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Shadow Totem

eye-465438_640.jpgMany of the native tribes of America believe that people have spirit animals or totem animals.  Of course the way they define a spirit or totem animal differs.  And so, from a more universal perspective, I’m going to simplify the concept in this way… All animals have a specific vibration, which is what sets them apart from other animals.  They have specific characteristics, strengths and weaknesses.  Some of these animals “resonate” with us.  We feel a special kinship with them.  We identify with them. A spirit animal is an animal whose vibration is the closest to your own.  This is why some native tribes believe that you possess the “medicine” of this animal.  You possess its strengths and weaknesses.  They believe this would be the animal you would shape shift into if you practiced the magic of shape shifting.  We have the tendency as a human race to favor certain animals and look down on other animals.  This makes it hard for people to genuinely open up to their true spirit animal, especially if they have low self esteem.  For example, it’s tempting to want your spirit animal to be a lion, because you assign respectable qualities to that animal.  This is how you want to see yourself.  But your spirit animal may very well be a grasshopper. A totem animal on the other hand is like a protector or friend.  It is the animal that balances your energy out or compliments it.  You can think of your totem animals like your “posse”.  Usually people are completely unaware of the animal that is their spirit animal and the animal they identify with as their favorite, is their totem animal. What most people don’t know is that they also have a shadow totem animal.  This animal possesses qualities within you that are suppressed.  It represents your subconscious self.  Although not always the case, many people know what their shadow totem is because it is the animal they fear or resist the very most.  In shamanic ceremony, we work just as much with the energies of the shadow totem as we do with the energies of the spirit animal.  As some of you know, the red fox is my spirit animal.  The horse is my main totem animal and my shadow totem animal is a whale.  I have spent the vast majority of my life terrified of whales.  They grace my nightmares on a regular basis.  They represent the dark and infinitely deep magnitude of the pain I suffered in isolation.  They represent the aspect of myself that I am the most eager to get away from, the aspect of me that is eager to claim and to drown the rest of me.

humpback-79854_640.jpgI had a shamanic dream last night.  I was in a tropical location in a hurricane but I was indoors at a public aquarium.  The place was deserted, having been closed down by the storm.  I was walking tentatively along the side of a pool with a very aggravated, male humpback whale inside of it.  The large door to the side of the building he was kept in was open.  The whale had the energy of vengeance.  Similar to the energy of a dog that has been caged and tortured and who is about to attack at the slightest movement.  The gale force winds drove the sleet rain and palm leaves through the open doorway and blew me into the pool with the whale. I felt nearly paralyzed by terror.  But I heard my own voice talking inside my head as if I was presenting on stage.  I was saying “Dive down into the depths with the whale.  When you feel negative emotion, you dive towards it, not away from it.  And if you do it over and over, negative emotion will not affect you anymore.  You will have a positive feeling for it.  You will fall in love with the shadow and the deep.”  That kept repeating and repeating in my head through the entire rest of the dream.  So I dove like my life depended on it.  The minute I did that, the pool turned into the open ocean.  I dove down under the belly of the whale.  Each time he came after me, I dove down underneath him again.  This threw him off guard as he was expecting me to swim towards the surface.  He seemed confused and after a time, he stopped and turned upside down in a roll and realized he was free.  

water-731251_640.jpgEventually, I floated slowly to the surface and as I surfaced, the ocean turned into the pool once more.  I floated over to one side of the pool and it was shallow enough that I could stand.  The whale was at the other end of the pool and when he realized where I was, he charged me.  Instead of scrambling to get out of the pool, I held out my arms towards him as if to block him.  But as he charged me, he kept shrinking and shrinking and slowing down and slowing down until he was floating towards me, the size of a large bath toy.  I reached towards him and picked him up. He felt cold in my hands.  The feeling of his skin is so clear to me.  I lifted him to my mouth and put him face first into my mouth and bit him in half.  Then swallowed all of him.  It didn’t feel literal.  It felt symbolic.  I felt like by eating him, I was expanding wide enough to encompass and assimilate him into myself.  It was like the ultimate form of integration.  And he felt safer inside me.  I could feel him diffusing out into my body like a kind of merger.  I was staring out at an empty pool, feeling relief that he was no longer in captivity.  It was at that point that I woke up.  I have felt effected by that dream all day long.  It is one of the most powerful affirmations I’ve ever received in dreamtime.  I have been finding it hard to focus on the normal practicalities of the rest of my day since having the dream. 


A part of me is really heartbroken that the fantasy of relationships has died for me.  My first love felt so sweet because it came with no prior romantic trauma.  The possibility of breaking up was inconceivable to the degree that the thought quite literally didn’t exist.  The love was not polluted by fear.  This is why nothing usually compares with our first love.  Then, when this first love ends, it is like a bitch slap to the face.  You’re shocked and afraid because you now see that there is risk involved in relationships.  You’re acutely aware of the risk from that point on.  If subsequent relationships end painfully, relationships start to feel extremely difficult and fragile and the insecurity of loss is always there like a terrible internal ghost that haunts all of the beautiful moments between you.  I am at the point where I am aware of this ghost within me.  The insecurity of potential future loss is a real demon in my relationships.  I could be with the most devoted man in the world and still, this demon would rear its fire breathing head.

