One of the most profoundly beautiful gifts of healing I have received was given to me by a Praying Mantis.
It was the year that my father passed away, in the month of September — just a few days before what would have been his sixty fifth birthday.
During the last few years of his life, my father had begun to delve deeply into Zen Buddhism. “Be Still” became a sort of mantra for him, and it was often the advice he would give me when I went to him for guidance. “Be still,” he would say, “when you find your center you will find your way.”
As September approached that year, I began to wade into deeper waters of my grief. I felt engulfed in the loss, drowning in relentless torrents of questions like, where was he? Was he still with me somehow? How could I possibly navigate my way through this world without him? Nightmares permeated my sleep — I would wake in tears, my heart pounding violently in my chest, unable to breathe. I was exhausted and yet restless, angry, and aloof. All I wanted was to do was cocoon myself in my bedsheets and cry.
Then one afternoon, I came home from work to find a praying mantis perched on my front door. At first I didn’t think much of it, but in the five years that I had lived in California at that point I had not once seen a praying mantis, so it gave me pause. The next day it was still there, and the day after that it was on the windshield of my car, it’s little green eyes peering at me through the glass. I grew curious and looked up the symbolism right there in my driveway, and what I read brought me to tears once more — but these tears had a lightness to them, a release, gratitude; “Praying Mantis appears to us when we need to go inward,” the article said, “when we need to be still and find our center.” I knew right then that this tiny creature came to me with a message from my father, letting me know that he was in fact still there, reminding me how I would find my way, and assuring me that I would.
I still think about my father every day. I still miss him with all my heart and soul, and there are times that I still sink into my grief. But it was that afternoon, that one moment with that Praying Mantis, that I began to feel some sense of acceptance and peace with his death. It was in that moment that I began to heal.
Animal spirits come to us with great wisdom to share, to help us heal and to help us grow.
They act as our teachers, our guides, our allies, our challengers and our protectors. They encourage us to find balance and harmony, they bring to us courage and strength, they show us how to adapt, how to stand our ground, and they reflect to us the great wisdom inherent in ourselves already.
But what is an animal spirit, exactly?
We all have guides in spirit form who are with us during the course of our lives, watching over us and supporting us in our journey. Simply put, spirits are energy, and to communicate with us, they present in different forms that we, in our human state, are able to recognize and understand. One of the most powerful ways a guide can make itself known and connect is to manifest in the archetypical essence of an animal.
Some — usually one or two — are with us from the moment we are born. These are our personal Spirit Animals, who work with us throughout our lives to help us learn more about ourselves in a deeper and broader sense — our strengths, our weaknesses, our aptitudes and our limitations. We typically share a similar energy with our Spirit Animals — similar dispositions and characteristics — so it is likely that you may have an affinity for or know intuitively who your Spirit Animal is even if you have not yet developed a conscious relationship with it. Others, like my Praying Mantis, come and go during specific phases or circumstances in our lives. These are called Power Animals, and appear to us as advocates in times of need or transition, offering their unique “medicine” as reminders, counsel, or simply in support.
To work with an animal spirit is to shape shift; To merge with it’s archetypal essence and step into it’s power; To see through it’s eyes, feel through it’s body, and sense with it’s instincts.
For example, about a year ago I was going through a particularly turbulent period in my life; No matter what I did I felt resistance, tension, conflict, pressure — like I was caught in some violent riptide that, the more I tried to swim against it, the more frenzied and exhausted I became. Then I began to notice that jellyfish were suddenly showing up around me — in my dreams, in a meditation, as an illustration on an art print that had caught my eye, and in conversation. “Okay,” I remember thinking, “You have my attention, Jellyfish. What is your message?” I did some reading, journaling, I meditated on Jellyfish and tried to imagine myself in it’s body; With my eyes closed, I could feel the sea gently supporting me and carrying me along, I felt calm, fluid, and graceful. One attribute of Jellyfish is that they are generally passive animals, freely and effortlessly drifting in the flow of the current. One of the lessons of Jellyfish, then, is that sometimes, we need to allow ourselves to just go with the flow and trust in the Universe to work things out. What I hadn’t realized was that my attempt to control the situation was only further agitating it — creating undue negative energy and causing me more stress — but after reflecting on Jellyfish’s message, I began to loosen my grip on my expectations and just allow the situation to evolve. Once I did that, the energy started to shift and things became much easier — calmer, fluid, and more graceful.
I have always loved animals, so working with animal spirits came quite naturally to me, and I am always thoroughly amazed and fascinated by how insightful and timely their guidance can be. Here are some tips I have for connecting with yours:
As with any spiritual practice, meditation is key. When we get caught up in our busy schedules, our minds on overdrive and in a million different places at once, we start to disconnect from our higher selves and the energy that weaves through and unites us with each other and with the Universe. We become anxious, scattered, and distracted, and we miss the subtle signs and signals from our guides. Meditation helps us to slow down, ground ourselves, reset, and become more aware and open to our internal environment and to what is happening around us. Even if only for five to ten minutes a day, try to make time and create space to sit quietly and get centered. Better still, spend some time in nature if you can. Go for a hike in the woods, or a walk on the beach. Sit in your garden if you have one, or by a lake. Try to take in your surroundings with all of your senses — breath in the smells in the air, listen to the sounds of the leaves in the wind or the waves on the shore. Work on being present in your body and and clear in your mind, and messages will slowly start to become more apparent to you.
Be Mindful of Synchronistic Encounters
Spirit animals often come to us when they want our attention and awareness — making themselves known by showing up around us synchronistically, crossing paths with us, stopping us in our tracks even, or appearing to us in our dreams, meditations, in artwork, films, literature, ads, oracle cards, etc. — so pay attention and take note of who keeps popping in.
Practice Shape Shifting
When you notice an animal trying to get your attention, ask what it’s message is for you. Study that animal, meditate on it, journal, and imagine yourself as that animal. How does it feel to be in it’s body, in it’s bones? Does it swim? Fly? Slither? How does it feel to have wings, to have fins, scales, or fur? Is it muscular? Delicate? Gentle? Aggressive? Does it run in a pack or is it more solitary and independent? Is it nimble and flexible or stout and sturdy? What is it like to be in its environment? How does it communicate? Nourish itself? Defend itself? Try to feel what resonates with you, and think about what connections you are able to make in your own life.
You can also call on or go to an animal spirit for guidance without waiting for them to initiate contact; Perhaps you feel like you are too close to a situation to see it clearly — call on Hawk for greater perspective. Or you might be struggling with anger and aggression — call on Deer for compassion and poise. These are just some examples, but even if you are not sure what you need or who to call on, you can simply ask for guidance in a meditation and see who comes to you.
Be Patient and Be Open
Especially if you are new to meditation or new to working with animal spirits, remember that like anything this takes time and practice to get comfortable doing, so don’t be discouraged if you have trouble at first. You are learning how to communicate with your animal spirits, which is essentially like learning a new language, so just keep at it, have patience and stay open. Try as well to let go of any expectations you may have of what your animal will look like or what experience you will share with them — as soon as the ego tries to take control of the experience, it looses it’s authenticity and weakens your connection with your guides. Try not to question, analyze or interpret your experience while you are having it, even if it doesn’t quite make sense in the moment. Trust in yourself and in your guides, and allow your experience to unfold.
Finally, don’t forget to thank your animal spirits for their assistance and show them gratitude for their lessons! Remember that you are building a relationship, and an exchange of positive energy is certainly beneficial.