SPIRIT ANIMALS

I feel so much gratitude this week, coming off of a rich and inspirational weekend with my tribe. Last year, for the first time, we decided to rent a house in the woods of Pennsylvania for a weekend, and the trip was cathartic and beautiful and amazing. We decided to do the same thing again this year, and this gathering was another resounding success. There is too much that happened and most of it is quite sacred to me, not even appropriate to share on my beloved blog. However, I do feel excited to share with you the details of one of the exercises that took place on this trip (each of us plans a spiritually reflective activity or workshop for the group to partake in). The exercise I led focused on exploring our individual spirit animals, and it was incredible and super fun! If you are fortunate enough to have a tribe, or even just a group of friends who are open to new things and with whom you feel comfortable being vulnerable with, give this a whirl!

If you are new to the idea of spirit animals, I recommend taking a look at Animal Speak by Ted Andrews. I acquired this book long ago and use it regularly, especially to translate the meaning of animals that appear in my dreams. My copy of this book is tattered and torn from over-use and I always learn something new when I refer to it. Also, Ted Andrews is generally considered a bit of an authority when it comes to all things nature-spirit-related, so if you are going to invest in any book about this kind of thing, I would go with anything by Ted Andrews.

PREPARATION

To prepare for this exercise, I purchased five small picture frames, one for each member of the tribe. I went with 5″ x 5″ and they were about $8 each at Michael’s Arts and Crafts. I then cut out five equal squares of bright white Bristol paper (any paper will do, but thicker is better) to fit within the dimensions of the frame. On one side of each square, I printed one of the names of each of our tribe members, so essentially, one square of paper for each member of the group.

I also purchased one large packet of colored pencils and one small packet of liquid glitter pens. I divided up the colored pencils and separated them into small bundles of four colored pencils each, keeping each bundle within a certain color group. For instance, one bundle had a yellow green, and dark green, a grass green, and an emerald green. Another bundle had an auburn color, a dark orange, a rust red, and another darky orange color. Then I matched each bundle with a color corresponding glitter pen. There were leftover neutral colors like browns and grays and blacks, so I kept these all together so everyone in the group could use them. Finally, I wrapped each bundle in a fun animal print wrapping paper and mixed them up so I couldn’t tell which color bundle was which. This whole sorting out of colors process was maybe the most exciting and fun in terms of preparation but also made me the most psychotically frenzied. Definitely don’t stress out about this part and just have fun with it!

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Finally, I selected a meditation track to be played during the exercise. I went with my intuition on this and also made sure to choose a track that I thought everyone would love. I typed in “Spirit Animal Meditation” and sampled different tracks. I ended up going with a beautiful and very evocative track called “Animal Images” by Shamanic Drumming World. I highly recommend using this track, as it was very effective and everyone LOVED it.

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THE EXERCISE

When it came time to begin the exercise, I set up the room beforehand and laid down the five white squares of paper (VERY IMPORTANT: KEEP THE SIDE THAT HAS THE NAME OF EACH PERSON IN THE GROUP FACE DOWN AND MAKE SURE TO TELL THE GROUP THAT THEY ARE NOT TO TURN THEM OVER), the five wrapped colored pencil packets, and five pencils. Before the group entered the room, I told them to pick a seat where they felt comfortable, and to intuitively choose one square of paper, one wrapped bundle, and one pencil, again reminding them not to turn over their square of paper. I also had them each choose a hard surface, such as a book, to lean on, so they could remain comfortable and work in their laps.

Once everyone was seated, I explained to them what we were going to do. I essentially told them that one of the members of the tribe’s name was printed on the back of their card, and that we were each going to be tapping into the spirit animal for that person, and then illustrate the animal on the card. I also told them that the bundle they chose contained several colored pencils and a matching glitter pen, and that this reflected the color energy of their spirit animal. I asked that they use those specific colors within their illustration since the color is just as significant as the animal. [I let everyone know that of course, if someone needs to borrow another color from someone, that’s fine, but it is important to stick to the color scheme that each person intuitively chose.] I made sure we did the meditation before we revealed the color, so our meditation would also not be tainted or influenced by the color we selected.