In some cases, we end up in situations where our perspective is that ‘the ends justify the means’.  We know pain will be involved in our decision, but choosing that pain enables us to avoid even worse pain.  It is this conundrum that causes us to be authentic despite the risks.  When the risks involved with authenticity are greater than the potential payoffs of the authenticity, we are usually not authentic.  For example, if you are gay in a super religious household, being authentic that you are gay comes with many risks.  In this case, pain coming as the result of your authenticity, is inevitable.  But not being authentic is also painful.  It can get to the point where it is so painful not to be authentic that the potential pain involved in being authentic no longer compares with the pain of not being authentic.  This is when someone who is gay decides to “come out of the closet”. And sometimes this applies not only to our own pain but to other people’s pain as well.  The time comes that it is so painful not to be authentic that being authentic is worth the potential pain caused to others.  For example, if you’re in a relationship and your heart is not in the relationship anymore.  You know that by being authentic that you don’t want to be in the relationship anymore, you’re going to cause the other person pain.  Eventually, you can’t take it anymore.  Despite the fact that being authentic will hurt them, you choose to be authentic anyway because the pain of being inauthentic outweighs it.

black-and-white-1283234_640.jpgSome of us decide that pretense and being private or closed at all, causes us so much pain that any pain caused by authenticity is worth it.  Some of us decide that being authentic and open at all, causes us so much pain that any pain caused by pretense is worth it.  But most of us find ourselves somewhere along the spectrum between extremes.  Some of the things we aren’t authentic about aren’t consciously causing us pain so we aren’t authentic about them.  And other things we aren’t authentic about are consciously causing us pain so we are authentic about them.  So we are partially out of the closet.  And keep in mind that we can only be authentic to the degree that we currently know ourselves.  In other words, you don’t know what you don’t know about yourself. The scary thing about authenticity is that it is a bit of a judgment call based on individual perspective whether the pain caused by authenticity outweighs the pain caused by privacy.  This is why we so seldom agree on transparency.  Just take a look at the controversy surrounding Edward Snowden.  Potential impact should be considered when you are deciding whether to be open or to be closed about something.  But you can’t perceive all the potentials that could happen.  Which is why you have to rely on your heart at the end of the day to make that decision for you in the moment you find yourself at the authenticity crossroads. 

I am in Atlanta, Georgia today.  I was happy to come here, expecting the same friendliness and southern hospitality that I have experienced in past trips here.  But I must confess that this trip has been somewhat different.  The emotional tension in the city is at an all time high.  The “crab in the bucket” dynamic is the dominant negative social aspect of this city.  And it too has increased in intensity since my last visit.  Overall, people are feeling really helpless and defensive against each other because of that helplessness.  There is also an increase of homelessness.  I have been getting leftovers when I go out to eat so I can offer food to select individuals on the side of the road.  I went to a raw restaurant yesterday and gave the leftovers to a young man with diabetes who was sitting near a traffic light.  He asked me what it was when he sat down to eat it.  I think it was his first interaction with ‘real’ food as opposed to junk food.  The way his body reacted to the food was like I had handed him medicine instead of food.  I must confess that I still can’t believe in the year 2016 we haven’t found a solution to homelessness collectively on this earth.

1006322_10151571823564397_706448275_n_0.jpgOn an up-note, one of my close friends, Lynn Busch flew from Ohio to accompany me on this Atlanta trip.  We played the game 100 questions last night after getting lost around the city trying to find a vegan restaurant.  Part of my re-owning process of the divine feminine is about developing strong connections with other women.  Admittedly, this is a foreign experience for me so far.  It’s a bit like putting your bare feet in thick mud.  You can feel your own squeamish resistance to doing it, but at the same time, it feels so good.  And so now, we are off on another feminine adventure into the city.


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I am reassured to read about your experience with the whale (and so glad for you that you've found some measure of healing with it!). I have been terrified of snakes for as long as I can remember, until just a few weeks ago. During a totem animal reading with a friend, the serpent came through and she traveled up my spine and now rests coiled around it, with her head essentially on my internal shoulder. It is very comforting feeling, now, instead of terrifying, and I am finding that even real-life serpents do not alarm me. I can look at a photo of a snake or serpent for the first time ever and not rush to scroll past it or otherwise disengage. 

I agree, sadly, with your view that authenticity can have unexpected and devastating effects.  I was hospitalized, voluntarily, for depression in 2001, and it was used against me in my ex-husband's custody case the following year. It's enraging, on some level, to have to defend one's history of coping in the only way one could conceive of at the time, as well as one's own character in light of abuse that was perpetrated ON you, not BY you! You are in a unique situation, of course, having been so beautifully public in helping others by sharing your story. I sincerely hope all is working out well in the case of your partner and the children involved. 

Lastly, thank you for the new site! I am only just becoming familiar with your work in more than a general sense, and I love being able to interact and comment in this way. 

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