Wisdom Visions  
Wisdom Visions
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by Gill Schwartz


My celestial Medicine Guide, Shantu Ya', began appearing to me early on in my Work with the Medicine Wheel and vision quests. His name means Crazy Owl. He appears to my inner eye in a very clear and detailed form. I see him as a short, wizened old man with a slouch that shows he was burly when he was younger. His face is hairless and his long gray hair hangs loose around his sun darkened face. The obsidian eyes of a sacred image lie buried in his age crevassed cheeks. He wears an old, somewhat worn set of ceremonial clothes; a black woven cape embroidered with symbols, roughly tanned buckskin leggings, and a headband beaded with turquoise and onyx. I was startled at that first meeting to see he wears an eye over his forehead in the headband's design; it has always been a powerful symbol for me. He looks strongly Asiatic, more than Native American, and over the years I've come to identify him with the Northwest Coast tribes. Perhaps Kuakiutal.  

It was very clear, right from the beginning, that he's very concerned with my spiritual well being. Crazy Owl usually appears quickly when I call on him through prayerful ceremony. But, true to his name, in his dealings with me, he is often taciturn. He shocks, disturbs, even hurts me and justifies such approaches in his mentoring because I have such a stubborn refusal "to live out what I already Know", as he renders it.

He described himself with this poem:   


Born with a sliver of moon in his beak,    
torn between two worlds
-this one that seems and the one that Is.
Mad bird hangs onto both, entranced by his agony,
lust and illumination blaze with each breath.

Mad man of my soul sings out between moans,
"My joy is in the Shimmering.
Not the one realm nor the other
but the in between realm
where neither and both are.
The Shimmering..."

Crazy Owl bathes in the dust,
spins his head round front to back,
strikes in the dead of night, silently,
eyes fixed in cold frenzy.
Crazy Owl is a turnaround man,
a star man, ape and angel merged.

It was a time of painful turmoil and confusion in my life. Things I'd taken for granted as in place and working were coming apart. The roles and relationships that had been easy and nurturing became difficult and viciously bewildering.    

Finally, after feeling called to do a simple, but deeply devotional ceremony using fire and sage, I prayerfully called on Shantu Ya to help me understand what was happening in my life. I asked him to share his perspective on things so I wouldn't feel so senselessly tormented by the circumstances I was seized in.   

I soon felt his presence with a sense of relief, but when he appeared he was all aburst in flame. It wasn't just that he was burning. His very substance was fire, sharp, lashing flame. I was astonished and frightened. As he approached, his manner felt strangely sinister too, unpredictable. When he drew near me, I was aghast to see he had a flame thrower in his hand too. He took aim with it and doused me from head to feet. 

I was so bewildered, so frightened, I couldn't believe what he was doing or even gather myself to get out of his reach. "What are you doing to me?"   I screamed at him. "I call on you for help and you come and cremate me."

"Don't worry! Don't worry!" he scolded me with biting, sarcastic humor. "That's why you're so distraught about your life just now. But the blaze of suffering can burn through the bonds of circumstance. Be assured, everything that burns is not you!" He stared at me some while with a smile of friendly tolerance, then faded back into other realms.

I mulled on this teaching for some years, often repeating his refrain to myself as life continued to smelt and, hopefully, refine me, "Everything that burns is not you." Again and again, I understood how sound his brutal teaching was. Again and again I saw how the views and attitudes I fabricated as defenses served only to limit and diminish me. But, with all my insight, all I could do was to give up on those flimsy pretends and let the false "me"s burn to ashes. Again and again and again. Or I could blindly continue to help the "me" power to continue to make up other combustible defenses to temporarily cover and shield me

I tried to truly understand and live out what Crazy Owl had to tell me. I understood he wanted me to understand that my willful self-delusions -in order to fit with my distorted imaginings and memories, hoping to avoid being impaled on my figments of hurt and disappointment- all distorted my authentic Self. I did understand him and held strong intentions to keep out of the way, to surrender to the natural movement of my life rather than clinging to my imagined models of how things should or shouldn't be.

