Developing your protocol in shamanic work

Day 7 in Bonaire - oops! It is fun to find one word that captures the essence of a person, of course when you are in a complimentary mood. Mine might be "enthusiastic". I love to live and to experience things, and sometimes I forget what time or day it is when I am thus absorbed. This is not OK scuba diving, and I blew it. Saturday night I spent 6 hours in the decompression chamber thinking about exactly how I had blown it. It was a subtle thing, no obvious stupid mistake like ascending too fast or going too deep. I just went diving every day for 7 days straight, not taking time off. They were shallow dives and quite moderate, but they added up, along with a number of other smaller "risk factors" such as dehydration from my love of tea (and maybe being 50 but acting like I am 25!).

The whole experience reminds me of when I was learning to do shamanic work to heal really icky problems, the kind of icky that can attach itself to the shaman if she isn't really careful. Cavalier is not OK in shamanic work. Sloppiness in any regard is not OK in diving. When I was sitting in the chamber, sucking on that Darth Vader oxygen mask, I recalled that time in shaman school when I tried to pull an "intrusion" out of woman and it stuck to me. I did ask my power animals to help, but I  didn't ask them if we should do it, I just initiated the work and I got hit. (The next day my friend Antonio cleaned me up). I learned a lesson that has served me a thousand times over. Now I have a protocol for dealing with big icky things, and I am very careful to stick to it.

When I teach shamanic work, my goal is to help you develop your own protocols for working with your helping spirits. As Grandmother told me in the beginning of The Calico Shaman, preparation is everything. In shamanic training the preparation has many levels. You learn little protocols for each basic activity, like extraction and power animal retrieval. You learn ceremonial protocols for calling in power that will support your work and the clients healing. You gain protection by asking your spirits for garments and tools, and by connecting with them in extraordinary ways. You undergo transformational experiences that change your energetic footprint in non ordinary reality. But most important you learn to work with your helping spirits and teachers to create the protocol that is critical for you to follow for the work you do. Only you can remember to follow it. :-)  And if you too are "enthusiastic" you might getting your paw caught in a trap now and then.  The spirits will be there for you then too.

When I realized I probably had a form of decompression sickness (DCS)  the first thing I did was go to my circle in the lower world and called in the spirits and the healing spiral that we work with in the Sacred Mask workshop. The bright white light in the center glowed through me and the spirits assured me they were protecting me. The steps I took after that were directed by them like clock work. I called the dive doctor hotline. He said to go to the hospital. The Bonaire doctor, a dive specialist, was the first person I saw walking in the door. I asked him for directions to registration, and he asked me what was wrong. I described, and he guided me through the process with complete compassion and attention. Everyone who stayed up all night running the chamber was a saint, incarnate helping spirits. I cry at their compassion and sweetness. What an experience. My dear Matt held the space for me back in Arizona, and then I came back to "home" here on Bonaire to the loving friendship of Kit and Ed, and I have to say that life can't be better.

Hawaii Workshop - Learn to Journey and Spirits of the Reef

Learn Shamanic Animal healing and Shamanic Journeying in Kona, Hawaii. And connect with the spirit of the reef through shamanic journeying and snorkeling. Have a blast! August 16-18, 2008.

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Tarpon! Crocodile! Manatee - well maybe not.

Today we went to Robbie's, a rustic touristy conglomeration of watery activities and merchandise. We fed the tarpon. Everyone does. It costs $5 to buy a bucket of feeder fish and walk out onto the dock, where all the tarpon for 50 miles gather for free lunch. What a riot! I made friends with a special tarpon in Bonaire at a site called The Cliff. This fish stayed close to me, and when I was photoing jawfish on my last dive (and getting solidly bent) he came over to me and blew a large distinct bubble out of his gill. He said, "You don't belong here" in a friendly way. So I was especially happy to have the chance to feed a mess of them and say thank you! After that we rented a kayak and floated through a mangrove water trail. We saw a young female crocodile (the guide man who told us the route to follow said she was a she) sunning on a boat hull. And as promised we saw one young nurse shark in the shallows. We didn't see the 5 manatees who live in this grove, and we were indeed disappointed. But swarms of snook, snappers, barracuda, snappers, parrotfish and who knows what else made up for it. So did the osprey flying before us through the cut in the trees, and a diving bird who cruised with us for 15 minutes or so. One thing about Florida, it can be blustery. We worked our fannies off paddling - which we promptly replaced with pizza and cinnamon buns at a wonderful Italian coffee house in Ilsamadora.

Tomorrow we go home, via the Everglades and Ft. Lauderdale's no doubt brutally windy beach.

