I recently had the opportunity to partake in a 4-day shamanic ceremony in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. This article is Part 2 of the larger story, if you would like to read the full version that includes taking Kambo and Ayahuasca, you can do so here.
…Still riding the waves of my Kambo experience, two friends and I embarked on another journey with the same Shaman at the same place — one that would help us to discover our spirit animals.
This is something that I have always been fascinated by. I have heard reports of people who took things like Ayahuasca and experienced a special connection with a specific animal who, “guided” them throughout the experience. I’ve always been slightly envious of this.
I’ve always loved animals, but I’ve never honestly had one animal in specific that called to me. I had some theories about what animals I could potentially be, but if I were honest with myself, none of them really stood out in any meaningful way.
Going into the experience I had a few animals on my mind.
- Lion — My astrological symbol is a Leo, and because of this people have always referred to me as the lion. One friend in particular also calls me “leaozinho” (little lion), and it’s a name I’ve become fond of. I’m also considered to be an intense person, which is why the lion seemed to particularly resonate. HOWEVER, I’ve never really felt a strong connection with felines in general, and other than the intensity aspect, never felt like the lion was my type of animal.
- Monkey — As a child I was teased and called monkey boy. I’m also always bursting with energy, I’m loud, and my mind jumps from place to place like a monkey jumping from tree to tree. Energetically, I can see the connection with monkeys. Again though, never felt a particular connection to this animal.
- Dogs — If there’s any animal I feel represents my personality best, it’s definitely a dog. For one, dogs have no shame in walking up to another dog and saying hello. I’ve always been the same way — I can connect with any human from any walk of life and immediately establish rapport. Secondly, dogs have this “SQUIRREL!” effect, where they can be focused on one thing, and BOOM, distraction arises and the dog starts chasing it. I’ve been very similar where I can be very focused on one topic, but it’s also very easy to distract me and get me off on a new tangent. For this reason when people always asked me “what is your spirit animal” I’ve normally answered dog and given this justification.
Interestingly enough…none of these animals became the animal that I connected with :)
We arrived at the center around 7pm for the festivities to begin. Before we got started, they offered Rapé to those who wanted to indulge. My nose was still clogged from the previous day, so I declined and waited patiently for the ceremony to begin.
Eventually they brought everyone inside and we gathered around a couch, where the Shaman and his crew were seated. Before discovering our spirit animals, he gave a discourse on a variety of information that is necessary to the appreciation of the process and the ancient traditions we were about to embark on.
Guided meditations — discovering my spirit animal
When the discourse was finally finished, it was time to dive into the world of spirit animals
Only problem is after nearly an hour of trying to listen, I was already nearly falling asleep.
The lights were turned down. The drumming and chanting began. Apolo began to guide us through the meditation….And I began to pass out
I don’t really remember much of the first guided meditation, but there were two specific parts that I remembered.
At one point in the guided meditation he said that we walked up to a tree and were supposed to ask it something.
I remember that when I walked up to the tree, there was a giant hole in the center, with an owl sitting in the middle, staring at me with its eyes wide open.
I wanted him to walk with me when it was time to leave, but he wouldn’t come with me. He told me I needed to walk alone for now.
Then it went black.
The next thing I remember was coming out of the meditation (sleep). I could see a bird of some kind flying by my side, but I couldn’t tell what type of bird it was.
I awoke a bit frustrated that I fell asleep. Some other people seemed to have distinct visions, and I felt like it didn’t work for me.
Interestingly, as people began to discuss their experiences, some curious things happened.
For one, the whole guided meditation was about birds, and I had no idea that this was the case. The fact that I had two separate visions of birds, with no previous knowledge the meditation was about birds, was something that made me scratch my head. Especially because he never used the word “birds”, and only used species of birds, none of which I knew the words for in Portuguese.
I asked about the birds used, but I didn’t have a vision of any of them. There was an eagle, a condor, and another smaller bird native to Brazil.
And then he mentioned owls — Apparently, Owls represented confusion, mystery, uncertainty.
Despite my lack of connection with the four birds we were meant to see, I had a connection with one of the more mysterious ones. I decided to dive deeper.
When he finished speaking I asked his English speaking assistant to elaborate on what the owl meant. He explained to me that the Owl is known as the “guide to the unknown sides of ourselves.”
