A 4th generation physician living a nature-starved lifestyle saved herself by taking a walk on the wild side — connecting to the powerful guidance of spirit animals
We can benefit from the natural world in many ways simply by beginning to open to it. And one of the easiest — and most fun — ways to begin to open to nature is to connect with animal spirits, or beasties. It can begin with a simple encounter like I had with Walrus.
The summer I decided to take a sabbatical from my medical practice, I didn’t know if or how I was going to figure out a way to feel good again at work. In the previous couple years, I had completely lost my mojo for the diagnosis of disease, which was the main task of my job as a board certified pathologist. Instead, I had become more curious about what makes people well. I wanted to focus my energies there, but I had no idea how. With four kids we hoped to send to college and a mortgage to pay, we were depending on my income.
During that summer, I stumbled into a walrus, albeit one that was lifeless, taxidermied, and hanging on the wall at a shop in our downtown. Nonetheless, I was mesmerized. His enormous tusks and whiskered face beckoned to me. I got curious.
Could this unusual beastie be trying to tell me something? As I learned more about walruses, I discovered a few things. I watched some footage of them hanging out on a beach and I noticed that, unlike me, they didn’t seem to be caught up in their heads worrying about the future. Instead, they were extremely relaxed. I also learned that, essentially, they have no competition. They are ‘apex predators’. Putting these two ideas together, I wondered if the walrus was trying to show me that if I could just manage to relax and be myself, that whatever I chose to do next with my career, I would have no competition.This message gave me a lot of hope.
With Walrus’s assistance, I eventually walked away from medicine to discover work that I love again.
I wasn’t aware of the deeper world of nature until the beasties found me and I started connecting with them. I believe the reason so many of us are drawn to animals and hold them in such high regard is that they are vibrational role models; working with their spirits is an invitation to join in their high state of alignment.
A beastie is a spirit that bears a special significance for an individual. It is a source of strength and insight. This creature’s spirit is aligned with the spirit of the person who works with it. I believe working with beasties in this way is embedded in our DNA or our collective experience. Though our Western culture currently lacks a strong connection to the practice of working with spirit animals, many beloved creative works point to this possibility again and again.
Two kinds of Beasties: Guest Beasties and Core Beasties
There are two basic categories of beasties. The first I like to think of as guest beasties. They’re around for a limited time. They come to stay with you for a moment or a month, or even a year, to bring a message or share some wisdom. Guest beasties arrive to guide you through something important that’s going on in your life. They’re basically saying, “Hey! Over here! Notice me, because I’m trying to tell you something that’s important for you to know right now.”
The other kind of beastie is what I like to think of as core beasties. They are often referred to as guardians, familiars, protectors, or power animals. The word power is often thought of only in terms of intimidation and strength. While it’s true that a core beastie does offer strength, it’s not the strength of being more powerful than others, but the strength that comes from being connected to your true self. The core in core beastie is the core of you.
Guest beasties are beasties that appear for a limited time to bring you a specific message. It’s kind of like a guest coming to visit who won’t be around forever. The good news: unlike houseguests, you won’t have to change the sheets or get up early to make coffee for them. Instead, the visit of a guest beastie can lighten your load.
They show up in your life to point you in a new direction, offer a solution, or teach you something. Even our biggest fears, like not having enough money, a place to live, or good health, can be calmed by connecting with a simple message from a guest beastie.
The first step to working with guest beasties is to notice which beastie is showing up. Although they sometimes make a dramatic entrance, beasties often simply appear as you go about your day — as you read the newspaper, pick up the mail, or walk down the street. You don’t need to see the actual, three-dimensional version of the beastie for it to be a guest beastie with a message for you. Beasties you see on a digital screen, that you read about in a book, that appear in a dream, or that present themselves on a gift someone gives you — they all count. You may even hear a beastie rather than see it. Or, even more mysteriously, you might see just a tail, a tooth, a glistening trail on the sidewalk, a web, scat, or other evidence. All of them count. All you need to do is pay attention.
For example, if Tiger wants to get your attention, the man making your latte may have a tiger tattoo that catches your eye, and you ask him about it. Or you visit the zoo, and you can’t get enough of watching the tiger lounging majestically in its habitat. Maybe a friend gives you a birthday card with “Hey, Tiger!” as part of the message. Or a PBS documentary on tigers is playing at the dentist’s office while you get your teeth cleaned, and later your child offers you their stuffed tiger toy to snuggle with. You might even have all of these things happen within the short space of a few days. Play with life’s wonder; nothing is insignificant or without meaning.
