Yellow Snake
White Snake

Soon will come
the White Eagle puncturer

She will be everywhere—
inside the rocks
inside the trees

Whatever she finds
she will eat
she will destroy

So I put my snake in my spine where I really needed it. When you were telling me there was still stagnation in my stomach I got an image of my snake all curled up in my stomach. My mouth had a totally different thing to say. (Which shocked me more than you.) But, on my way home I realized I needed to find out why the snake was there and I came up with snakes don’t eat often and when they do, they take forever to digest what they’ve eaten. In one way that would be a good thing for me but I’m human, too and need to eat more often than a snake. I had a talk with my snake about this and we’ve come to an agreement and the snake did all sorts of happy snake dances in my stomach.

At the same time I’d asked for a power animal and was given the snake I had a dream about bats a few nights later. I was dreaming about bats flying a little above my head—not low enough to get caught in my hair—and I was enjoying the experience and one bat crawled under my hair on my back enough to wake my up to remember the dream (must have had a talk with snake). It didn’t hurt but was enough of a stimulus to make me aware the bat was there and enough to wake me up. My reaction was, “Cool.” Well, the bat’s wisdom includes death and rebirth, transition, initiation, reviewing past lives, understanding grief, and pollination of new ideas.

I got very sick soon after these dreams and found out I had fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. I found a natural way to get well and did after 4 months. I also moved, then moved to Albuquerque, became a Buddhist, and for the first time in my life actually wanted to be alive and see what the future brings. I want to be fully me and be a contribution and heal things that my brother didn’t get to heal before he died. (We are the same soul.)

On the table [during the treatment] I got to understand a past life I’d only had a glimpse of and I got in touch with the grief of it. So, the bat is still with me, still working with me 3 years after the dream. So is my snake and butterfly and I’m glad I got a chance to write this out and appreciate them even more. Today we all get to celebrate, really I’m going to have a party with my power animals.

P.S. I asked my snake what his name was and he said “Herman.” I said that was a silly name for a snake. Herman said that his name was very highly regarded in the snake kingdom. Her-man!! I get it!! She-he wo-man etc.

Body Part Retrieval 6/10/05 (mine), mediated by Pamela Harris:
I had a revelation that my chronic problems with my right foot symbolized a feeling that part of my body had been torn away with the loss of an important relationship.  I asked my friend Pam Harris, an experienced shamanic practitioner, to try a body part retrieval for me.  I had never experienced that procedure, nor had I ever attempted it myself

In preparation, Pam did a journey for diagnostic purposes.  She found that there was a large intrusion in my foot, knee, hip, throat, and stomach area.  It looked to her like a conglomeration of dark, spiderlike beings.  She knew she would have to remove those and fill the area back up with light before she could go after the foot itself

Pam began by drumming for a while in my room.  She had me lie down on the floor, and she shook a rattle over my whole body.  Then she lay down next to me, touching at the shoulder, hip, and ankle, and turned on a drum tape.

I felt something tubelike projecting out the top of my head and searching the space around my body. It seemed like I was doing that myself. Then I felt something similar in the opposite direction, diving in through the top of my head and searching through the inside of my body. From what she said later, that part was Pam. I wasn’t sure if I should be trying to assist in any way or to observe what she was doing, and I had neglected to ask for her opinion about that. I decided to remain as neutral and quiet as possible.

I’ve heard of clients following along with such journeys and experiencing everything the practitioner experiences.  Not me, I’m afraid. I had only a few physical sensations while Pam did her work, and those only in relation to the extraction of the “spiders.”  I couldn’t have told you anything about what was going on with the journeys themselves, and I certainly didn’t perceive any of the power animals that got involved.

After a while, Pam got up and started pulling at the field around various parts of me, starting at my throat.  It took quite a while; she seemed to be struggling a bit.  She spent a lot of time around my knee and foot, and a fair amount around my abdomen and hip as well, but I felt the pulling most strongly at my throat.  Pam lay down and communed with her power animal again for a while, then continued the extraction.  When she felt that she had cleared everything, she began to pour light into the areas she had worked on.  I could feel quite a bit of energy.

Pam took a break and described what she had seen.  She had found the spider things rather frightening; they seemed to be threatening to bite her.  Her (unspecified) power animal came through, though, and batted them away with its paws, then carried them off and released them into the light.  She said the biggest one, the “mother,” was hard to dislodge, but then the others came along with it.  She found tendrils of these creatures all through my right leg, foot, and hip, as well as in my throat.  My feeling was that the spiders were not actual beings, separate from me, but more just manifestations of my own junk.  As I explained to Pam, I had had a small entity attached to that foot before, and the experience had been quite different then.  That entity, which appeared to me rather like a starfish, seemed to be simply an animal of some kind that had found a food source, not a malevolent being.