In the spiritual world, owls are meant to guide us to where we can’t see. They can guide us to the dark sides of ourselves and help us to understand our fears, insecurities, weaknesses, pain, etc. When an owl shows up, it’s time to dive into the unknown, the parts of yourself left undiscovered.
This blew my mind — On the way to the workshop my friend and I were discussing our intentions for the upcoming Ayahuasca ceremony. I said to him that I wanted to cast out the dark side of myself. I want to find my fears and weaknesses, confront them, overcome them, and befriend them.
I was inspired by an image posted by Aubrey Marcus —
This was the intention I wanted to bring with me into my ayahuasca ceremony. To accept myself fully, both light and dark, after having seen the darkness come out of me and be brought into the light.
Now here I am doing a guided meditation where I fall asleep, and the only clear memory I have is of an owl, an animal meant to help guide us in seeing our dark sides?
C’mon mr owl let’s dive down the rabbit hole!!!
I’ll Leave it at that for now and chalk it up to a mere coincidence.
Guided meditation #2 — the main event
Now it was time for meditation number two. This time I was determined not to fall asleep.
The meditation began as if you were walking through a tunnel. A dark cave where you can’t see anything. You are walking and walking, maybe even flowing through the tunnel like water, moving quickly. Whatever it is, follow the feeling of moving through the cave at whatever speed.
Then suddenly you emerge.
You’re in a new place.
Where are you?
When I emerged I was in the middle of the desert.
I was walking aimlessly until I saw an oasis. I continued to walk towards it and it got closer and closer.
He explained that now is when you might see an animal.
However, just because you see an animal doesn’t mean it’s the animal you need.
You must first receive its recognition, it’s approval.
If you see an animal approach it, gauge its reaction, and ask if it is your animal.
As I approached the oasis, the first animal I saw was a giraffe.
I asked the giraffe, “are you my animal?” and suddenly he swung his neck at me aggressively. I jumped back and thought, “no, this is not my animal.”
Next I saw an elephant, I approached him too.
“Are you my animal?”
He let out a long “(how the hell do you explain the sound an elephant makes)”, but was more gentle about in than the giraffe was with me.
I could tell this wasn’t my animal, so I continued moving.
Then suddenly I saw a Rhinoceros drinking water from the lake.
“A rhinoceros?! Really? No way this is my animal”
I approached him with resignation and confusion.
“Rhino? Are you my animal?”
“Really? You’re my animal? A rhino?”
“I guess so”
“Cool! What do you want to do?!”
“Ummm ok. I could use some water too actually…
Do you mind if I climb on top of you?”
“Sweet!” (Climbed on top of him)
“What do you want to do?”
And so we sat there, me and the rhino, doing nothing for a few minutes. Just sitting there, breathing, existing.
Around this time the guided meditation kicked back in. Apolo directed us to think about the qualities that this animal embodies. More importantly, when taking to the animal, what qualities did it exude?
I thought about how a rhino is unshakeable. Unmoveable. Stable, grounded, balanced.
I thought about how succinct he was with me. One or two word answers. No elaborate conversations.
I thought about how content he was doing nothing. How calm he was. The energy of a thousand animals simply sitting still, but if you pissed him off he could explode with the intensity of the world. To have all of that power under the hood, but to sit with it calmly and intently.
Then Apolo directed us to integrate those qualities into ourselves. To become one with the animal. To imagine that you embody all of the same qualities as that animal.
I imagined myself as a strong, powerful rhino. I imagined walking with the strut of a Rhino. I imagined all of the difficulties of the world flying at the rhino while he ran full speed and everything merely bounced off or fell by the wayside like a bullet falling away from a bulletproof vest. I, as the rhino, felt bulletproof.
Then he slowly guided us back to reality. We slowly returned back to the room we were in. They stopped playing the music. The lights turned back on…
Reflection and Examination
When the meditation was over, Apolo discussed how the most important aspect was to think about the qualities that animal represented to you. This animal, and these qualities, are the animal you must learn to embody in this next chapter of your life.
Our “spirit animal” Is not always the same. It changes depending on where we are in life, what is happening to us, and what we need at this moment. This animal is a representation not of who you currently are, but what qualities you need most right now in this moment.
It was true as well. When I looked at my life from an objective perspective, this is the animal that I need right now. I was also genuinely surprised that this animal came up as mine, which made me like it even more.
