Personal Essays

The personal essays that follow here tell the story of how I reached this point in my life.  For the curious, they provide the backdrop, the tale of my search for my authentic self. 

These stories are not in chronological order, but rather in alphabetical order by title.  From time to time, the stories will be changed.  The current crop includes:


Breathing Blue

Sunday Morning


I hope you enjoy.


By Kathy O’Dwyer

Sometimes at night, in my dreams, I can feel the cold clear water of Aravaipa Canyon rushing over my bare feet, soothing my soul and washing away my concerns.  Located in the Arizona desert, it is a place of hard beauty, not apparent at first glance, but it creeps up on you in small ways.   First you notice the river canyon that splits the soaring, striated red and tan cliffs, then the surprise of a tiny flower as you round a turn on the trail.  Your senses sharpen as you take in the silvery halo of needles on the jumping cholla, the brilliance of the crystalline sapphire sky, the dusty faded reds, oranges and greens of the pebbles beneath your feet, and the praying mantis sitting patiently on a rock.  It is a place of deep serenity and passionate emotions that overtakes your soul.   You know that survival is difficult here but it is in that challenge that you find appreciation and gratitude for all that you are. 

Our group arrived at Aravaipa in a cloud of brown dust billowing behind our caravan of three cars as we wound our way along the one lane road.   We crossed the suspended bridge one car at a time only to find that the river doubles back forcing us to drive down and through the water itself to enter the ranch.  It was November and the water was low but we city slickers felt adventurous as our vehicles hit the water at high speed, like a child trying to make the biggest cannonball splash into the pool. 

The ranch house accommodated 30 people and we would live, cook, eat, pray, and play together from Thursday night through Sunday.   A mesa was set in the middle of the great room, a gathering place for us each morning and evening to share our thoughts.  Afternoons were open to hiking, reflecting, reading, writing or whatever one chose to do.  Our group numbered 13, a mix of 11 women and 2 men.  I thought of the 13 Original Clan Mothers of Native American tradition, and despite the fact that we were not all women, I felt the number fortuitous.

Our first evening, we gathered around the mesa, sharing our intent for the long weekend.  When it was my turn, I stated “I am here to release the negativity, the things that no longer serve me so I can move forward.”

Our facilitators, Diane and Cynthia, took turns probing.  “What do you think you need to do while you are here?”

“I just intend to be open and aware of what is happening around me.   In my heart I know that the Great Spirit has a path for me.  I hope to gain some understanding.”  I replied.

Diane gently said “you have many ancestors here with you.  Do you know that?”

“Yes, I can feel them with me now.” 

“There is one in particular that you have not met before.”  Said Cynthia.  “She is a wise Native American woman and she has come at this time to help you.”

“She is new to me.  What is her name?”

“Ask her and she will tell you.   Just know she is here to help you.”  Replied Cynthia.

I fell silent.  I could feel the presence of a spirit near my shoulder, kind and gentle.  My back was to the fireplace which had a buffalo skull hanging over the hearth.  As everyone’s attention turned to the next person in the circle, Cindy, my shaman, leaned over to me and whispered “the eyes of the buffalo burned red while you were speaking.  The buffalo is a sign of abundance and it is good.”  

I turned to look but the buffalo was silent.

Melissa, Cindy and I were to share a room on the second floor.  Melissa is a young woman with short blond hair in her thirties.  She is funny, warm and welcoming with a cute style about her.   Cindy, my shaman, is a mix of Native American and Celtic and brings together a rare combination of both origins and a deep understanding of the Earth.   She has flaming long red hair that she typically wears braided and she glows with a soft light from within. 

Our room was the largest bedroom in the house with five beds, three queen size and two twin beds.  Cindy and Melissa each chose a large bed but I selected a small one along the wall.  They chided me, urging me to take the third big bed, but I felt drawn to the small one.  It was all that I needed.  Completing our private nightly rituals, we went to bed calling good night to each other, laughing that we felt like the Waltons.  “Good Night John-Boy!” we laughed and I felt so happy to be sharing a room with them. 

