Last night, I had a new Totem Animal come to me in my dreams. In this dreamscape, I was in a suburban office building, something that felt like it was designed and built in the 80's: featureless, generic, with bad overhead lighting. I approached someone and asked them if they had any dragons; apparently, I was shopping for jewelry or small figurines and thought that this was the place to get a nice dragon broach or something. Don't ask me why I needed this piece of jewelry. I'm not much of a broach lady. Dreams are weird.
A woman (surely some unknown spirit guide) led me to a conference room that had various fish and reptile tanks propped up on large, beige concrete pedestals. She produced a sheet of plastic, made up of individual little pockets of liquid, each containing a different, sleeping, inert seahorse. It was kind of like looking at a palette of microfiche, but with tiny little living things.
She and another woman, who had magically appeared in this strange conference room, started pointing at the seahorses and telling me which are their favorites, which they think are cute or strong or whatever their unique attributes were. I picked one that looked like a little, wingless dragon. Then I woke up.
Being a shaman and all, I immediately went to the "Google Machine" to look into what this new Totem Animal meant and how it might have been connected to my request for a dragon. I wasn't disappointed.
First, the seahorse's proper species/genus name is "Hippocampus". I immediately recognized this as the same name of a very important part of the brain and started to look into that connection. The hippocampus of the brain is part of the limbic system, and plays an important role in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory, and in spatial memory that enables navigation.
I did not think this was an accident. Given all of the focus on meditation at TOTEM, I then cross-referenced "hippocampus" and "meditation". Again, I was not disappointed: meditation, particularly the kind we do at TOTEM (shamanic journeying and theta wave states) is excellent for your hippocampus, long-term memory, and emotional wellbeing.
Some highlights: "In 2011, Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain: Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress – and these changes matched the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it changes our subjective perception and feelings as well. In fact, a follow-up study by Lazar’s team found that after meditation training, changes in brain areas linked to mood and arousal were also linked to improvements in how participants said they felt — i.e., their psychological well-being. So for anyone who says that activated blobs in the brain don’t necessarily mean anything, our subjective experience – improved mood and well-being – does indeed seem to be shifted through meditation as well."
All of these benefits are the exact focus areas and goals for our upcomingReset for Resilience Meditation Workshop Series, which kicks off on January 17th at our TOTEM Oak Park space. This workshop series is for all levels and all are welcome to "drop in" to any class- no prerequisites are required.
And the other weird confluence? I had planned to begin reading two new books today. One, written by Carl Sagan. "The Dragons of Eden: Speculations of the Evolution of Human Intelligence" is all about the brain's development since our inception as a species, and how the "dragons" of mythology are really elements of our primordial consciousness. The other? "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" by Julian Jaynes.
Is your mind blown yet? Mine is, and this is how Totem Animals work in a shamanic practice. Sure, sometimes their energy can be literal....other times, they are the next clue in what I've deemed the "spiritual scavenger hunt". Pulling a thread reveals yet another thread, and we navigate our way to deeper truths, self-awareness and new ways to take care of ourselves in this increasingly stressful and unnatural world.
This is the kind of stuff that brings me back to TOTEM over and over again: the undeniable, playful magic of human consciousness in a big world, filled with mysteries.
Want to dig deeper on the hippocampus and the benefits of meditation? I recommend this study: "Mindfulness Meditation is Related to Long-Lasting Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology" and this article: "Meditation May Lead to Volume Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology During Resting State".
Here are the specific dates and details of this three part meditation workshop series (see below). If you're interested, please register as we are limiting class size to ensure social distancing:
1. Reset for Resilience- Class #1 When: Sunday, January 17th 3-5:00 PM CST Where: TOTEM Oak Park- Medical Arts Building- 715 Lake Street Suite #200 in Oak Park, IL Register for this module on Eventbrite here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/133354939213
2. Reset for Resilience- Class #2 When: Sunday January 24th 3-5:00 PM CST Where: TOTEM Oak Park- Medical Arts Building- 715 Lake Street Suite #200 in Oak Park, IL Register for this module on Eventbrite here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/133357853931
3. Reset for Resilience- Class #3 Timing: Sunday January 31st 3-5:00 PM CST Where: TOTEM Oak Park- Medical Arts Building- 715 Lake Street Suite #200 in Oak Park, IL Register for this module on Eventbrite here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/133358680403
Have questions? Want to learn more about Totem Animals or meditation or the bicameral mind? Whatever it is, reach out via email anytime: Rachel@totemreadings.com
And please don't let stress, anxiety or isolation bum you out this winter. It's a tough time of the year, one in which our serotonin and dopamine levels bottom out, but despite the apparent limitations of our current condition, there are still magical places we can go and magical things we can experience. Reach out and we'll troubleshoot how best to reconnect you to your own magic;)