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At one time, when we were people more connected to the natural world, many people felt particularly connected to certain animals. Nowadays, most of us spend a good portion of our days inside homes, building and cars and disconnected from the natural world and from the animals that live there.

You may feel a special connection to your pets, but that is not what “spirit animals” were all about at one time. Shamans and others in all cultures have found an importance of spirit animals. Sometimes these animals were seen as guides, or, as totems.

They are animal that are part of our souls or that can lead us to further spiritual growth.

I was told that wolves are probably one of the most misunderstood of all wild animals. Many believe and perceive them as cold-blooded killers, but they are described by scientists as friendly, intelligent and with many positive social traits, such as being gregarious. Wolves mate for life. Males are good fathers and quite playful.

I learned about them from a group of Native Americans many years ago. In a ceremony and series of weekend activities, participants attempted to find their spirit animal(s).  For me, that turned out to be the wolf and the rabbit. I had already felt a connection to rabbits, so that made sense. Though I had not felt any connection to wolves, they seemed like a pretty cool animal to have as a spirit guide. Of course, as I was told, those two together are predator and prey and that meant some conflict in myself.

All earth’s creatures from mammal to insect can be spirit animals. Some participants in that weekend were not thrilled to have a mouse or a bat be their spirit guide. One woman was very excited to have a dragonfly as her spirit guide. A buffalo seems like a manly totem animal, but one guy who got the butterfly was not thrilled.

The best way to find a spirit guide is to go outside and encounter your spirit animal, but that is not an experience that is available to most of us. You may feel some connection to a panda or penguin, but I suspect the chances of you meeting one outside of a zoo are pretty slim.

As some websites will tell you, perhaps as a city dweller, a rat or cockroach might be your guide. Neither sounds like a good animal guide, but consider the rat’s tenacity and cleverness. Consider how the cockroach is able to survive under almost any conditions and has adapted to living with people very well – even if people haven’t adapted as well.

Technically, finding your animal totem is not the same as recognizing a spirit guide. The totem animal is much more intuitive and personal. I was told the rabbit was my totem and the wolf was my guide.

Some suggestions for revealing these animals (besides a  spirit walk or journey into nature) involve using dreams and meditation.

It is 2017 and we are not only disconnected from nature, we are connected to technology. The two worlds seem at odds. But I will say that there are websites that claim to be able to help you find your spirit animals. (see below)  That is not the true path, but if it leads you to a better path or aids you in exploring your inner self, all the better.

As with the tarot, runes and other systems, I view all these as ways to examine yourself from another perspective. Nothing magical here. Closer to therapy than new age mysticism.

Some sites to explore:
https://www.trustedtarot.com/spirit-guides/spirit-animals/
http://www.spiritanimal.info
https://whatismyspiritanimal.com – explains my rabbit spirit in this way, and my totem wolf
A shamanistic view of the wolf appears at http://www.shamanicjourney.com/

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Back in the 1930s, Carl  Jung went on at length about his views on the Tarot, noting the late Medieval cards are “really the origin of our pack of cards, in which the red and the black symbolize the opposites, and the division of the four—clubs, spades, diamonds, and hearts—also belongs to the individual symbolism.

It is said that Swiss psychologist Carl Jung discovered “the internal Tarot” of the human mind with his notion of archetypes. And it could be also argued that Tarot was already an underlying layer of the collective mind, which is where archetypes are printed —those fundamental images that constitute the psychic constellation of the human being.

The meaning of the tarot cards (like he meaning of rune stones) changes depending on whether the card is seen normally or reversed. There is a lot about opposites in tarot, runes and the I Ching.

There are 78 Tarot cards which are like the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching. There are many possibilities in those relationships. This post is not meant to teach the intricacies of using the tarot cards, but you will find that there are many ways they are used. There are many “spreads” of the cards – dream spread, mandala spread, 10 cards, 3 cards.

I was never sure that Jung thought you could use the cards to predict the future. In fact, he said “We can predict the future when we know how the present moment evolved from the past.”  He viewed it, as I view it, as a way to examine your past and present in order to consider (rather than predict) the future.

A Tarot card or a hexagram plays into Jung’s “synchronicity” theories. Mary K. Greer’s tarot blog came up near the top of my tarot search results and she also has discussed Jung and how as psychological images these tarot symbols combine in certain ways, and the different combinations correspond to interpretations that Jung even called “playful.” The Fool, The Tower, The Lovers and the Hanged Man and the others are archetypal ideas.

Before we get too deep into that territory, let me say that we can use this divination as part of what Jung would call “individuation.”