As if we didn’t have enough entities involved, Fryderyk stuck his nose in.  I guess I should not have been surprised at that, since we were calling upon helpful spirits.  However, I had been trying and trying to find him for a couple of weeks at that point, almost entirely without success, and then there he was, unbidden, at a time and place where he wasn’t needed and wasn’t really wanted either.  I was a tiny bit miffed, though for no good reason.

Oh, well.  Pam lay down on my right side again, which was a bit strange since Fryderyk was occupying the same space.  I suggested to him that he should move, because perceiving both of them at once was just too weird for me.  He obligingly moved around to my left side, where he appeared to sit down on the floor a few inches away from me.  It felt like he took my hand and held it gently and steadily.  I had to admit that his presence was comforting.  I tried to explain what Pam was attempting to accomplish, and told him that I was just lying there quietly and trying not to interfere, and that he probably shouldn’t interfere either.  I don’t know what he may have perceived of the procedure, or whether he had anything in mind to accomplish himself, but as far as I could tell he did nothing but sit there with his hand on mine.

The actual body part retrieval was brief by comparison to the extraction, but much more enjoyable for Pam.  She told me afterward that Horse, Seal, and Condor had appeared to help.  Very convenient, since they could search by land, sea, and air!  At first Pam rode the Condor and Seal the Horse, but Pam didn’t feel comfortable that way and they switched.  I was amused by the thought of the seal wrapping its flippers around the huge bird, trying to hold on, as they all flew through the air together.  This part was a lot of fun from Pam’s point of view.  She described covering a great distance over mountains and all sorts of terrain, only to find that their quarry had been close by all along.  The whole trip seemed almost instantaneous.

Pam said that it wasn’t usual to talk to a body part under these circumstances; usually one just grabs it and brings it back.  In this case, however, she felt that the foot was reluctant to return, and so she reassured it that I would take good care of it.  She said that it let her know it would like lots of attention, including chanting, stroking, and being flooded with light as much as possible.  Apparently the foot felt all right about its future at that point, and Pam was able to bring it along.

Seal took the foot into the ocean to cleanse it, and then it was ready to be reattached to the rest of me.  Pam blew it back into my physical foot.  I didn’t feel anything especially dramatic, although I did have a sense of greater solidity in that area.

Fryderyk stuck around throughout our post-journey discussion.  I wondered aloud what a 19th-century Parisian gentleman would make of shamanic practice—though he had been exposed to such things before, of course.  Pam looked toward him and said he seemed to be amused.  After a while he faded out.

I had some hope of a definite physical improvement after this procedure, but unfortunately I can’t say that my symptoms really changed.  I did have a change in my attitude toward my foot, though.  I was able to accept and nurture it rather than being angry at it and simply wanting it to go away.  So I felt that the procedure had been a success overall.

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Crow Flies, Phoenix Rises

Last Wednesday was One of Those Days.  Somehow I was wrong all day, over and over, or at least that was the message I kept getting.

In the afternoon I made a visit to White Horse, a shop filled with beautiful fabrics, jewelry, cards, and inspirational items of all sorts, as well as a wonderful feeling of healing energy.  I picked up an amazing card that showed a woman in a reverent posture, having perhaps just been given the huge black wings which stretched out above her.  Crows flew and perched in the background.  It was a little dark and spooky, but I fell in love with it and took it straight to the cash register.

“My Crow is more fun than this,” I said to Jennifer, the proprietor, “but still, I think this card was made for me.”

Jennifer told me that the bird on the card was actually a raven.

Okay, here’s the thing:  When the Crow was first brought to me, the shamanic workshop student who had retrieved him told me, “It’s a crow.”  But I’ve always had to take his word for it.  It’s another “who’s who” issue.  The big black bird has never identified himself to me directly, and I’ve never seen him clearly enough to make out the distinct beak shape of either crow or raven.  I can certainly tell the difference between the physical creatures, but that doesn’t help.  I do know, as I told Jennifer, that at times one of our local crows seems to be trying to catch my attention.  I acknowledge them, I explained, and assume that they are the relatives of my special avian friend, while keeping in mind that he just might possibly be a Raven rather than a Crow.  Raven is such a popular figure in the spiritual world, one of the rock stars of the power animals, but I’m fine associating with an ordinary, loud and obnoxious, intelligent and perceptive, good old New Mexican Crow just like the ones that hang out in the cottonwood tree next door.  If that’s what he is.

