Monday, December 15, 2008
The Gift of Spirit
Spending three days in shaman time usually results in interesting insights and occurrences, but the first session of the year-long training, Spirited Living: A Journey into Self-Healing, was more interesting than most.
Part of the three-day workshop was held at Camp Long. Located in West Seattle, Camp Long is a Seattle park with a focus on education about local plants and wildlife, and I had chosen it for precisely that reason.
My first realization that the weekend might be out of the ordinary (whatever that might be for shamanism!) came the morning before the class as I was walking my dog, Puma, in Schmitz Park, the last old growth forest in Seattle. As readers may recall from previous columns and my book, Tails of a Healer: Animals, Reiki and Shamanism, I have a close relationship with the park and the trees that grow there.
That morning the trees in Schmitz Park greeted me with the information that the trees at Camp Long were really excited about the class, they said that it had been a long time since any on this path had danced in the energy and walked there. I realized with a bit of a shock that I was being told that the trees in Camp Long would be holding space for this weekend and for the students as they took their first steps into the Peruvian shamanic tradition of the Q’ero.
Later that morning the weekend began with my opening Sacred Space for the class, taking us all into shaman time—between the worlds and into the limitless possibilities for shift and change—a space that we would all inhabit for the entire weekend. Given the early morning message I had received, I made a point of acknowledging, with deep gratitude, All Our Relations who would be holding space and assisting in guiding the people attending: animal allies, Stone People and Tree People. And when I began to call upon the apus (mountain spirits) for their assistance, I realized just how appropriate the choice of venue for this weekend really was, on the wall facing me were painted wooden plaques commemorating each of the local mountains! I asked all the archetypes and allies for assistance, guidance, wisdom, and strength as well as for their love as we set our feet upon this shamanic path. In retrospect I realized that perhaps I should have put on my shamanic seat belt!
Training at Camp Long took place in the Lodge, a wonderful space built in the 1930’s, which means it has high ceilings, lovely dark wood, and a working fireplace—perfect for a class in shamanism.
In keeping with its focus on education, it also had an extensive adjoining library on every local animal and plant you could imagine, as well as a display case which contained valuable information on owls. I had always wanted to go on one of Camp Long’s nighttime owl walks, and paid special attention to the case and the stuffed owl that flew above it, an act that was to have great significance in the following days.
Odd things can happen during shamanic training, as Sacred Space remains open for the entire duration. That night, in Dreamtime, I watched some chipmunks and birds feeding on food and seed that had been put out on a grassy area. I was glad to see them being taken care of, the yard where I live is certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat, and I realized that I could offer them the leftover apple pie I just happened to be carrying.
Just then I noticed an owl on the ground, feeding among the other wildlife. The logical part of my brain noted that an appearance by an owl at any time of day would normally send birds and small mammals running for cover in terror, yet all were peaceful.
As I was trying to assimilate that information while glorying in seeing an owl, Owl suddenly jumped, not flew, landing at my feet on my right side. As I looked down at Owl I realized there was something odd about his face, it did not look like any of the illustrations of living owls I had seen. Before I could explore that thought further Owl spoke. Looking meaningfully at the apple pie I carried he said, “I like apple pie.” Feeling rather like Dorothy in Oz my jaw dropped in astonishment, and I replied, “I did not know owls liked apple pie, but you are welcome to have some.” And Owl hopped up onto the tin and proceeded to dine on apple pie with gusto.
When he was finished Owl hopped down, and with the primary feather on one wing made the same beckoning motion that one would make with an index finger. As I bent down Owl said, “The next time you speak with God, ask for what is missing in your life.” A tremendous feeling of awe came over me, could it be that simple? With it came the realization that this was definitely not a dream, this was a gift from Spirit, as I would not normally refer to Spirit as God. Owl had more to say, but unfortunately we were interrupted and the rest of the wisdom that would have been imparted was lost, and I woke up.
The dream that was not a dream stuck with me. I was guided to bring it to the class and share. As we sat in circle, I suddenly recognized my nocturnal visitor and realized why he had looked so odd in the dream—the physical form of Owl was none other than the stuffed owl that flew above the display case—only now there was a power animal spirit inhabiting it! With the dream I had suspected that I had perhaps gained a new power animal of my own that weekend, but now I realized that the class as a whole had one too, something I had not known might happen.
In thinking back I realized that Owl had been making himself known over several weeks prior to the class. On several nights, while walking Puma by Schmitz Park, I had heard an owl hooting just at the edge of the trees, a rare occurrence. Feeling very blessed, I tracked the sound to a tree each time and stood at the base just listening and wishing that I could actually see the owl, but regretfully, it was too dark. Each time I thanked the owl for making his presence known and for not being frightened off.
That day in class at Camp Long, one student actually got to see an owl while doing some outside class work. Apparently he was sitting in a tree about 20 feet from her, ironically flying off only when someone came over to warn her not to frighten the owl!
