The most common misconception about totem animals is that the person chooses the animal. In reality, it is the other way around–the animal chooses you. The most beneficial way for the average person to begin to recognize their totems is to study their own interests and look in their own back yards, so to speak. In the following discussion, we will use the term animal. However, keep in mind totem animals are not necessarily mammals. They could be reptiles, insects, sea creatures, any of the life forms of the animal kingdom from anywhere in the world.
The most common misconception about totem animals is that the person chooses the animal. In reality, it is the other way around–the animal chooses you. So, start by looking at the animals you see every day. Slow down, and observe the world around you. Ask yourself this series of questions, and try to be spontaneous. Don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the answers at first. Just see what pops into your mind and make a quick list of the answers:
What animals have characteristics that you admire? What qualities do you have in yourself that others most often admire? If you could be an animal, which one would you be? Why? Is there a particular one that you see often, or that seems to turn up in unexpexted places?
Is a particular animal trying hard to get your attention? What animals do you notice on the drive to work or school? What do you see in your neighborhood? Your own back yard?
When you take a trip, what animals do you notice? When you walk in the woods or a remote place, what animals do you encounter? What is your reaction to those encounters? If you visit a zoo, what area do you generally head for first? What animals do you notice in magazines, on TV, in films? What kinds of pets do you have? Who are their wild ancestors?
What creature do you fear most? What are your own bad qualities that others say you need to improve upon? Which animals do those things well? The things we fear often have the most to teach us. Ask yourself what your own deepest innermost fears are. What animals most closely represent the qualities driving those fears? Learn all you can about those animals. Often, we fear what we do not know, or what we don’t understand.
Ask yourself what animals you are drawn to. What animals are featured on your choices of clothing, jewelry, art, trinkets, the toys you buy for your children, or in home decorating items? What animals are included in your usual choices of reading material, if any?
Ask yourself what your choices are when choosing a vacation destination. What type of terain do you generally prefer? Is it urban, rural, remote wilderness, exotic foreign lands? Are they near the sea, on the plains, high in the mountains? Is the climate cold, hot, or temperate? What animals live in those places? Which ones have you seen when you have visited those locations?
What animals have you seen in dreams? Are there any animals which show up in your dreams often? Are they pleasant dreams or nightmares, or something in between? Do you have a particular dream that reoccurs or changes but has basically the same elements, terrain, or animals?
Which animals do you like to touch or have always wondered what it would be like to touch them? Are there any animals that seem to particularly like you, or that you are good at soothing? Being in the presense of what animals do you find soothes you? When you look at a particular animal how does it make you feel? Are you excited, calmed, attracted, repulsed, nervous or serene? Do you see beauty or ugliness?
By the time you have answered these questions, you should have a fairly substantial list of animals. You can then begin to study the animals on your list. As you study and learn about these animals in more detail, it will become clear to you which are incidental, and which have true importance to you personally. Each animal has it’s own special power and message.
Animals come to us because they have a lesson we need to learn, a power they are willing to share, or wisdom they wish to impart to us. Many times this is wisdom that was born within us, but it needs a nudge to be awakened in the conscious state.
The Animal Totem that comes to you offers you power to create this awakening, if you will learn to communicate with it, with respect, trust, and patience. Understanding will come to you when you are ready and open to receive it.
Once you have answered the above questions and have your tentative list of animals, you’ll be ready to take the next step.
If a particular problem is troubling you, it is sometimes helpful to be able to call your totem who posesses skills in that area to assist you. You can do this by using your subconscious mind. There are many reasons a totem animal may be drawn to you or make his presence known. The totem may have come to assist you with a problem, by giving you strength or courage, patience or prodding you to act, awakening long buried memories or causing a certain life lesson to be memorable, or a myriad of other reasons.
Sometimes totems assist in a healing, or guide you to practices that will heal your body of a long standing ailment.
Sometimes the totem brings a message from a higher power than himself, or brings a message from another person in your life. Sometimes the message is a warning to stop some destructive behavior you have been doing, or it is a message that makes it clear to you that you have been doing some unkind thing you hadn’t been aware of or given any thought. The message may be a sign you have asked for telling you the right thing is to proceed or future events will turn out ok.
Your totem animals may assist you with creative efforts, in understanding relationships, improve your awareness of the spiritual plane, sharpen your reflexes, improve your memory, or drag you from a self created bed of pity.
If you have been taking yourself too seriously, or have been working too hard, a totem may show you how to put some fun and humor back into your life. He may show you knowledge that was in front of you all the time and you couldn’t see it because it was too close to home, or he might help you draw upon knowledge that comes from within yourself in forgotten memories and long dormant parts of your brain. Often prophetic dreams and premonitions of danger coming your way are brought by totems.
If a particular problem is troubling you, it is sometimes helpful to be able to call your totem who posesses skills in that area to assist you. You can do this by using your subconscious mind. While totems will put themselves in your path in the physical world to draw your attention to them, often the most powerful messages and profound experiences come in the form of dreams, during deep trance meditations, astral projection, or even shape-shifting.
