Tag Archives: Animal Spirit Medicine

Animal Totems & Archetypes, Part II

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“A human being is part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole [of] nature in its beauty.” – Albert Einstein

Bear Drum

You may have noticed by now two themes that come up on The Heart of Awakening Blog are Animal Totems and Archetypes.  Until recently, I have not done too much exploration in the similarities and relationships of the two.  In January, I met Janet Roper of Talk2TheAnimals, an animal communicator, advocate and host of Talk2TheAnimals Radio.  Through our conversation, the idea to explore this topic arose.  I wrote my first guest blog post for Talk2TheAnimals last week and will be joining her tonight at 8 PM EST on Blog Talk Radio.  The topic was Animal Totems & Archetypes: A Shaman’s World.  You might like to drop by and read that post, as this one continues from that exploration.

Lascaux+Cave In many cultures around the world, Animal Totems or Power Animals are a way to connect with the  wisdom of animals and the natural world.  This can be seen in artwork such as cave paintings, jewelry, and statues as well as many legends and stories.  Animal wisdom helps us connect to our innate being and to access our inner wisdom and strength.  In earlier times, there was no sense of separation between human and animal and it was understood that we were connected to animals and to all of creation through the web of life.

Shamanic traditions carry this awareness forward and offer a way to bridge the separation we have created through our modern world.  If we just look at the treatment of animals in our world today, it is evident that we are most often moving from a place of disconnection.  Working with Animal Totems offers an opportunity to reconnect with our place in the natural world and to access a spiritual connection that can help to guide us into a more balanced way of being.  At this time in our evolution, this is something that is much-needed as evidenced by the chaos, turmoil and toxicity of our world.

There are a number of ways to connect with an Animal Totem.  Sometimes a shaman will do an animal totem retrieval for a person or an animal will come as part of a soul retrieval process.  Also, one might be guided in a shamanic journey or facilitate their own journey in which they connect with a power animal.  Traditionally, animal totems come when one takes a vision quest, a ceremony to find spiritual guidance and deep understanding of one’s life purpose.  Also, power animals may likely be ones that repetitively appear in our lives and that we feel a strong sense of connection to.

There is so much to be learned if we are observant and aware of the natural world around us.  Animals can speak to us in so many ways.  Often by observing their behavior or actions, we can receive guidance.  Connecting with an animal totem helps us to connect with nature and to access aspects of ourselves, which may be lacking or hidden.  They can help us to find our strengths and qualities that can bring us into a place of wholeness and greater peace.

For a few years, I had the privilege of serving as shaman and holistic practitioner at a residential holistic addictions treatment program.  One of the main tools I used in our shamanic healing group was a power animal journey.  It was always amazing to see what animals came and how easily clients were able to reconnect with lost aspects of themselves, finding new strength by connecting with their totem animals.  The sense of protection and support that came from this connection was so beneficial for clients, especially in early recovery when their sense of self and the possibility of change was quite limited.

One client found himself encountering an alligator, which was actually an experience he had when he was a teenager.  He was amazed that this animal came to him in the journey and he was able to reclaim a part of himself that he felt was long-lost.  This is a great example of how an animal that is present in our lives may be a totem animal and yet, the beauty of the journey is that we never really know who will show up.  This is where the magic lies!

Archetype&TotemPsychologist Carl Jung defined an archetype as “a universal and recurring image, pattern, or motif representing a typical human experience.”  In a sense, archetypes are an encoded energetic structure that lies within our unconscious but may be accessed as a tool for transformation and healing.  It is relatively modern phenomenon that archetypes have been labeled or identified and yet, just as with animal totems, they have been present in many cultures through artwork, stories and mythology since recorded history began.  Another way they have shown up is in the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck, which can be a great way to explore these patterns.  Archetypes tend to have a human or sometimes divine form.

Based on our personal life experiences and even, our astrological charts, we may hold the pattern of certain archetypes more strongly than others.  We may also have work to do with a certain archetypal pattern during our current lifetime.  Examples of this include the Victim, Hero, Divine Child, Visionary, etc.  Also, archetypes are collective and may be held in common by a social group or culture.  As we consciously work with archetypes, they have a vitalizing power and help us to access more of our potential, supporting our soul purpose and empowering our universal experience.