Individuation is the psychic process by which one becomes himself, indivisibly, uniquely, a monad, as an expression of uniqueness and self-sufficiency at microcosmic level. It is, in Jung’s terms, the realization of the Self.

For my previous post, I used the I Ching to answer my question about whether I should continue teaching this year. The hexagram  “answer” was not clear to me. I thought it only fair to ask the tarot cards the same question.

I did a one card pull and got The Fool card.

The Fool is a very powerful card in the Tarot deck, usually representing a new beginning. And a new beginning means an end.

I didn’t do a full spread where the card’s position would tell me what aspect of my life would be subject to change. The Fool portends important decisions ahead. Not always easy ones. Maybe an element of risk. for you. Approach the changes with optimism and care to gain the most positive outcome.

I read the card as telling me that I am entering a new phase of life. Is it good or bad? Not clear. I would need to do a spread with a future position.

 

The Fool can indicate foolishness, but it seems to be more optimistic and is usually interpreted as a “Yes” answer to your question.

Maybe the tarot answer is the answer I wanted. Maybe I willed it to be the card. Maybe it is a coincidence.

Maybe if I did the I Ching again, I would get a better result.

So I did the I Ching again. This time I got TUI. This is known as “joy”. It has the elements of Lake over Lake. It is a good hexagram to get as Tui indicates a period of success and prosperity is entering your life.

Isn’t that the answer I wanted?

I think I will let the summer end and when autumn arrives I will look to the runes and spirit animals and other divinations. I predict that there will be more changes and predictions in my future.

I went to a workshop recently on using the I ChingThe I Ching is also known as Classic of Changes or Book of Changes. It is an ancient Chinese divination text and the oldest of the Chinese classics. There are more than two and a half millennia of commentary and interpretations. It is an influential text and it is read throughout the world. Besides its use for divining the future, it has provided inspiration to the worlds of religion, psychoanalysis, business, literature, and art.

It is a complicated book to study. I had a copy from my college days that I had annotated with tips on how to the read the toss of coins and the resulting hexagrams. But that copy was loaned to a girlfriend many years ago and never returned. I bought a used copy from Amazon a few weeks before the workshop and tried to relearn what I had once known about using it.

I was intrigued by a series of Post-It notes that the previous owner had left inside the book. Reading those notes took me back to my earlier uses of the text.

The previous owner had written her questions on pages with the hexagrams she received.

“Hexagram 31  What is my true calling?
Hexagram 49  How can I regain my sparkle and preserve?
How can I go about enforcing myself to go in the right direction regarding work and happiness together?
Hexagram 47 In what ways can I go about healing myself that I have not yet covered. What is my missing link and how can I find it?
How can I ensure that I will make the right decisions to go down the right path?”

Those are big questions.

Working with this 5,000-year-old Chinese book of wisdom, some people turn to workbooks that are designed to help novice truth-seekers find meaning.

But this is 2017 and so there is no need to have the Book-of-Changes and Chinese coins. You can ask your question online, click six virtual coins and get your hexagram. I just did that.

I asked about whether I should continue teaching this year, as opposed to fully retiring. My answer was Hexagram 27. Here is the virtual version of the answer or guidance. It is simplified but not simple.

Hexagram 27
Beneath the immobile Mountain the arousing Thunder stirs.
The Superior Person preserves his freedom under oppressive conditions by watching what comes out of his mouth, as well as what goes in.

Endure and good fortune will come.
Nurture others in need, as if you were feeding yourself.
Take care not to provide sustenance for those who feed off others.
Stay as high as possible on the food chain.

You are a conduit in this instance, able to provide the sustenance needed by others. Position yourself to nourish the truly needy and worthy. Avoid situations where you might be coerced into supporting the parasites and vermin who deprive your true charges.
Your own nourishment is an issue here, too.

Remember Lao Tzu’s three Great Treasures: Only the person possessed of Compassion, Modesty and Frugality can remain fit enough to stay free of desperation and keep control of the situation

That is very open to interpretation – as with a horoscope, runes or tarot cards. What is my answer? Not clear.

The I Ching was originally used for divination. But it is not simple prognostication. Any serious user will tell you that that you, as the diviner, cultivate an understanding of the world and the self. Without this understanding, the text is useless. That is why most version have the commentaries.

Tomorrow, the tarot cards…

wow_signal

The Wow! signal. The original printout with the handwritten Wow! by Ehman (Big Ear Radio Observatory and North American AstroPhysical Observatory)

I know that most people think of the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence as the stuff of movies and science-fiction, but it is quite real.

