Behind logic, below reason, underneath the skin of objectivity, lives the animal heart. She has lived longer than any of us can remember – it was from her belly that we were born. Unsophisticated as we are, we forget and deny her, adding still to the platform of greed that we’ve built upon her grave. But she is far from dead. She stays hidden not because she is timid, but because she is wise. The world has become too dry a place, and she depends upon the flow of love to live. One day, she will jump up and live again.
When you dream of animals, you are touching your instinctual nature; the part of you that eats when you’re hungry, sleeps when you’re tired, fights back when you feel threatened, and walks away when enough is enough. Your animal self can not be domesticated, and lives according to an ancient set of laws. It doesn’t care about politics and politeness and never takes more than it needs. Animals are your wisdom, your physical magnificence, and the unselfconscious power that makes you twice as tall. The animal heart sees clearly what the intellect cannot, because it is pure instinct.
In ancient mythology, it was always an animal that gave the hero a crucial secret, but as our culture began to favour power over nature, so too did mythology begin slaying its dragons. We only need to look at the mass extinctions taking place globally to appreciate the state of our collective animal heart.
A teacher of mine used to say, “Always follow the cats in your dreams!” True enough, my inner cat has led me into secret rooms and magic countries, upper levels and hidden tunnels. She has grown wings and flown when I was rock-heavy. She has bled when I was ignoring my hurt, and jumped out of vehicles when I was heading in the wrong direction.
Though cats are notoriously intuitive, every animal possesses their own special medicine. Elephants carry a silent, weighty wisdom, wolves are potent teachers, ants never stop working, monkeys shake you up with their tricks, and fish are the deepest feelers of all.
Animals are the keepers of our feeling life. More than just affect, feeling is the total capacity of the human organism to experience his or her world. The more we feel, the more interrelatedly we engage with the world around us. If you are overriding your instincts, your dream animals might appear wounded, starved or neglected. This is to show you how to have compassion and reverence for your own heart.
In the Quechua tradition, when you feel grateful, you say, “There is a small bird in my heart.” Tell me, who is the animal of your heart? Is she wild or domesticated? Do you keep her close, or does she frighten you away? Have you been feeding him well, or is he going hungry?
To meet your animal, go somewhere quiet and wild where you feel more than safe – you feel alive – and you’ll catch a glimpse of her. She’ll shake out her exotic feathers, sharpen her talons on a rough branch, and if you’re really lucky, she might even sing you her remarkable song.