So: My feathered mentor is a member of genus Corvus, is solid black, and is profound but lighthearted.  I feel that he’s male.  That will have to be enough for the moment.  And looking at that card again, it seems to me that the birds’ beaks are drawn in a rather noncommittal way, and that they could belong to either species.

******************************************************************

Here is something I wrote on March 5, 2005 (Chopin’s name-day, by the way), in the midst of reading a book* by Tom Cowan, one of Michael Harner’s original students of shamanism:

Yesterday, reading about specifics of our relationship with the power animals, I again felt a great longing to get closer to those who have appeared to me.  I thought of the Crow, and immediately saw it in front of me.  It was only a mental picture, but I saw it as if it were in the room with me.  The Crow hovered before me with its wings outspread as if it wanted to embrace me.  I saw its heart as a spot of light, and aimed myself for that spot, projecting my own heart toward it.  This time I did not quite become the Crow myself.  I asked it what it wanted to tell me and what it wanted to do, or liked to do, as Cowan had suggested.  I could see the Crow cawing and cackling joyously, and it struck me that crows are very noisy.  Now, there’s a no-brainer for you, but the issue that I have been mainly working with lately is not being allowed to make noise, feeling that even the slightest sound I make is too loud and is bothering somebody.  The Crow definitely did not care that he was making a great deal of noise.  I saw his head tilting and turning energetically, his beak wide open and pouring out sound in every direction.

I also saw the Crow picking and tearing at objects on the ground.  That reminded me that crows are among the most intelligent of birds, and they can efficiently pick out the materials they need for food and tools— they have no problem knowing what they want.  They are strong as well as smart, and their beaks can easily tear apart carrion or whatever else may be necessary.  What those things mean to me, I’m not sure.

At that point, Lenore, my 17-year-old daughter, came into the dining room, where I was sitting with tears running down my cheeks because I was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude that this wonderful being was willing to speak to me.  She asked if I was all right, and I explained that I was having a journey and that it was still going on.  She understood and got out of my way.  Fortunately, the vision didn’t leave me.

Next, the Crow took me flying.  We had flown together before, but though I had a strong sense of soaring movement, I had never seen anything.  This time I saw a stereotyped sort of vision of green fields marked out in squares across the landscape.  Still better than nothing.

After a little while, I asked the Crow the question Cowan had recommended, about whether I had a mission and what it might be.  The answer astonished me.  I felt myself expanding into a ball of brilliant yellow light.  At the center was another bird, quite different from the Crow, a dark blue abstract of a bird shape with the wingtips pointed up.  It reminded me of a peyote bird, but perhaps it was more like a phoenix.  At any rate, it seemed symbolic of the soaring and expansiveness of my (our) true nature.  I have had this kind of vision before, and I believe it is a glimpse of the real me, the being behind this momentary human form.  It grew larger and larger, reaching out into the world.  I experienced huge, tremendous energy and power, something far too powerful to fit into this body.  At some moment, I felt the Crow lifting off the ground with me again; I could see its feet picking up under its body as we rose.  It was all overwhelming, and I felt more tears streaming down.

Instead of pushing me toward a bit of vanity, as you might expect, this kind of experience leaves me humbled and in awe.  I gave profound thanks to the Crow for helping me to remember this fundamental truth.  It was time to go back to my ordinary dining room and get ready to head for the office.

The next day, I was getting into my car when I heard a sudden, loud caw, very close.  A single crow, no others around, was sitting in the cottonwood tree that overhangs my driveway.  Perfectly centered in the doorframe of my car, it was looking directly at me and seemed to be speaking right to me.  I sat there for a while and told it how much I appreciated the message.

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A few years ago, well after that experience, I worked with a patient who had elaborate tattoos that covering much of her body, all of which she had designed herself.  On her back was a large, fairly abstract blue bird, exactly the the color I had seen in my vision, and very similar overall.  At one point, when I felt we knew each other well enough to discuss such things, I asked her if it might be a phoenix.  Indeed it was.  I would expect to associate fiery colors with the image of a phoenix, but my patient and I had both seen that same blue.  Perhaps this is the “real” color of the Phoenix, a strong archetype if there ever was one.