We just crossed the 40th anniversary of the “Wow! Signal.”  I recall hearing news reports on August 15, 1977 when it was detected.  It was a strong, narrowband radio signal detected by Dr. Jerry R. Ehman while working on a SETI project at the Big Ear radio telescope of Ohio State University.

It lasted for 72 seconds, and it had the hallmarks of a potential non-terrestrial and non-solar system origin. Ehman was so amazed at how closely the signal matched the expected signature of an interstellar signal, that when he saw it he circled the signal on the computer printout and wrote the comment “Wow!” on its side. This comment became the name of the signal.

As far as I could find, no one has yet conclusively explained the origin of that signal. A current theory suggests it may have been a comet, because as comets pass by the sun, ultraviolet light breaks up their ice, creating a large cloud of hydrogen gas around them. The frequency of the Wow! signal matches a frequency naturally emitted by hydrogen. This means that comets passing in front of a telescope like the Big Ear would generate a brief signal that might match the Wow! signal.

But in 1977, no one knew these comets existed, so no one had considered this idea, and the media buzz was ALIENS.

arecibo_observatory_aerial_view

The largest single-dish radio telescope in the world is in the jungles of Puerto Rico. Arecibo Observatory is operated by Cornell University for the National Science Foundation. It came into operation in 1963. Among other things it has been used by SETI and features in the film Contact by Carl Sagan.

The SETI Institute has had a mission to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe. The  Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is actually the collective name for a number of activities to detect intelligent extraterrestrial life.

Even the ancients wondered about extraterrestrial life. SETI is listed as getting started in 1959 when Cornell physicists Giuseppi Cocconi and Philip Morrison published an article in Nature in which they pointed out the potential for using microwave radio to communicate between the stars. SETI still surveys the sky to detect the existence of transmissions from out there.

In the mid-1980s, the United States government contributed to SETI, but recent work has been primarily funded by donations.  The Institute comprises 3 centers, the Center for SETI Research, the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe and the Center for Education and Public Outreach.  They employ over 150 scientists, educators and support staff.

SETI doesn’t only listen – they transmit. Active SETI (also known as METI = “Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence”) consists of sending signals into space in the hope that they will be picked up by an alien intelligence.

Not everyone believes that extraterrestrial civilizations will be as benign as the lovable E.T.

Stephen Hawking wrote in A Brief History of Time that we should “lay low” and not alert extraterrestrial intelligences of our existence. The science fiction author David Brin has also expressed similar concerns.

If you’re not afraid to make contact with some aliens, SETI@home is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers like yours in the search.  You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data on your home computer when you’re not using it.

Dream lucidity means that while you are dreaming, you are aware that you are dreaming. There is a chance that it has happened to you. But there is a better chance that you have not had a “lucid dream.”

So, does this seem familiar? You are in the middle of a normal dream and suddenly realize that they are dreaming. This type actually has a name: a dream-initiated lucid dream.

I have had this type of dream twice. And despite trying to initiate a lucid dream, I have not been able to force one to occur though there are lots of suggested ways to make a lucid dream more likely.

An even rarer and odder type is called a wake-initiated lucid dream. That occurs when you go from a normal waking state directly into a dream state, with no apparent lapse in consciousness.

There are references to this phenomenon in the ancient Greek writings of Aristotle. He wrote that:  “often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream.”   I question the “often” part of his statement, but clearly this is something that we have observed for a very long time.

The term ‘lucid dream’ to describe the phenomenon was coined by Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in his 1913 article “A Study of Dreams.”

There is no way to force yourself to have a lucid dream, but there are methods that are said to make it more likely. I have written before about lucid dreams and I have tried all the methods I have read about.

One suggestion, which I have followed for many years, is to keep a dream journal. I keep my beside my bed and a few times a week I have a dream that remains clear when I awaken and I write it down. 99.9% of those dreams are not lucid. The journal is supposed to train you to remember more of your dreams. We all know that dreams fade very quickly if we don’t review them when we are awake by writing them down or telling them to others. I have also tried using a voice recorder to eliminate the time that writing takes. I have had dreams fade away while I am writing them down.

I have also been told that repeating a phrase such as “I will be aware that I’m dreaming” before you fall asleep. The official name for this technique is “Mnemonic Induction to Lucid Dreaming” (MILD). This is also a way to turn on awareness of your dreaming. Another awareness reality check is to stare at their hands for a few minutes before they go to sleep.

Increasing your ability to have lucid dreams is part of  the Tibetan Buddhist practice of dream Yoga, and the ancient Indian Hindu practice of Yoga nidra.

