Chapter 18 Totems

More than a few of the people at CPL had strong connections with Native American traditions. I think Christy, one of the ministers, tended to raise everyone’s awareness of native Indian traditions, and the ways Spirit can communicate to us through nature, as well as the sacred in the broader world around us. She’d play her flute, and you could almost feel the quiet presence of the souls of reverent and wise American Indians in the room. 

The way Christy played the flute opened other doors of perception for me. Keep in mind I was still maintaining my skepticism when I first came on that scene. I kept my BS detector fully charged and on at all times. These people were very nice, but I’d seen friendly people turn not-so-nice more than once and anyone can accidentally wander off into the weeds. People are people.

CPL had some of the books and other items that interested me, and many that didn’t. I wasn’t particularly interested in crystals, or animal totems, or oracle cards, or any of the other things you’re likely to find in new age bookstores. I had qigong and the other energy stuff to work with which I felt was enough, and I sometimes felt I had to push away other topics to stay focused. Also, I thought some of it was baloney. A good and well-intentioned brand of baloney if you will, but baloney nonetheless.

Animal totems were one of those subjects that I saw as a playful belief system, suitable for entertainment purposes. How in the world could anyone objectively claim that a particular animal species had a specific meaning? I asked someone at CPL how you’d know what your animal totem was and was told the animal would show up in your life a lot. I found it was too easy to dismiss that. There were squirrels all over the place. Robins, Cardinals, rabbits, deer, it was too easy for me to dismiss it, and yet…

I had been taking a daily five-mile walk on a nature trail in a nearby public park where it was common to see many kinds of animals, including deer, various snakes, birds, turtles, rabbits, and there were the fox, raccoons, and opossums in the area. On one of my walks through a dense part of the woods, a red tail hawk with a four-foot wingspan soared silently a few feet over my head and landed on a branch about 30 yards ahead of me on the trail. I was quite taken by this. I wondered how could such a large bird fly through these dense trees and not collide with branch after branch? 

 The majestic bird turned to face me and proceeded to stare me down. I came to a dead stop and stared back. I gave the raptor its space and remained motionless. After several prolonged minutes of staring me down, it flew away. I thought it was an odd thing for the bird to do and went back to walking. In retrospect, I realize that on my walks I would often get lost in thought. I’d get wrapped up in thinking about problems and solutions and trying to work things out. The sudden appearance of that Red-Tailed hawk snapped me out of my habit of over-thinking.

Two days later the same thing happened, at the same stretch of the trail. I think the bird may have landed on the same branch before turning to stare me down again. Only this time there were other people present, a mother and two young children were a little further ahead on the trail. They were startled and excitedly pointing and commenting while the bird and I stared at one another. 

The family moved closer to get a better look, and the bird flew off. I walked on and could find no logical reason for that to have happened, not once, and certainly not twice. 

In the following days and weeks this red tail hawk, or maybe it was a gang of them conspiring to get my attention, showed up in my life in prominent and unavoidable ways. Still, I tried to explain away their appearances and dismiss them as coincidence.

A large hawk began to perch on a utility line crossing the road where I would drive under it. This even happened when it was raining. This was odd behavior, to say the least.

The bird flew close by and over my path on the way to or from the park several times. This was not ordinary, it was not something I’d seen in years of walking the park.

One morning I got out of bed, opened the window shade in my bedroom, and there on the ground outside, 30 feet away in the front yard, was this huge red tail hawk staring at me. I dismissed it out of hand, reasoning it had to be there because of a neighbor's large coop full of breeding doves. Surely it was there looking for an easy meal. Nevertheless, I stood still and looked back at the bird of prey for a moment before getting dressed.

I went to the kitchen, made coffee, and went to my computer at the far end of the house, farthest from my bedroom and at the back of the house. As I sat down, I looked out the window over my desk, and that red tail hawk was perched on an impossibly small slippery elm tree, not 20 feet from where I was. I thought the bird must be thoroughly confused! 

After a couple of cups of coffee, I had to visit the powder room which had a window facing the front yard directly in front of where the red tail hawk had been in the small tree in the backyard. In the powder room, I glanced out the window, over the cafe curtain, and was astonished to again see the red tail hawk standing on the ground, staring directly at me! 

I did not want to go into a woo-woo Twilight Zone interpretation of what the repeated appearance of a hawk might mean. I just refused to go there.

A few days later I was coming home from a small job and as I pulled in to park in front of the garage a red tail hawk leaped from the top of the basketball goal at one side of the concrete pad there and spread its wings wide as it swooped in front of my truck, coming to within four or five feet of the windshield. The bird was huge. I mean really big-huge. 

I couldn’t take it anymore. I went straight to the computer and searched for info on red tail hawk as an animal totem. I read about totems and the red tail hawk for hours. It was bewildering. My understanding of reality was being stretched yet again. It wasn’t easy for me. I felt like I could lose my mind if I bought into all this stuff all at once. And yet, I couldn’t deny what I’d been seeing.

Eventually, I came to accept the red tail hawk as my primary totem animal, top of the pole as it were, and it had messages for me. I wasn’t easily swayed to believe these things, but what I found in my reading about the bird spoke deeply to me. 

I’ve come to believe that though there are broad generalities about these things when you go looking for information about them what you find will be pertinent to you. You will find and read what holds meaning to you. You could reject what you find, and that’s okay. If it doesn’t feel right put it aside. If you are just wasting time or trying too hard to find meaning, take a walk, get involved in something else, go with the flow of life a while, and if you need to know something of these things, it will come knocking at your door, or it will stare you in the eye, or maybe swoop in front of your windshield to get your attention.

So yeah, totems, they are a thing. I’m not all about totems, but I no longer reject them out of hand, and I’m not as stubborn in my attitude towards these woo-woo sorts of things. I no longer believe in “coincidences.” Everything happens for a reason. You don’t have to get lost in the minutia of every inconsequential event in your life,  but they don’t generally get our attention anyway.

The red tail hawk was a regular visitor to my life for many years. I got to where I talked to the hawk aloud, or silently, or even telepathically. Sometimes I would ask it to fly nearby or overhead to see if we were still connected. Often, though not always, it would do so. I mostly kept these things to myself, but shared some of them with a few close friends that I felt would be comfortable with them. 

By keeping my experiences with the hawks and other animals to myself I didn’t have to deal with the skepticism or derision I might get if I spoke freely about them. This kept the static to a minimum and let me enjoy these things that much more.

About the same time these things were happening I often woke in the middle of the night with a lot of energy in and around me and would go outside and do qigong for an hour or so to get the energy flowing more smoothly. Shortly after accepting animal totems as a thing, one night I was doing qigong in the moonlight in the wee hours and was reaching up above my head when a large owl flew directly over me and landed on the top of the basketball backboard, and proceeded to sit and watch me. I continued my routine, and a few minutes later the bird flew off. Bored I suppose, or maybe satisfied with what he/she’d seen. I felt a little closer to nature at times like that, more sensitive to my surroundings. More open to living the mystery of life. I enjoy that kind of thing quite a lot.

~ S