 

*This was probably the book: Shamanism as a Spiritual Practice for Daily Life

http://www.amazon.com/Shamanism-Spiritual-Practice-Daily-Life/dp/0895948389/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339572925&sr=1-1

White Horse website  http://wp.abqwhitehorse.com/

The beautiful card with corvids:  http://shop.tree-free.com/greeting-cards-by-occasion/all-occasion/11156/exodus/

See the difference between crow and raven faces here:
http://www.skullsunlimited.com/record_family.php?id=129

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Digging Deep, Tunnelling Through

Kuan Yin of My Office.
(Officially, a Kuan Yin of the Spring, with a tiny companion, and some incense from her temple at Asakasa in Tokyo. Kuan Yin of a Thousand Arms might be a better representation of a one-person business with its multitude of details and responsibilities!)

Sometimes “Spirit,” in whatever form it takes, tells me to stop asking for help and rely on my own resources.  Like Kuan Yin at the channeling class I described to you, telling me that I didn’t need her.  I recently mentioned this to a Buddhist friend, and he thought that was awfully strange; Kuan Yin is available for everyone, all the time, he said.  Maybe it wasn’t really her?  That thought had crossed my mind too.  There is my perennial question again– how do we know when They are real, and are who they say they are?

I’m willing to accept that it may be important to my learning and development, at least at certain times, to dig deep and strive to discover what I can do that I don’t believe or realize I can.  That’s fine.  But geez, folks, can’t a girl ask for some backup at least?

The past few weeks have been one of those periods that come along now and then, where the universe feels strangely empty and I can’t connect with anyone Out There.  No Fryderyk, no anybody.  One day last week I felt just too lonesome and was unwilling to go on that way.  I went into meditation and asked, as Betsy Morgan Coffman teaches, for the highest and best guide available, no specifics, no preconceived notions.  I don’t normally do that, because normally I know exactly who I’m trying to reach.

Something came along right away.  Whatever it was started tunneling away from me, quickly, like a small burrowing animal in the earth.  I couldn’t see what sort of animal it might be, but it was pulling me along with it.  Then it suddenly flipped me around to the front so that I was in charge of the digging myself!  I found that we were digging in a curve back around toward the middle of my body, which was where we ended up.  Sigh.  It couldn’t have been clearer, or more clichéd.  Find your answers inside yourself!  And did I say something about digging deep?

I was curious to know the identity of the creature who had brought me this message.  Holding the images of various animals in mind, I asked.  Gopher?  Rabbit?  Naked mole rat?  Termite, for heaven’s sake?  When I asked if it was a mole, that picture resonated, and the mole image moved into the center of my chest and settled there in a gentle, comforting, small furry mammal way.  And there it stayed.

All that felt like it involved a being other than myself.  The next experience was less clearly so.

Kuan Yin crossed my mind, called up by the thought of that conversation with my friend.  Was she available?  As I wondered, I found that traditional images of the bodhisattva were descending around me, so that I was inside them, looking out through them, as if I were inhabiting a statue or painting, or rather a metamorphosing succession of them.  The images clarified until I could feel an outline of white porcelain surrounding me, her ornate robes and headdress, her smooth, tranquil face.  It was odd.  To an extent I felt that an energy much larger than myself was pouring into me and fueling this process, but there was not much sense of an entity being with me or in touch with me.  Just me embodying the images, having to be Kuan Yin for myself and I suppose for others.  Still having to find my own resources.  Isn’t that a bit too big of a job for the likes of me, being Kuan Yin?

A thought floated through about challenges some of my friends are going through, and I asked for guidance “for those who are trying to love.”  She, I, or someone replied, “If you are trying to love, you are succeeding.”

I’ve said, and I still believe, that an encounter with a genuine spiritual guide, even if it’s our own higher self, will be empowering and uplifting.  A being that tries to control us or insist that we must follow its teaching is not a source we should listen to.  My sources seem to be almost too much the opposite sometimes– they only allow complete freedom and autonomy, they insist on it.  If I protest that I’m not as capable as they say I am, they keep telling me that I can do more than I think I can.  Fryderyk has made a particular habit of that over the years, and that’s one reason I so appreciate having him for a teacher.

