How often have you had an unusual encounter with an animal and immediately wondered, “What does it mean?”
Perhaps you saw an owl in daylight. Or you kept noticing images of elephants everywhere. Or maybe a huge spider appeared right in front of you on the sidewalk.
If you’re like many shamanically-inclined folks, the first thing you’ll want to do in these situations is google what that animal “means”.
I understand the temptation, but please—hold off!
The universe and spirit have many ways of communicating with us, including animal messengers. And the universe does not play by a set of pre-existing rules. The messages each animal carries will be unique to you, and no book or website can tell you the full meaning of your encounter.
The same is true of power animals—spiritual helpers in animal form who share their gifts and medicine with us. While a bit of research can certainly be helpful, if you dive right in to other people’s interpretations, you’ll be more likely to miss important elements of your personal relationship with your power animal.
Animal messenger or “normal animal doing normal things”?
I can hear it now . . . Sometimes a bird is just a bird. It doesn’t have to mean anything.
That’s true. Not everything has to mean something.
But I have to be honest—one of my biggest pet peeves in spiritual communities is dismissing others’ experiences in this way.
Because the truth is, the universe is always communicating with us. Who are you to say what does or doesn’t have meaning for another person?
The great advaita scholar Richard Miller, PhD, once spoke to this in a training while teaching us about the art of welcoming. As he explained, it’s too exhausting to keep trying to figure out which parts of life are trying to tell us something and which parts are so-called “normal life”, so he has the practice of “welcoming everything as a messenger”.
This practice of welcoming is a beautiful way to fall deeper into relationship with all of life. Every sensation, emotion, encounter, or insight can provide an opportunity to open to and learn from spirit.
If this sounds overwhelming, not to worry. This doesn’t mean you need to go through life looking at every little thing as a symbol to decipher or every animal as a messenger bearing life-altering news. Instead, it means that spiritual guidance is always available to us. To access this wisdom:
- Relax. You don’t need to overwhelm yourself by seeing every little thing that happens as a critical message. You will notice what you need to notice.
- If something does catch your attention, even if it’s something very common and “normal”, trust your intuition and recognize that you are noticing it for a reason.
- You can also set an intention to receive a message from a spirit via the natural world. Bring your awareness into your heart, send your request to spirit, and then open your awareness, letting your attention wander and draw you to your answers.
- Finally, once something does call your awareness, use the process outlined below to discover the meaning and messages it holds for you.
When to Pay Attention
Many teachers share that for an animal to actually mean something, rather than be a simple sighting, it must show itself to you four times. For example, let’s say you see a hawk on a walk, then on TV, then hear the word “hawk” in a conversation, and then find a hawk feather.
Still others will note that if an animal is behaving in an unusual way, it could very well carry a message for you.
If either of these happen, definitely pay attention.
And if you only see a normal animal doing normal things, but feel that there is a message for you, trust that too.
Maybe the Message is Love
Sometimes when our attention is drawn to something in nature—a beautiful flower, an animal sighting, or an unusual cloud—we’re receiving a blessing. In this case, you don’t necessarily need to go through the process below. Simply receive your hello from spirit and know that the “message” is love.
Your 4-Step Guide
So, when you encounter an animal—whether a messenger in nature or an actual power animal—what are you to do? How do you figure out what the message is? How do you know what gifts your power animal carries?
Here’s the process I recommend for understanding your animal messengers and power animals. This is based on years of working with my own animal spirit guides and those of my clients.
Journey to the spirit of the animal and ask them to teach you about themselves and your relationship. (If you don’t have a journey practice, Sandra Ingerman’s course, Experiencing the Shamanic Journey, offers a wonderful introduction to the practice.)
If the animal in question is one you’ve encountered in ordinary reality, you might like to ask:
- Are you here to share a message with me, or are you appearing to bring my awareness to a new power animal relationship? Or both?
- What is the message you bring me?
If you’ve received a power animal, whether from a power animal retrieval or another means, you might like to explore some or all of the following questions:
- What medicine do you carry?
- What gifts would you like to share with me?
- How may I carry your medicine?
- What areas of life can you help me with?
- Why are you appearing in my life now?
