Communication With the Self

I’m used to working on communicating with other people; gods know I’ve gotten into enough situations through miscommunication that I could stand to pay better attention to what I hear as well as what I say. However, the Air work has reminded me that communication also exists within, my relationship with myself. In some ways it’s easier to communicate with other people. Other people eventually go home, go about their business, and take their problems with them. However, I have the (unenviable?) task of living with myself 24-7. Since I’m a vivid dreamer, I don’t even get a break when I sleep!

Okay, it really isn’t so bad as all that. However, I can be pretty tough on myself. One thing I need to remember is that life and personal evolution are not competitions. Too often in my life I’ve angsted over my deficiencies because I’ve compared myself to other people (whether I knew them or not) and found myself lacking. And that’s really not fair to me. I put myself up to such high standards that I can never meet them. That generally leaves me (predictably) frustrated and feeling pretty bad about myself, which additionally is an incredibly unproductive way to spend my time. It’s not even a fun way to relax.

A good example is tonight. I’ve just started reading Mircea Eliade’s classic Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. I’m only in the first chapter, and I’m reading about all these impressive initiations that various shamans in other cultures have had. For example, some shamans became shamans by curing themselves of serious illness. I look at myself and realize that I haven’t even managed to successfully cure a headache. I tried grounding the illness in my stomach, and all it did was make my stomach hurt more. Granted, there were some things that I could have tried that I haven’t yet–I haven’t even attempted asking Bear or other totems for active help in healing, other than in my evening prayers. However, tomorrow I have a doctor’s appointment to make sure that there’s nothing really serious going on, since it’s been going on for over a month.

Should I admit defeat because I’m going to someone else about my illness? Should I just scrap the whole idea?

Believe me, the thought crossed my mind for a moment. But then I realized, with a little reminder from the spirits, that I am not a shaman in the middle of early 20th century Siberia. I am a shaman-in-training in the middle of 21st century Portland, Oregon, and I am in a very different cultural and geographic situation, never mind the deviation of my experiences from that of an Evenk shaman.

And that’s where I had to sit and talk to myself. One thing I’m in the process of doing is separating out what I think about myself versus what other people (generally people close to me rather than random people) think about me, as well as what I think about myself as a consequence of what others think of me. As social creatures we’re conditioned to be tuned into the thoughts and feelings of others as a way of maintaining some form of relationship and conformity. However, in American culture this awareness is often tied in with some serious insecurity issues. Therefore, rather than seeing interconnections with others as mutual support systems, some people may see these interconnections as methods of controlling others as a way of bolstering their own confidence, amassing power or even releasing pent-up negative emotions that could be vented more constructively. The negative impressions from abusive relationships of all sorts may take years, if not the better part of a lifetime, to undo.

In my own case, I’ve had to recondition myself to realize that being flawed isn’t the end of the world, and that I shouldn’t strive to be perfect just because I may perceive others as having fewer flaws. I got picked on a lot as a kid by my peers, and that left a few deep emotional scars that told me that even the smallest blemish could lead to abuse. Although I’ve done a lot of healing on that particular element of my past, and discovered that there are, indeed, excellent people in the world who have risen above such pettiness, I still have that pattern of perfection-as-protection to undo in its entirety.

And so that entails communicating with myself, rather than bullying myself. I consciously watch what I say and how I interpret what I hear for signs of that behavior pattern, as well as a few others. Otherwise, if I neglect this conversation, I miss the very important messages from within. It’s all well and good to be in touch with the spirits, and with the people around me, but if I am not in touch with myself, then I’m missing out on some of the most important information given to me.

My Air month hasn’t even been going for a week yet, and it’s already been a tough one. Earth kicked me in the stomach, and Air is rattling through my head (no, not like THAT), and both have shaken me up to the internal environment that is ever crucial to improving my work with the external environment. The true test, of course, will be how well the lessons stick, and how much permanent change for the better comes out of all of this. All in good time; it’s not a race.

Advertisements

…and Air

Today was my start of my Air month. Fortunately I wasn’t sick this time around, so I was able to get started mostly on time.

Hawk and I sat and talked about what I should be paying attention to with regards to Air. Communication, of course, is a big one, especially right now in my life. This includes not only communication with others, but also communication with myself. The way Hawk explained it to me is that Air carries things, hence birds often being associated with messages. Sound is also of Air; Air carries the sound-vibrations from place to place, so what I say and what I hear are of Air.