************************************

A day or two after all that occurred, after nearly a month and a half of absence, my musician friend returned, visiting while I practiced some Bach on the harpsichord.  (I had thought that this harpsichord, borrowed from a friend– a miracle in itself– would surely attract his attention as soon as it entered my life, but I was wrong.)  Later, I asked if he had anything to say about the instrument or my efforts with it.  The intense experience this elicited went far beyond anything so mundane.  I don’t understand it yet, and I’m not even going to try to describe what it felt like here, except to say that it was like a spiritual open-heart surgery, a lot like what happened at the shamanic workshop.  I’ve again been changed, and I don’t yet know in what ways.

During that experience, my body and everything around it looked purple to my inner vision.  His favorite color.  One way, I suppose, of identifying himself.

This latest experience, too, seemed designed to help me access my own deep resources; Fryderyk didn’t offer any advice or opinions, but rather pulled something out of me that I only vaguely knew was there, or perhaps had forgotten.  But when it’s really been needed (as at the shamanic workshop), of course he has directly helped me.  I’m afraid the following may make him sound too good to be true, but it’s exactly what happened, without embellishment.  I’m posting this story now because it illustrates: specific, unequivocally benevolent actions by a noncorporeal entity; an insight into some factors that might make spirit communication more difficult; and yet again, a spirit contact expanding my own abilities.

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A weird effect occurred while I was sick in late December 2006.  There was an unbelievable amount of phlegm involved with this illness, and it seemed to perfectly fit the Oriental medicine definition of phlegm, both substantial and insubstantial.  For the first couple of days I had a severe, intractable sore throat, kept going by a constant and copious postnasal drip.  Then for a couple more days my sinuses, nose, and ears felt like they were packed with cement, while the sore throat continued.  During the “cement period,” I was somehow locked up inside my head.  It was exactly like the classic Chinese description of phlegm blocking the orifices.  In addition to the goo on the inside, it felt like there was a thick coating of plastic or something all around my skull.  My spirit, my Qi, couldn’t reach through that barrier for any purpose.  Just a day before I had been able to pull in plenty of energy to help myself feel stronger and more alert, and now I was totally disconnected from the power supply.

What I wanted most to do was to get some help for my throat.  Nothing was working, not acupuncture, herbs, sprays, saltwater, mass quantities of lemon and honey… I couldn’t sleep with the pain and I had had enough.  I was sure that if I could find Fryderyk, he could take the pain away.  I was sure of that because he had done it before.

Back in the summer of 1993, just a few months after I first met him, I developed a persistent, high-pitched, barking cough that went on 24 hours a day for weeks.  I sounded like a Chihuahua. The MD said that it was croup, and that I would just have to wait for it to go away.  He mentioned that it was odd for an adult to get it.  I had a number of odd illnesses that year, though; apparently the cancer that was brewing in my cervix was beating down my immune system.  Whatever the definition of the cough, it was like nothing I had ever experienced, and nothing, including codeine, stopped it.  (This was before I went to acupuncture school, by the way; I didn’t try needles or herbs till after the episode I’m describing. They did help more than the other interventions.)  I took up sleeping in the living room, to the extent that I could sleep at all, to try to get as far as possible from my husband and daughter, but the sound must still have driven them to distraction.

The cough, I was told, related to an irritation of my epiglottis, which was supposed to be the focus of the infection.  That sounded about right, because I could feel a distinct, circumscribed, painful spot at the top of my throat.  Various painful areas came and went as time went on, including a nasty one where my diaphragm attached at the xiphoid process, but the epiglottis stayed sore all the time.

About three weeks into this sorry situation, Fryderyk made an attempt to help.  (And where had he been for those three weeks, I’d like to know.)  This was still a new experience for me, to have him do a really invasive treatment on me.  I remember distinctly the feeling that he was putting his fingers down my throat.  That sounds disgusting, but I didn’t experience it as obnoxious, just sort of ticklish.  I trusted him to know how to help me.  He poked around for a few seconds or so, and the pain completely stopped and did not return.

The cough was another matter.  It felt like Fryderyk was experimenting, trying to find a way to get at the cough, but his efforts kept backfiring.  Every time he touched that spot on my epiglottis, he would set off another coughing jag.  I did my best to relax and help him, but to no avail.  We eventually gave up.  I coughed for about another week, but I didn’t mind too much because there was no pain or irritation anymore.

At that time, I was under the impression that Fryderyk was new to healing work.  I know now that he already possessed at least some mastery and that he was enthusiastic about doing healing.  What seemed to me to be tentativeness did not indicate a lack of experience or confidence.

So 13 years later I was thinking nostalgically about this episode, wishing he would visit, and feeling a bit neglected.  But when I tried to put in a “phone call” to my friend, I found that the lines were down.