- Are you a new power animal, or have you been with me for sometime?
- May I have an attunement to your energy?
- What name may I call you by?
- How may I nurture our relationship?
After you’ve done your journey or meditation, think about any pre-existing ideas or knowledge you already have about this animal. This process can provide many clues as to how the animal will support you.
- What is my immediate reaction to this animal? Am I excited, fearful, surprised?
- What symbology or associations do I think of first?
- Are there any stories or myths that come to mind?
- What character traits do I personally connect with this animal?
Then, reflect on what your answers might mean for either a message or the unique gifts a power animal might share with you.
Once you’ve finished this personal exploration, it’s time to learn more about your animal in ordinary reality. Try to find out:
- What do they eat?
- Where do they live?
- What is their social nature? Family dynamics?
- What unique features stand out about this animal?
- When are they most active? Quietest?
- What are their biggest threats?
- What do you find most fascinating about this animal?
Ask yourself how the following information might help you understand either the message or your power animal’s gifts.
Finally, go ahead and look up existing ideas about your power animal might mean. Even though we don’t want to fill our minds with other people’s and cultures’ ideas first, this information can be helpful.
As you explore, pay attention to a few things:
- What feels right and relevant? Where do you get an immediate hit or “ah-ha” moment?
- What doesn’t feel right or relevant? Not everything you read will relate your personal relationship.
- Does the animal have any particular meanings within your own ancestry? What about within other cultures you feel especially connected to?*
*Make sure to explore a variety of cultural mythologies at this stage, as each might have quite different interpretations of your animal. For example: In North America, many indegenous tribes associate the owl with death. Yet in Greek and Roman mythology, the owl was a bearer of wisdom. Though in China the owl was viewed as an ominous creature, the Japanese considered the owl to be a sign of good fortune.
At this stage, I’ll encourage you to avoid the spirit guide websites out there—in my experience, many of them seem to exist just for profit and do not have the depth of meaning you can find in a book, such as Ted Andrew’s Animal Speak, Jamie Sam’s Medicine Cards, or Sounds True’s own The Book of Beasties by Sarah Seidelman. If you’re looking online, visiting sites that detail mythological or symbolic associations from more academic perspectives can be useful.
Receiving messages from spirit through the natural world is a gift that has been bestowed on humanity since the beginning of our species on this planet. Be gentle with yourself as you learn to read the signs and deepen your relationship with the natural world. It is your birthright.
And, while the steps outlined here can initiate your journey into understanding your power animal, getting to know your power animal and its gifts is a lifelong journey. Revisit each of these steps often, and make sure to nurture your relationship with your power animal just as you would with a beloved friend.
If you’d like help discovering who your power animal is, be sure to check out Sandra Ingerman’s 6-week course, Experiencing the Shamanic Journey, which begins on September 8, 2020.
In this course, you’ll learn how to take a shamanic journey and meet one of your power animals!
Juniper Stokes is an intuitive healer and spiritual teacher. She helps others activate and tune into their own intuition, healing abilities, and connection with spirit through private sessions, classes, and workshops. (And yes, this includes Power Animal Readings.) In touch with the spirit realms from a young age, Juniper has trained in wide variety of healing traditions, including Sandra Ingerman’s Two Year Shamanic Teacher Training program and Samahita’s Pranayama Teacher Training, to name a few. Juniper also writes behind the scenes at Sounds True and regularly leads guided shamanic journeys for Sounds True’s Shamanic Path Facebook page, which currently has nearly 30k members. In addition to her spiritual teaching and healing, Juniper is a clinical aromatherapist, herbalist, and flower essence practitioner. Her healing products, including a line of spiritually-infused botanical perfumes, will soon be available in the Alchemessence Apothecary.
Friends, I wanted to share with you a free chapter from Adyashanti‘s inspiring (and very provocative) book The End of Your World: Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment.
More and more people are waking up spiritually. And for many of them, the question becomes: Now what? “Information about life after awakening is usually not made public,” explains Adya. “It’s most often shared only between teachers and their students.” The End of Your World is his response to a growing need for direction on the spiritual path. Consider this Adya’s personal welcome to “a new world.”
