Archive for the tag “life”

The Power Of An Animal

As a long time practitioner of shamanic journeying I have encountered many animal spirit guides or ‘power animals’. Some have come and gone, some have stuck around with me for the past couple of decades. They have become friends who have had a profound effect on my life. They have awakened dormant aspects of my psyche and spirit, provided insightful mirrors about what I am not owning, gifted me with a greater sense of empowerment. However, recently I have had a question circling around in my mind. Why is it that we don’t encounter human animal guides? In all the years I have journeyed and have facilitated others in journeying, not one of us has ever returned from our journey having encountered the spirit of our own species. Why is this? Why is it that we can spend many years learning about the ‘medicine’…that is the nature, qualities, energy, essence, lessons…of other species but don’t seem to have an awareness of the ‘medicine’ of the human animal? Who and what are we as a species? What is our role in the greater whole? Can we truly embrace that role and express our human potential if we don’t understand what we are?

The more I have mused on this, the more I have gathered new questions with a distinct lack of answers. There is no doubt that our western industrialised culture embraces ways of thinking about ‘humanity’ that facilitate a psychological separation from nature. Even our language supports this: the word ‘animal’ when applied to a human is invariably used to describe the most cruel, violent aspects of human nature. We talk about that behaviour as ‘inhumane’…’not human’…as if to be human means only to be ‘enlightened’, ‘civilised’, to embrace the idea of the superiority of mind over body, emotion and anything that ties us to our existence within nature. It creates a perception of humans as somehow set apart from the world that they inhabit, denying the existence of our natural wildness to become tamed, tethered and controlled.

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Ironically it has been these very ideas of enlightenment and civilisation that have been cited as justification for some of the most inhumane behaviour in our human history: ideological genocides; the colonisation of indigenous lands and peoples; wars; assaults on the environment…the list goes on.

This contradiction within western society – the perpetration of such ‘uncivilised’ acts in the name of ‘civilisation’ – suggests a deeply buried and projected human shadow, one we have not yet had the courage to fully dig up and own on a collective level. Instead of seeing the human species in wholeness with the potential for many different expressions and manifestations, we continue to split ourselves in two and our society becomes ever more polarised as we decide who is like us and who is ‘other’.

In reality there is no ‘other’. However different we may feel as individuals we are all connected at a deep level as members of the human species. Yes, we may take an opposing position when faced with the harmful shadow of an individual person, but in today’s world the much more painful encounter that we are so often faced with is our own collective human shadow. We find ourselves looking into the eyes of our own human potential and boy, that can feel uncomfortable. Who wants to acknowledge that they too have the potential for cruelty or harm? The potential to order a bombing on innocent people to score points in a battle of greed and power?

We would like to think it is simply not in us, that we are not capable of it, that we would behave differently because we are not like that ‘other’ person. And you know…maybe…probably…we would make different choices. As individuals we are not slaves to instinct. We create the person we are…the individual human…through the choices that we make. Those choices represent what we choose to express and draw on from all of that human potential that resides within us. However, if the potential for both light and darkness (however we choose to define those terms) wasn’t there, what meaning would those choices have? How does a choice to respond with compassion and love hold significant value if it’s the only thing we are capable of?

 

 

On a species level, are we actually different to the person who surrenders to the call of greed and power? Not so much. We are entirely capable of that exact same behaviour though we may consistently make very different choices about how we live our lives and feel strongly motivated towards manifesting a very different kind of existence. However, would accepting our own potential change the way we view or judge people who cross those boundaries of what we consider ‘human’ behaviour? After all, human potential…the essence of the human animal…is not ‘bad’. Like a knife that can be used for making firewood to keep us warm, or preparing nourishing food to sustain our life, it does not become an instrument of harm until an individual picks it up with that intention. The knife simply is. It has particular qualities that can be turned to a purpose, just as our own potential can be channelled out through different agendas by different individuals.

Our sense of identity as a human being, a human animal alive on planet Earth in the 21st century, can be limiting or expansive.  We can choose to acknowledge only that one little spot where we stand as a single person or  feel our connection to all of our species across the globe, all the humans that have ever and will ever live. Each of us are both the legacy of those who came before and an ancestor to those who will come after us.  In acknowledging our connection to our collective humanity, we have the ability to contribute to our evolution. We can use our choices in the present to create not only our own personal reality but also to feed and heal the spirit of our species that has been so fragmented and distorted. Perhaps one day we will be ready to look ourselves in the eye and remember who and what we are, to embrace the power of an animal…

The Unveiling of Spring

However long I follow this spiritual path, it never ceases to amaze me how each season continues to reveal different aspects of itself. Previously unseen lessons and mirrors of reflection present themselves with each turning of the wheel. This year Spring wants to talk to me about becoming visible in the world, an idea I have struggled with for most of my life. As a child making myself visible or noticeable wasn’t a terribly safe course of action.  While I have learned to overcome this to a certain extent in pursuit of my passions, the unsettling sense of vulnerability lingers, raising it’s head whenever I push up against the edges of my comfort zone.