I played the meditation track, which was about four and a half minutes long, and checked in with everyone after the track was complete. This is a group activity, so of course, if someone needs more time, we all wait patiently, no pressure at all. Once we were all ready, we each went around and opened our wrapped bundles to reveal our spirit animal color. The surprise factor was the funnest part of this whole thing and we all loved it! Some group members saw colors during their meditation and ended up with that same color–nothing is a coincidence! Other group members felt uncomfortable with the color they received, indicating that they had effectively channeled the energy of another tribe member and clearly not their own. Once we had all opened our color bundles, I made sure to INSIST that everyone use the glitter in some part of their illustration. Glitter is an often overlooked and underutilized medium, but it is very important, especially when it comes to spirit, animals, and magic! Glitter is truly DER BERST thing ever invented…

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Everyone in our group is a highly gifted intuitive, so I didn’t really have to get into much detail with them about how to do their meditation and how to call upon the spirit animal. Some of us used reiki, and some of us asked our guides for assistance. For the most part, every one of us had a spirit animal reveal itself very quickly, and for the remainder of the meditation, each tribe member spent that time gathering more information about the animal, it’s environment, it’s personality, it’s significance, etc. I understand that working with intuition may be new to many people and can feel intimidating. However, it can be a very simple process, and the more you use it, the stronger your intuitive abilities become. For those of you who are new to intuitive meditations, here are some basics to keep in mind:

  • Make sure you are surrounded by people you trust and feel safe with.
  • Make sure your body is comfortable and relaxed.
  • Close your eyes and take some deep breaths.
  • It may be helpful to place your hand on the object (in this case, the square of paper with the person’s name printed on the back) so you can tap into the energy.
  • Your mind does not have to be completely clear, but make sure your mind is not racing with thoughts. Your mind should be calm and open. Let go and allow. [I had an animal in my mind before I began my meditation, but that was the animal I created with my thinking mind. When I actually closed my eyes and asked, a completely different animal appeared and it was very clear and remained clear for the entire meditation. This is the difference between using your thinking mind and your intuitive mind. It’s subtle but distinctive.]
  • Ask in your mind a direct question, such as, “Please show me the spirit animal for this person.” You don’t necessarily need to know who you’re asking, and you can default to something like “Spirit” or “Source” or “God” if you are unsure, but if you still feel like you want to address an entity of some kind.
  • If you do have angels or guides whom you connect with regularly, ask them to assist you.
  • If your mind bounces from one animal to another and doesn’t really stick to any one thing, that probably means that you are using your mind too much and not your intuition. When you are using your intuition, the response is usually pretty clear and simple and you can feel it. Emotions might accompany the information you receive. But if your mind is too bouncy bouncy, try taking some deeper and slower breaths and focusing your mind on something static, such as an apple. It sounds silly but it works. Next thing you know, some animal might pop into your mind’s eye view and take a chomp out of that apple. And that just might be the spirit animal you summoned. Go with it.
  • For this exercise specifically, you can also try imagining an environment in nature, such as an open field, and you can ask for the animal to reveal itself in the field. Just be careful, if for instance your animal is something found in the water, it might have trouble showing itself in that field. Just be open and allow the environment to change if it wants to. Visualizations are very helpful to concentrate on if your mind is overactive and not relaxed.
  • If you are really having trouble focusing, you can also try concentrating on your third eye area (the space slightly above the bridge of your nose, in the center of your forehead). Take deep breaths and focus only on your third eye. Once your mind has calmed down a bit, then ask again.
  • Try not to doubt yourself, and if you are not sure, just ask for more certainty.
  • Have fun!

Once our meditation was over, I played some lighter and more uplifting music to listen to while we worked on our drawings. I personally chose some tracks by Jai-Jagdeesh, but you can choose whatever you want!

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Final illustrations, from left to right: King Cobra, Mystery Bird (the bird in this meditation was very clear, but not exactly defined in terms of species, and that is okay!), Mink, Elephant, Owl

Once we were finished with our drawings, we each went around and first revealed our drawing (NOT THE PERSON’S NAME…YET) and explained the information that was received during the meditation. This part was so fun because we were all secretly trying to guess who’s animal was who’s and the surprise factor again made it so fun! Once we had all gone around and revealed our animals, we then went around again to reveal who’s name was on the back of each card. Lots of sharing, lots of back and forth, lots of fun and excitement. It was truly magical!

