I The Hawk and the White Dog
Sunny Strasburg, LMFT 2021
I have recently drawn the Fool card in the Tarot. In a recent shamanic journey, I became a 3D version of the Sacred Fool card- walking around in the card that was set in the center of an Italian Loggia. The idea isnt that the Fool is stupid, it is that he is naive and his nievete protects him. When you are innocent, you attract more innocence. When you don’t know pain, or trauma you continue to be oblivious of its danger. You don’t know what it is. Once you have trauma, you are marked by it. You are no longer the Fool. The white dog in the card became very important in the vision. The white dog on the card tugs at the fool’s pantlegs, trying to warn him of the cliff he’s about to step off of. This was a warning.
My therapist, who is also a Cetchwa shaman, once told me, “There is a dangerous time on the Medicine Path when one is becoming a shaman. In the Middle World, the ignorant masses cannot see the entities from the spirit worlds, and the entities cannot see the naive fools either. The veil is in place to keep the worlds from mingling. Then, when the novice seeker ventures from the Middle World out into the Underworld or Overworld, initially, they can be seen by all the other entities, but the novice is still blind to them. This is a dangerous time, and there is urgency in being able to see in the dark. If you have cat totems, they become important to you during this time. Learn quickly and don’t stumble. There’s a reason the old fairy tales tell little girls not to venture into the forest.”
I cohosted a ketamine assisted therapy retreat with three friends this spring in Carmel Valley, California. A long dream finally coming true. The theme was “Healing the Healers“ and we had 14 mental and healthcare workers coming to replenish themselves… to be held and cared for after a grueling year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of them seemed exhausted and depleted, but compelled to uphold the one dimensional archetype of “doctor”. There is a cultural projection of health care workers being heroes. I see it as an overcompensation for overworked and underpaid people exposing themselves to dangerous environments and unreasonable expectations. This leaves many in the healing field dissociated from their more vulnerable parts, and weary of the projections by society and patients of being unassailable superheroes without needs of our own.
I just got my new Tesla and I was excited for the road trip from Utah to Carmel Valley. I too had been working nonstop, and was excited to connect with friends and family with phone calls and listen to my favorite music as I drove on the open road. My husband, Martin helped me pack the car on the morning of my trip. Over coffee, he looked intently and said, “Please be careful and send me your itinerary.” This was unusual for him, and I replied, “It’s good we have the digital photo frame because if I die in a car accident today, you’ll have these great photos of all the fun we’ve had over the years.” It felt awkward as the words seemed to linger in the air, and there was a long silence after. He stared at me for a few moments and said, “Why would you say something like that?”
The road was open and few cars were out on the drive. I would go stretches of miles without seeing any cars, only to pass the occasional semi truck. I charged up the car in Elko and considered stopping at the dispensary to get some gummies, but felt urgency to get back on the road and keep going. I’m usually in a hurry.
There were sheets of rain from cloudburst storms and the automatic wipers weren’t sending the water being thrown onto the windshield. There would be brief, disorienting moments of blindness as I scrambled to get to the computer screen console and find a button for windshield wipers. There’s just something about navigating a computer screen when you’re driving that isn’t intuitive.
I was driving along about 30 miles west of Elko, the sun was shining. The car was in autodrive as I climbed onto an overpass. Suddenly another cloudburst and rain started pouring in heavy sheets again. I guess I hit a patch of ice, or hydroplaned. It was so strange to see piles of slush on the highway suddenly after miles of dry road. My car began to spin out of control. I spun around and was going backwards across two lanes, and then slid backwards off the side of the road into the soft shoulder. There were no semi trucks near, that would have been instant death, or worse, a horrible life of disability. The car was wildly out of control once it hit the soft gravel.
It was almost as if there was a magnet on the Subaru parked on the side of the road. It looked abandoned and I, horrified, was now spinning backward in slow motion, frantically turning the wheel back and forth. It felt almost as if I was watching it all happen 3 feet above my body, as my car slammed into the driver’s door of the Subaru. I later imagined it to be like the improbability of two electrons in deep outer space, somehow magnetically attracted and colliding into one other.