Therefore one thing that’s going to be of particular focus is being very aware both of what I say and what I hear. The first one seems pretty obviously under my control; however, it’s also my prerogative to determine how I will receive what I hear/read/etc. One of the lessons from the Earth month was to be aware of not only what I put into my body, but what I also *allow* into it from other sources–the food I eat is important, but so is the stress on my body that external forces can place on me. So not only do I have control over what I eat, I can also choose what I allow to affect me. And that comes down to communication.

Granted, just as with my body, there are things in communication that I can’t necessarily stop entirely. There are pollutants in the air, water and ground that I can’t really do much about at this point, and there are pollutants in communication that I only have so much control over. But I can choose to be as selective as possible in what I take in, and try to minimize the amount of poisons I take in.

Air is important in that filtration system, not only in communication, but in relaxation. It’s all too easy to get worked up over annoyances, drama, and other such things. The heart begins to race, adrenaline flows, the stomach produces more acid, and it’s fight-or-flight time. But careful applications of breath can halt that process when it’s not needed–a flame war isn’t the same as looking a hungry tiger in the eye. And as I work through changing my filtration system, breath is a useful tool for reaching the right mindset to get through my conscious mind’s natural forces, and into the nitty-gritty of what makes me tick. Too often we’re ruled by our re-actions, and we let things in that don’t really need to be there, because we don’t think to act any other way. We let things get us angry for no real good reason, and we get carried away by our emotions. Breathing correctly can help us slow down, take a step back, and really think about what it is we’re hearing, and what we want to say.

Dream work is also part of communication, though Hawk indicated that right now it’s secondary to the interpersonal and intrapersonal communication during waking time. So I need to get back into the habit of recording my dreams every morning; I’ll probably start taking my dream journal with me on my morning commute since I tend to get going pretty quickly every day. I dream every night, in full color, often with touch and sound as well–very vivid. In times when I do record them regularly, I tend to remember them even better, and get deeper messages out of them. I’ve just not been very consistent about it.

So Air appears to be off to a good start. I will admit a bit of frustration with all this internal work–“When do I get to start saving the world?” Yet Hawk reminded me that too often I’ve let external things distract me from my own health to the point where I’d have an eventual meltdown and get sick. It’s all well and good to have a job, and be writing two manuscripts, and editing two others plus an anthology, and making cool artwork, and all the other stuff I like to do–but before I go channeling even more energy *outward* into more shamanic work for the environment, I need to make sure I’m paying attention to the internal environment, something that even as aware as I am, I’ve often let go neglected.

Which is a rather humbling experience. For all I’ve done in the past ten-plus years, I really have brought myself back to square one. I may be progressing more quickly than the first time around, but that doesn’t mean I have nothing to learn from the basics. I’m just getting a more solid foundation this time around.

Earth…

Tonight was the last night of my Earth month, or so it worked out, at any rate. Tomorrow I’ll be calling on Hawk for help initiating my Air month.

Tonight I went upstairs and drummed again. I went up a little later because the upstairs was cold, and I needed to give the heaters a little time to get it to a comfortable point (I get cold incredibly easily, especially if I’m sitting still). This meant that I was a little tired by the time I went up (about 11pm). I was a bit concerned that I might have to postpone the ritual due to getting getting grounded again. However, I got the green light due to not being as tired, and having the opportunity to sleep in again tomorrow morning.

I’m not sure how long I drummed; I lost track of time after the first few minutes. Judging from the clock afterward, I’d say I probably had at least twenty minutes. It was plenty of time, though, since I tend to drop into altered states pretty quickly, and I’m still going relatively lightly here–my arms aren’t up to an hour or more of straight drumming yet.

I turned into a wolf, and found myself in a desert with the moon shining overhead. This confused me–I’ve never really been all that connected to deserts, and I was wondering what I was doing there. So I ran around a bit until I saw Wolf ahead of me, shining like silver-blue moonlight. I chased after hir, and s/he continued to run, leading me through dry rocks and thorny plants in the silver light (though I could see no moon above).