Exploring The Florida Keys, below the waterline :-)

It is April 30th. Matt and I have been on a slow vacation through the Florida Keys for the last 10 days. This is the trip account, with a heavy emphasis on our connection with wildlife.

During the first week we tried diving on Looe Key. This is my first time getting wet since I was bent in Bonaire in early February. This first dive was uneventful, which is a blessing. I felt exhausted, but not bent. We dove one dive on the first day, took a day off and dove one on the next days, both very shallow. I felt the tweak in my heart area when I took a full breath. It is a familiar tweak, and now I suspect it is the culprit. My habit is to breathe deeply and slowly, which is great for breath and buoyancy control. But if there is a small hole in my heart, then that deep breath under the additional pressure of the ocean would open the hole up. Then the little gasses can go through and build up to cause trouble. This is the reality. I am learning to take much shallower breaths. I have had my heart tested for PFO, the acronym for a hole in the heart, and the test was negative. But this feeling is reality. I can’t reproduce it on land or on the surface, only at depth. About 6 hours after our second dive I began to get shoulder pain. Then next day I awoke quite encumbered. It felt like the bends pain again, but there were complicating factors – I had paddled a kayak 2 days before for several hours, and I have a history of having this shoulder seize when I am under stress. So I decided to treat it with vitamin I and massage. 2 days later it was resolved.

Matt and I probably won’t dive again this trip. He got sea sick, and all I can tell him is that the next area we were going to dive is much rougher. Of course my pain has nothing to do with the choice J.

We have seen the big animals. A large loggerhead was surfacing as our dive boat went past. Captain George cut the engine and we watched the big guy take a deep breath, then slowly descend. Just beautiful. This was the third turtle of the trip. The others were swimming off of 7 mile bridge, which is the delineation between the upper and lower keys. The old bridge is now a foot path leading to Pigeon key, a cluster of original buildings, now a park, about 1.5 miles off shore. We didn’t get that far because we were tired from the 5 mile kayak trip that morning. The hotel in Grassy Key offered free kayaks and we accepted. The water was so inviting with a light breeze and little chop. We set off to nowhere and then decided to go the mangroves we saw far down the coastline. How much farther? Paddle, paddle, paddle! Looking down the water seemed devoid, then there was a white triangular flash of the eagle ray! Yeah, my favorite! We circled to be sure, and that of course caused the displeased ray to promptly depart. More paddling and then swoosh, a shark! Now we were having fun. Finally we reached the mangroves and enjoyed the great white egrets hunting from their hidden perches. On the return the water churned with three big snooks, which Matt saw but I missed. Then like morel mushrooms there were more of them, yummy giants in the shallow murk.

Upon entering the water for the first dive I was struck by the slatted forest of fan corals on top of the reef. Blue, yellow, purple, looking like cross sectioned leaves. A similarly flat file fish was the first one to greet us at 7 feet of sea water. He was orange, unlike the ones in Bonaire.

We tried to find a reported 300 lb grouper named Elvis, to no avail. But we did find goliath groupers, just smaller ones. The other large monster was a yellow snapper. There were large specimens of grey angel fish and barracuda, and a diversity of wrasses, damsels, sergeant majors and snappers. Overall the reef is pretty, but the coral is much abused and the fish life low density.

Matt and I were deciding whether to take a surface interval and do a second tank, or not, when a small boat in front of us began to disappear. The family on board was out for a snorkel and had just tied to a buoy when water swamped the stern and suddenly it was pandemonium. Being the closest boat we responded, then tossed lines to the two screaming teenage girls, their brother and father. I was surprised to see the men board our vessel first, while we hollered to the girls to let go of the upside down hull and grab the line. So it goes. We learned all about the features and benefits of Tow-Boat US, AAA for boaters. It was fun to have the Coast Guard rescue boat swoop up to our side and haul in their catch, a forlorn Boston family who had rented a boat from the wrong side of the tracks, and who were leaving their wallets, phones, car keys and house keys to swim with the fishes. Matt and I decided to call it a day.

The second day of diving was choppier and murkier. We returned to the reef, this time with no other boats around. Again we were the solo customers on Innerspace’s boat, a real treat. The reef right under the boat was so pretty. Those fans were just like a pigmy forest laced with fish. And in the crevices below big fish were everywhere. Our plan was to go out and follow fingers of reef up and back. We did this dutifully and at it was pretty dull. We did see a big nurse shark and a barracuda getting his teeth cleaned along with angels and other wonders. But mostly it was disappointing. Coming back to the boat the fans again were incredible and I was resolved to just hanging out there for the next dive. What I didn’t know was that had Matt gotten sea sick as we were gearing up, but didn’t share the news. The water was surgy around the shallow reef, and so his sickness increased as we dove. 50 minutes later when he got back on board Captain Robert was alarmed, and Matt was not saying a word. He was afraid if he even said “sea sick” he would hurl. I got on second, and after a minute inquired. Matt fessed up and we immediately departed. Note to self. If it’s wonderful where you are, don’t move. You may not get to see that place again.

