Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Spring is in the Air

My husband and I went to the Derby Hill Bird Observatory yesterday. We took our bouncy dog, Brianna who, being partly bird dog and mostly people dog, thought it was the most fun ever. We were taking an amateur stab at catching the spring migration, based on the Derby Hill website saying the migrations happen anywhere from March to May... this being April, we figured we might have a chance.

It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, the kind of day I'd been longing for since... well, since November, I imagine. We were suprised to find a parking lot full of lawn chairs and powerful spotting scopes and people who have obviously spent more time bird watching than we have. I felt a little under-equipped with my digital camera and our basic binoculars, and I admit we both expressed spotting scope envy.

We retreated to the bench overlooking Lake Ontario and had a picnic lunch. Brianna took care of the bits that fell on the ground, and we happily identified a flock of Red-Breasted Mergansers out on the lake. We took turns watching them dive, play and fish in the clear, cold waters of the newly melted lake.

After lunch we decided to brave the somewhat intimidating crowd over in the parking lot. They were surprisingly friendly and helpful, pointing out the Golden Eagle flying overhead, showing us where we could borrow another set of binoculars and lawn chairs. Occasional shouts of "Kestral! 6 o'clock!!" "Sand Hill Cranes over the lake!!" and people pointing out where to direct our binoculars. Sometimes I wondered if people really did see the bird they were joyfully identifying, but most often I was at least able to catch a glimpse of the illusive raptor (including getting a good look at the Golden Eagle as it flew directly overhead) or sea bird.

During the couple of hours we were there, raptors and sea birds alike made a fly by, including pelicans, cranes, eagles, hawks, osprey, kestrals, and more. These impressive special interest birds overshadowed a bit the smaller, more abundant local feathered neighbors, and after a bit I wandered over to the bird feeders and watched the entertaining battle over who got to be at what bird feeder. Red wing blackbirds, cowbirds, bold little chickadees, shier nuthatches and tufted titmice, a hairy woodpecker and a lone chipmunk mostly took their turns diving for seeds at the feeders. Kingfishers and barn swallows swooped around overhead.

All in all it was a wonderful afternoon and served as a reminder that we share the planet with an incredible variety of life. Now that spring is in the air, put away your excuses and get outside and connect with the earth. You will walk away a little richer for it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spirit Animals

There is no reason we shouldn't all be successful, healthy, safe and happy with all the Guidance we have from Above. Yet, most of us don't realize it, or at the very least, don't pay attention to it. We have God, Guardian Angels, Spirit Guides, and -- what?? Now you say we have Animal Guides, too?

Maybe, for those of you that have a hard time relating to Angels and Spirit Guides, the concept of an Animal Guide may be easier to work with. Some of us are just animal people. Almost everyone knows someone who relates better to animals than humans, or perhaps you are that person.

The concept of an Animal Guide is not a new one. Long before our ancestors arrived in America, the Native Americans believed that all life was sacred, and animals played an important role in daily and spiritual life. History suggests that many societies and cultures believed in animals as deities or messengers of the gods, including Ancient Egyptians, Africans, Aztecs and Mayans. Don't forget mythological animals. Dragons, unicorns, Pegasus, the Minotaur and their legendary brothers and sisters can all be in your repertoire of spirit guides.

In modern society, though we have a tendency to toss aside those beliefs as fairy tales and superstition, many people still look for and act upon messages from Animal Guardians. These folk recognize animals for their connectedness to earth and the Creator, and have begun learning how to work with animals as guides.

How do you know if you have an Animal Guide? Chances are you have several. Often, the easiest way to find out what creature is your spirit animal is to think about an animal that you have a particularly strong connection to. Many people have a favorite, maybe one they completely obsess over. Is your office space decorated floor to ceiling with dolphins? Do you have more pictures of wolves in your living room than you do of your children or grandchildren? Does a friend's normally shy cat instantly gravitate to you? These animals are probably connected to you on a spiritual level.

You can also use meditation and visualization to find a spirit animal. Find a space where you will not be disturbed. Close your eyes and picture yourself in a special place in nature. It can be any place that brings you peace: a beach, a pond, a meadow or a forest glen. Once you've gotten a good feel for the space you have chosen, imagine a light mist forming a short distance away. When you are ready, imagine an animal walking out of the mist towards you. You instantly recognize it and feel comfortable with it, and it's a joyous reunion. You can communicate with it, and discuss whatever you like with it. Before you leave the space, note the color of your animal, the size, specific breed or other distinguishing features, and remember you can always go back to this place and visit your spirit animal.

Then you ask . . . now that I've got an idea about which animal is my guide, what do I do next? Here are some ways to interpret what your guide may be trying to tell you. First, think about what that animal means to you. Tape a picture of it to a piece of paper and write below it some words or phrases that come to mind about that animal. Now think about how those traits might relate to you. Are these things you could stand to work on, or do you feel that they are your strong points? You can enhance your knowledge of your spirit animal by studying its behavioral traits and social structure, along with its mythology and history.

It may surprise you to know that if there is an animal you absolutely hate, or one that sends you screaming from the room . . . that animal more than likely has a spiritual meaning or a message for you. If you absolutely can't stand this creature, what aspect of your life terrifies you, or what about yourself have you been avoiding? Often coming to terms with the message these animals bring will bring you some relief from those strong reactions.

