The Spirit Guide That Never Leaves You
It’s hard to do life alone. The toughest things I’ve been through were so painful, not just because of the challenges, but because of how alone I felt in meeting them. Since time immemorial humans have looked to wiser beings during hard times for companionship and support. Today, we often conceive of these guides as off-planet spirits, but some of the earliest teachers for humanity were the denizens of the natural world — including animals.
Humans have revered animals from the time we walked upright. As our elder brothers and sisters, animals teach us about how to be ourselves. By looking to our animal familiars, we find guidance and reassurance about how to navigate this world— what to move towards, or away from, and how to gracefully walk on Earth. While different cultures have understood this sacred relationship in different ways, the importance of animal guides is foundational to many Indigenous societies around the world.
Anyone who has connected with an animal familiar will tell you that a relationship with this guiding spirit is a profound bond. Yet you don’t need to go on a rigorous quest to meet one. In fact, you don’t even need to go anywhere at all. Because there is a sacred animal guide that has been with you since birth (and won’t leave you until your very last day): your own body.
Artwork by Wang Yiguang
We are animals. We forget this as we go about our busy lives, but it’s true. In the Western world, the ability to transcend our animal origins is often glorified. But we didn’t come here to rise above, we came here to root in. To experience what it was like to be “of earth” and to commune with the physical world— including the intelligent animal of our body.Feeling disconnected from our bodies is a common by-product of the modern world. If you are an empath or highly sensitive person it’s even more common to live slightly outside of yourself. It’s also normal to feel at odds with your physicality at times, especially when dealing with illness or pain. But incredible things happen when we befriend our bodies as the guides that they are.
I remember when I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in my mid-twenties— just as I was finally recovering from five years of chronic pain. Exhausted and disheartened, every morning I’d hike to the top of the hill overlooking the little blue cottage where I lived and start my day by giving gratitude. I gave thanks for the food I ate and the water I drank— but when it came to giving gratitude for my body, I struggled. After years of health issues, my body felt like my enemy. But over time, I learned how to listen to my body’s messages, following its guidance about when to rest, what food to eat, and what healing avenues would work for me. The end result? I eventually healed my body from Lyme and chronic pain. Or really, my body healed me. And I finally realized the very thing all those years of illness were trying to teach me: my body was never my antagonist— it was my oldest friend.
I once heard a shamanic teacher say that the most protected, and powerful, place we can be is inside our bodies. When we are truly grounded in our bodies, we have access to our greatest reserves of energy. We intuitively know how to take care of ourselves and we can always sniff out which path to take. Your body is a guide for your spirit. And if you only listen, it will tell you which direction to head in.
Here in Appalachia many of our oldest roads follow the incised trails of ancient animal paths. The road that winds past my apothecary was once the ancestral track ways of the long-disappeared mountain buffalo. Whenever I look out my window, I’m reminded that even the most modern of roads has their roots in our deep animal knowing.
Your body is a guide that is always with you; it is an expression of the Earth’s innate way-finding brilliance. With its instinctive navigational intelligence, your body will show you how to locate the migration routes your soul came here to experience.
As we begin to see the glimmers of light at the end of this tunnel in the pandemic, it’s a powerful time to reflect on everything you’ve learned from your body this past year. As you step into this new era, ask yourself: what path is the gentle and wise animal of your body pointing you towards now?
Because, in the end, we came here to have a body. As souls on a very human journey, we came to learn how to follow the guidance of this beautiful, sensitive, gentle and miraculous animal. To walk with one hand on the shaggy mane of our steadfast inner selves as we find our paths forward.
P.S. What would your body look like as an animal guide? I imagine my body as a big beautifully woolly mammoth. Enormous, loving, gentle and kind. With me throughout my days and always helping to nudge me in the right direction.