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.
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…