Â Â Â Â Â drop along a darkening Stone, and
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â roll like rushing white arms
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â embracing the Shore.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â carrying the Song...
Sailing through the Oceans wide,
"From the oyster to the eagle, from the swine to the tiger, all animals are to be found in men and each of them exists in some man, sometimes several at the time. Animals are nothing but the portrayal of our virtues and vices made manifest to our eyes, the visible reflections of our souls. God displays them to us to give us food for thought." ~ Victor Hugo
"All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography." ~ Federico Fellini
"There is nothing in Christianity or Buddhism that quite matches the sympathetic unselfishness of an oyster." ~ H.H. Munro
Mollusks were, understandably, a more prominent Native American Totem in coastal areas, especially in the Northwest America or island areas. I remember reading about the enormous middens found in these areas as a young girl in history class and wondering what the peoples lives were like. Such middens have been found all over the world though. Oyster is one of the 112,000 species of Mollusks found in our Seas and rivers. So many creatures feed upon them, that they are considered a keystone species.
They are filter feeders that draw water in through their gills, breathing very much like fish, and over their cilia. Plankton, and other particles get trapped by the mucus in the gills and transported to the mouth. They prefer warmer waters, temperatures above 50 degrees F increase their feeding activity, and healthy oysters consume algae and other water-borne nutrients, each one filtering up to five liters of water per hour! Oysters filter pollutants too, and either eat them or shape them into small pseudo-feces that are deposited on the bottom where they are harmless.
Bodily, Oysters consist of two rough shells held together with a muscular hinge at the narrow end. The shell is generated by the mantle, a thin layer of tissue that separates the shell from the soft body. Mouth, palps, stomach, intestines, cilia, small three chambered heart, hinge (abductor muscle) anus and gills are all found within the soft body. Oyster's typically live at depths of only 8-25 feet and stay in one place their entire lives. They breathe in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Their hearts pump oxygen and colorless blood to all parts of their body, while their kidneys under the abductor muscle purifies the blood of any wastes or, hopefully, toxins. Red Tides, dangerously toxic algal blooms, and other such pollutants endanger these filtering creatures.
They can change their sex many times throughout their lives and one cannot tell from the exterior if an Oyster is male or female. Typically they start out as male and end as female though. They are protandric, which means that during their first year they spawn as males and will release sperm into the water. Over the next couple of years they will grow larger, become female and release eggs into the water. An increase in water temperature will trigger a few initial oysters to spawn.
This begins a spawning 'chain reaction', which clouds the water with millions of eggs and sperm. A single female oyster can produce up to 100 million eggs a year! The eggs are fertilized in the water and develop into larvae, which eventually find suitable sites on which to settle. Those that attach to another oyster's shell are called "spats" and never get much larger than 25mm. In the tropics it is rather common for them to develop on mangrove roots which will become exposed during low tide. Hence it is commonly said there that "oysters grow on trees"! The organs responsible for producing both eggs and sperm surround the digestive organs, and are made up of sex cells, branching tubules, and connective tissue. Oysters are usually mature at one year. The largest oysters can be up to 3 feet long, but most span only a few inches.
Oyster reefs form inviting habitats for anemones, barnacles, and mussels which in turn invite more creatures like striped bass, black drum or croakers (fish). When threatened, they will clamp their shell tightly shut with their strong hinge muscle. When a grain of sand or other irritating substance gets between an oyster's shell and mantle it causes them to secret nacre which coats the irritating bit and forms a pearl. Most mollusks form pearls, but only a select few create the lustrous marketable pearls so prized by humanity, fresh or saltwater. Pearls carry their own symbolism and Wisdom which we will discuss later.
Oysters can be eaten half shelled, raw, smoked, boiled, baked, fried, roasted, stewed, canned, pickled, steamed, broiled (grilled) or used in a variety of drinks! They are low in food energy though, one dozen raw oysters contain approximately 110 calories, but they are rich in zinc, iron, calcium, and vitamin A. They have been considered an aphrodisiac by many cultures and were often eaten to encourage fertility. The many large middens found the world over testify to their popularity as a food source that dates back into prehistory. Over fishing and pressure from diseases and pollution have sharply reduced Oyster populations, but they remain a popular treat the world over and there are several places that celebrate them with oyster festivals.
We can learn many things from the humble Oyster. The importance of remembering that it is only natural to protect ones softer side with a hard exterior. This in only a line of defense though and not meant to separate you from the society of your people. Taking reasonable precautions in protecting our selves is not only our right, it is our duty. The trick is learning when to open up and when to stay safe inside our shells. "Clamming up" is a common expression, and silence is another excellent defense. There are many reasons for,Â and benefits to silence. When someone confides in us, we honor their trust by keeping their intimate details to ourselves and giving them our best advice. When remembering someone who has passed, a moment of silence is observed. Silence has many personal benefits too. When we are not talking, we are listening... increasing our odds of gaining Wisdom. Sometimes, difficult as it may be in a given situation, saying nothing, refusing to engage in an argument, or petty behavior is our most beneficial response.
"Silence is golden" ~ proverb
"I think the first virtue is to restrain the tongue; he approaches nearest to gods who knows how to be silent, even though he is in the right." ~ Cato the Elder
"Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose." ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Personally, I think too may people underestimate the importance of a little silence in each day. From my observations a lot of people seem inexplicably uncomfortable or downright fearful of simple silence. I find silence comfortable, relaxing, and calming to the mind. In countless conversations though,Â I have had the other person become fidgety and suddenly stop talking to ask me if I'm OK. I've maintained eye contact and offered the occasional nod or comment to alert them to the fact that I am in fact listening to what they have to say and not making a mental grocery list. Yet, my attentive silence is apparently not that common, and tends to throw others into confusion and even anxiety! The less a given individual has received proper attention in their life, the more agitated they seem to become too.