I found out later the car had slid off in the exact same spot 20 minutes before. The impact of my rear bumper pushed the driver’s side door into the midline of the Subaru. That strange, slow motion sound of the crunching, twisting metal, the breaking glass, the weight of my head whipping around (thinking about my head being heavy as it was happening), and then it banging into the headrest with a dull thud. Awareness of my soft, fragile, animal body inside of three tons of twisting and grinding metal, plastic, wires and glass.
The last piece of glass clinked on the ground, and then the stillness and then, reverberating quiet.
It was over. Deafening silence.
I sat stunned, shook myself out of my stupor, and tried to find my phone. The shit I had packed in the car was strewn all over. I finally located my phone somewhere in the back seat.
The irony of all of this is I am a trauma therapist. I hear stories every week about car accidents. I know what the brain does. Being inside the experience was so strange, as a part of me panicked and went through all of the stages of trauma, while the therapist part of me curiously observed my reactions.
Those weird racing thoughts of wondering if I was injured, if I was bleeding and unable to feel it yet. Asking, “Am I paralysed?” Actually feeling the cloud of shock descend into my mind, and then the inability to think clearly. The sound of my breath in the stillness. Feeling alone, like an astronaut in outer space untethered from the mothership. Scanning my body for injuries, moving my hands and feet. Hearing the car alert me that I’ve been in an accident. A voice in my head, “DUH, you just tried to kill me!!”
Should I call 911? That weird feeling, asking myself, “Is this actually an emergency? Of course it is, stupid!” I dialed 911. The woman on the phone with her voice flat, almost sarcastic. Feigned concern. “Stay on the phone with me, Mrs Strasburg. Are you injured, Mrs Strasburg? A highway patrolman is on the way, Mrs Strasburg.” It was painful. She was uncaring and detached. Inside the trauma voice was screaming, “She should care more! Why isn’t she alarmed like I am?!” The therapist voice, “She is self protecting. She does this all day, every day.”
Another driver saw the aftermath of the accident and pulled over. Two women ran towards my car, looked at me, recognized that I was OK, and then went to the car I had crashed into. They were yelling into the broken window, “Ma’am, Ma’am….Are you awake? Are you OK? Ma’am…ma’am…?!”
It was only then that I realized that there had been another person in the driver’s side of the Subaru. I think that was my most traumatic moment, thinking that I had killed another human. Horrified, and terrified, I suddenly realized another car could slide off the road and hit us both. I opened my door and felt a gust of wind, gasping, I stumbled out. Staggering and turning. Falling, hands in the gravel, upright, running. I ran out into the desert. I stood shaking, confused. I don’t know for how long. Therapist voice in my head, “You are having a fight or flight trauma response.”
Another woman stopped her semi truck. She was a rough and tumble looking, trucker lady with an old, dirty ball cap. She reminded me of Large Marge from PeeWee’s Big Adventure. She came out to find me- a trembling, scared animal in the sagebrush. She hugged me tight. Rocked me. I started dry heaving, sobbing, still shaking.
This was the first time all this had happened that I came back into my body. “I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to hurt anyone.” I repeated this over and over.
Cast a magic spell and make it go away.
She hugged me tight. I could smell stale coffee and cigarettes on her breath, and gasoline on her jacket. I leaned into her. This felt incredibly grounding. This woman ended up being the most incredible trauma specialist I could have wished for.
“Honey, honey honey.
Baby, baby, baby.”
Holding me tight. My therapist voice, “She knows trauma. She’s been here before.”
In a low voice, she said, “You haven’t hurt anyone. Come see. Come see, honey…. Come talk to this girl. You need to see her. You don’t want your mind telling you scary stories. Come see she is A-OK.”
She walked me to the driver of the Subaru. In the passenger seat was a pretty girl, mid twenties, a bit disoriented and moving slow, her large eyes blinking like we just woke her from a nap. But all in all, looking quite unharmed. “I’m ok.” She said, our eyes met. We cried.