Finally, s/he let me catch hir. S/he would look down at the ground, scratching at the rocks and pebbles, then run a short way and repeat the action. Finally, I caught on–the dry, flat desert landscape was the complete antithesis of my ideal terrain, mountains heavy with temperate rain forests and mossy rocks.

The message that was imparted at that point is rather personal, so I’ll be keeping that to myself. But s/he took me to the mountains, my ideal situation, and took me deep into the Earth beneath. There s/he showed me the root of my problem, a small, acid-green plant that was creating the problem, turning what should be lush forests into desert. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with desert; it simply was chosen to represent the antithesis of where I needed to be in the situation that we were discussing. I took the plant in my teeth and uprooted it, tearing it away. At that point, Wolf sent me back to my body, telling me to do the same in my waking life with the situation at hand.

Needless to say, this was an incredibly effective journey. There’s a lot of growth that needs to occur during my six months, and even beyond. The Earth work won’t stop just because the Earth month is over; however, starting tomorrow I’ll be learning what it is I need to do to work with Air in a more focused manner.

Updated Material

I’ve updated and tweaked the bibliography page. I added new books by Starhawk, Paul Shepard and Barry Sanders, and an anthology edited by Graham Harvey. I also tweaked the description of Michael Harner’s The Way of the Shaman. BTW, if you haven’t already, check out my review blog, where you can get a better, more detailed idea of why I like the books I list in my bibliography here.

Also, just to let folks know, I’m still having issues with comments on this blog–if you know there’s supposed to be a comment to a particular post and it doesn’t show up, refresh the page and it should appear. I’m looking into getting this fixed. Thanks 🙂

Grounded!

My Earth month will switch over on Saturday, to Air. Tonight was a good reminder of things to take with me as “souvenirs” of focusing on Earth.

Since I had a brief, but successful, journey earlier this week, I wanted to take time out to try again tonight. However, I was feeling somewhat tired this evening–not enough to quite go to bed yet (at 8:30 in the evening), but enough that I was feeling it. Still, I wanted to give drumming again a try; maybe I could just push myself through the fatigue–after all, hadn’t I kept dancing numerous times after “hitting the wall”? What was a little sleepiness?

I went upstairs, and before I could even sit down in front of the altar, Wolf “tapped” me on the shoulder and said “Uh-uh. You’re too tired.” Of course, being the stubborn person that I am, I tried arguing. However, s/he wouldn’t hear a thing of it. “Nope. Go back downstairs, take a shower, and rest. Your body needs it. The kind of suffering you may go through for your shamanism isn’t the same as the kind of suffering you put yourself through in neglecting your health.”

I listened. So here I am, an hour later, showered and cared for, and posting before going to bed to get some sleep. Tonight, while a little frustrating, was a good reminder of principles of Earth work. First, physical health, the personal environment, is as important to care for as everything in the external environment–if not moreso. Unfortunately, my tendency towards workaholicism can sometimes end up with me neglecting myself for the sake of getting just one more thing done. While I have gotten a lot more relaxed over time, I still have my bad moments.

And that leads to patience. Being a small, rather temporary creature next to the bulk of the Earth, patience can be hard to come by–“But I’ve already spent almost three decades of this life NOT doing this stuff–I can’t afford to fall any more behind, and neither can those who I need to help!” (Yeah, that’s a bad guilt trip I sometimes lay on myself.) Still, I have to remember that if I push myself too hard it’ll be counterproductive. Care for the self first, and in a healthy way, not a self-centered manner.

Plus there’s grounding. This past month, for various reasons, has been exceptionally stressful, and I haven’t remembered to ground myself as much as I feel I should, instead letting things carry me away. This, of course, doesn’t help me become healthier–my stomach has been unhappy with me as of late. So this was a good reminder to keep grounding throughout the day when I need it, whether it’s stress or illness or any other force that could benefit from a good dose of Earth energy. It might not be a cure-all, but it can at least take the edge off.

This month has been a real exercise in staying focused. I’ve been at this for a couple of months now, and it’s been exceptionally educational. The important thing is that, while the progress may be slow, I am making that progress, and while I may not change my habits and patterns immediately, I’m still doing better than I used to be. And it’s teaching me to be more conscious of what I’m doing, though again not without errors and hiccups.