Here is the excerpt, entitled “Exploring Life After Awakening.”
There’s a phenomenon happening in the world today. More and more people are waking up—having real, authentic glimpses of reality. By this I mean that people seem to be having moments where they awaken out of their familiar senses of self, and out of their familiar senses of what the world is, into a much greater reality—into some- thing far beyond anything they knew existed.
These experiences of awakening differ from person to person. For some, the awakening is sustained over time, while for others the glimpse is momentary—it may last just a split second. But in that instant, the whole sense of “self ” disap- pears. The way they perceive the world suddenly changes, and they find themselves without any sense of separation between themselves and the rest of the world. It can be likened to the experience of waking up from a dream—a dream you didn’t even know you were in until you were jolted out of it.
In the beginning of my teaching work, most of the people who came to me were seeking these deeper realizations of spirituality. They were seeking to wake up from the limiting and isolated senses of self they had imagined themselves to be. It’s this yearning that underpins all spiritual seeking: to discover for ourselves what we already intuit to be true— that there is more to life than we are currently perceiving.
But as time has passed, more and more people are coming to me who have already had glimpses of this greater reality. It is because of them that I am giving the teachings in this book.
The Dawning of Awakening
This discovery I’m talking about is traditionally referred to as spiritual awakening, because one awakens from the dream of separation created by the egoic mind. We realize—often quite suddenly—that our sense of self, which has been formed and constructed out of our ideas, beliefs, and images, is not really who we are. It doesn’t define us; it has no center. The ego may exist as a series of passing thoughts, beliefs, actions, and reactions, but in and of itself it has no identity. Ultimately all of the images we have about ourselves and the world turn out to be nothing but a resistance to things as they are. What we call ego is simply the mechanism our mind uses to resist life as it is. In that way, ego isn’t a thing as much as it is a verb. It is the resistance to what is. It is the pushing away or pulling toward. This momentum, this grasping and rejecting, is what forms a sense of a self that is distinct, or separate, from the world around us.
But with the dawn of awakening, this outside world begins to collapse. Once we lose our sense of self, it’s as if we have lost the whole world as we knew it. At that moment— whether that moment is just a glimpse or something more sustained—we suddenly realize with incredible clarity that what we truly are is in no way limited to the small sense of self that we thought we were.
Awakening to truth or reality is something that is very hard to talk about because it is transcendent of speech. It is helpful, nevertheless, to work with some sort of a guidepost. The simplest thing one can say about the experiential knowledge of awakening is that it is a shift in one’s perception. This is the heart of awakening. There is a shift in perception from seeing oneself as an isolated individual to seeing oneself, if we have a sense of self at all after this shift, as something much more universal—everything and everyone and every- where at the same time.
This shift is not revolutionary; it’s the same as looking in the mirror in the morning and having an intuitive sense that the face you are looking at is yours. It is not a mystical experience; it is a simple experience. When you look in the mirror, you experience the simple recognition, “Oh, that’s me.” When the shift of perception that’s called awakening happens, whatever our senses come into contact with is experienced as ourselves. It’s as if we think with everything we encounter, “Oh, that’s me.” We don’t experience ourselves in terms of our ego, in terms of a separate someone or separate entity. It’s more a feeling of the One recognizing itself, or Spirit recognizing itself.
Spiritual awakening is a remembering. It is not becoming something that we are not. It is not about transforming ourselves. It is not about changing ourselves. It is a remembering of what we are, as if we’d known it long ago and had simply forgotten. At the moment of this remembering, if the remembering is authentic, it’s not viewed as a personal thing. There is really no such thing as a “personal” awakening, because “personal” would imply separation. “Personal” would imply that it is the “me” or the ego that awakens or becomes enlightened.
But in a true awakening, it is realized very clearly that even the awakening itself is not personal. It is universal Spirit or universal consciousness that wakes up to itself. Rather than the “me” waking up, what we are wakes up from the “me.” What we are wakes up from the seeker. What we are wakes up from the seeking.
