The animal world is full of myriad expressions of life. The serpent, the bear, the eagle, the wolf, the hummingbird, the dolphin – all invoke a sense of respect among humans for the way these animals move and relate to the world.

You have likely had powerful encounters with animals while out in nature, or even had them appear in your dreams. These encounters always leave me pondering what the animal represents and why it showed up in my life at this particular time. I often turn to YouTube to watch videos of the animal to understand it better, or to Google to learn what it represents to different cultures and see what resonates most to me. The book Animal Speak by Ted Andrews is another great source of insight.

Animals can appear at critical times in our lives to help us shift something or to guide us. Their medicine is powerful. They can help us soften, strengthen, slow down or seize opportunities. Spirit animal guides show us the way at an instinctual, visceral level that helps bypass the mind and its limitations.

Spirit Animal Guidance

I find that spirit animals offer guidance that resonates at a deep level, in ways that can be hard to explain. Several years ago I had a shamanic energy medicine session to help me unload some old emotional issues and sort out which direction I wanted to take my life. The practitioner journeyed for guidance for me from Spirit and among other things, returned with a power animal to help shepherd me through that new phase of life. The power animal she returned with was a sloth.

What? A sloth? That was not at all what I was expecting and at first I resisted it. I was used to moving quickly and being efficient and getting loads of things done every day. I had just sold a business which had me working long hours and weekends and struggling to juggle my work responsibilities with being a mom. During that time I had developed severe insomnia along with serious digestive and other health issues. I was desperately wanting to leave that all behind and jump into a new and more fulfilling phase of my life. And hoping to step back into the rich spiritual life and practices I had developed earlier in life.

When I got past my initial reaction and started to get to know the sloth I found that she had a clear message for me: Slow down. Take your time. Rest. Learn to just be again. So I gave myself permission to just lay around. I created space for days with absolutely nothing planned and no agenda. I slowly weaned myself from the idea that I had to be doing useful and “productive” things every day.

In the silence and peacefulness I rediscovered my connection to nature, to my heart and to my spiritual practice. The sloth offered so much wisdom. I developed a deep affection for her. She was precisely what I needed at that point in my life.

Had someone simply told me I needed to slow down and let go of my fast-paced rhythm, I don’t know if I would have listened. Or even wanted to take their advice. I was so used to being stressed that it felt normal. But somehow having the message presented through the sloth and all she embodied made it easier for me to embrace. I couldn’t judge the sloth for simply being who she was. To the contrary, she was soft and cuddly and adorable and made moving slowly look enticing!

Some time later a hawk appeared, nearly every day, when I would take my kids to school. Over time this hawk guided me to a new path and helped me decide to train to become a shamanic energy medicine practitioner myself. I felt as if the hawk was an emissary from Spirit. And once I was firmly committed to my new path and role, the hawk curiously disappeared. (Read more about the hawk’s guidance at that time in The Lesson of the Hawk on the Center for Humans and Nature website).

Journeying for an Animal Guide

Now if I journey on behalf of my own clients during a session, a power animal will often appear for them too. The various animals that have shown up for different people include a tortoise, owl, bald eagle, beaver, shrew, dolphin, porpoise, arctic fox, panda, wild boar, white dove, raven, butterflies and more. Each animal carries a clear message and wisdom unique to the client. The client is then tasked with becoming familiar with the animal and its habits and beginning to understand the “medicine” that the animal has come to offer.

Last fall during a session with a client I saw the strange image of a barn owl tethered to his second chakra. He was just about to quit his job in Denver and was considering returning to the east coast. We released the barn owl and he gave it his blessing to fly freely. The tethering of the owl seemed to be a metaphor for his own sense of being imprisoned by his stifling job. But when he returned for another session several months later this January, we realized that the barn owl carried much more meaning. His soul was calling him to return to the land and work with plants for healing, and his new path involved putting down roots at to his family’s farm. The barn owl was the perfect representation of this deep calling and the fitting animal to guide him into the new phase of his life.

Finding Your Own Spirit Animal

You too can journey to find the power animal ready to guide you at this time. If you approach the process with openness and humility and let go of all expectations, the animal who is just right for you, now, will appear during your journey.

If you’ve always felt an affinity for a particular animal, let it go. That may be an animal totem who somehow represents you and your unique spirit, or the animal may represent what you aspire to. A completely different animal may be waiting to guide you at this particular time, with wisdom fitting what you need in your life right now.

If you have already participated in a full-day journeying workshop at Ewassa you may have the tools to journey on your own to find your animal guide. Simply state your intention to receive guidance from the spirit animal you need in your life at this time, then follow the pathway down to your sacred garden and wait for the animal to appear. When you see your animal, ask why he or she is here for you at this time. Converse for awhile. Invite the animal to return home with you, bring it into your heart, and then study the animal in the coming weeks. When you have an important decision to make, ask your animal guide what they would do. Step into their magic, embrace the lessons they have to offer.

For those of you who would like to find the spirit animal who is ready to guide you at this time, you’re invited to join our on-demand online class Shamanic Journeys for Vision and Purpose! This seven-journey series includes the journey to discover your power animal, along with other journeys that will help connect you to your celestial guides and see the unique gifts that you carry.