The night was dark, the only light coming from the moon.  The lack of street lights and lack of city lights gave the ranch a mysterious air.  Soon the others were softly sleeping but I lay wide awake, my body humming with a light energy, the kind that always heralded a spiritual communication and I felt intrigued.  In the distance, I heard horses neighing and whinnying, stamping their hooves and snorting with impatience.  A huge gust of wind rattled through the trees outside our window.  Curious, I stepped out of bed and leaned to look out the window.  The horses quieted immediately.  The trees were as tall as the ranch house and I looked right into the branches, surprised to see four bright shining lights, golden orbs that were sharply distinct against the black of the night.  I lay back down in my bed and, a minute later, there was a sharp rap on the wall near my head.  It came again and once again, three sharp raps in all and after the third, the wind gusted through the trees again.  Once more I crept to the window to look and was again greeted by the four shining orbs of gold. 

My body was now vibrating with high intensity and I knew there would be no sleep for me.  I pulled on a fleece jacket, slipped socks onto my bare feet and quietly, so as not to wake the others, I went downstairs to sit and meditate at the mesa.

Early in the morning, Melissa came down to start breakfast and I rose from the mesa to help her. 

“Did you hear the horses last night?”  I asked.

“What horses?   There are no horses here.”  She said.

“What about the wind?  Did it wake you?” 

“I slept like a rock!” she laughed.  “This fresh air is so good for sleeping!”

I kept the other experiences to myself as the others came down to eat.  We quickly finished breakfast and gathered around the mesa to share prayers and thoughts to start the day.

“Did anyone hear the horses?” asked Diane.

“Yes!”  I cried enthusiastically, grateful to know that I was not hallucinating.

“Strange and wonderful things happen here.   This land is ancient and its history runs deep.  Don’t be surprised by what you experience and be open to all that comes.”  She said.

We spent the morning in deep conversation, sharing our inner thoughts and feelings.  It felt as if we had known each other for eons, and perhaps we had, coming together like this in past lives.

After lunch, we hiked up into the mountains, returning just before dusk to prepare our evening meal.  The group was filled with high excitement as Jenn, one of our group, planned to share her special gift with us that night.  A beautiful young woman, Jenn is a medium, serving as a channel for a group of entities called the Council.   Those who wished to interact with the Council would have an opportunity to do so. 

The session began.  We were seated on the floor around the mesa, the room softly lit by candles and our anticipation.  Jenn sat in an armchair, placing the soles of her bare feet on two matched smooth ruby red stones, curling her toes to grasp them firmly as she massaged them ever so slightly.  Her eyes were closed, her head nodding ever so slightly in a trancelike state. People began to take turns.  So many of my companions asked the Council deeply personal questions and it was frightening how quickly the Council came back with questions to urge each individual to look deep within to find answers.  Tears were flowing and I felt bereft as my heart went out to my companions.  Jenn was tiring and Diane, who was taking notes for each person said we would close with only one more person.  I raised my hand and Diane nodded.

“Council, thank you for agreeing to speak with me.  This is Kathy.”

“I know you. You are welcome here.  What is your question?”

“I have a simple question.  I have been going through so many changes in the past couple of years.  I wonder if the Council has any wisdom or teaching to share with me as I continue on my path?”

“You call this a simple question?”

“I suppose it is not.  But I have been receiving communications from my spirit guides and I find it so difficult to interpret them.”  I sighed.

“What is the difficulty?  Understanding?”  the Council asked.

“They are not clear to me.  Sometimes they come to me in my dreams and I don’t have a conscious understanding of the message.”

“Does understanding require consciousness?”  asked the Council?

“I would like it to be that way.  Do things need to stay at the unconscious level before it can come to consciousness?”  I asked.

“Yes, all in good time.  Do you have an example?”  The Council was so wise.

“My guides came to me recently and spoke to me clearly in my ear one night.  A man’s voice said, you’ve been calling us.  There is one thing you must do.  And then the spirit went away!   I don’t know what the one thing I must do is.”

“You are bringing to consciousness the one thing you must do.  It might be coming here and releasing whatever it is that no longer serves you.  One thing can have many aspects.  Allow your tears, the fear to drain from your eyes.   Allow yourself to relax into the understanding.” 