We’ll see if I can get to some drumming tomorrow night. Going to bed early and being mindful of my unhappy stomach may not be as interesting as exploring the joys of being my own drummer, but it’s no less important.

A Journey With Wolf

Last night I had my first journey, albeit not a very long or intense one. But it was a definite success.

I was practicing drumming last night upstairs in the ritual room. I had had to stop after a bit as the rawhide that I’d used to tie the goatskin onto the drum frame apparently still had tiny cow hair stubble all over it. The vibrations of the drum and my generally sensitive skin meant that my hand got irritated too quickly. So I took time out to wrap the cords in yarn; I wanted to use something not-animal, spiritually neutral as it were, since I already had a nice balance with the cow, goat and deer skins, and they didn’t seem to want another one added in. This made for a much softer grip, and the drum still sounds good.

I began drumming again, and managed about 10 minutes before I got into a decent trance, a bit deeper than what I normally get with guided meditation, though not as deep as what I can achieve with trance dancing. This was a rather nice victory, since although I’m pretty good with altered states of consciousness in meditation and dancing with someone else drumming, I wasn’t sure how I’d do as my own drummer. Not surprisingly, the rhythm worked similarly to that in drum circles, and the fact that I was drumming didn’t change that. In fact, it allowed my body a rhythm even as I was sitting down.

I wasn’t really planning on journeying, but I ended up there anyway. I’ve been intending to talk to Wolf for a couple of days about something private, and she* decided to take the opportunity to plop me down and talk already! I saw her quite clearly, though I wasn’t sure whether we were in a cave or a tent; it wasn’t very well lit and my visuals during meditation aren’t always as clear as what I hear. She told me to stop drumming as I’d hit the right level of trance and she wanted me to concentrate on her.

She told me what she wanted to tell me, then made it clear that I needed to go back downstairs and implement what I’d been told when and as I could. So I did, and oddly enough I didn’t get that woozy feeling I sometimes get from coming out of a trance too quickly.

I am rather pleased; I was a little concerned, to be honest, that I wouldn’t be able to hit a deep trance while sitting still. However, for having drummed for no longer than a quarter of an hour, and given that my arm wasn’t even beginning to get tired, I’m pretty hopeful, and I’m looking forward to honing my skills with this particular method of journeying. It’s nice, because it allows me to go places that I’ve been before, but it puts more of the variables in my own hands, literally. I don’t have to worry about having the drumming stop too soon, as happens with in-person drummers and drum CDs. I also don’t need to be aware of people running into me as occasionally occurs dancing at drum circles. I can control the temperature and the general ambiance, the drumbeats distract me from any outside sounds, and I can pretty much go uninterrupted. I’m glad I’ve been able to recreate alone the same essential experience that I’ve used so many times before in a group setting.

* Usually I refer to totems and other spirits with gender-neutral pronouns. However, if they show decided preferences, I use the appropriate pronouns. Some have been known to shift sex from visit to visit, as well as color and even subspecies. This isn’t surprising, given that I see totems as archetypal beings that are comprised, among other things, of all the biological information about an animal. So Wolf may show up as a male grey wolf one day, and a female black wolf the next.

A Totemic Perspective on Spiritual Therianthropy

While therioshamanism isn’t “therian religion” or “therian magic”, my conception of myself as a therianthrope is a part of my spirituality. Therianthropy, for those who aren’t aware, describes people who identify in some (generally nonphysical) manner as a nonhuman animal. Some claim it’s a neurobiological/psychological disorder, that there’s something in the hardware that is wired “wrong”. Others see themselves as products of reincarnation, having had previous lives as nonhuman animals that inform who they are in this life.

And there are theories beyond that, though those are two of the most common ones. At this point, this is the multi-layered way I understand my therianthropy:

Psychologically: There are parts of my brain (I’d imagine the mammalian/reptile bits, the instinctual parts) that resonate more with “wolf” than “human”. I work with these parts best if I allow myself to personify them as lupine in nature. Also, on a “software” rather than “hardware” note, I had an early spiritual experience when I was a very young child with Wolf the totem, which really imprinted on my psyche; subsequent conditioning strengthened the identification with “me-as-wolf”.

Spiritually: As I said, Wolf the totem came to me when I was young, and has been a strong influence on my life ever since then. While I don’t think totemism = therianthropy, and not all therians have or even believe in totems, for me personally there is a link between the external Wolf totem and the internal me-as-wolf. (I’ll talk more about this in a bit.)