Guest beasties typically exit once we have received the support and guidance we need. During the period they are in our lives, we may feel extremely close to them and work deeply together. In some circumstances, a guest beastie like this may, over time, join your core beastie as a lifetime guide and helper.
A connection with a core beastie — what some people call a ‘power animal’ — can be one of the most magical relationships, mentorships, and friendships you’ll ever have.
A core beastie is a spirit, in animal form, that you have a relationship with over a very long period of time. Many shamanic teachers say that a core beastie is with you for life.
Some people call core beasties power animals, but the word power is often confusing. The core beastie you connect with will empower you, yet it doesn’t bring you power, as our culture tends to popularly define it: an ability to dominate others or control the world. The power I’m talking about here is the peaceful strength that arises from expressing your unique essence in all areas of your life. I use the term core beastie because it more clearly communicates what this relationship is about: fortifying and enlivening the center or core of you.
The amazing and special thing about a core beastie is that when you discover one and get to know it, it’s like coming home to yourself. When you connect with the energy of an animal — or for that matter, anything in nature (an ocean, a tree, a rock) — you’re connecting with its vibration or inherent spirit. You feel that energy, for example, when you see an oak tree or a wildflower and recognize its beauty. When you discover your core beastie, it will feel uniquely uplifting. He or she will make you feel stronger when you think of them. It’s kind of like being in the company of someone who’s very positive, in tune with you, and supports you. A core beastie plays an empowering and protective role.
As a general rule, just as with guest beasties, core beasties are the spirits of wild animals. A wild animal lives in surrender to its own self and is able to fully express its heart’s desires without limits. Your core beastie will choose you — not the other way around. Regardless of how it appears, the beastie that chooses you does so because it has perfect, unique messages, strengths, and teachings for you. But be aware that your ego could get in the way. You may want your core beastie to be a soaring condor because your ego wants a condor, even though another precious beastie is trying to get your attention. If your ego gets in the way, you’ll find connecting with a core beastie more difficult and challenging.
Let go of the attachment to the beastie you wantto appear and welcome the one that does appear bearing the gift of its messages.
Recall that a guest beastie is typically temporary (visiting for a moment, a week, or other limited time), whereas a core beastie is an animal spirit that has been with you your whole life, whether you’ve been conscious of it or not. Does one pop into your head instantly? Another easy way to tune in to your core beasties is to ask yourself these questions:
- Did you have a well-loved stuffed animal or book about a particular animal as a kid?
- What was the first animal you’d run to at the museum or zoo when you were a child?
- Have you ever had an incredible encounter with a wild animal? It could be an attack, an intense and powerful dream, a very unusual sighting, or an experience with a wild animal that felt significant.
- Have you had recurring dreams where a certain animal shows up over and over again? Even if — and especially if — it’s a scary dream?
Having a core beastie is like having a mentor who encourages you and really sees what’s possible for you. And like a relationship with a mentor (or a friend or a lover), your relationship with a core beastie is a two-way street: you get out of it what you put in. When you honor a relationship with a core beastie, it thrives — and so do you. Forging a wonderful, strong relationship with a core beastie is like cracking open a doorway into a vast world of nature and other beasties. By entering, you open yourself to receiving many more messages and making further discoveries.
Here are a few portraits of some beasties:
Solitude, Motherhood, Creativity, Dreaming
There’s a strange smell in the air. I quickly rise and encourage my cub to climb the tree. We climb together, up into the green branches. With my cub secured, I continue to sniff and observe the ground below. There, I spot her. It’s another young female bear, near my age. I huff at my cub, admonishing her to stay put, and quickly scale back down the tree to confront this stranger. I need this area to myself for my family to thrive. I storm toward her, raising a ruckus. She quickly retreats without a fight. Relieved, I sigh and collapse in a heap on the soft pine-needle floor and call to my cub. Lightning fast, she slips down the trunk and runs to greet me.
Bears are masterful at enjoying their own good company. These introverted creatures spend much of their life in solitude; it’s what bears do best. Bear lumbers in to remind you that perhaps you, too, could benefit from a respite from the constant buzzing.