I nodded and felt the sting of tears.

“You are incredibly soft inside.  Wash yourself with your tears.  Welcome them.  Use the time here to welcome them.”

Cindy leaned over and whispered to me to ask about my Indian Guide.

“Council, one last question.   Can you tell me about the Indian Guide who is with me?”

“Yes.  She is a great strength and comfort.  Do you feel her putting her head on your shoulder?”

I burst into tears as I nodded yes.  I could feel the soft, gentle pressure of her head resting on my right shoulder, her arm cradling me.

“She is a here to help you drain your tears, assist you as you run your water.  Let her swaddle you.  Tonight she will carry you in your dream state down to the river.  She will hold you.”

I nodded in my tears.  “From the bottom of my heart, Council, thank you.”

As if she could see me through her closed eyes, Jenn turned to look straight at me.  “When you say thank you, you say it with your entire body.  It is magical.”

“Thank you Council” I whispered again and hung my head while the tears flowed.

I felt tired and ready to rest but it was not to be.  I lay in bed, wide awake, long after Melissa and Cindy fell asleep.   Suddenly, there was a sharp rap on the wall.  I reached up and knocked back once to acknowledge the spirit who was communicating with me.  Within a moment, as if I had given permission with my knock, I felt many hands on my body, lifting my spirit, my soul high above my physical self.  I could feel the mattress firm beneath my back, but I was soaring at the same time.  The hands rushed me down to the river.  It happened in an instant.  One moment I was complete body and soul in bed, the next my spirit was at the stream.

The spirits plunged me into the water and as my soul fell under the water, I felt my physical self run ice cold, chilling me down to my bones.  Just as I thought I cannot bear this cold any longer, the spirits whisked me back to my bed, settling my spirit back into my body and wrapping me around and around in soothing warmth.  I felt coddled like a baby safe and secure.  Another knock on the wall and again, I reached up to knock back.   And with that the spirits departed.

The next day, we started our day around the mesa.  It was to be quick as we were going to take a day long hike deep into the Canyon.  Jenn kept catching my eye, smiling at me and I smiled and nodded back.  As Diane wrapped up the quick session, Jenn raised her hand.   She looked right at me and said “May I ask the name of your Indian Guide?”

“Running Water” I said.  Jenn smiled and nodded.

On our final morning we went out onto the land in the back of the house to a labyrinth. We had decided it fitting to conclude our time together by walking the labyrinth and spreading the roses from our altar.  A crystalline blue day, the silence was deep as we began our walk.  I silently chanted to myself “Om Mani Padme Um” as I placed one foot in front of the other.  I  allowed the rose petals to drift from my hand to settle upon the stones, coming to the center of the labyrinth with one last rose petal.   Kneeling I offered a prayer to Mother Earth thanking her for the past few days. I rose and turned, starting my walk back to the beginning of the maze.  I came face to face with Jenn.  We embraced and suddenly, I held her tightly and began to weep.  She kissed my forehead and looked into my eyes.   I knew it was not Jenn but the Council smiling at me, holding me and encouraging me to continue to walk my path. 

I can only hope to bring them honor.

Breathing Blue

By Kathy O’Dwyer

It came to me in a dream recently, the words Breathing Blue.  I knew instantly what it meant.  Every day as I walk I look to the sky and try to breathe in as much of the blue as I can, knowing it to be a healing color for me.   I know just enough information to be dangerous.   But that, of course, hasn’t stopped me from running at top speed these last few years which has been a good thing.  Not without challenges and obstacles of course, but therein lies the learning.

Does there come a point in everyone’s life when you sit back, reflect and see all the points and times along the way?   Those instances that seemed isolated in time but when you turn back and look, you can clearly see how each instance shaped you for just that moment and nudged you just a little to the left or right to make sure you continued on the path you were meant to travel.  Life is full of them and often they were downright nasty at the time, but from your new vantage point you can see that they were necessary.  Mini-turning points – I have had hundreds!!!  So many people I know can say with certainty and point to that one defining moment that was life changing.  Not so for me.  Every point has been small and not very dramatic and yet, the impact of each was as deep as an earthquake.   And the aftershocks keep coming! 