I also felt very much in need of comforting, but I didn’t want to get too physically close to my husband or anyone else for fear of passing on viruses.  Not only was I unable to snuggle up to Fryderyk, I couldn’t even make a noncorporeal visit to Bob, something that’s usually so easy.

A day or so later, I felt the plastic coating lift from my head.  The disgusting glop in my sinuses and nose started to drain, which of course was ickier still, but at least it was leaving my body.  And I could reach the larger world again.  As soon as I could, as loudly and conspicuously as I could, I yelled for Fryderyk.

And got a reply.  As I’ve said, I don’t like begging him for help, complaining, whining, etc., but I really did need help.  He didn’t seem to mind the call; as soon as I pointed out the problem in my throat, he did something about it.  This time I didn’t feel anything entering my throat, just warmth in my spine in the upper part of my neck.  The pain stopped within seconds.  This time, too, there didn’t seem to be anything he could do about the cough, but since it was necessary to clear all that phlegm from my chest, coughing seemed like a good idea.

Once I got him involved, Fryderyk kept checking on me over the next few days, which I appreciated.  He did more of a general sort of healing, which did help me to feel perkier and less ill.

As soon as I got back to work with patients, someone with the same killer sore throat needed me.  I was confident that energy work would take care of it, and that I could do the same thing for that woman that Fryderyk had done for me.  And I did, happy to pass on the gift.

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The Basic Shamanic Workshop

A friend’s question about power animals has reminded me that I’ve never gotten myself together to write about that subject here.  The main reason is that I’ve never developed a very deep understanding of what the animals “really” are.  Or much of any understanding at all.  I have had fascinating and profound experiences with what appeared to be animal spirits, though, and I treasure them.

This subject also ties in with another I need to expand upon at this point: how do we know that the beings we contact are for real or are who they say they are?  I’ll have much more to say about that, but for now, let me tell you about my introduction to shamanism.  Some of you reading this have far more training and experience in this area than I do, so please feel free to chime in.

During my first year at Southwest Acupuncture College, 1993-94, one of my teachers was Diane Polasky, DOM.  Diane had been my acupuncturist for quite a while, and I gave piano and voice lessons to her daughter.  Diane was also well-versed in shamanic studies.

My own crash-course introduction to the spirit world had come early in 1993, with my first encounter with the being identified as Fryderyk Chopin.  (See my post “How I Met Fryderyk.”  And note the weaselly indefiniteness of my reference to him just now.  It’s still hard to be assertive and confident in writing about him.)  I had told Diane about my composer friend pretty early on, just in a general way, just the idea that someone was around.  One day when she was treating me she got a bad feeling about something.  She told me that there was indeed someone around and that the being was not OK in the least.  She thought it might be an elemental– a concept that was new to me– a mischievous being glomming onto me for potentially harmful purposes.  (There are other definitions of elementals as well.)

“Would an elemental have a deep understanding of piano technique?” I asked.  I thought not, but I honestly didn’t know.  Diane asked, half joking, if I was in touch with someone from Mozart’s time, in a brocade jacket and powdered wig.  Not quite that, I replied, but a musician, someone I felt was trustworthy.

Diane then uttered these immortal words, which I have often repeated to myself: “Just because someone’s dead, doesn’t mean they’re nice.”  She explained that an elemental could pretend to be any number of things and could gain access to enough knowledge to be completely convincing.  (I didn’t, and still don’t, believe that an elemental could manage to manifest as something as emotionally complex, skilled, or erudite as Fryderyk, who seems all too human, though I can’t prove it.  It’s also quite possible that Diane was perceiving some other entity that was hanging around me at the time.)

While I didn’t take Diane’s misgivings all that seriously, her doubts fed into my own and preyed upon my mind a bit.  When she told me about an upcoming basic shamanic workshop and described how that could help me figure out what was going on, I was vitally interested.  This was one of a series of workshops put on by Michael Harner’s Foundation for Shamanic Studies.  It was going to be held that spring in Oregon, not too far from Portland.  I had no idea that there was no sense going there because another session exactly like it was to be held in Albuquerque later that year.  Going to Oregon sounded like a great idea anyway because I could combine the workshop with a visit to my friend Elaine.  A SWAC classmate was also interested, and we decided to travel there together.

The way it worked out, I went all the way to Oregon to find the person who had been right here with me for over a year, as close as my own skull.  Oh, well, I got a trip to Portland out of it.