Pursuing a creative education and career has challenged me in so many ways in terms of visibility. Anyone who has been through the art education system will know the ordeal of having not only your finished work but also all the mess that happens between an idea and that finished piece scrutinised, assessed and judged. I have often thought that art education in the western world is a kind of emotional endurance test…it asks you to make yourself vulnerable, to make your inner workings visible and manifest and then grades you. It can feel very validating if you are deemed successful, but soul destroying and shaming if you are found wanting.

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Having said that, learning to separate ourselves from what we create is a worthwhile exercise. Releasing attachment frees us to look honestly at what we have brought into the world and to learn from it, to accept that the majority of what we create embodies a journey rather than a destination. It is also necessary if we are to survive emotionally as a practising creative of any kind in the world – we cannot avoid criticism if we choose to put our work in front of a wider audience. But I find myself asking what is the cost of learning that detachment in the painful way we so often do? Do we make ourselves less visible? Do we learn to hold back? Become focussed on an end product to please others rather than feeling free to take risks and explore the infinite ways to experience and express the authentic voice within us?

The structures and systems of our society do not tend to help many of us in making that deeper internal connection that open us up to living an authentic life regardless of external opinion.  Insidious messages about every aspect of who we should be and what we should aspire to flow towards us relentlessly from the modern world.  Our media, government and corporations work hard to orientate us towards external criteria as a measure of our worth.  We are not often encouraged to seek out what is meaningful or true for us as individuals and the social penalties of stepping outside of these accepted values can be difficult to deal with. It can take a significant amount of motivation and courage to walk our own path and be truly present in our life.

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When it comes to creativity, many people never recover from the school system. I have lost count of the number of people I have spoken to at various events who have pointed to my work and said “I would love to do something like that but I was never any good at art at school” At some point in their early years someone measured them against a narrow set of criteria for a narrow range of creative outlets, found them lacking and defined them. The result was a belief embedded in a young consciousness that they were ‘not creative’ and did not have permission to pursue those activities. The joy and inner connection that they may have experienced through these activities was not relevant to the grading system.

I myself was labelled as someone who ‘couldn’t draw’. It took many years for me to realise that there are many different ways to draw and make marks and that they are all valid.  It was only as I came to understand that my beliefs about my creativity came from an external voice and did not speak for my heart that I was able to give myself permission to reach for what came from inside.

When I learned that it was okay to express myself in ways that I felt genuinely connected to, that made some part of me visible and tangible, I found I could tap into something that felt altogether different. Though I still sometimes have to remind myself that I am the one who gives myself permission to create, nobody else.

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I guess what I’m getting at here is the way in which, for so many of us, the fear of judgement (whether from others or ourselves) and the desire to avoid the emotions that those judgements provoke in us, can send us scurrying back into our shells, our thick defensive skins, rather than risk being visible, vulnerable, authentic. However we came to take on that fear, however we came to believe that an external voice is more valid than the voice in our heart that longs to speak for itself, for many of us it’s a very real sensation. It can feel overwhelming when we start to break out of our limiting beliefs and thinking. We might even self sabotage in the pursuit of our dreams to give ourselves an excuse to run back to the comfortable shadow of anonymity. But it’s important for our own growth that we keep pressing up against those self imposed boundaries and limitations, asking  ourselves “does this belief that is holding me back really belong to me?”

The thing is…life doesn’t wait for us. Spring is shouting that message loud and clear at the moment as the wheel turns once more. Everything in nature is getting ready to unleash it’s potential, to create itself, to become visible. We too have potential to release, parts of ourselves that long to be unveiled, empowered with self-direction, given life and breath. In many ways we are no different to the seeds, filled at our core with the knowledge of who we are, with everything we need to manifest and express our true nature. The plant kingdom provides us with tremendous examples of entering into the flow of that unfolding. A dandelion honours the blueprint inside itself, it doesn’t question whether it has the right to be a dandelion or whether it should be trying to be less like a dandelion and more like a crocus! We are in the world to be visible, to be present, to grow into the fullness of who we truly are without shame or fear. And like the seeds, those hidden parts of us have been dreaming of themselves through a very long, cold winter. They have been waiting for this moment, for the return of the sun to awaken them and make them fully alive.

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