Category: Shamanism

What Does It Mean? A 4-Step Guide for Understanding Yo...

How often have you had an unusual encounter with an animal and immediately wondered, “What does it mean?” 

Perhaps you saw an owl in daylight. Or you kept noticing images of elephants everywhere. Or maybe a huge spider appeared right in front of you on the sidewalk. 

If you’re like many shamanically-inclined folks, the first thing you’ll want to do in these situations is google what that animal “means”. 

I understand the temptation, but please—hold off!

The universe and spirit have many ways of communicating with us, including animal messengers. And the universe does not play by a set of pre-existing rules. The messages each animal carries will be unique to you, and no book or website can tell you the full meaning of your encounter. 

The same is true of power animals—spiritual helpers in animal form who share their gifts and medicine with us. While a bit of research can certainly be helpful, if you dive right in to other people’s interpretations, you’ll be more likely to miss important elements of your personal relationship with your power animal.

Animal messenger or “normal animal doing normal things”?

I can hear it now . . . Sometimes a bird is just a bird. It doesn’t have to mean anything.

That’s true. Not everything has to mean something. 

But I have to be honest—one of my biggest pet peeves in spiritual communities is dismissing others’ experiences in this way. 

Because the truth is, the universe is always communicating with us. Who are you to say what does or doesn’t have meaning for another person?

The great advaita scholar Richard Miller, PhD, once spoke to this in a training while teaching us about the art of welcoming. As he explained, it’s too exhausting to keep trying to figure out which parts of life are trying to tell us something and which parts are so-called “normal life”, so he has the practice of “welcoming everything as a messenger”. 

This practice of welcoming is a beautiful way to fall deeper into relationship with all of life. Every sensation, emotion, encounter, or insight can provide an opportunity to open to and learn from spirit.

If this sounds overwhelming, not to worry. This doesn’t mean you need to go through life looking at every little thing as a symbol to decipher or every animal as a messenger bearing life-altering news. Instead, it means that spiritual guidance is always available to us. To access this wisdom:

  • Relax. You don’t need to overwhelm yourself by seeing every little thing that happens as a critical message. You will notice what you need to notice.  
  • If something does catch your attention, even if it’s something very common and “normal”, trust your intuition and recognize that you are noticing it for a reason.
  • You can also set an intention to receive a message from a spirit via the natural world. Bring your awareness into your heart, send your request to spirit, and then open your awareness, letting your attention wander and draw you to your answers.
  • Finally, once something does call your awareness, use the process outlined below to discover the meaning and messages it holds for you.

When to Pay Attention

Many teachers share that for an animal to actually mean something, rather than be a simple sighting, it must show itself to you four times. For example, let’s say you see a hawk on a walk, then on TV, then hear the word “hawk” in a conversation, and then find a hawk feather.

Still others will note that if an animal is behaving in an unusual way, it could very well carry a message for you.

If either of these happen, definitely pay attention.

And if you only see a normal animal doing normal things, but feel that there is a message for you, trust that too.

Maybe the Message is Love

Sometimes when our attention is drawn to something in nature—a beautiful flower, an animal sighting, or an unusual cloud—we’re receiving a blessing. In this case, you don’t necessarily need to go through the process below. Simply receive your hello from spirit and know that the “message” is love. 

Your 4-Step Guide

So, when you encounter an animal—whether a messenger in nature or an actual power animal—what are you to do? How do you figure out what the message is? How do you know what gifts your power animal carries?

Here’s the process I recommend for understanding your animal messengers and power animals. This is based on years of working with my own animal spirit guides and those of my clients.

Step 1

Journey to the spirit of the animal and ask them to teach you about themselves and your relationship. (If you don’t have a journey practice, Sandra Ingerman’s course, Experiencing the Shamanic Journey, offers a wonderful introduction to the practice.)

If the animal in question is one you’ve encountered in ordinary reality, you might like to ask:

  • Are you here to share a message with me, or are you appearing to bring my awareness to a new power animal relationship? Or both?
  • What is the message you bring me?

If you’ve received a power animal, whether from a power animal retrieval or another means, you might like to explore some or all of the following questions:

  • What medicine do you carry? 
  • What gifts would you like to share with me? 
  • How may I carry your medicine? 
  • What areas of life can you help me with?
  • Why are you appearing in my life now?
  • Are you a new power animal, or have you been with me for sometime?
  • May I have an attunement to your energy?
  • What name may I call you by?
  • How may I nurture our relationship?

Step 2

After you’ve done your journey or meditation, think about any pre-existing ideas or knowledge you already have about this animal. This process can provide many clues as to how the animal will support you.

Ask yourself:

  • What is my immediate reaction to this animal? Am I excited, fearful, surprised?
  • What symbology or associations do I think of first? 
  • Are there any stories or myths that come to mind?
  • What character traits do I personally connect with this animal?