Once the glitter dried, I popped each image into one of the pre-purchased picture frames, and everyone got to take away something sacred from our weekend.

You can conduct this exercise in whatever way you want, but this format allowed for enough structure to make sure the result would be effective, and yet enough openness and time for play. Again, being with a group that is loving and trustworthy is key. Even though this was tons of fun, it was also very sacred and very special and everyone must feel safe to explore and be open within themselves and within the group.

My tribe and their spirit animals..

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Erin’s spirit animal is an owl, channeled and illustrated by Matt

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Matt’s spirit animal is a king cobra, channeled and illustrated by Erin

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Amanda’s spirit animal is a bird, channeled and illustrated by Hillary

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Libby’s spirit animal is a mink, channeled and illustrated by Amanda

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Hillary’s spirit animal is an elephant, channeled and illustrated by Libby

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Beautiful Pennsylvania

 

 

THE TRUTH ABOUT THERAPY

I think it is a safe assumption that every human being in the world needs and wants love. And it is also safe to assume that many of us do not always receive the kind of love and/or the amount of love we want and need. We might have had a fantastic childhood with loving parents, but maybe we were teased as children and that may have stripped us of a portion our love quotient. Or maybe our parents kinda sucked and we learned to depend on our friends, getting by, but still suffering from a deep love depletion. Either way, most of us in our adult lives have hopefully found ways to get the love we need and want, but there are always gaps and cracks lurking within our emotional topography, and love-lack is a fact of being human.

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@libbysaylor

I also believe there is a great amount of shame contained within this love-lack epidemic. I think human beings walk around all of the time feeling unloved, empty, confused, and broken, and usually believe they feel this way because they suck. Or, one might believe that everyone else sucks, but I think that is just an easier way to deal with the feelings of emptiness. Because when you get right down to it, it’s really painful to experience loneliness and feelings of not-good-enough-ness, and many people can’t really deal with this kind of pain. They self-medicate, find ways to escape, or latch onto anyone and everyone who sends the slightest bit of kindness their way. The latter method was and is my preferred method of choice. To me it makes the most sense to just reach out for love. But when we feel empty and gross and unlovable, we can reach too hard and too far and too fast, push others away, and feel even worse. Or, if self-medication is your faux-healing style, you might drink or drug or eat yourself into oblivion, leading to again…feeling much worse.

THERE IS ANOTHER WAY TO DEAL WITH THE PAIN, AND IT ACTUALLY MUST INVOLVE ANOTHER PERSON

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Two Clouds, Montana 2006 by Jay Wesler

I have been going to therapy for years. My father put my twin sister and I into therapy when we were five years old (we had some family trauma going on at the time). At that age, therapy was totally traumatic in and of itself and all it did was make me feel like something was really wrong. I knew something was really wrong, but I also knew that this woman (I remember her name was Nancy and she was really nice) was not really going to be able to actually help in terms of literally and physically relieving me of my actual trauma, and that is all I really wanted. In a way it made me feel lonelier and more frightened because I knew I was safe in that room, but I also knew I couldn’t stay in that room forever, and being there just compounded my feelings of sadness and fear, knowing that I couldn’t just go home with kind Nancy. I felt frustrated being taunted by the refuge of all that was Nancy. Why show me what I can’t have right now? It simply hurt too much to touch that level of kindness and love amidst all of the fear I was experiencing. Better to just forget that kind of love is even possible and work on simply trying to survive the storm. When you’re stuck in a storm, vulnerability keeps you exposed and shields keep you protected. I just couldn’t afford to feel the softness of love from someone who couldn’t save me, and I preferred to put my energy into building barriers of protection. Therefore, my stint with Nancy was quite brief.