The workshop was at Breitenbush, a spiritual community out in the woods, spotted with wonderful hot springs.  Although it was May, when we arrived sleet was falling; mud turned out to be a major theme of the weekend.  We New Mexicans coughed and shivered in the extreme dampness and chill.  And no one could sleep the first night; we were told the bubbling geothermal energy of the place tended to affect everyone that way when they first arrived.  But the real trial for me was a severe bout of the chronic pain I had been suffering with for nearly eight years.  At the time I only dimly understood the source of that pain.

The workshop was terrific, at least the parts I was able to stay awake for.  I wish I could remember the name of our teacher, who was excellent.  (I do remember that she came from the Pacific Northwest.)  The teacher was kind enough to give me permission to lie down during the class sessions, when sitting became too agonizing.

While shamanic practices seem quite foreign to us urban moderns, it’s important to realize that this way of seeing the world was common to all of humanity not so long ago.  Many tribal peoples still live in this kind of reality, but we were all once tribal peoples and all lived close to nature.  Harner and his disciples have tried to distill out the basic practices and beliefs that have been known to cultures around the globe.

One of our first activities, putting us directly and literally in touch with the natural world, was rock divination.  This was an exercise for letting our intuition loose.  It’s very simple: you hold any rock, not necessarily a special kind, and gaze at the patterns and shapes in its surface.  Those suggest answers to whatever questions you are holding in mind.

A particularly fascinating activity was “dancing the animals.”  We walked around in a big circle and invited the animal spirits to come and inhabit our bodies, and that was what happened!  At that time almost the only way I could experience nonphysical beings was to become them, to embody them.  I remember the sensation of suddenly becoming a crane, stepping stiffly on each foot while holding the other leg bent high in the air, lifting my “wings” as I paced majestically.  There were other animals I don’t remember, but the experience that will always stay with me was the cougar.  I crouched on the ground on my “haunches,” very palpably feeling a long tail swishing behind my head and my huge furry paws on the floor.  I felt immensely muscular and powerful, and had to restrain myself from trying to leap across the room on all fours.  In that state I felt sure I could cover the entire distance at one bound, but of course that would not have ended well had I tried it.  All this felt like I was being actually taken over by some other entity, but there was no discomfort or sense of danger in it, no unwanted feeling of invasion, and once it was over, it was over, without any lingering effects.

These were apparently random animals who just happened to show up for the group– I have no idea why– rather than our individual power animals.  A major part of the weekend was devoted to learning to do a power animal retrieval, a process that can help strengthen a person and reconnect them with the natural world and with their own essential nature.  Each person is supposed to have a connection with at least one animal spirit who is there to help and support them, much like a guardian angel, but that connection can be lost.  With the modern disruption of our relationship with the earth, I suppose we need more than ever to revive those connections.  We were told not to have preconceived notions about what sort of animal we might end up with, nor to be upset if we didn’t get a “cool” one like a wolf or an eagle.  Every kind of animal has something to teach us.  The teacher, who had a horror of slugs, said a person might even conceivably have a power slug, though she would just as soon not.  We were told that we have no control over which animal decides to come to our aid.  They are assumed to be greater beings than we are, and we cannot dictate to them.

The process of animal retrieval is uncomplicated and easy to learn.  As with everything else in shamanic practice, it’s necessary to enter an altered mental state.  This can be done by various means; drugs such as peyote have been used in many cultures, but we simply used monotonous drumming and rattling, which works quite adequately.   The process of going to another reality this way and getting information and assistance is called journeying.

We worked in pairs, the shaman-in-training lying side by side next to the “patient,” one person’s head at the other’s feet.  The budding shaman was supposed to journey to the Lower World, where the animal spirits live, by visualizing going down through some opening in the earth, such as a cave or the mouth of a spring.  Once there, we were told to ask which animal was meant to be with this person.  The animal might manifest as a vision, in words, or in physical sensations.  We might encounter various animals, but the correct one would manifest three times.  When that happened, we were supposed to embrace it, bring it back to ordinary reality, and blow it into the top of the person’s head.

I was nervous that I wouldn’t come up with anything at all, but I did encounter a small green snake, which showed itself to me in images and by giving me undulating sensations in my body.  I duly held it in my hands and blew it into my partner’s body.  So far so good.