As we consider power animals in relation to archetypes, we can see that both serve similarly in helping us to access deeper aspects of ourselves and provide symbols to guide us.  They may connect to us personally or culturally as in a tribe that has a certain animal as its totem or a certain mythology that is present.  As we connect with our animal totems, they reflect to us own innate qualities and help us to better understand our connection to the web of life and the natural world.  Perhaps this differs from archetypes, which seem to have more to do with our human or spiritual connections rather than the natural world.  Clearly, both animal totems and archetypes can serve as spiritual and energetic symbols that convey wisdom, understanding and a treasure map for life on earth.

All of this is just the beginning of an exploration on the subject of Animal Totems and Archetypes.  I see many similarities and some differences to consider.  I look forward to exploring this more in coming posts and dialogues.  From my shamanic perspective both serve as spiritual resources for awakening consciousness through accessing energies and qualities that are inherent in our nature and yet, often remain dormant until a conscious connection emerges.  When accessed, these gifts of spirit can provide a path to greater personal awareness and understanding as well as a gateway into our collective consciousness.

A major intention on The Heart Of Awakening Blog is to help to uncover our authenticity and truth as we explore embodying the big picture in daily life.  I view this as a key to creating change in our own selves and in the world.  By coming from a place of connection and wholeness, anything is possible.  I find actively working with animal totems and archetypes to be a powerful part of creating wholeness and living the big picture in daily life.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, insights and reflections on this subject.

Listen to my conversation with Janet Roper, host of Talk2TheAnimals Radi on Animal Totems & Archetypes.  Here is a link to the replay:

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Are you looking for a speaker, radio show guest, or someone to write a guest post on your blog?  I’d love to explore with you!  Feel free to contact me through my website, www.bethterrence.com.

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Discover The Healer Within Teleseminar Series Starts of Monday, February 18th

Join us for an exploration in discovering the healer within.  Everyone has the potential within them to become their own agent of change.  This 4 part series will focus on experiential tools and techniques that support cultivating the healer within and stepping forward in one’s own process of transformation.  Some of the tools that will be explored include shamanic healing, meditation, energy awareness practices, self-reflection, journaling and connecting with the heart as a gateway for healing.  See below for specific dates and topics:

Part I: Connecting With Our Sacred Space – Monday, February 18th at 12 PM EST

Part II: Energy Awareness Tools & Techniques – Thursday, February 21st at 7:30 PM EST

Part III: Transforming Limiting Patterns & Beliefs – Monday, February 25th at 12 PM EST

Part IV: Reclaiming Our Essence – Thursday, February 28th at 7:30 PM EST

Preparation: Participants will want to be in a comfortable and quiet place as we explore together, somewhere that you can be sitting and/or lying down.  You may wish to have a journal on hand as there will be some writing exercises and time for reflection.

This is a free event.  Registrants will have access to all parts of this series and links to replays.  Call in phone number and instructions will be sent prior to the event.

For additional information, visit www.bethterrence.com.

Lessons from Salmon: A New View On Struggle

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Some days
I flow with the river
Surging
Like a rainbow trout
Others days I thrash and flail
Like a salmon
Desperately trying to get back upstream
Not even knowing what I struggle for

I wrote this poem many years ago at a time when I had a very strong sense of struggle in my life.  The other night I had a dream that I was walking beside a large river.  As I looked into the river, I saw a salmon, then another and then suddenly the river was filled with salmon of all different sizes swimming upstream.  What I noticed was that the salmon were not struggling to get upstream, they were moving with ease, riding the currents below the surface.  It was beautiful to watch the way they were carried with grace and ease as they connected to the currents and just allowed themselves to be carried upstream.

When I awoke, I remembered my poem; it had been a bit of an anthem for me in my 20’s.  I often performed it when I did poetry readings; it seemed to represent the sense of struggle I felt about life.  Now, I notice that even then was able to acknowledge the times when I felt the flow of life although back then I was much more focused on struggle.  Over the years, my sense of flow has definitely increased and now I can see it relates as much to the salmon as to the rainbow trout.