They put us in the ambulance. Me sitting, her in the gurney. An EMT felt around my head and with a gruff voice grumbled, “Its cold.” His face mask was pulled down under his chin. He had fat, rough hands, and two trails of thick, green snot running down his nose onto his lips, and into his mouth. I didn’t want him touching me. Therapist voice, “ It’s good you got the vaccine.” They wanted me to go to the hospital. “Uh nope! Not going to a hospital.” I got up and grabbed my backpack out of the wrecked car.
I rode with the policeman to a hotel in Elko. My friend bought me a plane ticket from Elko to San Jose for the next day. My husband and kids called me, voices trembling, my parents scrambled to help me find a place to stay. Friends hearing, calling, crying, expressing relief. Texts started coming in from friends and family as the word got out. I was very thankful for this distraction for the first few hours.
I was stuck in Elko, Nevada, at a hotel that miners and truckers frequent. I am reticent about rural, red America and wondered how the next 24 hours would unfold. In fact, I wondered how it all would have been if I had been a person of color instead of a middle-aged, privileged, white woman.
To my relief, the two front desk employees were warm. One lady, hair slicked back in a neat bun, and wearing an ill-fitting hotel uniform, leaned forward and said in a shaky, smoker’s voice, “Honey, if you want to drink away them troubles, you go right ahead. I left your name at the bar and told them to give you all the free drinks you want.” Then gave me a theatrical wink.
That night was rough. After the calls and the love from many of my friends and family, old trauma beliefs started percolating up from the depths. “I don’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you died today. No one cares.” Aware of how trauma compounds, my inner therapist walked me through EMDR treatment, and encouraged me to take ½ lozenge of ketamine. This proved to be very effective. Now I know, first hand, the shit I offer my trauma clients really does work. I woke up in the middle of the night, got in the bathtub and another round of EMDR.
The next morning, I felt much better, but couldn’t shake the girl from the accident. I was worried maybe she had a delayed injury, wondered what her night had been like. I kept thinking of her pretty face, eyes full of tears in the ambulance gurney. My mom called and said, “Of course you matter. You’ll forever be my baby.”
I got ready for the day, I needed to buy a suitcase for the stuff in the car, and get to the airport. I called for a Lyft and couldn’t get a response. I called the front desk. The front desk person said there was one Lyft driver in all of Elko, and he DEFINITELY recommended NOT using the taxi. He informed me I could have his maintenance guy drive me around in the hotel van.
When I met him, the maintenance guy looked like he used to a bad boy, but the years had settled him. Something about him made me wonder if he had survived years of seeing violence, volatility and hardships. We got in the van and drove around Elko. I bought him a Monster drink, a coffee for me, and a bunch of slim jims and candy. We started laughing and teasing each other. I told him about the accident and how I’m a trauma specialist. He chuckled, and with a low voice said, “You need to use that trauma therapy shit on yourself, girl.” He shared that he has psychic premonitions in dreams. We connected over the supernatural. We talked about philosophy and death. He shared some of his struggles and I told him about psychedelic therapy for PTSD.
He picked up another guy who worked at the hotel, and the three of us went to the tow yard to get stuff out of my car. The guy who towed my car happened to pull up and said, “Weird. The girl you crashed into is on the other side of the tow yard going through her car.” I ran over to find her through the mud, and rows of wrecked cards, hoping to get a glimpse of her. There she was looking radiant, walking around, miraculously unharmed. She was warm and smiling, told me she slid off the road and had no cellular service to call 911. She had laid her seat back for some reason, and was waiting for help. Something told her to unbuckle her seat belt 30 seconds before my car slammed into hers. The impact pushed in her door, and also her body from the driver’s seat into the passenger seat. Miraculously, she wasn’t harmed. The wave of relief I felt was immense. It felt like a divine synchronicity to see her standing there with that smile.
In ecstatic relief, I stood in the mud of the tow yard, in front of my wrecked car, and reached my arms out with my face turned up towards the sun. An open mouthed smile, laughing. My heart felt open, I felt undefended, I felt like a miracle. I felt like everyone was my friend and they just might not know it yet.