Neuroscientists are also interested in lucid dreaming as a way to study differences in brain activities while waking and sleeping. I read about a study in which researchers triggered lucid dreaming using low-power electrical currents of specific frequencies applied directly to the head. That is not a method most of us can access – and personally I wouldn’t want to try it.

Lucid dreaming is not without risk. People who are not mentally stable should probably consult with a doctor before experimenting.

All of experience some sleep paralysis during the REM cycle of dreaming. That sounds bad but it is a good thing as it prevents you from physically acting out your dreams. You don’t want to leap off your bed while asleep when you’re dreaming about jumping off a dock into the water. If while lucid dreaming you are in that  half-dreaming and half-waking state, you may feel awake but be in a kind of sleep paralysis.

For myself, the two times that I experienced a lucid dream state they were uninitiated. It just happened. Both times it was during a recurring dream. In one instance (which I wrote about “pre-lucidity” two years ago), I had a dream about walking down a particular street, stopping at a home and walking up the steps and knocking on the door. I had that dream three times before. The fourth time I had the dream I thought while I stood at that door that “This is a dream and I need to keep knocking until someone answers.” I did that and I finally met the person behind the door. It was someone I know, and I wrote as much about the dream as I could recall in my journal, but I still have no interpretation of its meaning.

Last autumn I wrote here about the idea of “forest bathing,” which sounds like it might require getting naked in the woods and some water. It doesn’t.

The practice began in Japan in the early 1990s and was known as Shinrin-yokuwhich translates roughly as forest bathing.

More recently I heard an NPR story about someone who went for a forest bathing adventure on the pocket of forest outside Washington D.C., Theodore Roosevelt Island, on the Potomac River. If that doesn’t sound wild enough that seems to be part of the point of the activity.

You don’t need hundreds of acres of forest or water or miles of trails or a destination. You probably don’t need a certified forest therapy guide either, though some guidance is always helpful.

Forest bathing is about slowing down and becoming immersed in the natural environment. Immersed is a good word. It does mean to plunge into a liquid, but the dictionary also says to involve deeply, absorb and to baptize. In a good forest bath, you would plunge into the smells, textures, tastes and sights of the forest. Touch the tree bark, smell the pine needles, loam or the black walnuts, taste the mulberries.

It is meant to cleanse the mind of the accumulated mental detritus from the outside world.

One of the exercises that might be done in your bath time is the body scan. It is a technique I learned many years ago in a mindfulness workshop. It can be done any place, but in a natural setting it will take on another dimension.

Lie on your back, legs uncrossed, arms relaxed at your sides, eyes open or closed. Focus on your breathing for about two minutes until you start to feel relaxed. Then, turn your focus to the toes of your right foot. Notice any sensations you feel while continuing to also focus on your breathing. Imagine each deep breath flowing to your toes. Remain focused on this area for one to two minutes.

Think of this as a guided meditation, though easily self-guided. You move focus to the sole of your right foot, then right ankle, and move up to your calf, knee, thigh, hip, and then repeat the sequence for your left leg.

When I first tried this I was so relaxed by the time I had moved up my torso, through my back, chest and shoulders, that when I tried to focus on my head, scalp and hair, I fell asleep. That is not what is supposed to happen, but it did. I have used the technique to fall asleep on nights when my brain can’t shut down.

A body scan is not a trick. It is a way to shift your focus and train your mind to go where you want it to go. In an age of many distractions, being able to control when you want to let your mind wander (which can be a creative thing) and avoiding drifting into worry and doubt is a powerful ability.

This all sounds very “new age” and a lot of people unfortunately use that term in a disparaging way. They lump together everything from well-documented practices like yoga and meditation to more fringe practices. For example, many people would probably dismiss aromatherapy and yet we all experience emotional responses to aromas in our lives – the smell of baking bread, the scent of herbs you brush against in a garden or the pine forest you walk through.

Forest bathing is being studied as an alternative kind of therapy or medicine. The NPR story I heard said that a 40 minute walk in the forest is associated with improved mood and feelings of health and a real decrease in levels of the stress hormone cortisol .Excess stress can play a role in headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, and arthritis, among many other ailments.

The idea of trying in your day to “Be here, not there” seems so simple, but is so difficult for most of us.

Henry David Thoreau knew that his little Walden woods didn’t need to be very far from Concord to be an escape. I have my own nearby small woods that certainly doesn’t qualify as a forest but allows me to turn off the outside world. It is more than walking or meditating or being mindful in your home, office, or on city streets. Those are all good things to practice, but this is about being in the natural world.



Listen to “A Crash Course in Body Scan Meditation” for a guided body scan.

Learn more about forest therapies at natureandforesttherapy.org. Perhaps you might even become a guide one day.

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