If you told me to list out 100 animals at the beginning of this exercise, I don’t think a rhinoceros would have been anywhere on that list. It’s an animal I’ve never had any connection to. Never thought about or identified with. Never had any curiosity about.
I like that the animal came out of left field. Something unexpected. It made me feel like it was authentic, instead of an animal I was already thinking about and a potential self-confirmation bias. I wasn’t projecting an animal I wanted to connect with or was hoping I was, it felt like an animal that came to me.
On top of this, the qualities it made me think about were things that really resonated with me at this current juncture in my life.
Balance and Stability
The first quality of the rhino that resonated with me is balance. This is an animal that is stable. Grounded.
A big passion of mine that has evolved over the last year is the slackline. I think about balance constantly. Balance is a representation of how you react to the challenges that life throws you. Your center of gravity is akin to your internal true north.
The rhino is a very stable and balanced animal. It’s hard to move. It knows it’s center of gravity.
At this next stage in my life, I am striving for balance. A stable foundation. A center of gravity. This could mean geographically (I am a very nomadic person), and it can also mean internally (less emotional volatility, a better ability to handle when life throws me off balance).
It’s hard to throw a rhino off balance. It’s hard to lead a rhino off it’s path. This is what I need in this next stage of my life. I need a path I can’t be thrown off of. The stable foundation inside of me guiding me on the road.
Unshakeable, Unf*ckwithable, Firm and Resolute
Not only stability though, the rhino is an animal that is unshakeable, unmoveable.
For a lot of my life I was easily swayed in different directions. I call it my “squirrel” moments. It’s easy to show me something shiny and distract me.
I have ADHD to a T, but I’ve learned how to manage it over the years.Nonetheless, I’ve always felt a bit scattered, like I have a lot of ideas but I don’t make enough meaningful progress in any of them individually.
This scatteredness has created feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. I question myself more frequently. I gut check myself more often (which I do also believe is a good habit — like above, balance is always necessary).
When I look back on a lot of points in my life, I felt swayable. I was able to create exceptions and justifications to myself too much. I swayed in whatever directions I chose and felt at the moment, seemingly at random.
I also felt like I needed to constantly justify myself to others (from no actual need other than my own insecurities most likely). That need to justify, I believe, is part self-rationalization to explain my own uncertainty or think out loud to others.
The words that come to mind about how I felt are indecisive, scattered, uncertain, swayable.
When I look at the rhino, it’s an animal that is unshakeable, unmoveable. This is an animal that is not easily swayed in one direction or the other.
To become the rhino means to be unshakeable, immovable in my resolve to get where I want. Firm in my journey to stay on the same path.
I truly believe that I know exactly what I want in life, I’m just too easily thrown off track.
This is especially the case in decisions and negotiations. Don’t settle. Ask for what I want, express my intentions clearly, and stand my ground.
I don’t want to say stubborn or closed minded (although at times I need to be a bit more of that), I like the words decisive and resolute. Be decisive and hold my ground on the decisions I’ve made. Don’t settle.
He didn’t talk
The best quality of the rhino? He didn’t talk much.
I would get one word answers. “Sure. Ok. Drink water. Do nothing”.
He wasn’t very talkative.
This connected to a separate, but related, incident that I recently had.
I met a Jiu Jitsu Black Belt while I was in Brazil, and he was a source of a lot of inspiration for me.
I felt that he had a similar personality to me. A similar “energy”. He was intense.
One thing that I noticed about him was that throughout the day he was quiet. When he did talk, he was succinct. He never gave you a lecture or talked your head off, he got to the point quickly and stated it clearly.
Perhaps it was my subconscious projecting this quality onto the rhino, but it was something that resonated with me.
I never shut the fuck up. As evidenced by this overly long story about my shamanic journey, I always have too much to say.
This is something I’ve been wanting to change in life for a while. It’s something that my family is horrible about. We constantly lecture and go on long drawn out rants. We always have advice where we shouldn’t be giving it.
I don’t like these qualities. They often create more friction in my life than they do help me. While I express myself best through verbal communication, this over-communication pushes people away more than it does attract.
This animal inspired a segment of rules that I have since implemented for myself
- Speak less, listen more
- Be succinct, get to the point
- Don’t give advice unless someone asks for it
- Let the energy out upon request
- People do love to hear me talk and go on rants, but do it upon their request, with their permission and embrace.