Then, reflect on what your answers might mean for either a message or the unique gifts a power animal might share with you.

Step 3 

Once you’ve finished this personal exploration, it’s time to learn more about your animal in ordinary reality. Try to find out:

    • What do they eat?
    • Where do they live?
    • What is their social nature? Family dynamics?
    • What unique features stand out about this animal? 
    • When are they most active? Quietest?
    • What are their biggest threats? 
    • What do you find most fascinating about this animal?

Ask yourself how the following information might help you understand either the message or your power animal’s gifts. 

Step 4

Finally, go ahead and look up existing ideas about your power animal might mean. Even though we don’t want to fill our minds with other people’s and cultures’ ideas first, this information can be helpful. 

As you explore, pay attention to a few things:

  • What feels right and relevant? Where do you get an immediate hit or “ah-ha” moment?
  • What doesn’t feel right or relevant? Not everything you read will relate your personal relationship.
  • Does the animal have any particular meanings within your own ancestry? What about within other cultures you feel especially connected to?*

*Make sure to explore a variety of cultural mythologies at this stage, as each might have quite different interpretations of your animal. For example: In North America, many indegenous tribes associate the owl with death. Yet in Greek and Roman mythology, the owl was a bearer of wisdom. Though in China the owl was viewed as an ominous creature, the Japanese considered the owl to be a sign of good fortune. 

At this stage, I’ll encourage you to avoid the spirit guide websites out there—in my experience, many of them seem to exist just for profit and do not have the depth of meaning you can find in a book, such as Ted Andrew’s Animal Speak, Jamie Sam’s Medicine Cards, or Sounds True’s own The Book of Beasties by Sarah Seidelman. If you’re looking online, visiting sites that detail mythological or symbolic associations from more academic perspectives can be useful.

Receiving messages from spirit through the natural world is a gift that has been bestowed on humanity since the beginning of our species on this planet. Be gentle with yourself as you learn to read the signs and deepen your relationship with the natural world. It is your birthright. 

And, while the steps outlined here can initiate your journey into understanding your power animal, getting to know your power animal and its gifts is a lifelong journey. Revisit each of these steps often, and make sure to nurture your relationship with your power animal just as you would with a beloved friend.

If you’d like help discovering who your power animal is, be sure to check out Sandra Ingerman’s 6-week course, Experiencing the Shamanic Journey, which begins on September 8, 2020.

In this course, you’ll learn how to take a shamanic journey and meet one of your power animals! 

You can learn more about this wonderful course with Sandra here.

Juniper Stokes is an intuitive healer and spiritual teacher. She helps others activate and tune into their own intuition, healing abilities, and connection with spirit through private sessions, classes, and workshops. (And yes, this includes Power Animal Readings.) In touch with the spirit realms from a young age, Juniper has trained in wide variety of healing traditions, including Sandra Ingerman’s Two Year Shamanic Teacher Training program and Samahita’s Pranayama Teacher Training, to name a few. Juniper also writes behind the scenes at Sounds True and regularly leads guided shamanic journeys for Sounds True’s Shamanic Path Facebook page, which currently has nearly 30k members. In addition to her spiritual teaching and healing, Juniper is a clinical aromatherapist, herbalist, and flower essence practitioner. Her healing products, including a line of spiritually-infused botanical perfumes, will soon be available in the Alchemessence Apothecary.

Sandra Ingerman: Healing with Spiritual Light

Sandra Ingerman is an internationally renowned shamanic teacher and the author of many books. Her published works include The Book of Ceremony, Walking in Light, and Awakening to the Spirit World. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami speaks with Sandra about the upcoming online course Healing with Spiritual Light: The Shamanic Power of Transfiguration to Heal Ourselves, Each Other, and the Earth. Specifically, Sandra comments on transfiguration as a spiritual practice, highlighting how it can be a portal to both physical and environmental healing. Tami and Sandra talk about the inherently transforming power of light, as well as some of the scientific evidence around transfiguration. Finally, Sandra emphasizes the imperative to engage with transfiguration in the face of climate change and considers the future shape of human culture. (66 minutes)

5 Types of Imbalance: A Guide to Illness from a Shaman...

Shamanism views illness as an energetic imbalance of some sort—either something is there that shouldn’t be, or something should be there that isn’t.

What Are Nocturnal Meditations?

Many people know about meditating during the day, but few are aware of the “nocturnal meditations.” They’ve been around for thousands of years, tucked away under the blanket of darkness. Until recently, the nocturnal practices have been secret, deemed too subtle for the West. But with the mindfulness revolution in full swing and meditation now in the public domain, these “dark” practices are finally coming to light in the modern world. What surprises most people is how deep and vast these nocturnal meditations are—and how applicable to daily life.