"In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth." ~ Mahatma Gandhi
"It is a great thing to know the season for speech and the season for silence." ~Seneca
People who find themselves alone nowadays seem to turn on the radio/TV or pick up the phone, rather than just enjoy the silence. In fact, most people seem to need some sort of noise to feel comfortable! Yet without giving ourselves a few moments of silence each day we are handicapping our senses, over loading our minds with input, rejecting opportunities to reflect on self, life and the world around, as well as drowning out the gentle heartbeat of the natural world. This distances us from the World, and throws us further off balance. Silence brings healing, calm and the space to regain our balance. It allows us to develop our intuition and most importantly encourages us to focus on things other than ourselves; to listen! Like the modest mollusks though, we become much more efficient filters of society through the simple cultivation of silence. They teach us how to properly filter garbage from vital substance without poisoning ourselves. A truly important lesson!
Even when you try, it is easy to get caught up in the many daily distractions that life throws at you. I struggle some days to enforce 10 minutes of silence for myself twice in a 24 hour period. Typically this is when I greet or offer parting sentiments to the day, express my thankfulness, reaffirm what my current life or spiritual goals are, and then simply breathe and listen. I find this re-energizing truly vital to maintaining proper balance during rough days. I am often grateful for the quiet I find during my walk to and from the trolley stop on workdays, as many of my quiet moments now seem taken up with writing. By following the example of Oyster, we help to create a cleaner environment and healthier society for everyone. Forming a viable and inviting habitat that encourages co-operative diversity.
"The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem." ~Theodore Rubin
"That some good can be derived from every event is a better proposition than that everything happens for the best, which it assuredly does not." ~James K. Feibleman
"Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which, in prosperous circumstances, would have lain dormant." ~Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus), Satires
Another equally vital piece of Oyster Wisdom is turning negatives into positives. Often times we learn more from that which irritates us than that which soothes us! Life is full of shell-cracking predators, and the vexations we find along our path are as numberless as grains of sand. Yet, Oyster alone knows how to turn a simple annoyance into a beautiful pearl. What a World it would be if we all followed this example! Easier said than done though, like much in life, but well worth the practice. I know myself that it is often a major struggle to lovingly coat the grit I find in my own life with something as beautiful as the nacre Oyster uses to create Pearl.
When I find myself becoming frustrated or ungenerous in my thoughts or words, I make a point of going off by myself to sit in silence and let the heartbeat of the World carry away such petty annoyances. Then I look for the lesson, for there is always something to learn. What did I learn from the source of my irritation? Usually I learn that I've let something rub me the wrong way or upset me when in reality...it has no real bearing on my life.
"Sometimes the littlest things in life are the hardest to take. You can sit on a mountain more comfortably than on a tack." ~Author Unknown
"Turn your wounds into wisdom." ~Oprah Winfrey
"The plague of mankind is the fear and rejection of diversity: monotheism, monarchy, monogamy and, in our age, mono medicine. The belief that there is only one right way to live, only one right way to regulate religious, political, sexual, medical affairs is the root cause of the greatest threat to man: members of his own species, bent on ensuring his salvation, security, and sanity. " ~Thomas Szasz
"Who would give a law to lovers? Love is unto itself a higher law." ~Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, A.D. 524
Oyster's protandric nature is very instructive too. Firstly, it indicates a two-spirited nature as was discussed in Buffalo Totem. The term "Two-spirited", is new to me but highly useful and appropriate. It was derived from interpretations of Native languages used to describe people who displayed both characteristics of male and female. Traditionally, the Two-spirited person was one who had received a gift from the Creator, that gift being the privilege to house both male and female spirits in their bodies. Thus, such people were gifted with a greater vision, a more balanced view of the world as a whole.
Much respected and sought after for their broadened perspectives, Two-spirits were considered a gift to society from Creator. There are many Singers in Nature that teach us the value of Two-spirited beings which is much at odds with the popular opinions of many people today. For a truly balanced perspective in Life, we should nurture, develop and honor all sides of our selves; masculine, feminine and divine. Each has their merits, each has their unique pitfalls and each is inextricably entwined with the others. The sooner we come to terms with this reality, the better off we will all be.
In one Native American tale people were released into this world by Raven when he was trying to crack open a tightly sealed clam. In another tale shellfish are banished to a life in the sand by a jury of animals for being a malicious gossip. Venus the Goddess of Love appeared upon the Sea in an enormous clam shell, Balanced Mollusks tend to be homebodies who turn dirt into priceless pearls, learn when to be silent and when to open up, filter through life's garbage to feed upon the smallest particles of wisdom, and are equally comfortable with both their masculine and feminine natures. Unbalanced Mollusks are constant complainers likely to spread gossip like a disease, improperly familiar, excessively bashful, or hermit-like in behavior, and quite possibly gender confused or facing a difficulty with either masculine or feminine identity. How does Oyster appear in your life?
"The world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork." ~Oscar Wilde
"Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are." ~Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
"The '60's were an oyster decade: slippery, luxurious and reportedly aphrodisiac they slipped down the historical throat without touching the sides." ~Julian Barnes
Potential balancing energies
oyster drill snail, oyster leech, finfish such as drum, and birds such as the oystercatcher.