Monthly Archives: December 2012
by Krista Schwimmer
While at the Western Dental on Lincoln for my husband’s temporary crown replacement, we stopped for lunch at a nearby Denny’s Restaurant. I had been craving Denny’s whole wheat, blueberry pancakes for a few months — a real treat for me these days due to a traumatic event in the past year and a half that changed both me and Michael’s life forever.
We had finished lunch and were about to leave. Michael looked over at the Toyscoop, seeing what stuffed animals were there to be grabbed with the metal claw. Now, for this story, I have to give you a bit of a back story. When Michael and I first moved to California, we dined quite a bit at Norm’s. Michael soon discovered he had an amazing knack for plunking in just a dollar or two, and grabbing up a desirable stuffed animal. In those days, the quality of the gifts was often amazing. I am not sure how many of these he managed to obtain — at least 50 — with rarely spending more than a few bucks. And, although he sometimes lost, he won more often than lost, sometimes two or three at a time.
Over the years, the quality of the prizes went down. So, we stopped this entertaining game. Until recently. As Michael looked at the prizes, he immediately noticed a decent rendition of Batman. He put in his dollar, and easily grabbed not only Batman, but another doll, from “The Living Dead” doll collection.
One of Michael’s totems is actually the bat. Using Jamie Sams’s system, it is his third totem, the West Totem. Now the direction of West can have different meanings according to different cultures and tribes. Over the years, I have come to see this particular totem as a guide to help me accomplish my dreams in life. Although all totems are available throughout ones entire life, this one seems particular dominant in the early and mid-adult years. Another way this totem can help is by teaching you how to adapt to your environment successfully, using the gifts and talents of the actual totem.
As I mentioned earlier, bat is one of Michael’s totems. One of the gifts of bat is inner hearing or clairaudience. In my husband’s case, this ability extends outwardly as well. When we first met, I soon discovered that he could clearly hear conversations across the room that I simply could not at all. He said he could always do this.
Bat also represents the shaman’s death. Remember that scene in the 2005 batman movie, “Batman Begins”, where batman falls down into a cave swarming with bats? As I recall it, this is the beginning of a very difficult and painful journey. When he defeats his demons, he emerges with the ability to control bats, among other things.
When bat appears in ones life, one is asked to descend deeply and face whatever fears are there. An inner death can occur, allowing the false self to dissolve, and the new, radiant true self to emerge.
In 2011, the event that changed both of our lives began when my husband was rushed to the hospital for a dangerously high fever and some kind of bladder or kidney infection. The ER team soon discovered he had an incredibly high blood sugar count, somewhere in the 400 range. To give you some perspective, a healthy blood sugar level is normally in the 80’s or 90’s. Even with insulin, it took the medical team more than a day to bring his sugar down. Fortunately, and amazingly, he suffered no permanent kidney damage. He did, however, come out of the hospital with the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
Initially, Michael had to take insulin injections. After 3 weeks, he had managed his diet well enough to move to glucosame tablets, a less dangerous and less expensive treatment for some type 2 diabetics. Not happy with taking any medication, he kept to a very disciplined diet and soon did not need even the glucosame tablets. Losing around 2 lbs a week, he eventually lost over 60 lbs. Today, he maintains a normal blood sugar through diet and exercise only.
So, I saw this Batman doll and the Living Dead doll together as representative of what Michael had overcome, through facing his fear of diabetic complications, and accepting that the positive changes he had made would have to be for the rest of his life. As Nancy — the wonderful, Canadian nurse and nutritionist that helped us tremendously in the hospital — said to Michael, although diabetes is not a fun disease to have, if he learned to manage his diabetes well, it was a disease that still allowed him a long and healthy life.
Totems are helpers and markers along our path. Sometimes, they appear as they really are. Other times, they come through images, symbols, and the like. That day, bat came to us through a playful, magical game that reconnected us to our past. I encourage each of you to learn your totem or totems and see how they naturally arise in your life to guide, support, and surprise you.
On Tuesday, September 18th, I headed to Venice Beach for a late afternoon walk. I was about to go south, towards Venice pier, when I felt a tug strongly on my body to go north. So, of course, being an intuitive woman, I did. Little did I know that by the end of the day my soul would have reconnected to part of her spiritual ancestry as if in preparation for the heartbreaking knowledge she would bear witness too, by the end of the day. When I reached the breaker rocks, I found an interesting message written in the sand:
I was intrigued by this message, particularly as I had never encountered anything like this on my walks along the beach. I took some photo’s of it; then, I continued north on my walk, towards Santa Monica.