Massage therapy school introduced me to the seven chakras, those spinning wheels of energy aligned with the major endocrine glands in the body.   Intrigued, it took me some time to come to grips with the concept.  The spiritual and energetic aspect of bodywork resonated with me and I much preferred those classes over the hardcore anatomy and physiology.  I sat next to Celina, my 28 year old classmate.  Tiny and lithe, Celina is like a woodland fairy and radiates pink, the color of unconditional love.  Well versed in the study of energy, she was gracious as I peppered her with questions.  Eventually, I got them down.  The first chakra, the root chakra, is red representing our tribal roots and connection to Mother Earth.  The second or sacral chakra is orange and associated with sexuality and creativity.   Seated in the solar plexus is the yellow third chakra or power of will and discipline.  Surprisingly, I learned the heart chakra is not red or pink but green.  Later I discovered that there are actually two colors associated with the heart, green for the masculine aspect of our being and pink for the feminine.  

The fifth chakra is a soft sky blue, the throat chakra, aligned as you would expect with communication and again creativity.  The third eye or sixth chakra is dark blue and, like the sixth sense, represents intuition.  The crown chakra is the top of the head and is violet white for connection to the universe or source of all that is.

We experimented with energy in class, closing our eyes to see if we could feel each other’s auras or pick up sensations in the body.   Lucien, my teacher, kept singling out a few people in class who “got it” and he always included me, although I couldn’t figure out why.  I went through the exercises, intrigued and open, but struggled to pick up sensations as easily as others seemed to do. 

We were introduced to meditation shortly after, another new experience for me.  Allowed to just make ourselves comfortable, I selected a corner of the room by the window, plopped down on the floor with a bolster under my knees and a blanket.  A guided meditation took us down a path to a forest, yadayadayada, a typical relaxation exercise or so I thought.  My mind cleared and I wandered with the voice and music, totally lost in a dream state.  Suddenly, a bolt of electricity exploded up my spine and shot out the top of my head!  I couldn’t move.  I felt nailed to the floor as this electricity coursed and coursed through me and it was exhilirating!   My body weighed 300 lbs as I dragged myself back to my chair when the meditation concluded.  “Anyone care to share?” and Lucien looked straight at me.  I felt embarrassed to describe this orgasmic experience so I looked away.  As others talked, I whispered to Celina what had happened.  “Kundalini” she said, the serpent coiled around the spine that when activated courses up to connect with all that is.  I was hooked.

A week later, Lucien came to class with his hand wrapped in a huge bandage.  He caught his hand in a door just an hour before.   His hand was swollen and aching but he managed to get through his hour or so lecture before turning us on to each other to practice our latest techniques. 

“Not you O’Dwyer.  I need you here.” 

“What’s up Lucien?”  

“I want you to work on my hand.”  He settled into a chair and placed his arm and hand on a massage table.

“Lucien, I have no idea what to do for an injury like this.  I’m actually afraid to touch it.”

“I don’t want you to touch it.  I want you to just use your intention to pull the hurt out of my hand.”  What?  Energy work was interesting to be sure, but this was out of my league.  “Just hold your hand over mine and stroke the injury out.”

“Hoookay”  and skeptically I did what he said.  As I repeated the motion, I focused on his swollen hand and started repeating silently to myself over and over that I wanted to pull the injury out through the fingers.  After a few minutes of this stroking, I brought my other hand into play, with one hand above and one below Lucien’s injury.  I kept pulling and pulling as hard as I could, intent upon my work.  Suddenly my eyes widened in surprise as I watched the swelling go down until eventually his hand returned to its normal size.

“Class, come here and see what O’Dwyer did” and they gathered around and were as astounded as I was.  The next day I excitedly told my friend Carol at work about the experience.   She gave me a funny look and told me to keep this kind of stuff to myself.  I immediately realized that what I was experiencing and learning was not main stream, especially for someone who worked in the financial services industry.  I would be considered “out there” and could find myself “outta there.”  So I shut up but I still needed to learn more.  Lucien recommended some books for me to read and I bought them online the very next day.