Some of these altered states occur naturally without the person consciously initiating them. Ordinary nightly dreams would be one example. However, it is possible to induce these states at will or to influence the directions your normal nightly dreams take, for example. There are methods of increasing your memory retention of dreams and out of body experiences upon wakening.
However, those genereal subjects are too broad and complicated to go into in this short article, so we will delve into those subjects in more depth in a future column, since some of those subjects will require a whole series of articles in their own right.
For the moment, we will focus on some relaxation techniques that may put you in a light trance and enable you to have a conversation with your totem. This information should be considered as just that– general information– and NOT as any form of medical advice or personal advice for your particular situation.
With the busy schedules and frantic pace with which we in modern societies live our lives, we often talk too much and forget to listen. Some of you may even be uncomfortable with silence, because it is strange to you.
However, one of the strongest skills you can develop with practice is the ability to remain still for a period of time and to quiet the inner voice long enough to listen for and hear other voices.
If these concepts are something that are new to your life experiences, or sound exotic and foreign to you, there are some simple exercises you can do to help yourself become familiar with these areas.
Remember, when fear leaves us it is replaced with power and serenity. However, if at any time you find yourself becoming fearful or uncomfortable you should back off and try again another day. Most of you have already experienced a light trance state in everyday living at some time, although you might not have recognized it as such.
An example of a common light trance experience is when you “daydream” while driving on a long trip. Often, when people report they fell asleep driving on a monotonous trip and crashed, that isn’t exactly true. In reality what they have done is allowed themselves to slip from this common light trance into a less frequently experienced deep trance, which is similar to, but not exactly the same as sleeping.
While you are daydreaming you continue to drive your car without wrecking. When you finish your daydream and become aware of your surroundings again, you suddenly find yourself ten or twenty miles down the road from where you last remember seeing the scenery going by, with no recall of the intervening miles you have traveled. You have been in a light trance state, and drove your car on autopilot during that time.
It is that sort of “just below the surface” trance that we wish to induce with the following excercise.There are a number of different ways to obtain a light trance, and you will need to experiment to see what works best for you.
Following is a method that works well for me. It is also a great way to just relieve stress for a few minutes, to escape from physical pain, or to fall asleep on a night when you are having an attack of insomnia. With practice, you can cut your heart rate by half and be “under” in three breaths using this technique.
Initially, it may take as long as twenty minutes to achieve a trance state. This will vary from individual to individual and the time required will decrease with practice.
First find a quiet and comfortable place to do your exercise. I prefer to be outdoors in direct contact with the Earth, or in bed just before I am ready to sleep for the night. However, this exercise can be done almost anywhere.
If you live in a busy and noisy household filled with children or have a lifemate who is distracting you, you might try going into the bathroom and locking the door for a few minutes.
You may sit or lie down, whichever is most comfortable and convenient for you at the time. Close your eyes and try to relax. Start by taking a deep breath until you feel your lungs are expanded to what feels like their full capacity without straining. Then start counting at one second intervals and try to continue drawing in air while you count.
At first you will only be able to continue breathing in until you get to one or two. Eventually, if you are a heavy smoker like I am, you will be able to extend this inhale breath to a count of five. I imagine non-smokers could go farther.
When you feel you have absolutely drawn in as deep a breath as you can without exploding, start slowly exhaling. When you have exhaled all of that breath, stop breathing for about two seconds (or count to two slowly).
Then begin the next inhale, repeating the step outlined above. It is important to keep counting on the end of each inhale cycle, because this keeps your mind focused on the exercise so it doesn’t wander off to other things.
Usually, most people will begin to feel the muscles of their bodies noticibly relax on exhale and the heartbeat begin to slow down by the third or fourth breath after a few times of practicing this.
When you begin to feel your muscles relaxing on exhale, replace the counting on the end of the inhale with a mental picture of whatever you are trying to achieve. Picture a sunlit meadow at the edge of a wood and your totem animal standing in the shadows at the edge where the field meets woods (or yourself sleeping or whatever your goal is).
With each new inhale make your mental picture do something else. On the next breath the animal may step from the shadows into the light. On the third he may begin moving towards you or towards something out of your line of vision, and so on. Eventually you will achieve the trance state and your totem will begin to control his own actions and to converse with you.
In the beginning you may feel like you are still controlling this daydream, and think you are listening to your own inner voice. However, over time and with practice, you will begin to notice subtle differences when your totem is talking.
Each time you practice this technique you will go under a little faster and the desired result will manifest quicker. You will come to realize one day, that you are, indeed speaking with a presence that is separate from yourself.
Often you can have adventures inside this altered state that seem to take hours or days, then emerge only to find ten minutes have passed in ordinary time by the clock.
Some people reach this stage rather quickly, others seem to have a very hard time acheiving this state. Perhaps this has something to do with faith and how much you believe and whether or not you are able to clear your thoughts from preconceived notions and teachings.
However, with worst case senario, at the very least you will be able to get into better touch with your inner self, which is the normal voice you hear talking inside your head when you are thinking.