The problem with defining awakening is that upon hear- ing each of these descriptions, the mind creates another image, another idea of what this ultimate truth or ultimate reality is all about. As soon as these images are created, our perception is distorted once again. In this way, it’s really impossible to describe the nature of reality, except to say that it’s not what we think it is, and it’s not what we’ve been taught it is. In truth, we are not capable of imagining what it is that we are. Our nature is literally beyond all imagination. What we are is that which is watching—that consciousness which is watching us pretending to be a separate person. Our true nature is continually partaking of all experience, awake to every instant, to each and every moment.
In awakening, what’s revealed to us is that we are not a thing, nor a person, nor even an entity. What we are is that which manifests as all things, as all experiences, as all personalities. We are that which dreams the whole world into existence. Spiritual awakening reveals that that which is unspeakable and unexplainable is actually what we are.
Abiding and Nonabiding Awakening
As I’ve mentioned, this experience of awakening can be just a glimpse, or it can be sustained over time. Now, some would say that if an awakening is momentary, it is not a real awakening. There are those who believe that, with authentic awakening, your perception opens up to the true nature of things and never closes back down again. I can understand this perspective, since ultimately the whole spiritual journey does lead us to a full awakening. Full awakening simply means that we perceive from the perspective of Spirit—from the view of oneness—all the time.
From this awakened perspective, there isn’t any separation anywhere—not in the world, not in the universe, not in all the universes everywhere. The truth is anywhere and everywhere, at all times, in all dimensions, for all beings. It is a truth that is the source of everything that will ever be experienced—in life, after life, in this dimension or any other dimension.
From the perspective of the ultimate, literally every- thing—be it at a higher or lower dimension, here or there, yesterday, today, or tomorrow, everything—is but a manifestation of Spirit. It is Spirit itself that wakes up. So, ultimately, the trajectory every being is on, whether they know it or not, is a trajectory toward full awakening—toward a full knowing, toward a full experiential knowledge of what they are, toward unity, toward oneness.
But the moment of awakening may or may not result in a permanent seeing. As I said, some people will tell you that unless it’s permanent, the awakening is not real. What I’ve seen as a teacher is that the person who has a momentary glimpse beyond the veil of duality and the person who has a permanent, “abiding” realization are seeing and experiencing the same thing. One person experiences it momentarily; another experiences it continually. But what is experienced, if it is true awakening, is the same: all is one; we are not a particular thing or a particular someone that can be located in a particular space; what we are is both nothing and every- thing, simultaneously.
So, as I see it, it doesn’t really matter whether an awakening is instantaneous or continuous. It matters in the sense that there is a trajectory—nobody’s heart will be totally fulfilled until that perceiving from the point of view of truth is continuous—but what is seen is an awakening, whether it is sustained or not.
This glimpse of awakening, which I call nonabiding awakening, is becoming more and more common. It happens for a moment, an afternoon, a day, a week—maybe as long as a month or two. Awareness opens up, the sense of the separate self falls away—and then, like the aperture on a camera lens, awareness closes back down. All of a sudden that person who had previously perceived true nonduality, true oneness, is quite surprisingly now perceiving back in the dualistic “dream state.” In the dream state, we’re back in our conditioned sense of self—in a limited, isolated sense of being.
The good news is that once a moment of this clear seeing has actually taken place, the aperture of our awareness can never completely close down again. It may seem like it has closed down completely, but it never quite does. In the deep- est part of yourself, you don’t ever forget. Even if you’ve only glimpsed reality for a moment, something within you is changed forever.
Reality is nuclear; it’s incredibly powerful. It’s unimaginably potent. People can experience a f lash of reality in the time it takes to snap your fingers, and the energy and the force that enters into them as a result is life altering.
Just one moment of awakening begins the dissolution of one’s false sense of self and, subsequently, the dissolution of one’s whole perception of the world.
Awakening Is Not What You Imagine It to Be
In a very real sense, it is much more accurate to talk about what we lose upon awakening rather than what we gain. We not only lose ourselves—who we thought we were—but we also lose our entire perception of the world. Separation is only a perception; in fact, when it comes to our world, there is nothing but perception. “Your world ” is not your world; it is only your perception. So while it may seem negative at first, I think it’s much more useful to talk about spiritual awakening in terms of what we lose—what we awaken from. This means we’re talking about the dissolution of the image we have of ourselves, and it’s this dismantling of who we thought we were that is so startling when one wakes up.