I opened my eyes to glimpse the maintenance guy’s friend sitting in the van watching me, slowly shaking his head and chuckling. When I jumped back in the van, I caught his silver tooth catching a glint of sunlight, his sparkling smile. He laughed, “Is that what those psychedelics you told me about do to a human person?”
When the guys dropped me off at the airport, they both got out of the van and gave me bear hugs. “I feel like I was supposed to meet you.” My new friend said. “Me too.”.
I got on the flight, and settled in. As soon as we were taxiing down the runway, I heard a woman sobbing behind me, taking big breaths. The seats are placed so close together these days, I could feel my seat shaking as her body shook. I could viscerally feel her sorrow and I shook with her sobs. I turned and saw a young mother, a woman of color, with her son seated next to her. He was clutching a blanket and staring out of the window. I mention she is a person of color because I could see the flight attendants looked perturbed, glanced at her, then back at each other, an almost imperceptible eye roll. Once again, thinking of if I had been a person of color in the accident and its aftermath, how it would have changed the way I was treated. I turned and asked the woman what was going on. Through the course of the flight, I learned she was fleeing a terrifying domestic violence situation. She left in the middle of the night in secret. She finally escaped. She wanted a new life for her son. During the flight, I offered the best support I could, and helped her find a trauma therapist in her hometown. I encouraged her to reach out to her trusted support system. As we exited the airplane, she said, “I was supposed to meet you today.” “Me too.” I said.
When I arrived at the space of the retreat, I was overwhelmed with the beauty and lavishness of the land and the home. I slept in a loft above the ceremonial space we were holding the ketamine group session. In the morning, during my magick practice, I drew the HIgh Priestess tarot card. I looked down at the floor cushions and the altar we had created from the loft above and felt like the High Priestess for the day. It was time for me to show up fully as myself. I had spent my life trying to hide parts I felt were unacceptable. This has been particularly around my wild, feminine self and my witchcraft. I had worked hard to be validated in the world of patriarchy, atheism, skepticism and western science. I have been able to do it, I am adaptable and smart. But it always felt like an awkward contortion and I felt fettered and held back. Biting my tongue, buttoning up, pretending to be asexual, and drab. I saw this suddenly as an abandonment of my true self. That this group of people needed me to be fiercely and unapologetically me.
I am the medicine, I allow the medicine to move through me. To be anyone or anything else is ego and ambition. If they didn’t resonate, so be it. I had a close brush with death. I felt done living life being someone I am not. These are the mantras I repeat endlessly to my clients. Why hadn’t I given myself the same permission and grace?
When I offered the invocation to begin the ketamine journey for our participants the next day, I felt so aligned to myself, so attuned and secure, it felt like I had opened a conduit that allowed the source to move through me. The ceremonies were beautiful, magical, powerful. We were able to hold space and provide safety and containment for my mentor. Leaning in, I trusted the medicine. I also played, revealed my own vulnerabilities. I was less focused on seeming amazing and important and more attuned to listening, learning, and being quiet.
There was a magic that was created in that container. One woman awakening to the goddess part within-recognizing her divinity and sovereignty. Another making peace with an inner child who was never allowed to be obstinate or speak truth to power. Another woman struggling with taking up space and finally asking for the connection and support she desired. The man, always leading, allowing me to take care of him in deep ways and finding safety in that sacred vulnerability. There was a new level of all encompassing reverence in me to witness this unfolding. I would have missed all of it had I died the day before.
After the last ceremony, the leaders decided if we are authentic, we would have a ceremony for ourselves. Healing the healers! We too had anxiety and trauma from the prior year and each with our own prescription of ketamine, gathered and set intentions for the journey.
My journey was profound. A continuation of the processing of the traumatizing car accident, and the contrast of the beautiful retreat. I saw the accident was a portal…a time split. In one reality, I had been killed in the crash. With detachment, I saw my body rotting away. Like a gnarled, dead tree there was no sorrow or horror. Just curiosity about the process of this body’s decomposition and the colors and shapes it made. It was strangely beautiful. I thought I had lived a good life. I had walked the medicine path. I had offered myself to serve others. I had fun and played. I had loved with total abandon. There was a sense of completion and closure.