A mother bear is an also an expert at teaching her little ones the skills they’ll need to be wholly independent. Once they’ve been raised, she chases those prepared cubs up a tree and leaves them there, fully expecting that they will take responsibility for themselves now. Is it time for you to take full responsibility for yourself? Conversely, is it time for you to let go of something (or someone) you helped create, trusting that you have prepared it well? Bear’s presence can also help you dream a new dream. Bear reminds you that what you really want isn’t that far off (even if it feels that way now). Don’t forget to stop for honey on your way there.
GO YOUR OWN WAY
Find strength in solitude. Discover alone.
SAVOR THE AMBLE
Find delight in the journey. Stop often for honey.
EXPECT YOUR CREATIONS TO THRIVE
You did your part. Now let go. Be fierce. Believe.
CHAKRA: Womb/sacral. Bear can help you strike a balance between giving and receiving. Are you shattered from giving too much and need to practice the art of receiving at this time? Or does your cup runneth over, making it the right time to share your bounty? Notice and make adjustments as needed.
BEASTLY PRACTICE: Practice balancing in a modified Yogic Bear Pose to activate Bear energy. While seated on a mat or cushion, grab each foot with each hand. Inhale and lean back to lift both heels off of the floor a few inches. Find your balance. Then inhale and push your feet outward and upward, straightening the legs. (To modify for ease, keep knees bent.) Lift your feet up and out toward the corners of the room. Breathe and hold for two to four breaths. Repeat a few times. Notice new insights from your body.
VOCATION: With bears, body language is everything. If you want to take charge, stand tall. To understand a situation more deeply, notice the subtle sign others give with their bodies. Become adept at reading these postures, and you’ll become better at what you do.
WELLNESS: Drop all the ‘shoulds’ and let your omnivore self eat what it’s hungry for. If it feels good, explore medicinal herbs and teas.
CREATIVITY: A fertilized bear egg will develop into a viable pregnancy only if conditions become ideal. This is called delayed implantation. If you are in a creative process and are experiencing a delay, trust (and breathe). When conditions are ripe, your creation will begin to manifest and, with your collaboration, become fully fleshed out.
RELATING: In Hindu mythology, Jambavan, the king of bears, an immortal being and son of the creator of the Universe, reincarnated as a bear in order to serve Lord Rama. Jambavan helped Hanuman, the monkey king, realize his immense capabilities. Like this mythological bear, you are being empowered to serve the greater good and to help others realize their own power and unique skills. Reflect people’s light back to them.
LOVE: Play some Barry White and snuggle a loved one under some cozy covers in your own bear cave to improve your love quotient. If you are seeking love, do the same, but embrace a pillow and imagine your perfect snuggle partner. Ask Bear to help deliver them to you at the perfect time.
*If Bear is your core beastie, you get a tiny bit ornery if forced to go too many days without alone time.
Art of Ceremony, Self-Expression, Compassion, Pride
In the early morning I fly up to a ridge, where I can survey my territory. I spot a female and quickly fly down to extend my invitation. I shimmy my feathers first and then — snap! — bring my tail up and fan it out in its full glory. Then I turn to face her directly and vibrate the feathers in order to more fully attract her attention. Today, she turns away and seems uninterested. I continue in earnest until the sun becomes too hot, and then I reluctantly retreat to the shade. Tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity.
Peacock struts in ceremonially and with absolute grace to remind you that the eyes of compassion are always on you. Quan Yin, the goddess of mercy, love, and kindness, recognized by many all over the planet, is often depicted riding on a sacred peacock with the hundreds of eyes in his feathers representing the all-seeing eyes of this divine expression of the Creator’s love. Peacock wants you to know just how beloved you are. When you can go out into the world with trust, knowing you are loved, life can become a daring adventure. It’s time to step out with the trust and innocence of a child who has nothing to fear. This is a time to be bold. You may wander, but you are never lost. Saying yes to what’s calling you will keep the all-seeing eyes of compassion upon you. Train yourself to recognize the loving eyes that are seeing you always.
ACCEPT YOUR DISTINCTIVENESS
You’re magnificent. Own it. Show it off. Strut your stuff.
Entice with beauty. Reward with delight.
Move graciously. Carefully. With great concentration and awareness.
CHAKRA: Throat. The color of the throat chakra is sapphire blue. Riffle through your closet and don something with this color, or find another creative way to bring this rich blue into your experience to bring balance to self-expression.
BEASTLY PRACTICE: Peacocks are leaf-litter hunters and love dusk and dawn for foraging. Take yourself on a peacock strut either early at dawn or as the sun is setting, and walk mindfully, drinking in all the beauty of nature.