The Ruby Room came up in conversation with Celina as she often brought in the crystals and Angel Cards she had purchased there for us to use.  At Celina’s urging, one day I called and made an appointment at the Ruby Room for a reading of my aura and a healing session. The Ruby Room appears to be just a storefront hair salon and spa much like any other.  But off to the side is a narrow door leading to a steep staircase.   At the top of the staircase is the sanctuary of the Ruby Room.  Along one wall ran the crystal bar with stones of such vivid colors it reminded me of a box of 64 crayons.  Books, cards, music and essential oils to meet every spiritual need could be found.   I wanted to wander and take in every sight and scent but I had my appointment.   Through the red and gold curtains to the back,   I met Laurel, a tiny woman dressed in a floor length brown, burlap looking dress, a sharp contrast to the bright brilliance of the shop.  Her graying hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail and she had kind eyes.  She told me her story.  Raised as a Mennonite , at the age of 5 years old, she was placed on the bed of her dying grandmother, the region’s Healer.  Her grandmother selected Laurel to be her replacement and before dying, she whispered into Laurel’s ears for almost an hour, transferring the healing energy to her.  I liked her and felt at ease.

Before the healing session, Laurel read my aura.  She hooked me up to a machine that ran feeds into a computer which produced a digital photograph of my aura.  I watched the screen in awe as the outline of my body came up surrounded by color.   Laurel explained what I was seeing.

“This area of white light over your head means you are in a period of intense learning right now.’  This was true as I agonized my way through the anatomy and physiology curriculum of massage school.

“What is this?” I pointed to a murky brown surrounding my left shoulder. 

“You have an injury there that needs healing”.    I had injured my left shoulder in a bicycle accident the previous year and was still trying to exercise it back to full range.  “It’s OK” she said.  “see this green around your body?  This means you are in a period of healing so what you are doing is on track.”

My root chakra was a firm red ball but my second chakra was a disarray of orange all over the place.  “You seem to be having some difficulty with a relationship right now.”  Jim, the man I was dating, was unhappy that I was going to school and he was proving to be difficult.  My throat chakra was fuzzy, but my third eye was bright and solid.  She looked at my throat and saw my scar.   I told her about my thyroid surgery at the age of 16 but she dismissed that saying “You’re kind of shy, aren’t you.”  And I shook my head yes.  

Last we looked at my heart.  My poor little heart was this tiny, tiny square box of green.  “Your heart is all boxed up.  You have shut yourself off.  We need to work on opening your heart so you can fully heal” and at the pain of those words I started to cry.

Laurel had me lie prone on a warm, heated table under a cozy blanket.  Drawn to my left knee, she placed her hands there and I immediately felt pulsations shoot up my leg.  I was flooded with a memory from the middle of winter in my 11th or 12th year.   The streets were covered in snow and ice.  My brothers and I were out with our sleds, skimming down the street.  Our sleds were the old fashioned wooden kind with red metal runners and a crosspiece for steering.  We would run, holding the sleds up in front of our chests.  Once at full speed, we would belly flop down on the sled and shoot down the street.  Only this one time, as I flopped down, the lip of my boot caught on the edge of one of the wooden slats and I landed hard, my nose hitting the center of the crosspiece, my eyeglasses shattering in my eyes.  Fortunately I had closed my eyes, but the tiny slivers of glass covered my face.  I had hundreds of tiny cuts all over my face and eyelids.   Blood poured down my face and I once again felt the fright of that day deep within my gut.

“I haven’t thought about that incident in 40 years” I told her. 

She said “your knee remembers.”  And I was amazed.

After the session, Laurel talked to me again about opening my heart chakra, while my tears flowed.  I kept looking at the photograph of my aura.  It’s funny to say but it broke my heart to look at my poor tiny heart – I felt like the Grinch only he had been successful in growing his heart.   How would I ever manage to do the same?  Laurel took an index card and wrote out her “prescription”.  

  1. Eat lots of root vegetables to connect with Mother Earth.  
  2. Keep exercising my left shoulder
  3. Dump the jerk I was dating
  4. Breathe blue.  