Controlling all of that energy under the hood
I’ve always joked that my engine is too big for my frame. I have an abundance of energy. I’m always bursting with excitement and energy.
Think cracked out dog always running around barking all the time. That’s kinda accurate of how I’ve been.
This has hurt me both physically and emotionally in life. Physically, I push my body too hard and I get injured. Emotionally, my intensity pushes others away and my words hurt the people I love.
Being hyper all the time isn’t a good use of my energy. It’s not an effective usage of my energy in a positive direction. It’s like a battery running on 50% all the time because I expend too much energy at once and don’t use it in a sustainable manner.
A rhino is an animal that can’t afford to waste energy. I look at it like a battery that is constantly charging, saving its energy for when needed only.
A rhino is an animal that sits with a fully charged battery at all times. It only explodes when necessary. And when it does, it knows exactly how much to use so that he doesn’t burn himself out.
For a rhino to survive, it must conserve energy. When it DOES use its energy, it needs to carefully. Deliberately. Intentionally.
At this point in my life I need to learn how to conserve my energy energy, store it, learn how to sit with it and manage it.
Then when I DO have to let my energy out, don’t overextend myself. Be deliberate in how much energy I use. Intentional in the way that I use it.
In order to gain control of the horse one must first tame it. I need to learn how to tame my inner flame. Turn it into burning coals instead of a raging messy fire. Let out rare bursts of lightning instead of frequent sparks.
Content doing nothing
I liked that he didn’t need to do anything. All he wanted to do was drink water, enjoy the scenery. Didn’t need to move or do anything to keep himself entertained.
He could sit still and manage all of his energy peacefully.
I’m someone who likes to be occupied all of the time. I’m always doing SOMETHING. Whether it be meditating, slacklining, reading…I’m always trying to do things to spend my time wisely.
While there are many good habits embedded into this, I like the simplicity of doing nothing. Being content where I am right now, in this moment, with nothing more than my breath and a smile.
I’ve been meditating for the last few years and it’s become a regular part of my daily routine. It reinforces keeping the practice simple. Breathe. Feel. Spread some positive intentions.
No need to overcomplicate it with a variety of techniques. No need to analyze and judge it.
Simply sit, breathe, and be.
This is in the context of my life also. I know that boring times are ahead. Lonely times are ahead. Embrace those. Learn to be content doing nothing. Resist the urge to do things all of the time, and spend more time immersed in the simple beauties life has to offer.
Integration and Implementation
Like all of the previous ceremonies, we ended the “Discovering your Spirit Animal” session with another round of Rapé.
The three of us left feeling energized and introspective We all felt very connected to the animals we had experiences with. For each of us, the animal we arrived at made sense. Animals we wanted to pull back the layers from, study and understand to help us in our respective journeys.
For one of my friends, like me, an animal he never expected was what popped up. A mountain goat. It made a lot of sense to him, and he felt it was a good animal for him at this point in his life.
My other friend was a Lion. This is an animal he was initially thinking about, that came to life for him in that meditation. He was transported to being a part of the tribe. It also would become his guide during his Ayahuasca journey to come in the following days.
For me — it was time to embody the rhino.
There were some conversations I had been avoiding with my (more or less) girlfriend. We had broken up earlier this year, and then with my return to Brazil fell back into our old habits. I could see that expectations were starting to run wild, and I knew that we needed to have a talk. (We both knew we needed it in reality, we were avoiding reality).
The next morning we woke up and she mentioned that she had been thinking about things between us. I felt like now was the time, so I opened up the conversation and told her that we needed space from each other. That we had no future together, and it was a reality we’ve both been avoiding.
It was difficult but it had to happen. We cried. We hugged. She left not knowing if she would talk to me again.
I knew inside it was the right thing to do. With the rhino in mind I remained firm, unshaken, balanced in my decision. Decisive…yet still allowing myself to feel the pain within and not avoid it.
I was relieved in a way as well, because I didn’t want to have the conversation hanging over my head during the Ayahuasca ceremony. There were larger, bigger picture, things that I needed to deal with, and ending the relationship was an important part of going into the ceremony ready to tackle my fears head on.
It was time to get ready for the most important part of all — Ayahuasca and Sao Pedro :)
Originally published at Troy Erstling.