As I was walking, I noticed a group of people on the right, just above the shore line, singing together. There were people of all ages, with a man and a woman leading them. I immediately realized they were doing some kind of a ritual. I thought to myself, “Well, it is a public ritual. I’ll just walk in that direction and casually check it out.”
I soon found myself participating in a “tashlich”, a Jewish ritual observed during Rosh Hashanah. A friendly woman in her 50’s handed me a brochure. In this brochure, I discovered that the Beth Chayim Chadashim was leading this ritual performed by many Jews during Rosh Hashanah. “Tashlich,” it explained, means “casting off”, symbolically performed by throwing pieces of bread or other food into a body of flowing water.
I had arrived just before the casting off of the past year’s sins. Although I am not Jewish, it is a significant part of my family heritage, something I had been pondering more lately. There was plenty of bread to go around, too. I decided to honor this part of my lineage by participating spontaneously, with people I did not even know.
My favorite part of the ritual was when everyone walked to the shoreline and began tossing a variety of breads into the air. Instead of all of the bread falling into the water, much of it became the local seagulls’ dinner. As I threw and watched the gulls, I began to recall the story of Jonathon Livingston Seagull, a delightful tale I read when I was a teenager.
In 1970, Richard Bach published “Jonathon Livingston Seagull.” With fewer that 10,000 words and black and white photographs mostly of seagulls by Russell Munson, this allegory on death and the after life became a bestseller. Hardcover sales broke the record set in 1936 by “Gone With the Wind”. The author, Richard Bach, had a unique background in flying, having served in the United States Navy Reserve; later in the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 108th Fighter Wing, 141st Fighter Squardon as a F-84F pilot; and even as a barnstormer. One can see why Mr. Bach choose a bird as his protagonist — but a seagull?
From the very beginning, though, the reader discovers that Jonathon is not an ordinary seagull. No, he is a bird interested in breaking barriers. Flying becomes not simply a means to an end — as he was taught — but a way of expanding and growing. Jonathon, however, wants to share his knowledge with his flock. The reader soon learns, however, that the rest of the flock not only is NOT interested in breakthroughs — but deems any bird that is an outcast. Part 1 ends with Jonathon in isolation until the moment of his first death when he is met by two “star bright gulls”.
One of the reason this particularly book touched me at the time was because my brother, David, had recently been lost at sea in a kayaking accident off Baja, California. Not being raised in any particular religion, I nevertheless found myself spiritually searching for a meaning for not only his death, but his utter disappearance. Although two other young people lost their lives in this Outward Bound Program, his body was the only one not found.
In Part 2 of “Jonathon Livingston Seagull,” the reader is taken on a journey to the afterlife. Here, Jonathon meets two teachers: Sullivan and Chiang. Chiang is the Elder Gull, teaching Jonathon to move without flying — “To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is.” To do this, says Chiang, “you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived.” (pg. 56) Through Chiang, Jonathon learns to navigate between worlds.
One of my favorite characters in the story is Maynard Gull, a gull with an injured left wing. Jonathon says to him: “Maynard Gull, you have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way. It is the Law of the Great gull, the Law that is.” Maynard replies, “Are you saying I can fly?” “I say you are free,” Jonathon replies. (pp 80 – 81) Through this realization, Maynard discovers he really can fly.
Richard Bach went on to write other delightful, spiritual tales — but Jonathon Livingston Seagull remains my favorite.
I returned home that evening feeling spiritually renewed. But the Universe was not done with me. Browsing my facebook page, I was drawn to link on a friend’s page, largely because of an image that I first thought was a seagull. I soon, however, found out it was an albatross. The link was to a teaser for a documentary called, “Midway Island: Message From the Gyre” by Chris Jordan.
There is nothing that could have prepared me for the powerful, heart-wrenching tale before me. The exquisite footage takes you on a profound journey of love and atrocity for the family of the albatross. That night, I learned that at Midway Atoll, remote islands in the Pacific, tens of thousands of baby albatross are dying a slow, painful death because of plastic pollution. This is because Midaway Atoll is right at the apex of what is known as “the Pacific Garbage Patch.”
Deeply touched, I decided to include Midway’s tale in my article. The film is still in production. Please bear witness to this event by visiting: www.MidwayFilm.com. I know there are many, many important environmental issues to support these days — but I feel this film in the making captures something more than the tragedy — it is full of spirit, truth, and beauty. Do what your heart tells you to support this incredible project.
So, at last, my journey that began with words on the sand, “Still Seeking” came to a momentary close. Once more, I found myself amazed by what was shown and shared with me. Now, I continue to journey, wondering what beauty and grit, what courage and shame, the Goddess will reflect back to me. Whatever it is, I tell myself, I am reminded that there is always a greater reflection behind it — if only, I am willing to see. And, then, with clear sight, to act.