Breathing blue she explained would help my throat chakra, open up my ability to communicate and overcome my shyness, which in turn would eventually help to open my heart.

That was 3 years ago.  I saw Laurel one more time and she declared me improving.  I ate turnips and parsnips, dumped Jim and kept up with the exercise. Then, as now, I breathe blue every day and that has taken the longest effort, but at last it is working.   I am communicating in a different way, taking a leadership role at work.  I am writing.  After receiving my license in massage, I continued on to become a Reiki Master and pursue shamanistic practices to not only facilitate my own healing process but also to help others.  My life has changed and I am more confident .  Today I not only breathe blue, I often wear aquamarine blue around my throat.  People tell me I seem different now and instead of brushing the comment away as I used to in the past I simply say thank you.  I no longer worry about telling my co-workers about my extracurricular activities.   They still sometimes shake their heads and tell me I’m “different”.  But I no longer care.   I feel different and it is good.   

I know a lifetime of stuff and yet I know so little.  So it is my intention to keep learning, to keep experiencing, to keep delving into the aftershocks of life’s earthquakes as each one brings me closer and closer to something that is out there just for me.   It is my intention to keep breathing blue.

Sunday Morning

By Kathy O’Dwyer

Sunday mornings are full of solitude for me, not an unpleasant thing after the bustle of the work week.  I roused myself early, peeking out the windows to see soft, fat flakes of wet snow coming down, the kind  that are delicious to catch on the tongue and even better for packing.  I quickly showered, brushed my teeth and dried my hair, dressing in bulky warm socks and tan corduroy jeans.  I threw on a black fleece hoodie, not exactly a fashion statement but these days I am more into function than fashion.  I decided against pulling on boots, choosing instead my black moccasins, the top of each shoe studded with tiny black points laced together with black thread to form a heart.   These shoes are fun to wear, combining the comfort valued by the old with just a touch of youth, and I felt good heading out into the snow bundled in my long brown coat, hat and gloves.I crossed the street heading east towards Halsted Street.  Walking along the edge of the athletic field, I started to say my usual silent morning prayer when I was interrupted by the cawing of a crow.  I stopped and looked around but could not spot the crow.    He must have realized he now had an audience as he immediately stopped his calling and hid from view.  When a crow caws, it signals the secret magic of creation.   They are powerful birds, watchful and strong.   The color of night, they are a symbol of birth bursting forth from the darkness of the womb.  Their magic has been recognized throughout the ages by all civilizations and cultures.   “Aho” I offered to the hidden crow, a Native American acknowledgement.  The snow drifted lightly against the grass of the field and the silence felt deep and surprising.  It is never quiet in the city but this morning seemed an exception.   I gave up my morning prayer trusting that the Divine would accept my appreciation for the beauty of the day as gratitude.  Crossing Halsted, I walked up to Hash Browns and went in.  A small neighborhood breakfast and lunch place, it is a cash only spot run by family.   A tiny waitress greeted me.  Situated just off the UIC campus, the restaurant’s waitresses change with the semesters but are always the same with their hip slung jeans, tight layered t-shirts and sloppy ponytails, pieces of hair tucked behind their ears.  I hoped for and was rewarded with the little window table tucked just behind the entryway giving me a perfect view of the snowy cobbled-stoned street.   I pull a book out of my pocket, happy to have the natural light for reading.  I looked at the menu and thought for a second maybe I should try something new but the morning was too perfect and perfection required the usual, a spinach omelette with sweet potato hash browns, no toast, and chamomile citrus tea.  The Urban Shaman is a book I gave to a friend to read before I finished it myself.   Now that it had been returned, I started once again at the beginning.   The book explores and teaches the Hawaiian Way and I found it interesting in its approach.   Choices are neither good nor bad, but rather it is the thoughts post-decision that affect the outcome.  Intention directs the course of what will happen.   Things rarely go according to plan but if your thinking is right, things will go better.    I sat back, my belly full of eggs, and looked out the window.  I made the decision Saturday night that I would treat myself to a morning breakfast at my favorite restaurant.  When I woke this morning and rolled over to see the snow, a thought of not going out flashed through my mind but I replaced it immediately with the thought of how pleasant it would be to sit at the restaurant window, sipping my tea and reading.  I rose immediately, no rushing involved, just choosing those things that gave me pleasure – the warm socks, the soft jeans and the happy shoes.  I appreciated the beauty of the morning and was rewarded with my hoped for table.  What if I could do this every day?  Start every day pushing negative thoughts aside and choosing instead to operate from a place of peace? After conducting a meditation and opening the Akashic Records at my last Wanna Write class at Lynn’s house, I emailed Bernadette with excitement.   Bernadette is the Director of Equilibrium, a center I frequently go to for classes on energy education.  The meditation at the writing class was a small thing, but it felt so natural to me, the ease of it was amazing.  I told Bernadette I thought about starting a meditation group.   Let’s talk!”  she responded, “I would love to have your energy here and I think it would be a wonderful offering to my clients.”   And I was happy.But a day later fear set in.   Would people really come to hear me guide a meditation?  What credentials do I have to do this?  Should I open the Records or include Reiki in the course of the time and how much time should I set?  What kind of value should I assess, what value do I bring to the table?  My thinking was starting to go wrong, fear and worry of disappointment setting in and I had yet to even conduct the first session!    I did not respond to Bernadette out of fear.I left the restaurant and started the walk back home.  As I turned the corner to the athletic field, the crow cawed.  Once again I looked up and this time I spotted the perched right above me on top of the red brick dormitory.  He cocked his head down, looking at me with one eye in the way that birds do.   His black feathers were majestic against the white of the sky and he cawed out to me again before lightly taking wing.   He flew down, circling just above me.  He slowly spiraled around me several times, letting the wind determine his height and rate of speed.  I stood still caught in his spell.  Suddenly the wind lifted him high, and after circling one more time, his wings engaged and he took to full-powered flight.  When I arrived home, I sat down at my computer and sent Bernadette an email.  “I would love to talk to you about this.   Here is my vision of what the class would look like.   When can we talk?”