VOCATION: Peacocks make loud and plaintive calls. They are far from shy. If you’ve been suppressing yourself, it’s time to speak up and share your own thoughts at work.
WELLNESS: Peacocks are not picky eaters and will eat just about anything they can find on the forest floor, including fruits, seeds, insects, and reptiles. It’s a great time to try new foods. Expand your culinary horizons. Choose something you’ve never tried before when you dine out or make a brand-new recipe. Favor natural, unprocessed foods from the earth.
CREATIVITY: The plumage of the male peacock has no equal. It dazzles. Don’t be afraid to be loud and proud about your creative work. It’s time to put it on display, share it, and let others see the glory of what you have made.
RELATING: Peacocks tend to roost together in trees in ‘parties’ for protection. If you are feeling disempowered or anxious, a party is the cure. Call a last-minute potluck or toss some popcorn in a bowl and invite a few of your favorite friends over.
LOVE: Peacocks take their courtship very seriously, and males will stop at nothing — singing and dancing their hearts out — for a chance to be with the female of their choice. This is no time to be lax. If you’re in a committed partnership, it’s time to dance like you mean it and pull out all the stops. If you are seeking love, just like the peahen, you are in the driver’s seat (whether you are male or female). Look for the one whose dance has the most heart.
*If Peacock is your core beastie, you surprise people with the incredible ways you express yourself.
Gentleness, Trust, Conservation of Personal Energy, Cooperation
Moving slowly up the tree, I pause to nibble a few leaves. The jungle symphony provides the soothing soundtrack for our morning. We cruise gently and imperceptibly among the trees. Our dreamy pace is our protection. My baby is beginning to grow up and has begun grabbing a vine or two of his own, to test his strength. It won’t be long before we part ways.
Sloth arrives very slowly to gently make you aware that there’s no sin in conserving your energy for what is most important to you. Have you been exceedingly busy, responding to all of the needs of others and ignoring your own most basic needs? Sloth offers you her Mona Lisa smile and wordlessly reminds you to periodically withdraw yourself from the caretaking of the world and lovingly attend to your own sweet center and/or family. Sloth was named, by some terribly misinformed explorer, for one of the seven deadly sins. But Sloth is not indifferent to the world and its suffering, nor is she lazy. Sloth is simply a skillful model of energy conservation and healthy self-care. She reminds you to attend first and foremost to your own needs. To rest sufficiently. To eat nourishing foods. When you take care of yourself, as Sloth does, you can become a helpful guide for others.
There’s no need to do it faster. Pokey is perfect.
TAKE TIME TO PROCESS
Break it down. Allow lengthy digestion. Days, not minutes.
Move quietly among all you adore.
CHAKRA: Heart. Sloths quietly live in harmony with all that is. Take a few minutes today to be outdoors, set an intention to come into harmony with all of nature, and notice what happens—notice what you sense, smell, see, taste, or simply know.
BEASTLY PRACTICE: Sloths, like owls, have the incredible ability to turn their heads nearly 360 degrees. Take an issue that has been bothering you the last twenty-four to forty-eight hours and examine it carefully from all perspectives. Then, if you like, stay the course or feel free to make a 180-degree turn.
VOCATION: It can take a sloth up to one month to digest a meal. Give yourself at least thirty days to consider carefully all of your ideas, information, and input before launching a new product/program/initiative or making a big decision.
WELLNESS: Once a week, sloths will descend from their tree to defecate and urinate. Each time you go to the bathroom and close the door today, do a one-minute sloth blessing and release: take this opportunity to thank God, the Universe, the Earth, or whomever you pray to for all the nourishment you’ve received. Then release everything (including this waste) that is not serving you. Amen.
CREATIVITY: Sloth mothers are extremely tender and gentle with their babies. Give yourself a very tender and peaceful atmosphere in which to create. Clear out any old energy by spraying flower essences, sage, or simply burning a candle with intention, and invite Sloth to watch over you as you work at your chosen craft.
RELATING: Sloths are a wandering, welcoming habitat for many other beasties, including algae, moths, beetles, and more. Offer yourself as a soft place for others to be nourished.
LOVE: Sloths have a very slow rate of metabolism and need to sunbathe often to maintain their body temperature. To strengthen your relationship or to increase the chances of finding love, spend a few minutes soaking up the sun. Notice how the sun never asks anything of you: it simply shines.
*If Sloth is your core beastie, you naturally broadcast the creative talents of others.