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The Deeper Nature of Growth

with Dawn Baumann Brunke

As a continuing student of life in general, one thing I've come to notice is the spiraling manner in which so many lessons return to us. Maybe you've noticed this, too.

If we're not paying attention, the gist of a lesson may come back to us almost immediately (though often disguised in a slightly different form). Usually this is because we have not recognized the gift that a particular lesson offered when it first appeared in our life. Maybe it was an illness we thought we had to 'beat' or an opponent we had to prove 'wrong' or political issue we felt we had to 'fight.' (Indeed, an overall war mentality has saturated our consciousness to such a degree that we usually get plenty of support in our everyday lives to feel justified in these particular belief systems. In addition, most of the media thrives by stirring the emotional waters of 'causes' and 'issues' and self-righteous battles that so many of our governments would like to perpetuate. Alas!)

As we begin to wake up as a global family, however, we begin to realize that this type of mentality—'us' versus 'them'; fight and conquer—can lead us only to one place: a dead end. As author, teacher and philosopher Patricia Sun puts it, "You can't take sides when you know the earth is round." It's true, and in order to grow—truly grow, as individuals and as a collective world of awakening beings—we need to start at home.

How? By facing our shadow. Shadow material is formed of those dark, repressed issues we tend to avoid in ourselves, though are all too happy to nimbly project onto others. To continue to deny, avoid or fight our shadow (which is to say, to deny, avoid or fight all that annoys and frustrates and outrages us) is to condemn ourselves to superficial squabbles within ourselves and with others. And it is just a hop, skip and jump to see how this all too easily manifests on the global arena as battles and wars which are, in truth, never really 'won' at all.

So, how to face the shadow within? The first task is to be honest with ourselves. We must be able to identify that which catapults us into anger, fear, suspicion, outrage, etc., and be willing to peer beneath that scenario (fueled by our own emotional drama) to see what is really going on. No small feat! When we find ourselves reacting (or, many times, over-reacting) with charged emotion, we are undoubtedly brushing up against our shadow.

My good old canine pal Barney has often reminded me of how important it is to be aware of shadow material in each moment. I remember one day when we were discussing the nature of shapeshifting. Barney was noting that shifting the 'shape' of one's consciousness (as, for example, in merging one's awareness with an animal or animal guide) provides not only a teaching for us, but a vehicle into expanded awareness. That is, not only do we gain the teaching of another animal's perspective, but we begin to enlarge our own sense of consciousness and connection with all.

"There are many variations here," Barney pointed out. "One may use an animal guide, the energy of a totem, or one may literally become an animal and travel with the animal spirits to better understand or fetch a healing remedy for body-mind or soul. At other times, shamans journey via entering the consciousness of an animal and traveling with that animal to discover secrets other animals hold or possess. One might also travel out of body and enter the consciousness of various star guides or otherworldly beings who serve as guides. Or one may travel in light-body form-another subtle form of shapeshifting.

The type of shapeshifting we are discussing is the type in which one shifts one's consciousness to a different form. By virtue of entering another form, one has also shifted one's shape. How we perceive the world and how the world perceives us are actually linked at a deeper level than most humans believe.

"Hmm. Can we explore that a little bit?" I wondered.

Are you ready for another experience?

Do you see how it is? Ask a question and you get an experience in return! Can life be any more accommodating?!

Let us imagine you have no prior knowledge of me, Barney pressed on, as if my query were all part of his seamless plan. Let us imagine that one day you simply close your eyes and hear a voice inside. I am the voice that is now speaking to you. How would you proceed?

I laughed at the implications of this intriguing game. "Well, I would ask questions: Who are you? Do you have something to tell me? That sort of thing."

And let us imagine that I told you I was an entity speaking to you from a different dimension.

"I would probably ask you questions about that dimension."

And if I said to you, 'Why don't you try this on yourself? Why don't you come into my consciousness—I will help you—and explore from my perspective for yourself?' What would you do then?

"I suppose, with no prior knowledge of you, I would be very cautious. What if it was some kind of trick? An inter-dimensional scam?"

Barney did not respond to my feeble attempt at humour, and I felt him waiting for me to discover my own answer.

"Okay, on the one hand, if you are something other than me from another dimension, how can I trust you? I would have some fear and mistrust. On the other hand, maybe I have just made you up—so what harm is there in exploring this voice? Except that maybe I am having a delusion—and, would I make myself psychologically ill by following through these voices?

"So, perhaps you are telling me that this is why we are doing shapeshifting a little bit at a time? That it takes time to unfold and that I needed a gradual unfolding, especially in the matter of trust, so I wouldn't freak myself out."

Anything else?

"Well, perhaps these two different projections—that either the voice is an untrustworthy one from outside myself or a sick one from inside myself—are really two faces of the same thing?"

You have done well with this. Don't you agree that it is much more rewarding when you see this for yourself? When you unfold the wiggles of the paradigm inside yourself? Can you not trust your own words and ideas?

"So, what are you really saying here?"

I sensed Barney laughing. Dawn, you are being shaken awake. You are still sleepy, still liking your dreamtime. Some of us—or perhaps some parts of you—are shaking you awake. In your drowsy state of consciousness you prefer to stay where you are, to rest, to enjoy your dreams, and to not look at the list of what you have to do today. But imagine yourself in an hour from now—an awakened hour from now—well on your way into an awakened day. Isn't it much more rewarding to be awake and playing in the world than still sleeping, merely imaging you are playing in the world?

And there we have it—the struggle we all face in terms of any real growth: whether or not to accept the invitation deep down into our own being. To be willing to discover what lies beneath our projections. To begin an expedition to uncover who we really are. To embrace the undeniable connections that unite us. And to realize, once and for all, that the 'other' is none other than ourselves.

Dawn Baumann Brunke is the author of Animal Voices, Awakening to Animal Voices and the upcoming Shapeshifting with our Animal Companions, due out in August 2008. Her books explore the deeper nature of our relationship with animals, nature, each other and ourselves. For more, see Dawn's website.

Be sure to read the reviews of her book "Awakening to Animal Voices" in our May 2005 Issue and her book "Animal Voices" January 2006 Issue.

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