New pages hold new content

I am moving my new reef journey posts onto pages, and I will catalog them here. That way it will be easier for you to follow along. March 14, 2008: Your Journeys to Heal the Land. The first is a series of Journeys by Lyn Benedict to heal the Open Pit Mine and the old mining tunnels in Butte MT.

Feb 6, 2008: Journey to the reef to help a woman who is crossing over. I learn that Barracuda is helpful in escorting the souls to the other side. That there is a dark hole in the bottom of the ocean where souls cross through to "heaven". That the heaven is very similar to place on the other side of the shimmering portal, but that it is much more deep, and that coming back is hard to do. And I have a delightful middleworld experience with my two Spotted Eagle Ray friends.

Feb 14, 2008: Valentines day and I am thankful to be alive and well. What a week. Forgive me for not posting. I have spent the last 7 days overcoming decompression sickness, otherwise known as the bends. I am exhausted and happy to be heading home on Saturday.

A journey with the Spotted Eagle Rays

spotted eagle rayToday I returned to Bari's Reef, and this time I entered the water at 4:30. At 4:35 I was over the sand, and at 4:36 I was dancing with an Eagle Ray, then two. They were grazing together and they didn't mind me one bit. I spent 50 minutes swimming with the pair today. I got so close that I could see the smallest color patterns, even on their super thin tails. They were not put off in anyway, not in the least bit shy. I was close enough to touch them, but I didn't attempt it. It just seemed incorrect to try. I have petted shanks and sting rays before. They didn't seem to mind. I'll have to journey to the Rays and ask them how they would like it.

Yesterday I did several sessions before starting my diving day. One was for a dog in Holland, and Spotted Eagle Ray came as a healing spirit. There are times when I want something so much that I figure I must be creating it. I thought that I had succumb to ego and was forcing the journey, but the Ray assured me I was not. And then to prove the point, the spirits started my next journey by merging me with an ostrich embryo who was trying to hatch. It was so vivid and bizarre. I was struggling to peck the shell, and felt exhausted and wanted to give up. Then I felt a surge of power in my abdomen, and I gave it one more hard peck and POP! I saw sunlight. I felt air, and my mom was there in all her glory. My siblings were chirping and I had all of life before me. How glorious! Clearly I didn't create that - I didn't have the foggiest idea how it connected to the client, and no sense that it was important to me. But maybe it was. Maybe I am hatching a new way of working by connecting with these reef animals.

When I was done with my clients' journeys yesterday, I journeyed to the Eagle Rays to ask if there were anything I should be aware of when I was swimming with them. The Ray I was talking with said he preferred if I didn't chase him. He said that it reminded him just a bit of a shark, and sharks are bad (the predator), and that he also didn't want me to touch his tail. So I tried my best to stay along side. Once I got in front while the Ray was involved in digging, and that was a mistake. I must have startled him, as his eyes are all covered in sand when he is snouting through the bottom finding crabs. I apologized and we were fine.

I took my Reefmaster camera today, and it failed. It seemed to be taking pictures just fine, but not one recorded on the memory card. This is the third replacement camera Reefmaster has sent me in one year. As a side note, I do not recommend Reefmaster. Sniff! The pictures were so promising. I can't replace the camera here on Bonaire. You will just have to journey to the animals to see them for yourselves. I did find some good footage on line though. Check this video out!

Seeking Dophins

Bonaire - Feb 6, 2008

The neighbor came over last night completely ecstatic. He had been diving (of course) and when he surfaced a big pod of dolphins was passing by farther out in the ocean. It was impossible for him to swim with his diving gear on, so he went to the car, stripped and drove down the beach to get ahead of the pod. He went in with only his mask, fins and snorkel and swam like a mad man to reach them. There were over a 100 he said, and they played with him on the surface and under water. He is a young fellow and can free dive pretty deep. This I must do!

I journeyed to dolphin, who works with me frequently, and asked for the best plan. She said they would be passing by down town at 9:00 AM. So at 9:00 AM I was there, and sure enough, so was a small pod. I tried to swim out to them, but it was impossible. They were too far out, too far gone and the boat traffic was scary. So I came back and asked again. “Meet us at Donkey Beach.” They don’t actually say the name of the place, they show it to me. I jumped in the car, made a quick stop to get a flash card for my camera, and when I got to donkey beach one of the dolphins was at the shore! The rest of the pod was further out. By the time I geared up it was too late again.