I realize that I mistook the energy of the salmon as struggling when in reality the salmon only appears to be struggling as it moves upstream.  The salmon are not really fighting the currents but jumping to go deeper so that they can ride the reverse currents below the surface that carry them gracefully upstream.   What a beautiful metaphor for life.  At the surface, there is much that appears to be a struggle – there are a plethora of issues we deal with daily such as work, family, finances, health etc.  When we allow ourselves to delve deeper and to go below the surface, the energy and wisdom we need to flow through life is uncovered.  It was there all along but as we jump and dive deeper, we connect with those energies.

For some reason as I am writing this post the title of one of  Zen teacher Cheri Huber’s books comes to mind.  It’s called “When Your Are Taking a Fall – Dive”.   The salmon jumps upstream and is carried by the currents below the surface.  When we allow ourselves to go deeper,  to go within,  all of the support and energy that is an innate part of ourselves becomes accessible.  When we are willing to move with our resistance, there is spaciousness for great changes to occur.  We can learn from the Salmon who jumps out of water, it’s native element, essentially trusting that is will make the connection it needs to be carried upstream.  As we allow ourselves to move out of our comfort zones and be vulnerable, we are able to connect with those energies that can carry us and bring us into greater harmony with life.

I’d like to really honor the wisdom of the Salmon as a Power Animal or Totem.  It is often said that a Power Animal comes to you through a dream, journey or vision quest.  Power Animals can also be animals that we encounter in physical reality and have a strong connection with.   In a sense, they are  a reflection of our innermost essence; they represent our own talents and abilities and the qualities we need to thrive in the world.  When we connect with a Power Animal, we are gifted with a greater awareness as the Totem offers its power, medicine, protection and wisdom unique to its being; this can  help us to learn and grow. The term Totem is derived from the an Ojibwa word ototeman, meaning “one’s brother-sister kin.”  Through cultivating this sacred connection and spiritual support, we are able to become more in touch with our own self and the web of life.

There can be wisdom to learn from all animals whether or not they are our personal Power Animal.  In more traditional cultures, a relationship with animals is innate and reflects a sense of connection to the greater whole.  In many ways, we have lost this connection in modern societies.  Through exploring the energies and qualities of animals and the wisdom they bring, we are honoring our true nature and allowing more of our own essence to emerge.

The Salmon is a major totem for the Eskimo and other cultures along the North Pacific Rim.   For thousands of years, the rhythm of daily life has been ordered in accord with the Salmon population.  The Salmon are thought to inform the humans of their connection with the natural world and attune them to the natural rhythms of life.   Additionally, the Salmon is considered an animal totem in Celtic myth.  According to their mythology, there was a sacred well situated under the sea where the sacred Salmon acquired their wisdom and shared it with the Celtic people.

Some of the medicine or wisdom that Salmon brings includes the awareness that we have the strength within to:

  • Overcome obstacles that present themselves
  • Move steadily on our spiritual journey
  • Find meaning and purpose in our life
  • Swim upstream through emotional waters to gain insight
  • Roll with resistance and fear of change
  • Explore our bonds with the past and gain understanding from of our history
  • Connect with natural rhythms of life
  • Allow ourselves to be childlike, playful, spontaneous and inquisitive
  • Develop awareness of the currents and energies beneath the surface
  • Learn to go deeper to find those energies that support our movement
  • Persevere
  • Find fulfillment within ourselves and harmony with our world
  • Find satisfaction and self-expression through creativity
  • Connect with our source
  • Find strength from within
  • Know we are always home, wherever we may be

There are many books on Power Animals and resources online that can help to gain insight in animal totems.  One of my favorite books is Animal Speak by Ted Andrews.  It can also be beneficial to study, meditate or journey to a Power Animal or animals we feel drawn to and see what specific messages and wisdom they have to offer us.