In college, I returned to therapy, this time with a very different agenda. I no longer needed assistance with trauma, as I had survived my childhood and was now attempting to manage my life as a completely broken, insecure, neurotic, and miserable twenty-year-old. This time around, what I really needed from a therapist was a strategic method to help me obtain a boyfriend. For some reason, I had it in my mind that finding a boyfriend would relieve me of all of my painful symptoms of misery, angst, and self-hate. It seemed like a fairly logical and straightforward solution at the time. Unfortunately, I had this knack for repelling men. I was really, really good at it. They would come close, intrigued by my looks and quirk and outward awesomeness, but would quickly scatter after a short, short, short, time spent with me. Many times, a boy would bolt after one conversation. This obviously troubled me greatly and so I set out on a mission to untie the knots of my childhood, knowing my repellent nature was most likely caused by my deep-seated childhood issues. Once I could sort through my shit, find that repellent on/off switch, I could then finally land a male companion who loved me more than anything in the world, who could save me from myself, and who could essentially “make me happy.”

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Freshman year of college, 1998/99. I loved that coat.

This method worked kind of. After a few stints with several therapists, I did “land” a boyfriend. He had lots of love to give and absolutely tried to save me from myself. This worked really well for the both of us in some ways. I finally had someone tending to my needy emotions, refusing to leave me, and he had someone distracting him from his own issues. He was really comfortable playing the role of savior, allowing me to remain in the glamorous role of “crazy broken girlfriend.” I suppose after several years of that, my role began to feel more and more inaccurate and unnecessary, and my attempts at breaking out of that role with him by my side didn’t gel very smoothly. There were things I wanted to do and places I wanted to see and ways in which I wanted to grow, and he just wanted to stay put. The relationship ultimately ended and I left with a newfound mission to find myself and live a life of passion and love. I was devastated by the loss, but it was a move that we both needed to make for ourselves.

[During this period, I saw a really lovely therapist who began to gently present the idea to me that this relationship might not be serving me. I immediately stopped seeing her.]

Six months after the break-up, I found a job in New York City and moved to the Big A in the hopes of finding love, and thus, overall life awesomeness. I honestly didn’t really care that I had this kick-ass job at one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. If my life in NYC didn’t include finding and being with my soulmate, then what was the point really? Boy after boy after boy weaved in and out of my New York Life and shameful disappointments reigned. I wasn’t exactly dating during this period of my life. It was more like I would meet a guy, become instantly obsessed, try not to fuck it up, and then he would inevitably run. Or, if he hung around too long, I would push him away, even though in my mind I had decided that he had rejected me. It was a brutal pattern that I locked myself into and it lasted awhile. I went to therapy for a brief time as well but felt frustrated by her lack of useful advice and lovingly challenging feedback, so I left.

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2007-2011, NYC

After four honestly amazing years of fun, drama, excitement, and adventure, I became fairly convinced that I would probably not find my soulmate in New York. I was also longing for nature and home and was certain that I did not want to live my life as an elderly single spinster in such an urban jungle. In May of 2011 I left the city and returned to Pennsylvania.

I found much stability after leaving the city and for the very first time in my life, lived alone in my own apartment. I am still in my precious little space and it has been a beautiful, cathartic, and profoundly spiritual set of years. My space is so sacred to me, as I have made it so, and I have moved in and out of many growth and healing experiences during this time. My tribe (aka spiritual friend group) was formed since returning to PA, and I also experienced deep healing and forgiveness with the passing of my mother. I have created countless works of art in this space and have dated several men who still sucked but who stuck around a little longer than usual and didn’t suck quite as much as some other guys from my past. Progress.

Upon returning to PA, I of course continued to search for that “perfect therapist” since I was still ultimately single and beginning to lose hope. I was looking for that one therapist who could crack the code of my issues and release me from that mysterious thing that had been keeping me alone for most of my life. Whatever that thing was—I actually thought it was just one thing—I was certain that once I found a good therapist, she would zero in on that thing and help me remove it. She would swoop into my life with her therapy wand and cast away all of the mysteriously toxic muck that had been plaguing me for decades, so I could finally learn how to not be such a loser.

A PERSON’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THEIR THERAPIST IS REFLECTIVE OF THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH EVERYONE ELSE…A MACROCOSM OF THE MICROCOSM

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I don’t really understand what is going on in this image, but this is what came up when I Googled “macrocosm of the microcosm” and I think it looks pretty kick ass.

