Symbolism of Animals in Nature as a Source of Power and Guidance
Animals and the symbols they carry have long served as providing answers to those who are seeking.
In his best-selling guide Animal Speak, author Ted Andrews begins the book by proclaiming: “There was a time when humanity recognized itself as part of nature, and nature as part of itself. Dreaming and waking were inseparable realities; the natural and the supernatural merged and blended. People used images of nature to express this unity and to instill a transpersonal kind of experience”.[i]
Have you ever gone through an awkward and oftentimes, painful life transition? I can’t say that I know a single person who hasn’t. The planet we live on has seasons and cycles of change, so it should not be unexpected that our individual human lives also go through their own seasons of change, with transitions in between sometimes offering discomfort and uncertainty. While challenges and difficult emotions are not a new human experience, the way we handle them in 2017 is. First of all, the average American spends less than 5% of their day outdoors[ii], so as we seek answers and solace during turbulent times, statistically we are often doing so completely isolated from the natural environment that we are a part of.
About a month before the fateful meeting with this Baby Hawk, I had attended a meditation retreat in Taos, New Mexico, during which I did a practice that helped me identify what my Power Animal was. Power Animal, Spirit Animal, and Totem Animal often get lumped into being one in the same, but I have learned that each hold a distinctive quality. Before proceeding, it important to note that these terms have been culturally appropriated and I reference these practices with deep reverence and respect for the indigenous traditions that carry this wisdom and connection to the more-than-human-world out of a desire and hope to bring healing to all living beings on this planet. The term power animal comes from the Native American Northwest and is a spirit helper in the form of a wild animal.
For me, Hawk brought me the gifts of fierceness, determination, courage, and strength.
Qualities that I felt I really needed as I was navigating out of what a thought was a deep depression after my life changed so dramatically after my accident.
Imagine my surprise when a month after connecting with Hawk in Taos, I was standing in my bedroom in Healdsburg, CA at dusk, looking outside the window into the backyard to find a Baby Red-tailed Hawk less than 10 feet away, perched on a rock in the middle of the garden. At first, I was so excited!! I ran around frantically, visiting the Hawk, sharing the news with my housemates, taking photos; the importance of this visit didn’t quite hit me yet, not until the next morning.
The next morning it felt like Christmas, wondering if my new friend was still just 10 feet away from where I was sleeping. Low and behold, she was. I was excited to see her but as I was taking my shower, it hit me like a ton of bricks: something was really wrong. I lived in a residential neighborhood, not the wilderness, and a wild creature such as herself did not belong hanging out, barely moving, in my garden. I rushed outside to meet Baby Hawk and to call the bird rescue. They let me know they would be there in 25 minutes and as soon as I hung up the phone, Baby Hawk spread her beautiful, majestic wings completely open and fell face down in the dirt. It appeared that she had stopped breathing! I called the bird rescue again, and they suggested I prop her head up on a towel.
So I lifted this wild, incredible creature up by her nape, and gently placed her beak on a towel. And then I completely lost it.
I frantically urged her to keep breathing. I let her know that help was so close, that she just needed to hold on! And I burst into tears, tears that flowed so freely and fiercely, for the first time since I was thrown 30-feet into a creek and into a new life. Since my own fall, I had said goodbye to: both of my grandparents, my romantic partnership, and my identity as I had known it for 31 years.
Throughout my healing and grieving, I wasn’t able to really cry.
Something felt dead and numb inside of me and I just kept moving forward. I felt dead and numb until this moment, as I was sitting in a patch of dirt three inches from a Baby Red-tailed Hawk that was taking her last breathes. So I let the tears flow and I didn’t know what else to do but lock eyes with her and chant Om Mani Padme Hum, a Buddhist compassion mantra that I had just recently learned. I chanted and I cried, and it felt like this was the first time in my life that I was able to fully just let go, release, and cry out my grief.
After the bird rescue came and took this sweet spirit away, I couldn’t shake the deep grief I felt. I learned a few hours later that she did not survive; the bird rescue shared that she was likely abandoned by her parents and never learned how to hunt, so she was incredibly malnourished and was beyond the point of resuscitation well before she passed.
So she chose my backyard, 10-feet from where I slept, to spend her last day on this Earth.
I am so grateful that she was not alone, that I got to sit in the dirt with her, to love her, to cry with her, and to pray with her. And the gifts she has given me are immeasurable. When I locked eyes with my Power Animal, I felt her power and strength transfer to me. Now, two years later, whenever I need to summon courage and fierceness, I think of her or I look at the photo I was able to take of her (below), and I feel resourced and strong.
“once you learn to work with the medicine of your power animal, it becomes a doorway to connecting with others of the animal realm”.
I had no idea how true this would be. Once I made this first connection with Baby Hawk, the medicine of other totem animals kept flowing in with such beauty and power. There are several examples I could share, but one is the medicine of Spider. Last summer, I kept seeing so many spiders in my apartment; at least five a day for about two weeks. And big ones too! Some were around two inches in diameter, furry, and well, really scary at first. Initially, my old fears dominated the Spider encounters and in the beginning, I killed them. But then I started listening and noticing. And I read about Spider Medicine in Andrews’ book and about how spider webs have been associated with creating the alphabet in almost every mythical tradition around the globe.
I reflected on how if spiders are showing up in your life, then you are being prompted to communicate, to speak up.
And I was. I have always struggled with using my voice and speaking my truth. I was experiencing a conflict with one of my best and oldest friends and it required me to speak up about how I was feeling. So after weeks of living with spiders (literally), I answered the call and spoke up. At first, it was challenging, but with time, speaking up allowed me to release what I was holding on to and bridge a deeper connection with my friend, and eventually, myself.
Additional animal totems that have played a big role in my life these last few years are: Snake, Raven, Dragonfly, and Butterfly. The healing and the guidance all of these animals have brought me are incredible, and I am so grateful to have opened up to listening and receiving the messages they have shared.
Ultimately, these connections have not only helped me deepen my connection to my own intuition and wisdom, but they have also strengthened my relationship to the planet I live on and am apart of.
When I take a walk in a wild forest or down a city street, I remember to open myself up to all that is alive around me. This is not a new practice. Our ancestors have recognized that we all – humans, animals, plants, and water – are interconnected. So instead of walking around with my eyes glued on my iPhone, I choose to keep my eyes open to the magic that is around and in all of us.