That evening I reflected on the possible meaning of Owl for the class and personally. As a power animal Owl has great healing powers and wisdom, and is an old symbol of Spirit. In some traditions Owl is a symbol of death, and as a nocturnal being is linked to the cycles of the moon, representative of the feminine and of change. The owl is a bird of the night, a symbol of the darkness within, the Shadow side; in shamanism, the side that we dance with and get to know intimately, for there is tremendous potential for growth in the healing of our wounds. However, in order to realize that potential, we must be willing to let go of the old and familiar, to allow our old ways of being to die in order to make way for the new.
As I researched Owl further in my books on animal spirits, I noted that Owl also enables one to hear what is not being said, what is hidden, including the ability to see into the darkness of others’ souls. From this also arises the gift of clairvoyance and prophecy—the ability to see the future. Unsure of the meaning of all of this I closed the book, and headed off to an uneventful sleep.
The following morning, and final day of the shamanic weekend, and I was again walking Puma in Schmitz Park.
The leaves were drifting gently down off the trees. Already many lay on the path, making dry shooshing sounds as we walked through them. Then, as though there were no other leaves present, my attention focused solely on one from a Big Leaf Maple. As I picked it up I marveled at its size and beauty and yearned to take it back with me. Further examination revealed a spider egg case on the other side. Taking the leaf would mean interrupting the life cycle of the spider babies it held, so reluctantly I laid it back down and walked on.
Several minutes later I was still fretting about that leaf. Despite the multitudes of leaves around it seemed that no other would do. As I felt the yearning tug once again, with an audible “ping” one leaf detached itself from the Big Leaf Maple overhead and literally fell at my feet.
I picked it up with a sense of gratitude for the gift. Less perfect in appearance than the first, I wondered why I had been given this one particular leaf. It was mottled in sections, and there were holes where an insect had dined. And then, like the paper that falls away from a present that is being unwrapped, the Leaf revealed the gift in its entirety. I saw the new green of spring, and felt the inhale of carbon dioxide, poison to us, but life for the Tree; and the exhale of oxygen, life for us and many other inhabitants of Pachamama. I felt sunlight caress the Leaf and the Sun’s energy transformed into food for the Tree, and the Leaf into food for the Insect. Seeming endless summer finally eased into Fall, when the Tree withdrew its energy from the Leaf and prepared for the dormancy of Winter. This tattered Leaf shared its glorious story with me, with no sense of sadness, only joy in its dance with the cycle of life. A story and gift that I brought back to the class who were engaged in their own dance of growth, transformation and death. And interwoven into that story, with great beauty, was Owl, harbinger of days that grow longer—days of increasing darkness as we approached the season of Winter—the traditional season of death and rest before the resurrection of Spring.
But the story of Owl and the Trees did not end with the inevitable closing of Sacred Space at the end of class.
The following weekend I was scheduled to attend a fundraiser for Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, an organization that was founded to rescue a group of seven chimpanzees who were waiting for sanctuary after decades of use in research. The fundraiser was being held at a private home of a friend of one of my clients.
As Kim, one of my students from the shamanic training, parked the car, I noticed a yard that had so many squirrels and birds feeding in the grassy area it looked like the ground was in constant motion. Hanging from the numerous trees were what looked like at least a dozen feeders.
As I noticed a familiar sign from the National Wildlife Federation designating the yard as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat, I realized that this was the house the auction fundraiser was being held at. I thought, “I like these people already!”
In an effort to lend whatever support I could to the fundraiser I had brought copies of my book to add to the raffle that they were having. In looking for a place for them on a table crowded with the donations of others, I was startled to see two homemade apple pies! I immediately flashed to my dream, suddenly there was similarity between the animals and the birds in Dreamtime and the ones feeding on the grassy lawn where the fundraiser was being held.
Turning to Kim, who knew the story from her class, I smiled and remarked, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I won the apple pie?” Since I normally don’t win a thing at raffles I simply bought three tickets to support the cause and thought no more of it—until my number was called as the winner of the first apple pie.
I held that apple pie with a deep sense of reverence and of humbleness. I had been given a very special gift, but what to do with it? As a single person I could not possibly eat a whole pie myself, so I offered a slice to Kim and Becky, another of the students who had been at the shamanic training. Perhaps they could enjoy it on behalf of the rest of the class.
In thinking about the symbolism of apple pie I wondered if it also stood for the American Dream, the concept of home and community—of connection with all that we hold near and dear. So, in honor and gratitude for the dream, the Trees, and Owl I left a slice on the Earth as an offering, and what I did not eat I offered as a gift to my local wildlife. Perhaps the true gift of Spirit lies in sharing what we have with those most important to us.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a prosperous New Year from all of us at Wild Reiki and Shamanic Healing!
Rose, Kiya, Saqqara, Puma, Cougar and Sand
The Big Leaf Maple photo and an excerpt from this story appears in the new Tails of a Healer: Animals, Reiki and Shamanism 2009 Calendar and Workbook. Matching spiritual journals are also available.
Wild Reiki and Shamanic Healing LLC
Animal and Reiki Art: www.cafepress.com/reikishamanic