I’d like to conclude with a new poem honoring Salmon and the deeper understanding I have of it today:

Jumping upstream
Diving deep
Finding currents
Being carried
We grow
We flow
We know
We are always home

Prayer For A New Day

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Grandfather Sun
We wake to see your shining face
Honoring the spirit of the new day

Spirit of the East
We welcome you
The path of the rising sun
The way of Eagle
Bringing new beginnings, soaring vision and hope

Spirit of the South
We welcome you
The path of the noonday sun
The way of Coyote
Illuminating our hearts, minds and spirits
With clarity and purpose

Spirit of the West
We welcome you
The path of the setting sun
The way of Bear
Bringing strength, courage and trust
Taking us deeper into spirit with each breath we take

Spirit of the North
We welcome you
The place of sacredness within
The way of Owl
Helping us to find the light within the dark
Uncovering those places in ourselves which need transformation

O Great Spirit.  Creator of All Things
We welcome you
Gifting us all of the support of spirit in each moment
The path of Angels, Archangels, Ancestors, Mentors, Guides and Spirits
Help us to walk in the way of spirit today
Remembering our connection to the energies of creation

Mother Earth. Sustainer, Nurturer and Provider
We welcome you
Honoring all of your children
The Two-Leggeds, Four-Leggeds, Winged Ones, Elementals
Plant Beings, Stone People, Insects and Spider Beings
Hungry Ghosts and all who walk in the earthly realm
Great Mother Earth carry us into the day
So we may walk together in harmony and peace

Sacred Center
Connecting earth and heaven, heaven and earth
The place where all directions merge and where all beings meet
The way of Oneness, Love and Light
Help us to walk together in Oneness, Love and Light on this day and always.

Enjoy The Road Of Life

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“Wisdom is knowing I am nothing, love is knowing I am everything, and between the two my life moves.” – Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Thanks to May is for Metta 2012, I have been inspired and committed to posting everyday on the Heart of Awakening.  It feels like a strange thought to let a day go by without posting, although I have to admit I have been fantasizing about going a day without writing.  But here I am.  Writing is a way for me to explore my own experience as well as a way to share with others.  A lot emerged for me during the month-long practice.  I am excited to be moving forward with creating a May is for Metta Audio Program.  This is something I have envisioned for a long time.  It feels like now is a time for moving forward with ideas and visions I have been cultivating for some time.

The image that comes to mind is a crossroads.  It is as if many of the roads I have traveled on have come together and now I have arrived at a new place, but there is a fork in this new road, too.  One path seems to be full of greenery and blooming things.  The other is dark and uncertain.  Even though it appears that there are two paths to take, I can tell that inside myself both paths exist.  They seem to be intertwined.  I notice as I choose one path that an aspect of the other emerges.  I know that things aren’t always the way they seem.  Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side and often I find the most light when I enter into the darkness.  I guess this is why the shaman’s path is so appealing to me or I could say being a Sufi, too.  As I find the willingness to go into what is uncomfortable and to explore the deepest depths of my heart and soul, I understand why I am where I am and how I have become who I am.  I know myself and I know my purpose, too.

For whatever reason, my journey has been one of being led into some difficult and uncomfortable places.  I had no choice about this for a large part of my life and although I resisted where I was then, now I can see that it created a strong foundation for me to be able to stand in my truth and stay present with what is arising even when it is challenging.  This is an incredible gift I have been given and it comes through what I previously would have labeled suffering, but now just call “Life”.

This year’s May is for Metta practice has offered me the opportunity to go deeper within myself and to uncover more of the places where I am still holding myself out of the game of “Life”.  I know where my inner work lies and I know where my edges are.  I also know how to approach all of this with loving-kindness and compassion.  And, it is in that space that suffering transforms into the experience of living as a human being.

On the last day of May is for Metta, this big turtle showed up on my front door.  Turtle is a totem that has been present in my life for along time.  My mother collected turtles and I feel strongly it is an ancestral totem as well.  Turtle speaks of going within, moving slowly and being still.  To me, it is the symbol of the heart as those are all requirements for entering into the heart space.  It felt so fitting for this very old Turtle to scratch at my door as this part of the journey is ending and the next beginning.  When things like this happen, I feel so blessed by the beauty and mystery of life.