A cloth mercifully, had been placed over the face. This cloth had a 6 pointed star with symbols at each point. The Hexagram, the union of masculine and feminine by the two triangles, one upward pointing triangle represents the male aspect and the downward triangle represents the female. As Above So Below, with consciousness ascending towards Father Sky through one triangle and descending to the material and mundane, Earth Mother through the other. It also represents the four classical elements, Fire, the upward triangle…. Water, the downward triangle…..Earth, the downward triangle with line ….and Air, the upward triangle with line.
This cloth was mercy… a protection from others seeing the rot who hadn’t made peace with death. It served as a veil threshold they could not cross. A form of protection and blocking the view into the dark Shadowlands. It is the threshold we all must cross, not only in death, preferably while we are still alive. The Kabir poem came to me….
Friend, hope for the guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think…and think…while you are alive.
What you call ‘salvation’ belongs to the time before death.
If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive,
do you think
ghosts will do it after?
The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
Just because the body is rotten –
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life you will have the face of satisfied desire.
So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is,
Believe in the Great Sound!
Kabir says this: When the guest is being searched for, it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that does all the work.
Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.
Then, I split into the other reality that was concurrently unfolding. In the other quantum reality, I had walked through the portal and was reborn. I continued to live in this lifetime, but in alignment with the Medicine Path. I was given merits to carry on in service of Compassion and Love. I was shown I was a hawk gliding on warm air thermals. Gliding up and up with almost no effort….Lifted up by the warm air, I expend hardly any energy. I allow Source Magick to carry me. My destiny unfolds and unfurls like a blossom opening itself sto the sun in its perfect timing. The accident was my tendency to pound my head against the wall until I break through. “Don’t flap your wings, just glide. There is no need, the rushing disrupts the natural order. Just ride the thermals of destiny, watch the valleys below for patterns and interconnections.”
My wingtips are ailerons, making tiny adjustments to be more aligned. Adjustments only as the slightest tweaks…All that I do is the subtle adjustment of wingtips…tickling the ends of my fingers… moving toward what and who feels good, and gliding away from anyone or anything that doesn’t feel good. Trust that all magick is delivered in the perfect time, and in the perfect way. Release ambition, surrender, flow.
A favorite quote of mine has been, “Opportunity favors the prepared mind.” by Louis Pasteur. Now, I understood every word of this quote.
So now I ask myself what compels me to share the story with you. Because it feels more than a journal entry and my own process. It feels like I want to share what it was like to peer into the edge of death, and the return, to illuminate a path of appreciation and gratitude for your life, your path. No doubt many of you have your own near death experiences, your own traumas. And now I come to you offering that now I understand trauma a little better. My nervous system, my psyche knows this path too. There is comfort in the shared experience just like the trucker who stopped to comfort me. She got it in a way no one else I encountered at the scene of the accident did. She knew how to walk me home to myself. Thank you, wherever you are. I hope I can do that for someone else as well as you did that for me. The Helper and the One Being Helped…its all the same healing.
Also, I came from that experience seeing that I have a particular medicine to share with this world. This medicine isn’t a substance, a thing, or even a specific practice.
This medicine is me.
I am the medicine.
You are the medicine.
The world needs your medicine.
This being human is temporary amnesia from being connected to the source of everything. We have split ourselves from The All to experience the contrast…. the contrast in all of its iterations.
The way I see it now is, our only job in this life is merely to become more ourselves. To deepen secure attachment to ourselves so that we may offer this unique medicine to others. To become the most authentically You possible. You are a light, a gift, and a blessing unlike anything or anyone else that has ever existed, or will ever exist again. You belong to this world with all of your facets. Your journey, struggles, insights and triumphs have meaning— a hero’s and heroine’s journey to illuminate the path for those who follow you.
This is an invitation to take a moment, or take a lot of moments to really, deeply, profoundly, and honestly ask yourself, “What is the Medicine I am destined to share in this life? What does it mean to be more uniquely me?“
I promise you, we need it.