By Kathy O’Dwyer

As I reached out my hand, the swan’s chest seemed to rise with a breath to meet my fingers.     In death, the bird’s magnificence was not dimmed and, as I stroked its soft white expanse, tears sprang to my eyes.  I drank in every detail.  The curve of its neck, the gentle sweep of its bill, the plump density of its feathers, the scales of its feet, I easily imagined it gliding without effort across a lake, shimmering in moonlight. 

Swans are special birds to me and the times I am out browsing art fairs and galleries, I look for pictures of them.  So it was exciting for me to meet a young artist, Andria, at a Student Art Exhibition of the Art Institute.  She is a senior at the school.  Her paintings and drawings of birds are heartbreakingly beautiful and I felt fortunate when she agreed to do a drawing for me of three of my totems, the swan, the peacock and the birch tree.  Although I gave her free rein with respect to the drawing, I had a vision in my mind of the peacock sitting in the birch tree on the left overlooking a swan floating on a lake.  Either she read my mind or I telepathically sent my vision to her because the drawing is perfect.    We spent more than an hour talking over a cup of tea the day she delivered the drawing to me.   I shared with her my pursuit of Native American shamanistic traditions and the importance of bird medicine.   She shared with me stories of growing up in rural Minnesota and her difficulty adjusting to the concrete of the city.  To my delight, I discovered she was an intern at the Field Museum, working in the specimen lab that prepared the bird skins.   Her work afforded her the opportunity to study the anatomy of birds and bring that knowledge to her drawings.  Andria offered to give me a behind the scenes tour of the specimen labs and to show me the swan skins in the museum’s collection.

Last Thursday I met Andria at the museum, an afternoon that will stay with me always.  As I cradled the cygnet, soft as a cloud, in my hand I shook my head in wonder that anyone could have called this tiny creature an ugly duckling.   The cottony down reminded me of a dandelion puffed out and ready to give its seeds to the wind.   I marveled that this fragile bird was born with the strength to swim and smiled at the little almost clown-like wings, amazed that they would eventually grow to an expanse capable of lifting a 50 lb. adult bird through the air.  There were specimens of swans at various ages and I was stunned to realize that the downy white would change to muted grey before returning to white at adulthood.  The tender grey of the juvenile swan’s neck only hinted at its future beauty and I considered all the changes the bird endures before it reaches adulthood.   Other birds take wing and mature within months but swan understands that its divine perfection, its transformation, cannot be achieved without time and challenge. 