One of the main issues that blocked me from receiving the benefits of therapy was my “I have everything under control” mentality. I definitely believed that I knew exactly how to manage my life, I knew what I was doing, I knew what I needed, I knew how to go about getting it, and I really didn’t need anyone else’s input. I would seek input from everyone, including a therapist, whenever I got frustrated with the shitty results of my strenuous and exhausting efforts. But I would also reject everyone else’s input, usually to their faces, and this kept me in a truly vicious cycle of control. Only when I decided to surrender a huge chunk of that control (I might have even surrendered all of it at one point), did things begin to change.

During a point in my life when I felt I was at the end of my rope, perhaps just before The Goddess* arrived, I finally decided that whenever I ask for help, whether that be through prayer, or actual human inquiry, I would listen to whatever was said and take action based on that response. This took a great amount of trust in the Universe. I had to trust that my asking was a symbolic gesture, surrendering myself to the Universe, and that whatever came back was exactly what I needed to hear, an answered prayer so to speak. I blindly trusted that the Universe was working through the people in my life, guiding me and informing me, and I felt safe and relieved to finally be taking someone else’s advice besides my own. I was essentially allowing the Universe to guide me and truly trusted that I would not be led astray. I knew my way just wasn’t working anymore and I opened myself up to the world. I surrendered my control and softened my barriers. I let love in. And it wasn’t scary. It was great and it was easy.

*The Goddess refers to a profound shift I experienced within, after deciding to snap out of my addictive “find the guy” obsession. During this shift, I created The Goddess Attainable blog and continued on my journey with a me-centric love focus.

When I met my current therapist, I thought she was cool enough, although I wasn’t always certain that she “got me.” Our senses of humor were off and I don’t know if she was always able to keep up with my emotional analyses. At a certain point, I grew tired of her feedback or style or whatever thing that I always deemed incorrect about this or that therapist, and I decided I was going to drop her. I was seeing another medical advisor at the time and I casually let her know that I was going to move on from this therapist. I trusted this medical advisor for the most part and was always impressed by her sharp and profound insight. To my surprise, she urged me to maintain this relationship with my current therapist and to confront her about some things that might not be working for me. Dread. Never in a million years did I ever want to tell a therapist (or anyone else I was in a relationship with) my actual feelings about the relationship. Best to just leave and find someone better (this pattern for me has been absurdly repetitive in all of my relationships throughout my entire life). I would have rather done anything than confront my therapist and try to like, work things out. I recall this trusted medical advisor kept using the word “illuminating.” She said this could be an illuminating opportunity for me, and she was absolutely correct.

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@libbysaylor

Somewhere along the line, I learned something monumental about the point of therapy and it has made all the difference.

A GOOD THERAPIST’S MAIN AGENDA IS TO SIMPLY ACT AS A STEADFAST SOURCE OF UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

My therapist is a person like everyone else. I’m not sure I like her and I honestly have no idea if she likes me. But I do know she loves me. I know that whatever I think or feel or say, no matter what, it’s okay with her. She laughs at my jokes and she roots for me. And I never before saw the value in that. I never made the connection that a person simply loving me could heal me and ready me for more love. My biggest mistake in all of my years of therapy was putting my therapist on a pedestal and knocking her off when too much time had passed with me remaining single. That was literally how I judged all therapists. Honestly, I was so broken for so many years, I just didn’t even really imagine that unconditional love was even possible. Of course, my family members love me and I have always felt supported. But even family members have agendas and biased angles jutting into their streams of love. I know my love for them is biased and full of agendas most of the time. It’s kind of normal and it takes a lot of work to love someone unconditionally. But this is literally a therapist’s job. And most of them are actually pretty good at it. When I look back on all of my therapists, every single one of them (with the exception of “The Yawner” who always talked to me about her eating disorder), was so kind, so gentle, so interested in me, and so available. Perhaps, for so many years, I simply wasn’t ready to let that amount of love in. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for the The Return of Nancy, even in my adult life. Only when I truly decided to surrender it all and open myself up to guidance and assistance, did I actually realize the transformative healing power of unconditional love.

That’s it folks. That’s all there is to it. Pretty simple actually. Go into a room with a person for about fifty minutes and just let them love you. And then go back to that same person next week, and let them love you some more. And keep that going until something changes. It will, if you let it. I wish you luck with this. It’s a beautiful thing and completely worth the co-pay.

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Detail from ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo