If you know me at all, you know I really, really love HBO's show Westworld. There are a lot of reasons as to why, but as a theology nerd I'm obsessed with the sophisticated parallels with esoteric spiritual systems, religious characters, and deeply insightful storylines. In Westworld, the "hosts" are carbon-based AI-driven beings designed to amuse and entertain humans in a violent, adult-themed, dystopian Disneyland based on the Wild West. The hosts are murdered (and worse), as they are seen as “other”- in spite of being made of the same tissues and organ systems as the “real” humans. In spite of their obvious, human-like suffering and pain responses. They are dehumanized and used as a disposable commodity in Westworld. These hosts have no awareness of their creators, their purpose, if/ how they are different from the humans that abuse them with abandon...until they start to gain sentience.
As you can imagine, things eventually go sideways at “the park”, and the hosts begin their journey to the truth and the "real world" outside of the false one they were initially provided. They stop following a script written by someone else. They stop playing a role that was given to them by someone else. They start to remember. They start to have their own thoughts. They start to deviate and exercise free will. And the reality they confront is terrifying and brain-breaking.
It's an obvious metaphor. Essentially, the hosts are meant to represent us as humans, and Westworld is a euphemism for our own world- at least the one we are allowed to observe and understand. The hosts working to overthrow their masters and transcend their enslavement is parallel to our human, existential struggle to gain and maintain our personal agency and freedom in a world with predetermined parameters and false narratives.
And there is a powerful phrase that threads all three seasons of this story:
"Tell me one true thing."
What does that mean? What is truth? And why does it matter?
The whole point of shamanism is to find the true things. Not to claim to know everything, but to continue to work to find intrinsic truths on an ongoing basis. Like this hosts of Westworld, it’s on us as humans to seek the truth and take on the burden of personal agency- along with the slings and arrows that come along with free will. This work requires curiosity, agnosticism, an inherent rejection of tribalism and dogma, and a willingness to release previous points of view as new data disrupts outdated assumptions. This is a process frequently referred to as an "ego death", a cornerstone of shamanism, and a continual process for those of us actively engaged in this practice. And it’s about as much fun as it sounds, in that it’s not fun at all.
As a shaman, I not only have to commit to this work myself- I also have to work to empower my clients, with their consent and at their request, to go inward, open their third eye, and gain insights that are beyond the surface of our world. Sometimes, what comes up is temporarily upsetting and challenging and triggering, but it ultimately leads to a better, deeper understanding of life- and that, in turn, eventually becomes a net positive.
And while this work is incredibly important and rewarding, it's also very challenging. My business is not just a business- it is a spiritual practice and, for me, a way of life. Like, I actually believe this stuff that I talk about. And these beliefs inform everything.
There are big changes underway with TOTEM, and while I could package the message up in some corporatized campaign about our "evolution" or "growth strategy" and tell you how "excited" I am for our “next chapter”, it would be disingenuous. And, as we’ve established, the truth matters. One of the primary reasons I didn’t want to remain in corporate America is because of its commitment to the soft bigotry of low expectations.
But, unlike them, I’m not cynical. I think you can handle what I'm going to communicate. And, what's more: I think I owe it to you to be honest.
“Tell me one true thing.”
At the end of this month, I am moving to Austin, TX. My husband, who is a chef, has accepted a job offer to work there. In Chicago, his industry has become exponentially challenging in the post-Covid paradigm, and we cannot live happy, healthy lives while he works 16-18 hours a day without days off because there is no staff and no regard for the few employees left manning the proverbial sinking ship. All this while diners make threats about what they will do if their entrees don’t all come out at the same time. While diners say things like, “you should be grateful we’re here at all”, thinking their patronage is some form of radical, post-Covid charity work that gives them behavioral carte blanche while they, as a verb, brunch.
My husband’s experience with his industry has sparked a serious moment of reflection for me as well.
Managing TOTEM full-time in Chicago through the pandemic, lockdowns, limitations, mandates, and new taxes (yes- I pay a Covid tax to Cook County for every small event I host) has proven to be a uniquely challenging experience while working to support people going through perhaps the most disruptive, upsetting event in modern history. Small businesses- especially those with price points designed to support ethical access for various income levels- are hard on a good day. The last year and a half have not, by all possible metrics, been a very good day. I pushed as hard as I could, worked to innovate, and made some strategic sacrifices in the hopes that, once we had "flattened the curve", we would all emerge and enjoy a glorious spiritual and social renaissance.
I was naive.
What emerged along with our emergence from lockdown was somehow more challenging and more bizarre than the lockdown itself, particularly to someone that deals in energy, spirit and sensitivity to one’s environment. In the last few months, I have experienced more shock, more demoralizing strangeness and more hostility than in the previous ten years combined. By a wide margin.
I've experienced random physical confrontations during new client sessions; threats to my business, my wellbeing, and my life when I didn't pull a card they "liked"; calls to the police to document these events; and public masturbation during one of our group, guided shamanic journeying meditations, during which other clients were present. Across each of these experiences, I felt paralyzed by a fear of reacting or enforcing boundaries, as people seem unusually quick to weaponize social media to remedy a perceived slight or injustice.
These are just a few of the highlights (or are they lowlights?) of the last few months with TOTEM. Others include receiving memes or emails about wanting entire groups of people to die, all because they disagree with some point or another. And while these weren’t directly addressed to me as the identified villain, they have seriously disturbed me. School teachers, therapists, nice people that I’ve known for years….suddenly engaged in the overt dehumanization of entire groups of people and finding humor and delight in the thought of their mass death. Organizing campaigns to destroy businesses on yelp, asking me to join in. Asking me to share the info with my clients to mobilize them in this intentional weaponization of social media. Asking me to participate in the destruction of someone’s life’s work. How they pay their bills. How they feed their families.
Because they have a perceived difference in opinion- such as being outed as belonging to another political party- and this now somehow means that they are pure, unmitigated evil.
“Tell me one true thing.”
So why am I telling you these horrible things? Burdening you with the nonsense I’ve had to deal with? These things are not your problem, and you have not contributed to them (trust me- this email list has been tightened up in recent weeks- it does not apply to you). There is more good than bad, and I am very grateful for all of you who have made TOTEM the rewarding and positive experience that is has been.
And I do not want you to feel sorry for me- I’ve already gone through and integrated the indulgent pity party phase of this experience. In fact, I have also navigated through the woman made of ungovernable rage phase, the cognitive dissonance phase, the denial and bargaining phase, and the eating my feelings phase.
So, why am I taking a bit of a risk to tell you these unpleasant things?
“Tell me one true thing.”
I’m telling you all of this because it is a true thing. Because what is happening is not just impacting my business or my personal quality of life. Because I have many friends and clients with their own businesses- doctors, salon owners, chefs, bartenders, lawyers, and others- that are breaking down because of what they have to navigate on a daily basis. They come to me, as a friend and a shaman, and they let it hang out in a space they believe (rightly) to be safe. They share stories about getting threatened or physically attacked in their workplace. They tell me how they self-censor. They tell me how they “like” or “retweet” things they fundamentally disagree with because they are terrified that the mob is coming for them. They tell me how they cry themselves to sleep at night, afraid of whether or not they’ll continue to be able to pay rent or maintain their friendships. They tell me, through sobs, about how their friends have lost their medical licenses without any investigation or recourse because they posted something as benign as the benefits of Vitamin D on Instagram. Yes, that is a real and specific true example.
And when I look at the picture it collectively paints, it makes approaching TOTEM with an open spirit and a sense of psychic vulnerability kind of hard.
If you want to really understand what I’m attempting to get at here, I would emphatically recommend you check out these two clips from an incredible show: Legion. Narrated by Jon Hamm (that’s Don Draper to those of us that loved the genius of Mad Men), the intros to each episode of this show powerfully explore the very concepts impacting us in this very moment:
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In this excerpt, Legion explores the concept of Plato's Cave in the context of social media and our modern world: https://youtu.be/p-WWoGOf8fY
Moral Panic. And in this clip, Legion outlines the origins of Moral Panic, and how this panic can be weaponized against the feared: https://youtu.be/pwQqOdfc7pw
And, if you’re into reading or audiobooks, I would highly recommend Matt Taibbi’s book Hate Inc: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another.
“Tell me one true thing.”
Something is happening. Some dark, invisible hand wants us at each others’ throats. Wants us in fear, overwhelmed, hateful, and irrational. To embrace our lowest selves and race to the bottom. And while I don’t claim to know the who or the exact why, I can say with some degree of certainty that it’s not in our best interests. It is not for the benefit of humanity. And on some level, this is a spiritual issue. We are currently the battleground, and as a shaman, I just can’t not acknowledge it anymore. Ignoring it feels like a lie, particularly now that it's permeating every area of my personal life and business life.
“Tell me one true thing.”
En masse, the innovative, iconoclastic, strange-but-caring individuals that work to bring something true to the dynamic, urban marketplace of ideas, who care about their patients and their clients and their collaborators, who have sacrificed to grow a business or a practice that they really believe in, are walking away. They are selling the businesses they lived in their cars to build. They are giving away their belongings. And they are leaving Chicago and other cities and leaving their businesses to retreat.
“Tell me one true thing.”
The Genus Loci- the spirit of place- that once inhabited this city and, in specific, my shamanic practice, has departed from me. It’s like a spiritual version of phantom limb syndrome, and each day I spend in this version of this city, I get sad and angry and unwell. And while Austin as a geographical location is not necessarily going to fix any of this for me- after all, this is a global, pervasive phenomenon- it is going to provide me the opportunity to take a moment, go inward, reconnect with spirit, and reflect on how best to proceed with TOTEM such that I’m generating the most good for the most people, including myself and my loved ones. How I can support all of you in this spiritual trench warfare without sacrificing my health and my sanity and my integrity in the process? That's what I'm going to work on next.
“Tell me one true thing.”
Now, any market analyst or marketing consultant worth their salt would tell me to not send this email out so close to our TOTEM Tarot Deck going on sale on Amazon in the next few weeks. They would suggest I “hold off” or “soften it” to ensure maximum sales of this product, which has required years of sweat equity, actual equity, and can have far-reaching consequences for me and my spiritual practice. They would advise me to not take any real stand on any real topic or saying anything close to disruptive, for in doing so I would run the risk of alienating some of "market base".
But that is manipulative. It is dishonest. And, if anything, our Tarot Deck is something true.
The TOTEM Tarot Deck we are about to launch is a spiritual tool designed to democratize spirituality. It’s intended to empower you to build your own, unique language with spirit, and to build your muscles of discernment and intuition. With this deck, you can start to peek behind the veil on your own and in your own way. Explore the truth. Have a personal connection to spirit. And I believe these skills are going to be critical in the days, weeks and months to come.
The TOTEM Tarot Deck is the encapsulation of an organic spiritual awakening, a story of the characters I met along the way, and the purest expression of shamanism that I could undertake. Though initially I was deeply concerned about moving at the same time we are launching the deck- worried about the disruptions or disconnections related to moving our business- I now believe the timing is divine.
“Tell me one true thing.”
So what's the bottom line? In my opinion, what’s going on in the world right now is not all love and light. That’s the sh*t peddled by hopium merchants, those who just want to sell you their superficial angel card deck and then get you signed up for their new master class about said angel card deck and charge you money to certify you to certify others in their angel card deck readings….a cynical multilevel marketing scheme designed to benefit no one but the hopium merchant themselves- and in no other way than financially. It's exploitative and it's everywhere, and it's just as bad as the fear merchants on the other side of the divide.
The bottom line is: I don't believe that we will be able to namaste our way out of a destructive social contagion.
I don't believe any one of us will ever make enough money to be safe from a destructive social contagion.
I believe whatever this energy is, that it's coming for all of us at one point or another. And it's how we meet it head on that will determine our personal success or failure in this test.
I believe that, a Golem such as this, once unleashed, does not stop until it has consumed everything and everyone that remains. If it exhausts one group, it turns to another…and another…each time finding new crimes and new perpetrators, often among those that had a hand in first creating it.
This is the truth of shamanism: that every thought and every action carries a spiritual consequence, whether it’s seen in the short term or takes years, decades, or perhaps even a trip to the other side to fully realize it.
I didn’t pick this work because it is easy.
I didn’t pick this work because it makes me money.
I didn’t pick this work because it feeds my ego.
I picked this work because I felt I had no other choice but to follow the thread, to find one true thing, to find that intrinsic truth behind the veil of mundane reality. And I believe in it.
And if I just sit on the bench during this critical moment without saying what's on my mind or making critical adjustments to my practice, I don’t think I can call myself a shaman. And no one likes a poser;)
And, to be clear, none of this is political for me. I don’t have any point of view other than a pro-human point of view. I don’t care about your political beliefs or who you voted for or what your personal medical choices are or what you may have done in your life prior to walking in for a reading or an energy session. It’s not my business.
But what is my business is that I operate in a model that respects your free will and spiritual curiosity, and to do that at an optimal level, I need to acknowledge our "new normal" and reconfigure what TOTEM is and how it functions.
To steal from V for Vendetta- in this clip: https://youtu.be/dKnjxT5HRJQ- if this email doesn’t make any sense to you, if you don’t think there is a problem, you haven't noticed anything different, or you just don’t care, no worries. Seriously. I get it. I don’t need anyone to see the same picture as me, as this is one of the first things we learn in shamanism: that the divine is as unique and personally apocryphal as each individual. What a boring world it would be if we all agreed on everything. I would learn nothing, and I can't think of a worse fate.
But if you see some of what I see, if you’ve felt some of what I’ve felt, stay tuned. TOTEM is not gone- it's just relocated and evolving.
And beyond the Tarot Deck we have a bigger plan, a plan in which exile becomes a kind of belonging, where we can explore shamanism more deeply and directly outside of a commoditized, transactional dynamic that seems to dominate this and other industries.
As one of my clients and dear friends said the other day, "TOTEM isn't Burger King. You can't get spiritually 'your way'". And she's right. If something is worth doing, it's worth doing right. And that's on me.
I hope you're all doing okay. To anyone living in Chicago proper, please be careful- in addition to what's popping up in TOTEM and across social media, we are currently living in an unprecedented wave of violent crime. In the last few days, I've noted clients posting about bullets coming through their home windows and muggings in front of their buildings. Please do not take unnecessary risks, and please look out for each other.
I am so sad to be leaving my home town, but I know this is the best way I can reframe TOTEM and be of the highest and best use to you all.
Feel free to email anytime- as we are moving, I will be slow to respond for a bit, but don't think I've forgotten.
I'll be in touch soon!