So I asked again, and they showed me the place called The Lake. Whoosh! This time I was prepared to get in the water upon sighting, but I wasn’t prepared for them to be so far off shore that I couldn’t see them. Fortunately two young people came up and told me, “The dolphins are right in front of that boat” pointing to an approaching boat about 500-1000 yards away. The kids swam like torpedoes and met the pod. I am not that fast but I did reach the tail end of the pod. I got to swim over and near about 10 dolphins as they passed by, but none surfaced with me.

I felt an incredible energetic calm come through me as I was near them. That could have been dolphin energy, or it could have been the endorphins kicking in from my mega swim to reach them. It was nice and the dolphins were magical. I had the camera, and when there was a group very close I aimed it, but alas it didn’t take the picture. Back in the car I asked again, and they said to come again tomorrow to a different place farther north at 7:00 AM. I look forward to it!

Swimming with Spotted Eagle Ray

spotted eagle ray It is February 4th, 2008 and I am on Bonaire for two weeks, scuba diving. My neighbor stopped by yesterday evening and said, “The rays feed in the shallow sand at Bari’s Reef around 4:30-5:30 in the evening. Be there and hang out, and I guarantee you will see them, and sting rays too.” So today I planned my afternoon around that promise.

Bari's Reef is one of the many dive sites that line the west side of Bonaire. Most of them are marked by yellow rocks, and they have buoys anchored at 15 feet, typically at the start of the reef. Divers rent trucks and load them with tanks and head out to explore the abundant life.

On the surface my mission matches my fellow fin-foots, to see the unexpected and marvel at the beauty of it all. But my social purpose is to connect shamanically with the spirits of the reef, building my cosmological knowledge and bringing new sources of healing to my practice.

When I first introduced myself to the reef creatures, swimming along side them and hoping to connect, I got blank stares. These animals do not stand up and volunteer straight away. This is a fluid discovery process for me; there isn’t a recipe. So far I learned that they respond to me after I have courted them both under water and in shamanic journeys. I am not sure how this works or what it all means, but I want to learn.

I haven’t journeyed to eagle ray yet. Today I went to meet the rays in person, to introduce myself as a friend and to observe their beauty and ways. I will describe that now. Then later I will journey to them. After that they may become helping spirits when appropriate. I’ll share these things with you as they unfold.

Spotted Eagle Ray. The shallow sand is filled with life. I got there early and waited 45 minutes at 15 feet, moving very slowly. The water is a bit murky right now because it is the rainy season. I can see clearly for about 15 feet, then things become vague. 30 feet away was a grey fog bank. I scanned the horizon and kept an eagle eye out, until the soft swaying of some grasses caught my eye. But they weren’t grasses at all, they were garden eels, my first garden eels ever, and one of the fishes I had on my list to try and find this trip. I was moving so slowly they were not alarmed. But as soon as they did see me, whoosh, down into their holes they went, and they stayed there for as long as it took for me to leave. After 10 minutes of hovering very quietly I decided to slip away and circle round from another direction. A few minutes later they were out dancing again, half their bodies emerged from the sand, swaying like cobras in a basket. This time their alarms went off when a trunk fish came prowling. These adorable triangular shaped fish have puckered lips that probe every hole for goodies. In a world where fish are very wary, trunk fish have the run of the place, as some of them secrete a poison when threatened.


trunk fish


After 45 minutes of this floating in a cloud of white sand and misty horizons the can of life on my back was diminishing. I had about 15 minutes before I went into damned fool mode. Then suddenly he was there in front of me, calmly floating with waving wings. Small white spots on the top of the body and a face that is the image of an eagle, give the ray its name. His underside is pure white, and his rat thin tail is the length of his body over again. This particular ray's tail had an interesting jointed turn at the end, like a small bent finger. He has a dog like mouth and snout, and he makes precision attacks in the sand, digging for his delicious crab dinner, leaving a 9 or so inch indentation, not unlike a hole that a Matsutake mushroom picker leaves after lifting a buried gem in the forest duff. (I digress, but Matsutakes and their hunters communicate shamanically, as the mushroom depends upon the hunter to disperse its spores. “They just call to you” the long time hunters say.)

The eagle ray and I swam side by side for at least 5 minutes, maybe 10. He showed me his softness. I offered my heart. The connection was tentative, but warm and filled with good will. Finally it was time to say goodbye, and we separated. Now I will journey to Eagle Ray Tribe and court them formally. And then I will return to the water at dinner time again, this time with my camera!

Here is a place to learn about Spotted Eagle Rays