The practices start with lucid dreaming, which is when you wake up to the fact that you’re dreaming while still remaining in the dream. Once it was scientifically proven in 1975, lucid dreaming has gained traction in the West. Initially, lucid dreaming isn’t much of a meditation. Most people use it to indulge their fantasies—to fulfill their wildest dreams in the privacy of their own mind. At this entry level, lucid dreaming is the ultimate in home entertainment, where you become the writer, producer, director, and main actor in an Academy Award-winning production of your own mind.

But the higher levels of lucid dreaming have extraordinary psychological and even physical benefits. You can transform nightmares, rehearse things, resolve interpersonal issues, even improve athletic performance. Neuroscience has shown that you can use your mind to change your brain (neuroplasticity), and modern dream research continues to show that you can use your dreaming mind to enhance a host of daily psychological and physical activities. Lucid dreaming at this higher level is like going to night school.

With some proficiency in lucid dreaming you can progress into dream yoga, which is when dreams are used for spiritual transformation. While lucid dreaming is largely about self-fulfillment, dream yoga is all about self-transcendence. It’s been around for thousands of years, and the Buddha (the “awakened one”) was really the ultimate lucid dreamer.

Dream yoga, like lucid dreaming, progresses from beginning to advanced stages. A beginning yogi starts by addressing the question, “What are dreams made of?” They’re made of your mind. So, by working with your dreams at this refined level, you’re working to transform your mind. One early stage of dream yoga involves transforming the objects in your dreams, like changing a dream flower to a dream chair. In so doing, one discovers the malleable nature of mind and the truth of the saying, “Blessed are the flexible, for they are never bent out of shape.” This is the “yoga” or “stretching” part of dream yoga, which develops increased pliability of mind.

One amazing quality of both lucid dreaming and dream yoga is that the benefits of what you do in your dreams don’t stay tucked into the nighttime mind. By changing a flower into a chair in your dreams (not as easy as it sounds!), you realize you can change anger into compassion in your life. In other words, your emotional states are not as solid as you think. They’re essentially as solid as a dream, and therefore as workable.

At higher levels of dream yoga, you use the “example dream” or “double delusion” of the nighttime dream to wake you up from the “real dream” or “primary delusion” of daily life—which is precisely what the Buddha did. You eventually come to the shattering conclusion that this is a dream. When seen properly—when you’re lucid to it—your waking reality is no more concrete than a dream. So a dream yogi lives by the maxim, “This is a dream; I am free; I can change.” It’s a liberating wake-up call, with profound implications for all of life.

For most people, lucid dreaming and dream yoga are enough. But for those wanting to go to “graduate school,” one can advance into sleep yoga (related to yoga nidra in Hinduism). As incredible as it may sound, this is when you learn how to become lucid in deep, dreamless sleep. In Buddhism this is called “luminosity yoga” and adheres to the teaching that fundamentally there is no darkness within—only light unseen. Sleep yoga turns on this nightlight, a luminosity so radiant that it eventually illuminates even the day. Scientists are currently trying to prove this outrageous claim with advanced meditators and dream yogis.

“Lucidity” is a code word for awareness. So, by working with any of these three practices, you’re working to cultivate greater awareness. And what doesn’t benefit with more awareness? All three of these practices engage the principle of bi-directionality, which is all about opening a two-way street between the daytime and nighttime mind. What we do during the day affects how we sleep and dream; and what we do when we sleep and dream affects how we live during the day. By becoming lucid to our dreams and to dreamless sleep, we’re secretly becoming more lucid or aware of our daily lives. So lucid dreaming leads to lucid living.

As fruitful as these three practices are, there is one final step for those wanting to take the deepest dive. With some proficiency in sleep yoga, one can advance into bardo yoga (“gap” yoga), which is when the darkness of sleep is used to prepare for the darkness of death. In Greek mythology, Thanatos (the god of death) and Hypnos (the god of sleep) aren’t just brothers—they’re twins. Death and sleep are intimately related. In Buddhism, death is referred to as “the dream at the end of time.” So bardo yoga, which is a Tibetan contribution, engages the tenet that dreamless means formless, and formless means deathless. Bardo yoga therefore introduces you to your formless/deathless nature—to who you really are. It points out the deepest part of you that doesn’t get old, sick, or die. Bardo yoga is a “dead end” practice that points out eternal life.

We spend a third of our lives in sleep. If you live to be 90, you’ve slept for 30 years. Imagine what you could do if you had even a fraction of that time. We spend 25% of our sleep time in dreams, which adds up to about a month a year. Think of what you could do if you added a month to each year! That’s real “overtime.”

The nocturnal meditations are cutting-edge practices. Neuroscientist Matthew Walker writes, “It is possible that lucid dreamers represent the next iteration in Homo sapiens’ evolution.” How evolutionary does that make lucid sleepers, let alone lucid “die-ers”? Do you want to be the first one on your block to take the lead in evolution? Then open your eyes to the dark, engage the nocturnal meditations, and discover the leading light within.