Crazy Owl continued to join me in my ceremonial Work over the years, solely concerned with carrying out the inner, spiritual aspects of the rite while I also attended to the outer arrangements. I remember one occasion when he made this undeniably clear. I had got myself bewildered in trying to work out some preparations around others participating in a healing ceremony. He appeared, when I prayerfully called on him, seated on the earth in front of a heavily ornamented medicine tent. But, rather than attending to my request as I tried to communicate my concerns, he remained seated, completely engrossed, working with crystals and stones to call on and constellate energies for the healing. He made undeniably clear, with his ragged toothed grin and a long stare, that was he was not about to be concerned with anything else.

Once I understood that my real need of him was being well honored, our ceremonial Work together in the healing let blessings come pouring through.

Finally, although I didn't really know for sure what brought things into alignment, perhaps some fruition from my ongoing inner work, or simply a natural shift over the passage of time, but I found, in my later years, that my life circumstances seemed to fit me better. Perhaps I'd arrived. I was pleased but weary with the years of effort, and once again called on Shantu Ya' with some needs and ambitions, appropriate, I thought, to my awakening. This time I felt sure I wasn't lacking in credit from my consistent spiritual practices and accomplishments to benefit others, certain that he would   finally recognize all this and reward me in some way.

A short while after the ceremony, he appeared in his usual form. But when he approached me and bowed, it was not with a kind greeting.

"I have come at your bidding," he announced with sarcasm in his tone. "I've come to see that you are rewarded, as you wish, rather than for some higher purpose. I've come to take you to the River of Life."

I recalled a drawing I'd seen by William Blake by that name. It was a wide, clear stream with cherubim, celestial beings and swans floating in waters that flowed up from the depths of purest source.

Although a head shorter, Crazy Owl picked me up with ease and carried me sideways in his arms like a child towards a river across the rolling meadow, his gnarled hands at the flesh of my shoulder and thigh like clamps. As we approached it, the waters looked clear and fast flowing, but definitely void of angels and swans.

"Here, we are, as you deserve, The River of Life," he assured me with a chastising tone, and flung me high in the air out towards it.

As I seemed to slowly float down, I had the brief anticipation of the waters' wonderful soothing, renewing embrace. But as soon as I broke through the surface and down into it's depth, my skin began to burn horribly. It began to dissolve, as if by acid, shredding off my body. And I was helpless, swept away downstream, held in it's depths by the potent current. My body was being decomposed and flushed down to the bone by the River's corrosive liquid.

"What have you done to me?" I screamed out, quickly distancing from the place where Shantu Ya' stood on the bank. "Is this my reward for striving to follow your teachings?"

He spread his arms wide, as if in benediction, his black cape giving it a wing-like gesture. "The Flame was to purge your delusions. These Waters are to purify your attachments," he smugly intoned as he disappeared around a bend in the River.

He gave me another such fiercely instructive lesson a few years later. I was on retreat in the primitive cabin in the woods I often used, preoccupied with preparing myself to do some work for a group of seekers I wanted to "affect". Crazy Owl had been working with me to lay the groundwork for the soul Work part of it, but got he more and more impatient with questions about my personal needs and fears.

"All these spiritual ambitions. Hah! You are already as good as dead, you know" he hissed through a grimace, disdain beaming from his hooded ebony eyes. "Dead! So none of that mind chatter really matters at all. Stop pretending to be who you are not, limited and ephemeral, rather than honoring that you are eternal and divine. Don't endlessly shred that unity apart, worrying about this and that. Allow your fate and your outer life to harmonize. Leave everything as it is, connected and whole."  

Here we were, back with some of his basic guidance for me. "I know that I split things apart with my choosing, with my likes and dislikes", I confessed. "I know that I select and separate from all that Is with my intentions, by what activates my desires and aversions. My Wholeness is destroyed, even though its only when I'm absorbed in Wholeness that I'm really safe and cared for. But how can I escape this enslaving, fragmenting mind of mine?   My "me" field.

"You know," he confirmed what I'd already suspected, "you must stop pretending to be who you're not. That's only the vessel that holds your spirit. Be courageous. Let it out! Fill your life with It!" he counseled me with a strong smile of affirmation.

"You are looking for the Looker. Recognize that the Suchness you know so well in visioning is your true Self. You are That. With that Knowing, you will find boundless mercy and forgiveness for all the rest."

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