Thinking about the inner self in terms of spirit animals can be a way of attaining soul-knowledge, using metaphors provided by the natural world.
Last summer, I found myself at the end of a fatiguing year of studying, teaching, and working during my second year of graduate school. From a certain vantage point, everything was going great: I was on track to completing my PhD at an Ivy League university, I had developed strong relationships with teachers who had agreed to support my work, and I was about to embark on a year of reading, uninterrupted by coursework, which was going to allow me, finally, to sink my teeth into a dissertation project on Old English poetry.
There was only one problem: I was absolutely exhausted. Too exhausted, perhaps, to even crack open a book, let alone read one cover-to-cover. Each morning, waking up in my mother’s empty house in Massachusetts, where I was “house sitting,” I would bypass the intimidating stack of books next to my bed in order to get more quickly to my computer, where I would sit, and let the hours go by, watching make-up tutorials on YouTube, and episodes of The Real Housewives of Potomac.
After a few days of this, I was beginning to feel anxious. It took me a while to realize that I was completely drained, not necessarily by my work load, but by an emotional deficit I was experiencing due to a lack of connection to my inner self. By “inner self,” I really mean my true nature, my “soul.” In other words, the part of me that was getting lost in the demands and expectations of a stressful job and an intense working environment.
Let me be clear — I had long known myself to be introverted and highly sensitive, due to some very useful and well-timed therapy after undergrad. However, even with this valuable knowledge, I still struggled to make sense of my reality, the intense emotions I was experiencing, and their value.
Then, a shopping adventure changed all that.
A Little Book Changed Everything
One day, when I had had enough of my indoor routine, I wandered into town and found myself in a shop selling crystals and other spiritual devices. It was here that I found a book by Melissa Alvarez entitled, Llewellyn’s Little Book of Spirit Animals. Intrigued, I opened to the first chapter, which read:
“It is easy to tell when a spirit animal is trying to get your attention. Suddenly, everywhere you look you will see that animal…It may appear in your dreams, you might see it on a billboard, or it may show up in real life…The energy around spirit animals feels different, too. You will intuitively know that the animal is trying to connect with you because it stands out or seems magnified and makes you notice it.” (Alvarez)
This passage immediately stuck out to me. There were many unique experiences I could remember of past encounters with animals that were nothing short of magic. These were memories I had really held onto that were all flooding back to me after opening this book.
The passage had stirred my spirit, so I decided to purchase it. Walking home, I thought about what my spirit animal could possibly be… a wolf, a lion, a tiger, something cool and mysterious, something edgy and badass?
What’s Your Introverted Spirit Animal?
There are many spirit animals that suit the introverted personality. Dr. Barbara G. Cox, in an awesome article from Beacon Street USA, points out different introverted animals and their Myers-Briggs personality types. While I don’t necessarily agree that Myers-Briggs criteria can be applied to animal energy (it’s an oversimplification), it nevertheless shows just how complex animals really are, and gives a sense of how to relate to them as spiritual teachers.
The author lists these animals as particularly introverted:
- Deer (“ISFJ”)
- Beavers (“ISTJ”)
- Sloths (“ISFP”)
- House cats (“ISTP”)
- Wolves (“INFJ”)
- Octopuses (“INTJ”)
- Meerkats (“INFP”)
- Owls (“INTP”)
Introverts with Owl as their spirit animal, for example, may be particularly mindful, quiet, and perceptive. They are not always keen to socialize, and have a powerful sense of independence.
Sloth, by comparison, may be easygoing and peace-making types, prone to gentle considerateness of others. They are not unambitious, but will tend to privilege harmony and contemplation over worldly success.
People with Octopus as their spirit animal tend towards creativity and are highly intelligent. These are solitary creatures who are strangers to any form of captivity.
Which member of the animal kingdom resonates with you? Often, a spirit animal can be a favorite animal, an animal that others have associated with you, or one that you have received as a figurine or gift. You may even have a picture of your spirit animal posted on your desktop or sitting in your office.
Whether one considers oneself “spiritual,” “mystical,” into “shamanism,” or none of the above, thinking about the inner self in terms of spirit animals may still be useful. It is, in essence, a way of attaining soul-knowledge, using metaphors provided by the natural world.
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Discovering My Spirit Animal
Chances are, if you are visiting this blog, you have already spent a long time thinking about your inner life and trying to make sense of how it relates to the wider world. In any case, getting in touch with the sympathy we share with creatures in our surrounding environment can be a powerful healing tool.
Or, at least, it did for me. When I got home that afternoon, I excitedly recalled my spirit animal: a deer! I looked up the entry on the deer just to make sure:
“Deer symbolizes a gentle nature, sensitivity, unclear direction, and sacrifice. Deer connects to the purpose of your soul. This is a time of awakening, of realizing your true self, and the path you must take in this lifetime…Deer means you prefer a life filled with quiet and peace. You get overly stressed in hectic environments. You’d rather stay in the background, but your beauty, gracefulness, and compassionate nature pulls you to the forefront, time and time again.
Deer alerts you to danger, aggressive people, and negative situations, and it advises you to distance yourself from them…Now is the time to make changes. Let deer show you a calm, peaceful path, where you can turn any negatives into positives. Deer means there are opportunities coming your way, and this time, instead of saying no like you usually do, say yes. Step out of your comfort zone and enjoy a phenomenal experience. Take time to truly live.” (Alvarez)
I was floored. The description fit what I was going through so perfectly that I felt like the secrets of my life were being read to me. It was a deeply empowering experience that positively impacted me so much that I want to share it now with others.
How to Find Your Spirit Animal
Everyone deserves to connect to the source of their power, to understand their direction in life, and to honor their own unique path. Particularly introverts and highly sensitive people, who are easily drained by the chaotic energy, drives, and interests of others. If you are feeling a need or desire to connect to your inner soul-self, finding your spirit animal can help.
There are many ways to discover your spirit animal. One path toward discovery is active imagination. This method, developed by Carl Jung, involves achieving a meditative state, in which you attempt to manifest aspects of the unconscious into images or personified entities. Before you relax into meditation, set the intention of discovering your inner spirit animal. Say to yourself that you are seeking guidance from the spirit animal realm, that you come respectfully, and that you are ready to accept whatever you are shown.
As you close your eyes and calm your mind, different animals and images may come forth. Be patient. As an animal appears, gently and wordlessly ask it if it is your spirit animal. If an animal responds affirmatively (you will know!), then congratulations! You have found your spirit animal.
Another way to discover the animals that are attempting to get in touch with you is to pay attention to the creatures that continue to appear in your life, or that you continually notice.
For example, if an animal is trying to get your attention, you will suddenly begin to see it everywhere: on television, on your daily commute, in the newspaper — you may even overhear a colleague mentioning this animal, or your significant other will bring it up randomly in conversation. Receiving messages from your spirit animal requires being open to the signs and symbols that surround us everyday.
To contact the spirit world, we must be patient, compassionate, and most of all, attentive! So, the next time you are out for a walk, watching a film, or simply daydreaming, remember to keep an eye out for the animals who appear before you, whose energy resonates with you, and who seem to be silently calling your name.
You might like:
- The 32 Best Gifts for Introverts Under $50
- The INFJ’s Favorite Question
- How to Solve Personality Clashes: 6 Tips From a Therapist
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