And it is indeed startling: it’s not what we think it’s going to be like at all. I’ve never had a single student come back and say, “You k now, Adya, I peered through the veil of separation, and it’s pretty much what I thought it would be. It measures up pretty closely to what I’ve been told.” Usually they come back and say, “This is nothing like what I imagined.”
This is especially interesting since many of the people I teach have been studying spirituality for many years, and they often have very intricate ideas about what awakening is going to be like. But when it happens, it is always different from their expectations. In many ways, it is grander, but also in many ways, it is simpler. In truth, if it is to be true and real, awakening must be different from what we imagine it to be. This is because all of our imaginings about awakening are happening within the paradigm of the dream state. It is not possible to imagine something outside of the dream state when our consciousness is still within it.
How Does Your Life Change after Awakening ?
With awakening there also comes a total reorganization of the way we perceive life—or at least the beginning of a reorganization. This is because awakening itself, while beautiful and amazing, often brings with it a sense of disorientation. Even though you as the One have awakened, there is still your whole human structure—your body, your mind, and your personality. Awakening can often be experienced as very disorienting to this human structure.
So it is the process that happens after awakening that I want to explore. As I’ve said, for a very few people, the moment of awakening will be complete. It will be final in a certain sense, and there will be no need for a continuing process. We might say that such people had an extraordinarily light karmic load; even though they may have experienced extreme suffering before awakening, one can see that their karmic inheritance, the conditioning that they were dealing with, wasn’t too deep. This is very rare. Only a few people in a given generation may wake up in such a way that there’s no further process to undergo.
What I always tell people is this: don’t count on that person being you. Better to count on being like everyone else, which means that you will undergo a process after an initial awakening. It won’t be the end of your journey. What I will attempt to do here is to point you in a direction that may be useful and orienting as you embark on that journey. As my teacher used to say, it’s like getting your foot in the front door. Just because you’ve gotten your foot in the front door doesn’t mean you have turned the lights on; it doesn’t mean you have learned to navigate in that different world that you’ve awakened to.
I’m very happy that this book, which is based on a series of talks I’ve given, offers me the opportunity to address this subject—the question of what happens after awaken- ing. The information that exists on life after awakening is not usually made public. It’s most often shared only between spiritual teachers and their students. The problem with that approach is that, as I’ve said, a lot of people are now having these moments of awakening, and there is very little coher- ent teaching available for them. In that sense, this book is meant to be a welcoming to that new world, that new state of oneness.
Dear friends, we are honored and excited to bring you the first ever Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program delivered in a fully online format. Now you enjoy and benefit from the very same curriculum that has been offered in-person in the comfort of your own home, in a self-paced, interactive training program.
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You feel special. Sometimes this feels like a curse. Like no one will understand you. Ever. Like you will always be an alien walking among regular humans, pretending to blend in. You have learned to live with this gulf, but what you really crave is community. You long to belong to the human family. To Mother Earth.
Participating in the human condition can be bewildering. It is just not always cozy and easy—rather, it’s humbling at best, downright humiliating when it is not flowing. It can seem so much simpler to ride solo, slaying your own dragons and singing the ballads you wrote about yourself. Collaboration can be tedious, and the prevailing masculine value system may have conditioned you to feel like you are giving away your power when you share it with others.
So what? Give it away. The time of the singular sage bestowing his unique wisdom is over. That was a method devised by the men in charge who sought to regulate wisdom. They taught us to suffer alone in the desert for forty years, collecting our insights in a secret box called “Esoteric Knowledge.” Then, we were supposed to dispense those insights stingily to those who proved themselves worthy by also suffering alone for the requisite forty years in the desert.
It turns out that the world is filled with special beings, grappling our way through the anxiety of solitary conundrums and tasting the occasional reprieve of connection. When you realize this, your body lets out its breath and relaxes. The curse lifts. You come in from the cold. You hold out your cup, and some other special being fills it with sweet, milky tea spiced with fragrant herbs. You drink.