When my partner did the same for me, I had an extraordinary experience.  I sat up and found myself cocking and turning my head in quick, jerky, birdlike motions that wouldn’t stop.  “It’s some kind of bird,” I said.  My partner, looking delighted, replied, “It’s a crow!”  I was quite convinced that a bird had come to inhabit my body with me, whatever that meant; it could not have been more vivid.  I’ll tell you more about the Crow, who became very dear to me, when I write more about the power animals.

Toward the end of the second and last day we did perhaps the most profound activity: a journey to the Upper World to look for a spirit guide.  The purpose was twofold: to try to meet such an august being, and to solicit help for some problem if we wished to do so.  We were told that it was best to ask for help for someone other than ourselves, that the spirits were more likely to respond to such a request than if our motives were selfish.  However, the teacher said that if we really, truly, needed help for ourselves, it was all right to ask.

I really, truly needed help, I thought.  By that time I was wild with pain and couldn’t think of anything else.  It was about the worst it had ever been, and I was at the end of my rope and didn’t have any idea how to help myself.

The drums started and I did my best to climb into the sky and ask for the highest possible guide to come and work with me.  I wasn’t much surprised when Fryderyk, who had been hovering around me a bit earlier in the workshop, came in immediately and with complete clarity.  It was as if he had just been waiting to be asked.  There was no one else looking to come through.  I showed him the pain that I was feeling and told him that I would do anything, anything at all, to make it stop.  I didn’t ask him to stop it for me.  I asked what I myself needed to do to get better.  I said that I was willing to take the responsibility for my healing, and that I believed he could help me figure out how.  I don’t know why I thought he could help, but I had complete confidence in him at that moment.

Well, I asked for it, and I sure got it.  It felt like he took a sledgehammer and swung it hard into my sternum.  My heart broke open like a building hit by a wrecking ball.  It was awful and terrifying and wonderful.  I understood in no time what I had been suppressing and hiding under that pain.  It was literally painfully obvious once I saw it.

The pain started to diminish within moments, and my condition improved more and more over the next few days.  It never got that bad again.

Unfortunately, within the context of the class, there was no time at all for me to process that earth-shattering experience.  I had to come back to the reality of the room at Breitenbush right away.  I would not have been able to resolve it all that day, anyway.  Once my heart was opened all sorts of things started pouring out, and the process took quite a while to complete.  My “stuff” kept pouring all the rest of the week, which made my visit with Elaine overdramatic and difficult.  It did force us to work out some issues in our relationship, though.  I had no control over my emotions or their expression whatsoever, so I couldn’t hold anything back or smooth anything over, and it was a rocky ride.  I had to keep reminding myself that I really had asked for all this to happen and that it was what I really needed.  I don’t know what Elaine thought.  It can’t have been much fun for her.

I returned to school with a heavy, streaming cold but a lot more confidence in myself and in my dear disembodied friend, who had gone a thousand extra miles for me to meet me where I was in every sense.

I’ve written this on Chinese New Year’s Eve, just before the Year of the Water Dragon.  I guess I should give you a preview of the power animal stories to come, and a fond greeting to the Dragon who offered himself as my protector:

At the time of the demon attack in 1999 (see “A Case of Possession”), I was terrified, and I cast about for any help I could find.  One of the symptoms was a feeling of isolation, as if there were a heavy fog wrapped around me, keeping me from my spiritual connections.  I did everything I could to reach out– yes, I did pray, and I did feel more connected after that.  Here is one of the specific strategies I tried.

Perhaps, I thought, there might be help in the shamanic world, some being that was more or less on the level of the demon and able to deal with it.  I hoped to find someone or something that was bigger and badder than that entity, so I journeyed to the Lower World and asked for exactly that.

Usually, as I’ve said, I feel entities much more than I see them, but this time I had some visuals, and they were dramatic.  I entered a cave and found a gigantic, gold and red, Chinese-style dragon, breathing fire and the whole nine yards.  In flashes, I saw his huge, round, rolling eyes, the feathery streaming appendages around his head, his formidable horns, and his scimitar claws.  The golden scales gleamed impressively.  He was the fiercest creature I could imagine, and I was very, very glad to have him in my corner.  He was a little frightening, but his wrath was directed at that which would harm me, not at me.

I can’t say that the Dragon did anything in particular during the time that I was fighting that malevolent being, but I felt supported and much stronger.  I often fail to remember to ask for him, but I have felt his support at some difficult times since.  We’re bound to need all the help we can get this year, too.  I just read that Dragon years are always tumultuous.  Happy New Year, and hang on for a wild ride through the stormy skies!

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