Animals as Teachers and Assistants

Spirithawk in his youth
Spirithawk in his youth

A very wise friend of mine once said to me “Look into the eyes of unconditional love and you will find yourself.” This friend’s name was Spirithawk, a wolf dog and much honored part of my family. The animal kingdom as a whole embodies the energy of unconditional love, and as such are profound teachers to all of us as we find our way back to this pure and natural state held within our child self–our innocence.

Native Americans and other indigenous peoples have long acknowledged the messages and spiritual power of individual animals. Referred to as “totems,” ceremonies have been developed in reverence to certain animals. Wolf is seen as master teacher, bear as healer, butterfly as transition, hawk as protector, and eagle as divine connection. Other more “gentle” totems include the skunk representing respect, the hummingbird as joy, dragonfly as inner world connection, and the list goes on.

Becoming aware of animals as messengers and totems of one’s own inner essence can bring an enriching link to nature. As your awareness grows you may find that the synchronicity in which various animals come to you or pass in and out of your life may have deep significance to what is transpiring in your life at that moment.

Swallowtail butterfly on thistle

- Have you ever noticed butterflies flying around or even landing on you in a time of transformation in your life?

- A deer crossing your path can be telling you to reach within to your gentle power:

- An eagle flying nearby can be telling you that someone of the Heavenly Host is connecting with you or wishing to do so.

- A Skunk got your attention? This is a sign to respect yourself or give respect to others.

The amazing ability of animals to speak to us through action and form is one of many ways in which they help us to understand our own deepest selves. In so doing, we are then challenged to embrace them and ourselves in unconditional love or negate those feelings through fear and ignorance.

The first, and for some more dramatic challenge, is to acknowledge the deep intelligence of animals. It is not the type of intelligence that will score high on a human IQ exam, but rather the intelligence of nature; of Knowing in its raw form that all of life is interconnected and speaks to us on a multitude of levels.

There are many references for learning more about animal totems and animal communication as a whole. Two of my favorites are Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews, and Medicine Cards, The Discovery of Power Through the Ways of Animals, by Jamie Sams, David Carson, and Angela C. Werneke.

The domestication level of an animal can often influence their connectivity with and awareness of their wild surroundings. This again is something they can teach or reflect to humans. A cat, horse, or dog that spends its life inside a house, pasture, or on a leash, tends to be much less connected with nature and aware of the environment than those who are allowed to be out interfacing with nature by exploring, eating, playing, and just being.

Likewise, a person who spends little time in nature being quiet, listening, and observing will have a much greater chance of putting himself in harm’s way than one who has learned to connect with nature and listen, even beyond the chaos of the city, to hear what his environment is communicating and make decisions accordingly.

Many animals have been able to demonstrate their innate trust and knowingness of life in emergencies and other traumatic situations. Dogs, horses and even elephants in particular have been called upon to assist and often take the lead in such situations to bring people to safety, or warn them off in the first place. In years past I learned to allow my dog (or dogs) to take the lead while out hiking so they could warn me of danger.

Ishnahnay: “Someone is coming – it’s time to leave”

There has been many a time when I have taken a different path or been led home after taking a “wrong” turn in the forest by the natural guidance system of my dogs. Other animals have also been stepping forward to assist and to warn of danger. Dolphins, elephants, birds, cats, and others have stepped in to warn humans of danger or save a human life on many occasions. A well-documented example was the December 26, 2004 tsunami in Thailand and Sumatra when all the animals went inland before the wave hit indicating to humans who were paying attention to do the same.

One of the most dramatic lessons animals teach is to pay attention to what the Earth and those around us are saying, emitting, or suggesting through their actions. All of life, including the Earth herself, emits energies or frequencies of communication and intention. When one is tuned in as consciously as most animals are, these energies can be read like a book, taking potential surprise out of most situations and instead allowing a partnership with life to be created. This tuned in state of being is augmented by animals being so masterfully in the now, or present moment.

We hear much of “being in the now” these days. This refers to emptying our heads of unnecessary clutter and not thinking of the past or future so that we can be fully in the present moment to receive the gifts or danger alerts that are waiting for us. I have often sat and watched my animal companions or wild animals in order to learn from them how to better immerse myself in the present moment. Whatever the activity, animals are always present in the moment, while at the same time completely aware of their larger environment and beyond.

Part of this connectivity is seen in the animal’s normal state of being. They are ever aware of what is going on around (and in) them. No to-do lists, worrying about this or that, thinking ahead, or pining over the past while driving in rush hour traffic or hiking down a mountain trail. They listen to the heartbeat of the Earth, to the voice of nature, of Creation, that is in a constant state of motion and activity.

You may have heard the saying, “If you look into the eyes of an animal, you will truly see yourself.” This truth is two-fold in nature. First, animals hold the energy of unconditional love, and through that they reflect yourself back to you through their eyes. Second, in any moment where you are truly looking into an animal’s eyes, they are holding you fully in their presence, in the now, and asking you to do the same of them. See the teacher. Be the teacher. It is a partnership born of God.

~ Kathryn Shanti Ariel … The Nature Whisperer