I was chatting with a new friend from India who writes a blog, Varungenius.  He asked me when I began meditating.  I shared that it was when I was 14 years old.  My cousin had just returned from some time in India and all he talked about was meditation.  He didn’t tell me what is was or how to practice, but something stirred in me.  From that point forward, I read, I studied and I practiced.  It wasn’t until many years later that I actually had my first teacher, and since have been blessed with teachers from a variety of traditions who have helped me in many ways to grow as a practitioner and as a human being.

Meditation is way to know ourselves on a deeper level and to begin to understand the big picture.  It takes us into the self and beyond the self.  In the words of one of my teachers, Angeles Arrien, “Meditation is an opportunity to discover, uncover and recover aspects of ourselves .”  In many traditions, this is akin to shamanic journey work or other contemplative practices.  Regardless of how one practices, the important thing is to practice, to find a way to go within and to learn the landscape of our consciousness.  The goal is not to get away from who we are or where we are but to embrace all of ourselves with acceptance and loving-kindness.

Just today, I heard myself say that there must be some reason why things are the way they are right now.  When I hear myself speak these words, I know it is true and yet, I can still feel the part of myself that would like things to be different.  This is part of human nature; wanting a different experience than the one we have.  However, there is so much richness in just being, allowing and embracing what is arising in the moment, whether it is comfortable or uncomfortable.  I am reminded of a quote by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj,

“Once you realize that the road is the goal and that you are always on the road, not to reach a goal, but to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom, life ceases to be a task and becomes natural and simple, in itself an ecstasy.”

I am laughing as I see how I am still searching for the goal so much of the time instead of just enjoying the ride!  Life can seem like a roller coaster in so many ways – up, down, curving, and flying into the unknown.  Remembering that the road is the goal is the key to freedom and understanding.  It’s easy to say but not always so easy to embody; that is where the journey lies.  In Sufism, there is a practice called Remembrance.  In other traditions, there are other names, but the concept is the same.  Life is a journey of awakening, the road is the goal and the teacher is the path itself with all its twists and turns.  When we embrace the beauty and wisdom that is present all around us and within us, anything is possible.

Today, I invite you to let go of the goal and enjoy the road of life!

Is Your BP (Big Picture) too high or too low?

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As I have been exploring and connecting with the big picture and how to live it more consciously in daily life, one thing I have become aware of in my own journey and in working with others is the need for balance.  This is a huge topic, which I feel to explore in many ways, but for now I am speaking about balance in relation to the big picture.

Obviously, the big picture is BIG!  It’s actually huge, vast, and in a sense beyond measurement.  I know that at times in my life when I have been really plugged into the big picture it can be difficult to deal with the details of daily life.  And at other times, I am so bogged down with the details that I can easily forget to hold the big picture.  I feel like this exploration is critical to holding and embodying the big picture and living and participating in the world on a day-to-day basis.  So this week’s koan or question is:

“Is your BP (Big Picture) too high or too low?  Are you able to find balance between embodying your big picture and handling the details of daily life?  How can you begin to create this balance in your own life and in the world?”

We know from a medical perspective that when our blood pressure is too high or too low something is out of balance.  It is a very clear and measurable indicator and there are many courses of action to stabilize it.  Stable seems like a good word to bring into this conversation.  When we are balanced we feel a sense of stability on an inner and outer level.  Everything around us may be in constant flux, even our own being and our own molecules are constantly moving, but when we find balance, we feel stable and grounded.  So in a sense, what we are talking about here is finding some type of homeostasis that allows us to develop balance between our inner and outer worlds, between our big picture and our daily life.

Balance is necessary on all levels  –  physical, mental, emotional and spiritual as well as overall if we are to feel stability, but it is a dance, an ever-changing process.  Balance creates a sense of stability.  Cultivating balance is not about finding a stationary place that is comfortable, it is about staying present with what is arising, being in touch with our immediate experience and how it relates to our big picture and finding tools that help to support coming to a place of alignment.