Metaphorically/mythologically: I’m a strong believer in the human need for mythology to be a complete person, along with more rational studies. Mythology speaks of metaphorical realities that are no less real than the physical one we primarily are used to. Just because something isn’t real on a literal level doesn’t make it all imaginary. So part of my personal mythology is that on a spiritual-metaphorical level I am lupine, while on a literal-physical level I’m human. Most people simply consider the latter to be more “real” and therefore more important.

So basically, the concept of therianthropy, and on a wider scale that of Otherkin, is a framework to help me understand the parts of myself that “human” doesn’t quite cover. While I consider the possibility that it may all just be in my head, I do know that I live a perfectly functional life even with this unorthodox belief about myself, and that on certain levels of my being it makes total and complete sense.

One thing that the therian community is quick to disclaimer is the idea that therianthropy isn’t totemism (as I mentioned earlier). This is because the community has dealt with a lot of people coming in and talking about having totems, and then asking if they were therians or not because of it. So the hard and fast line that’s been drawn is that therian = internal (you are the animal) and totem = external (the animal is your companion/guide/etc.). Seems pretty clear-cut, right?

Well, maybe, maybe not. This is all entirely based on my own experience, so have a grain or two of salt. One thing that I have noticed is that whenever I work with a totem for the first time, especially with regards to invoking the totem into myself, the totem leaves a piece of hir own energy within me, and takes a piece of my energy with hir in exchange. This acts as a sort of “homing signal” which makes subsequent invocations and even evocations with those totems easier. I’m not the only person to notice this, either; my husband, Taylor, has also noted it (I think it was in Inner Alchemy that he did so).

So thinking back to the first time I encountered Wolf the totem, as well as became aware of something in me that was lupine…I was a very young child at the time. Wolf made hirself known to me through what I can best explain as a “spiritual overlay” involving our German shepherd dog–the dog looked very Wolf-ish in that moment, and Wolf took that opportunity to make first contact, so to speak. After that point, I felt the part of myself inside me that was lupine in nature, though I didn’t, of course, recognize it for what it was. I just knew wolves were suddenly really, really cool, and a few years later decided that I should have been one instead of human. Of course, this didn’t go away, as “favorite animals” usually do after a certain point, but stuck with me to the present day.

What I’m wondering is if my therianthropy is a result of the cultivation of an early energy exchange with Wolf, and that since it happened at such a young age it became a formative part of myself. I can’t say this explains therianthropy for everyone; I’ve never heard of the exact same experience with anyone else, though I’d heard of experiences that are similar in certain ways (maybe a different age, perhaps, or another way of becoming aware at an early age).

And if that’s the case, I wonder if I can develop other theriosides through cultivating the internal connections I have with other totems, to the point where the identity as those animals becomes inherent instead of as a temporary identification through invocation. I’ve already theorized in Shifting, Shamanism and Therianthropy that shifting is a form of invocation in which the most nonhuman-animal part of the self is invoked. And “shamanic shifts” with other totems can be every bit as intense as a “therian” shift, at least for me. Plus, an experiment I did with myself a few years ago in which I divided myself temporarily into four personae to get to know different aspects of myself better resulted in a split not only in the “human” identity but also the “animal” identity, leading me to believe that the psyche is a lot more fluid than most people assume.

While I have plenty of other things on my plate right now, it’s something I’m going to continue chewing on, so to speak. After all, it took me a quarter of a century to get to where I am with Wolf, and the two cases of people I know who “became” Otherkin through magic were not just “Hey, let’s burn a candle and turn into a (insert being here)”. But it’s something I’m going to continue working with as a potential explanation for at least my own therianthropy.

And it raises some questions. Does the fact that I can point to a potential outside influence that “made” me wolf mean that I’m not a “real” therianthrope? Must the internal and external realities always be split into a dichotomy, or can it be more of a continuum? If I were to attempt to strengthen my internal bond with a totem besides Wolf, would there be marked differences in the quality of the connection? Would there be something that always made that connection different than the one to Wolf?

And, in the end, does it really even matter, as long as I’m satisfied with my relationship to the entities I work with, and to myself?