The concept of totems is relatively new to me.   Of course I knew about totem poles but only recently came to realize the power and respect the ancient tribes have for the various earthly and unearthly kingdoms.  Minerals, animals, birds, and trees — I have always felt an affinity for nature.   The clarity of that connection, the lessons of nature have always been there.   I just needed to recognize and accept them.  Meditation and Reiki brought swan to me.  Exploring bird medicine in my studies, I came across a written piece designed to introduce the concept of winged flight through shape shifting and meditation.   Feeling shape shifting was beyond my capabilities, I carefully read the meditation several times, taking it into my mind in the hope it would easily flow when I went into the meditative state.   Without knowing why, I selected the music of sacred waters for my meditation, stretched out on my bed and started the integrative breath work practice.   The water sounds seemed to rock beneath my feet, lulling me into a slight trance.  As I focused my intent on coming to know bird, I suddenly felt a shift in my body, a growing in my chest and stretching of my neck.   A wing seemed to brush across my face, soft and inviting.  My arms began to tingle and quiver.   I felt the pins of feathers prickle my skin and my arms seemed to lengthen under a cape of white.  I opened my arms to swirl the cape and suddenly I felt as if I took flight, gracefully flying low over a pond of cool, blue water.  Slowly I circled the water, looking for a place among the water lilies, coming to land on the pond, curling black scaled feet under me.  Now the selection of water sounds made sense to me as I stretched my neck to see a reflection of glowing white in the pond.   I knew in my meditation that this bird, the swan, was sharing its beauty and strength with me. 

My lifelong love for animals prompted me to sign up for the course in Reiki for Animals.  After completing the course, I enthusiastically headed out the next day to Lincoln Park Zoo to commune with the animals.   Mickey, my teacher, jokingly warned me not to rile up the big cats but she had nothing to worry about.  I headed for the central pond full of ducks and a pair of matched Trumpeter Swans.  Using the distant healing technique, I stood at the fence, sending Reiki energy out across the pond.  One Trumpeter blazingly white, immediately turned his head and looked at me.  Gliding to shore,  he walked out of the water over to where I was standing, pacing back and forth, back and forth, cocking his graceful head, keeping his eye on me all the while.   He was magnificent and he knew it, strutting for me, daring me to admire him.  His mate waddled over to sit nearby, casting her head down and peering at me discretely as if to warn me not to interfere with her mate.    But there was no doubt the male swan felt the energy and was curious as to what I was doing.  After a few minutes, he seemed to make the decision that what he was experiencing was a good thing.  He came to stand in front of me before settling down to sit perfectly between the space framed by my hands, tucking in his wings and head as if going into a meditative state.  Animals are completely open to energy, absorbing it quickly and knowing when enough is enough.  After 10 minutes, still maintaining eye contact, the swan shook his feathers out and rose to his feet.   I knew it was time to end the connection and closed my hands with a shake to disconnect.  As I did so, the swan rose to his full height and spread his wings to their full expanse in a display so glorious it made me gasp.   As I did so, his head reached high and he trumpeted sending tingles racing down my spine.  A couple standing nearby exclaimed and pointed, sharing in his majesty and might.   I bowed my head to him and humbly gave him thanks for being. 

As I stroked the swan’s cotton stuffed body that day at the museum, I thought to myself that Andria has no idea the depth of the gift she gave me, allowing me that special time alone with swan.   And I also realized that the gift of the tour came along for me at just the perfect time in my life for at no other time would I have had the deep appreciation that I had that afternoon.  The drawing she did for me, is framed and hanging on the wall near my computer, watching over me as I write, guiding my fingers, stretching my thoughts, transforming me as I struggle to achieve something remotely akin to swan’s perfection.