Our way, the way of the feminine, is to find out what everyone is good at and praise them for it and get them to teach it to one another. Maybe you know something about the hidden meaning of the Hebrew letters, or how to build a sustainable home from recycled tires and rammed soil, or loving-kindness meditation. You, the one who knows the Islamic call to prayer, climb this minaret and call us all to prayer. You, the one who knows how to sit quietly at the bedside of the dying, show us the way to bear witness. You, the one who knows how to get us to wake up to the shadow of privilege, please wake us the #*#@ up. It will be chaotic, all this community building, but your cooperation will save the world.
Besides, it will be fun.
For 40 days, I had the most soulful rest. And I did it in the comfort of my own home, with a full-time job, a family, and a social life.
Every day I awoke around 5:30 am and tiptoed to my Rest Cave (set up in a corner of our spare room). I laid on my back on an exercise mat (under my favorite blanket with a sleep mask) and plugged earbuds into my phone. Then I hit play on Karen Brody’s Daring to Rest yoga nidra meditation and let her soothing guidance lull me into a state of deep rest—or as Karen puts it, a return to myself. If you’re not familiar with yoga nidra, it’s a meditative practice for entering one of the deepest states of relaxation imaginable. And you do it lying down.
I’m not a morning person, but getting up to lie down (ironic, right?) was lovely. The stillness of the early morning quickly became my friend.
For the first 15 days, I listened to the Rest Meditation (20 minutes) to shed physical exhaustion, followed by 15 days of the Release Meditation (30 minutes) to let go of limiting beliefs. The last 10 days consist of the Rise Meditation (40 minutes), allowing life purpose exhaustion to lift, so that you can hone in on your true-hearted desires. Every five days I read a chapter in the book itself, Daring to Rest, for insight into what I was experiencing and supportive practices.
Gradually these aspects of my life began to shift—providing a depth of experience new to me, and oh so, beautiful.
- An underlying sense of sweetness in my day. I discovered a natural flow to my day, felt light and at ease in my skin, and second-guessed myself less.
- Deep intuition. Karen guided me to breathe in through my heart, then follow my breath, see where it landed, and listen for what she calls a “soul whisper”—a word or image that offers a clue to how you’re really feeling. Some days all I could think about was my to-do list or obsess over a worry. But when my soul whispers did arrive, they were often crystal clear and I journaled about them.
- Patience and connection. Mornings were less frantic. When my seven-year old son had stressful moments getting ready for school, I felt calmer and more present for him. When we walked to the bus stop, my awareness of the outdoor world was more acute—the blue sky, cloud formations, the crescent of a morning moon.
- Craving control. On days when I felt overwhelmed or anxious, my inclination to relieve those feelings with a glass of wine or binging on television lessened. Sometimes I would simply sit, gaze outdoors, and do nothing more. In those moments, I loved not feeling the need to do anything—not clean, not sort the mail, not check Facebook. I began to understand rest outside of my Rest Cave.
- A connection to beyond. This was a big one. Karen calls it your “council of women” and teaches you to summon it for love and support. It can be women in your circle, women who have passed, even women you don’t know personally. I saw my grandmother (who died before I was born) looking at me lovingly and felt my sister-in-law, who I’ve known since I was a baby, standing beside me. At times the feeling of these and other women was so strong that tears ran down my cheeks.
While my life became deeper and rosier, it was not until I went cold turkey for a few weeks that I realized just how powerful this rest cleanse was. I’ve always been someone who can go the distance, then neglect the sustaining part, like training for a half-marathon but not running for months after the race. And it’s so easy to fall back into old habits.
So now I’m learning how to translate this cleanse into an ongoing practice, for which Daring to Rest offers sound insights. My Rest Cave is an essential element. It’s not only a dedicated space for yoga nidra, but one for self-care in general—to journal, to listen to music, to just be.
Karen ends every yoga nidra meditation with the words, “Be good to yourself.” And in that spirit, I invite you to download her free Rest Cave Guide to create your own. And once you do, I dare you to rest and see what happens!
Christine Day has been a member of Sounds True’s sales and marketing team for more than five years and loves diving into our books on a personal level to learn both theory and practice. She also works on Sounds True’s children’s books and enjoys doing storytimes at her son’s elementary school.