Working with your animals is easy. You may see a particular behavior that stands out to you. You may spot your animal -- if it's a more unusual animal you may see several of them in a row. These can be signs that your animal is trying to get your attention. In one example a person related seeing a crow (that person's spirit animal) standing on a sign that simply said, "BEGIN". . . now there's an interesting way to send a message!

You can thank your spirit animal for working with you and providing you with guidance. Honor and acknowledge it by keeping its picture nearby, maybe taking a bit of clay and making your own sculpture. (Don't worry about making it pretty; it's just for you!) Sometimes, you might even find a feather or some fur from your animal - a gift. If you are seeking specific guidance or support from a spirit animal, thank them for it ahead of time.

The most important thing I can tell you is that there are no rules. Don't feel that because the cat you saw in your meditation was purple that you were somehow wrong. As I mentioned above, fantastic animals should not be tossed aside as just imaginary. They exist in the hearts and minds of many people, and that alone gives them importance and power. Trust your intuition. When you're working out the specific meaning of your animal and you feel that one trait or behavior suits you more than another, go with it. I often suggest keeping a journal, or writing a report about the animal to get in better touch with them.

I leave you with a welcome to the magical world of animal wisdom and guidance, and I wish you wondrous journey. May you find the success, health and happiness that you deserve.

Connecting with the World Around You

I find myself guilty of this as often as those around me. I get to running around my busy, important life and forget the rest of the world around me. Oh, I am aware of the person driving slow in front of me, or the one cutting me off at the intersection. I’m aware of the things around me that are difficult or inconvenient, but I forget to look at the little things in the world that make life truly worth living, that makes the difference between “existing” and “living”.

When I am in a good place in life, I find that I am noticing wonderful little things about the world; the smell of fresh cut grass; a flock of baby starlings following their mom around the yard, begging to be fed; a little chipmunk with overflowing cheeks peering at me from the notch of a tree. Suddenly the person driving slowly doesn’t seem so bad, I have time to look at the horses standing in a field of buttercups, or to notice two deer with their fawns romping and playing in crazy circles.

All it really takes is for you to STOP, even just for a minute, and look around. The natural world is not separate from us; it lives side by side with us every day. It reminds us how life lived simply is probably the most effective and functional life there is. Taking a trip to the park to feed the ducks will create more good memories for your children than how high they can score on their favorite video game. A walk in the woods will do more good for your blood pressure than a dozen pills.

Take a few minutes each day to appreciate the nature around you, from the ladybug on your roses to the spotted calf at the dairy farm you pass on your way to work. Your day may suddenly seem a little brighter, and who knows, you might find yourself stretching those minutes into hours!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Your Life as a Universe

Our bodies are in essence a universe of cells, microscopic organisms, going about their daily life in their own small world. Do they give a thought to the fact that they are a part of a greater consciousness? Do they just go about their jobs, without thinking what part it is they play in that universe? Or do they understand fully that their lives are part of a great tapestry of life that becomes the human body? Do they understand that for that expanse of time whether it be a day, or 80 years, between creation and death; that they are part of something much more?

Aren’t humans just as significant? We go about our daily grind. We feel insignificant, useless, like we aren’t filling a greater purpose. Yet, aren’t we, by simply being, by contributing to the world around us, no matter how simple or how complex that contribution, fulfilling just as important a role in our world as a single cell contributes to the beating of a human heart? If we simply ceased to be, wouldn’t we leave a hole that would need to be filled?

When I say I believe that We are God, and God is Us, this concept makes perfect sense to me. Aren’t we just as likely the atom or the cell that has its purpose in the Universe and that the Universe is just as likely something as simple as a single cell in the Being we call God, the Creator, Great Spirit or Allah? If so, isn’t the homeless person on the street just as much an important part of the structure of that Universe, of the Creator, as the Wall Street Executive, the Convenience Store Clerk, the Waitress, the Doctor? Is one cell more important than the other? Don’t we all need each other on some basic level? Do we learn humility from that homeless person? Do we get courage from the acts of others? Would there be any point to the world if we were all one simple cell, doing the same job? What would that create? Does one kind of cell make up the whole human body? Does one kind of planet make up the whole solar system? Is there only one kind of star in the universe?

To this I make my point. No one is insignificant. Even if you feel like you aren’t fulfilling your idea of what your purpose in life is, you are still fulfilling a purpose. You still make up a part of the world around you. You are still a part of each person around you as much as you are a part of God, and God is a part of you. We are all attached by the Web of Life as much as the planets of our Solar System are connected to the Sun, and as much as all the Solar Systems and Galaxies out there are connected to some single source, something that is the point of Creation. This is the thing that drives us all to put a face, a name to that connection, to that source. We find our Religions; we find the names and the faces that fit into what makes us comfortable with that infinite connection. We call them Gods and Saints and Messiahs. We look for answers. Some of us find them, some of us give up, and some of us spend our lives searching for the answers that were within us the entire time. God is within us, we are as much a part of the creator as the mountains, the animals, the trees. You are fulfilling your purpose simply by being here. Once you let go of the idea that you must somehow FIND your purpose, it will come to you. Because just like the cells that make your heart beat, you are here for a reason, and it will come to you as naturally as the beating of your heart…