Andrew Holecek, What are Nocturnal Meditations
Andrew Holecek

Andrew Holecek is the author of Dream Yoga: Illuminating Your Life Through Lucid Dreaming and the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep. He is also the founder of Night Club, an online platform that explores the nocturnal meditations and the science that supports them. Learn more about Night Club!

A Ceremony to Greet the Cardinal Directions

Blog A Ceremony to Greet the Cardinal Directions Sounds True Blog

Greeting the cardinal directions is a common practice in shamanic cultures. There is no one right way shamans greet the directions. Honoring the directions was often based on weather patterns in the local area, specifically which direction the wind entered the land.

I encourage you to find your own way to greet the directions. We all know East is the direction of the rising sun and West is the direction of the setting sun. The direction away from the equator reminds us of winter and cold, while the opposite direction invokes a feeling of warmth.

Some people make medicine wheels that they stand within when doing ceremonial work. You might find objects in nature such as a feather, rock, or crystal. Or you might light a candle or put out a bowl of water to honor qualities you feel represent a given direction.

An Exercise to Call in the Directions

As you did when calling in helping spirits, take some time to reflect on the directions.

Stand and face East. Close your eyes and place your hands on your heart. As you focus your imagination on the East and the rising sun, what feelings emerge for you?

Turn South and let your imagination soak in the qualities that come to you associated with the South.

Face West and take a deep breath and exhale. In your mind’s eye, see and feel the sun setting. What associations does this bring to you?

Next, face North and observe how you feel in your heart. What meaning does the North hold for you?

In some cultures, the direction of Below is greeted to honor Earth.

And the direction of Above is welcomed to honor Sky.

Lastly, the direction of Within is acknowledged to honor the power of spirit and divine light that resides in each us.

Excerpted from The Book of Ceremony: Shamanic Wisdom for Invoking the Sacred in Everyday Life, by Sandra Ingerman.

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Sandra Ingerman A Ceremony to Greet the Cardinal Directions Sounds True BlogSandra Ingerman, MA, is an award-winning author of 12 books, including Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self, Medicine for the Earth, Walking in Light, and The Book of Ceremony. She is the presenter of several audio programs produced by Sounds True, and she is the creator of the Transmutation App. Sandra is a world-renowned teacher of shamanism and has been teaching for more than 30 years. She has taught workshops internationally on shamanic journeying, healing, and reversing environmental pollution using spiritual methods. Sandra is recognized for bridging ancient cross-cultural healing methods into our modern culture, addressing the needs of our times.

Sandra is known for gathering the global spiritual community together to perform powerful transformative ceremonies, as well as inspiring us to stand strong in unity so we do our own spiritual and social activism work while keeping a vision of hope and being a light in the world.

She is passionate about helping people to reconnect with nature. Since the 1980s, thousands of people have healed from past and present traumas through the classic cross-cultural shamanic healing method Sandra teaches called “Soul Retrieval.”

She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and professional mental health counselor. She is also a board-certified expert on traumatic stress. She was awarded the 2007 Peace Award from the Global Foundation for Integrative Medicine. Sandra was chosen as one of the Top 10 Spiritual Leaders of 2013 by Spirituality and Health magazine.

Sandra has had two new books released in 2018. The Hidden Worlds was co-written with Katherine Wood and is a novel written for young adults to help them navigate the changing world. The Book of Ceremony was written for a shamanic and general audience on how to bring the sacred into daily life by performing shamanic ceremonies designed for our times and the challenges we are facing today.

sandraingerman.com

The Book of Ceremony A Ceremony to Greet the Cardinal Directions Sounds True BlogBuy your copy of The Book of Ceremony at your favorite bookseller!

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John Lockley: Sangoma

John Lockley is a traditional healer, or sangoma, from the Xhosa lineage in South Africa, the same tribe that gave us Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He runs “Ubuntu” (humanity) workshops worldwide, helping people connect to their ancestors, the earth, and one another. His mission in the Western world could be summed up in the Xhosa word “Masiyembo”—involving a profound remembering of the human spirit. As John says, “When people can remember their dreams and connect to their life purpose, then their true vocation surfaces; namely being in service and acting as guardians to our planet.” With Sounds True, John has published Leopard Warrior: A Journey into the African Teachings of Ancestry, Instinct, and Dreams. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, John speaks with Tami Simon about his startling journey to becoming a sangoma and what he learned while caught between two cultures in apartheid-era South Africa. They speak on what it means to honor one’s ancestors and how life takes on a new richness with that practice. Finally, John sings a blessing song called “The Great Spirit,” inviting listeners to share in its calling. (69 minutes)

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