What I have experienced as someone who has often tended seek out the more spiritual side of life is that at times, there is a worry about being too much in the big picture and not being able to deal with the affairs of daily life.  I have had a desire to avoid the materialism of the world, especially with many of the extremes that exist in the world today.

On the other hand, I can also get lost in my to do list and being busy and feel like what I am doing is not connected to the big picture, to a greater purpose and that leaves me feeling disconnected and often, discontent.   I know that at the center of this is the importance of having a sense of meaning and purpose that carries through to all aspects of life.  Living consciously and purposefully in 2012 does not mean living in a cave in the Himalayas or in a monastery, it means bringing that deeper truth out into the world and into every day experience.

Both high and low BP’s have benefits and challenges and yet, when we can find balance, we receive all of the benefits.  The greatest benefit is that we gain the ability to actualize our vision and truly live the big picture in daily life.  Some of the benefits and challenges I see include:

High BP

Benefits: Sense of Vision and Purpose, Excitement, Passion, Feeling Connected, Trust

Challenges: Difficulty dealing with the material world, Overwhelmed by details, Unable to manifest vision or turn ideas into actions

Low BP

Benefits: Able to maneuver in material world, More easily handle the details, Stay focused on specifics and what needs to be done to manifest big picture, Perseverance

Challenges: Feeling disconnected, Lack of purpose,  Holding onto to too much, Grasping, Discontent, Feeling stuck, Unable to relax

When my BP is too high, one of the main ways I work with it is to get more grounded.  This can be done in a variety of ways and what I have learned as a facilitator over 16 years is that each person must find the tools or practices that work best for them.  Some methods include grounding meditation, energy practices, connecting with nature, using stones or crystals, using essential oils, and the list of possibilities is endless.  For me, I know spending time in nature is key to getting and staying grounded.  I, also, use a meditation/visualization which connects me to the earth that I can use in any situation or environment.   Some of my favorite grounding stones are ruby and hematite, which are often found in my pocket.  Finding a place of groundedness allows the big picture to come through, to filter into the physical world and to become embodied.  One of the things I work with with clients, both individuals and groups, is exploring grounding practices and tools that can be used in daily life.  I encourage everyone to create their own list of grounding practices and tools and will explore this topic more in future posts.

When my BP is too low, I tend to get too caught up in the details.  Another aspect of this is when I recognize I am feeling stuck or have a sense of efforting with “the list”; that it is a clear indicator that I need to take a break from what I am doing.  I know I need to step back.   Some of the ways I work with this is the pause, meditation, doing something creative, engaging with others, unplugging, etc.   “The pause” is what I call it when I step away from what I am working on and take some time to shift my energy from my point of focus.  This practice in and of itself helps me to reconnect with the big picture.   Clearly, this concept can go a bit against the grain of our push/push culture, especially in relation to work, but I feel it is key to staying connected to the big picture.

As I was finishing up this post, my partner, Mario, came home with a photo of a young red-tailed hawk sitting in a tree.  Suddenly, I thought of how the hawk is a great metaphor for this topic.  Hawks can sit for hours waiting and when they do move, they move consciously.  They also soar up high in the sky, seeing the big picture and yet, when it is time to move in, they are able to focus on the details, but with purpose and intention.

In Shamanic Healing, we often work with animal totems or spirits, as a way to receive guidance and wisdom.   Considered in this way, hawk can be seen as a visionary, able to soar up high and connect with the spiritual realm, the big picture.  Hawks also have keen eyesight and the ability to soar downward; they have the ability to be very precise and help to implement the big picture below.   Hawk medicine is said to unite heaven and earth, to connect with the universal energies and yet bring them down to earth in a practical way.  One of the messages of hawk energy is that we can carry the big picture into our daily lives and that if we do so, our life will be more fulfilling and purposeful.

How can we carry the message of hawk into our daily lives and find balance between heaven and earth, between the big picture and daily life?   How can our experiences and interactions in the world become more meaningful and purpose driven?  And what might happen in our world if we are able to move from this place of connection and balance?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections on this post, on your own experiences of your BP being too high or too low, on finding balance or anything that arises from exploring this topic.