Imagine for a moment this Earth without animals. Forests, oceans and rivers, sky, plains and caves, empty of all the creatures that inhabit them. No songs of birds, nor chirping crickets, nor barks of dogs, nor trumpeting elephants. No laughter at their antics, nor respecting their power, nor interest in their unique view and interaction with the world. No Animal Planet programming. No zoos, safaris, or museum sections educating us about them.
How does it feel to imagine a world like that?
Even if you’re not an animal lover, you’d probably not prefer a planet without them. In addition to providing a unique addition to the experience of life, animals have much to teach us about the human experience. Looking to nature is often a great place to start when trying to achieve some kind of personal healing or growth. Noticing particular animal attributes can be a fun and deeply moving way to add to your wisdom and experience.
You may have noticed on www.karunacounseling.com that each Karuna therapist has a symbol—some of them animals—associated with their philosophy on therapy. Mine is the frog. I draw inspiration and guidance from the energy of frog in my approach to therapy:
Frog reminds us that life is a process of changing and evolving.
Of swimming through the watery currents of life and making our way to shore.
Of starting out as gray swimming tadpoles and forming into colorful leaping frogs.
Frog’s rapport with rain and water reminds many of cleansing and healing as well.
To me, therapy echoes these aspects–
providing the possibility of change that can cleanse and heal.
There are many ways to determine which animals you may have a strong connection with and/or that may be helpful to you at a given time. Here a few:
- Strong Connections: Did you connect strongly to certain stuffed animals as a child? Did you dream of one day working with animals? Are you drawn to art depicting certain animals? Books and films?
- Feedback from Others: Has anyone ever told you that you have remind them of a particular animal? That bear-like hug, that eagle-eye, that owl wisdom?
- Sightings/Experiences: Have you come across animals in your daily routine—that hawk you noticed sitting atop a light pole across the street while you ate lunch? That owl that you know inhabits a tree a in your yard and hoots at night? The deer that crossed your path? Have you ever been attacked by or bitten by an animal?
- Stories: Is there a story in your family of origin and/or family of choice about a special pet or a sighting/experience of a wild animal that is told over and over again?
- Fears/Joys: What animals most frighten you? Which bring you to the most joy? Paying attention to strong reactions on both the “dark” and “light” sides can give you clues to look further.
- Dreams: Do you dream about a certain animal more often than others? Do the dreams you have with a certain animal seem particularly powerful, meaningful of vivid to you?
- Cards: There are decks of cards that can be used to help you. The Native American “Medicine Cards” book and deck by Sams & Carson is especially well done.
The Native American tradition has deep respect and reverence for what they call “animal medicine.” What they mean by medicine is “anything that improves one’s connection to the Great Mystery and to all of life, …includ[ing] the healing of mind, body, and of spirit, [and]…also anything that brings personal power, strength, and understanding.” Since psychotherapy is a healing process with the intent to also empower, integrating animal medicine can be insightful, inspiring, and transformative.
Here’s an example:
I was driving to the mountains using the same route I’ve driven for years. On this long valley road on the way up the mountains, I spotted a turtle crossing the road. I stopped the car to move her to the side. This was the first time I’ve encountered a turtle on these roads and so the experience stood out to me. Over the weekend, I wondered how the turtle was and if she had safely arrived at her destination. On the way home down that same road, there she was again! She was off to the side this time, so I didn’t have to stop. I did stop, though, later that night to flip through my animal books to look up the symbolism of turtle—Mother Earth. I was deeply moved by the insight and guidance it provided for me at that time in my life around issues surrounding maternal experience. It led to further personal healing and exploration and was a delightful addition to my process around this issue.
Here are some other animals and their “key note” energy:
Ant = Industrious, Order, Discipline
Armadillo = Personal Protection, Discrimination, and Empathy
Fox = Camouflage, shape shifting, invisibility
Mouse = Attention to Detail
Snake = Rebirth, Resurrection, Initiation, Wisdom
Spider = Creativity and the Weaving of Fate
Squirrel = Activity and Preparedness
Tiger = Passion, Power, Devotion, and Sensuality
Gratefully, we do live in a vibrant, alive world with a wide variety of amazing and interesting animals. If you choose to allow their presence to interact with and support you on your life journey, you may find that your life becomes more amazing and interesting as well! And, in turn, your gratitude and appreciation for animals helps support them on their journey here also.
You can draw from many resources to explore further what your particular “animal medicine” might be. One website: http://www.starstuffs.com/animal_totems/index.htm contains a wide range of animals, including questions at the end of each animals’ section that you might ask yourself about why the animal came to you – such as giraffe asks “are you becoming complacent and losing track of your goals?”. Also, here are a couple of great books:
Animal Speak by Ted Andrews
Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams & David Carson