I hope you brought your umbrella
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Since childhood, I have denounced God, organized religion and even spirituality. Although I was raised in a Catholic household, and attended Catholic schools for eighteen years of my life, I knew very early on that I didn’t believe in any of it. I couldn’t fathom the thought of creationism, that we were plunked onto earth by some omnipotent being who lives in the clouds. I did not want to be a part of a religion that is stuck in the dark ages, one that frowns upon sex before marriage, homosexuality, and other realities of modern times. It upset my mom when I told her and started refusing to attend mass on Sundays, and it flabbergasted my teachers when they asked about it. I hated everything about organized religion, wasting an hour and a half of my weekend to listen to an old man indoctrinating people to follow the will of God OR ELSE FACE ETERNAL HELL FIRES. I hated listening to the same old thing year after year, and not seeing any changes at all that addressed society growing and evolving around us. I did enjoy learning about other religions that are followed around the world, but those classes spanned maybe five or six days of my entire kindergarten through grade 12 education.

I resented being forced to listen to the bullshit for so long that I rejected any form of spirituality. No praying, no meditating, no reflections, although I did continue learning (instructing myself) about various religions, especially the ones that seemed especially outlandish, such as Kabbalah and Scientology. I was also angry about being coerced into following many Muslim “rules” when I dated A. My biggest point of contention with religion was that it seemed to me that the ideals and beliefs of religious people were always thrust upon people who didn’t want to hear it. I also disagreed completely with the notion of a deity, someone who has determined how my life will turn out without me having any say in it at all. I believe that I make my own fate, and I refuse to accept that anyone else has any determination over it.

Since I turned 21 and started traveling, I began doing a lot of introspection and self-reflection. It started me on a path of pursuing knowledge about meditation and religions that were focused less on the concept of God and more on the concept of being a good person, of being a positive spirit and caring for the world, and being grateful for what you have. I have been reading a lot about Eastern religions, especially Buddhism. I love the idea of the entire thing, doing good and receiving good, taking pleasure from simple things, the whole “middle road” ideal of moderation, everything about it. Hinduism is also interesting me, the thought of dharma, karma and going through life and death in cycles until the soul reaches liberation, and freedom from the pain and suffering that life on earth delivers… It’s all fantastic.

I am leaving in eight days for India, where I will be traveling around for five weeks. The first few weeks will be with university, staying at an ashram (an orphanage where the kids live their entire lives there and don’t get adopted out), as well as staying at a university out there for a week or so. After the school portion, I will be going around India on my own, first to Corbett national park for a safari to see wild animals, then up to Dharamsala to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama teach about Buddhism to the public, then flying to Goa to do some scuba diving (I can’t go to a new place and not enter a new ocean for the first time!). I am so stoked that this is all falling together finally, for weeks I have been stressed and panicked after my original travel plans fell through. Now, I am even more excited than I was before. The opportunity to see the Dalai Lama, diving in a new ocean and spotting wild elephants and tigers, it will all be amazing.

In preparation for this course, I have been taking a couple International Community Development courses, and have had the privilege of listening to some very enlightening guest speakers. Yesterday, I had my first smudge ceremony with a Medicine Trail Coordinator who works with the Iniskim Centre at my university. It is a cleansing ceremony performed by natives communities, but it dates back to ancient Greece. Basically, he combined a few different traditional medicinal plants (including sage, cedar, sweet grass and tobacco) in a special shell bowl, said a prayer, and lit it. He then went around the circle to each of us, and fanned the smoke with a blessed eagle feather, and we each “bathed” ourselves in the smoke, focusing on our eyes, ears, mouths and hearts, cleansing them. I was very grateful to be a part of it, since I have never experienced anything like that. I love seeing and partaking in new things, and this was no exception.

We also did a meditation in an attempt to find our “spirit animal.” Now, I am the world’s biggest skeptic, and a lot of the new age crap is (to me) exactly that, crap. That being said, I will try anything once. (Well, almost anything. I’m sorry, but I will never be convinced that crystals have any power to them. They are simply pretty gems and rocks that sparkle and are nice to look at. I also don’t support exorcisms, or ghosts or demonic possessions or anything of the sort. But, I digress…) Anyway, in this meditation, we were guided to visualize ourselves somewhere, and what came to us was reflective of our spirit animal. Some of us were even supposed to see exactly the animal that was our totem, the one that would guide us through our lives.

Well, I ended up in P.E.I., on the beach among the swaying grass that made concentric circles in the sand. I saw a bird, one that not only had the ability to fly and walk on land, but could also swim. It made sense to me, since I am never happy with one thing, I never want to choose between earth, water and sky. Then it came to me. A simple loon. (Insert jokes about me being “loony” and how apt having a loon as a spirit animal is. Ha. Ha.) It took a while to build to that realization, because I wanted my animal to be a whale. I wanted to choose it, and decided on a whale because I love how serene they are, how they glide through their environment effortlessly, but that’s not how spirit animals work. You don’t choose it, it comes to you.

Let me provide a few examples of what having a loon as a spirit animal means:
– “When a Loon shows up as a totem
it is calling you to pay attention to your dreams.
They will be of greater importance.

For those with a Loon totem,
imagination and dreaming abilities are powerful.
Images and visions will be very lifelike
and you must separate the real from the unreal.
Loon will help you seeing the truth.

The Loon awakens the imagination
and reminds us that all hopes, dreams and wishes
can become realities.”

-“With loon as a totem, the imagination and dreaming abilities (while awake or asleep) are powerful. Images and visions will always be very life-like, and the individual may have difficulty separating the real from the unreal.”

– “Communication, Serenity”

– “Loon: Symbolizes peace, tranquility, and generosity. Loyalty and leadership. Brave and courageous. ”

If you know me, you know that I put a lot of merit into dreams, and always have incredibly vivid ones. Dreams can stay with me for days or weeks, and sometimes things in my dreams end up happening in waking life. I have a dream diary, I have a dream catcher from Holly to help ward off the bad dreams that I am sometimes plagued with, and my friends know well how important dreams are to me. I learned all of this after seeing the loon, and it amazed me how fitting it was as my totem animal. I am constantly striving for serenity within my mind, heart and life (though I struggle with it), but the dream aspect of it? Spooky.

Anyway, I have prattled on for 1400 words. I’ll end it here today. Namaste!

Ashley @ 5:52 PM

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