Excerpts from Shadow Animals: How the Animals We Fear Can Help Us Heal, Transform and Awaken
I spent most of the 2020 pandemic writing a book about how the animals we fear or dislike can help us to recognize and investigate our shadow side: the hated, abandoned, judged, and denied aspects of ourselves.
While working on a chapter entitled What Lurks Below, I dreamed of sharks. I had intended to include sharks in this chapter for their intelligence, perceptiveness, ability to quickly assess a situation and engage well-honed instincts to act with authority. As such, they are excellent shadow teachers — animals that can guide us to reclaim inner strengths, abilities and wisdom that we have forgotten or disowned.
Early one morning I was awakened by an ache in my neck. Curious of the cause, I stretched and settled into my body, breathed deeply, and attuned to the pain. In just a few moments, I fell asleep and dreamed:
I am in a small rowboat. There is a rope around my neck that is attached to an anchor deep in the sea. I jump into the water and follow the rope down to the anchor, which sits beside an open treasure chest partially buried in the sand. Though it resembles an old-fashioned pirate chest, it doesn’t hold jewels or gold, but mirrors!
There are many mirrors of many different sizes and shapes. I pick one that is round and just a bit larger than my hand. A scrap of white paper in the mirror reads “Different Perspectives”. I wonder if the paper is inside the mirror. If not, then what can it be reflecting, for there is no paper around me. As if in answer to my wondering, the mirror bends outward and becomes a small globe. The glass cracks as the mirror changes shape, but all of the pieces stay on, and now it looks like a mosaic globe of reflections.
At this point I become lucid and am very excited because I know this globe of reflections indicates something important is happening. Just then, I sense a large shape coming near: a shark! It swims close to me and very gently nudges the mirrored globe in my hand. I say out loud “Different Perspectives” and the shark opens its mouth in a wide — and very toothy — grin.
I awoke with great excitement and rushed to record the dream in my journal. It seemed an inspiring explosion of synchronicities, insights and clues. I marveled at the creative segue between waking and dreaming of how my neck pain (and my desire to find its cause) was imaged as a rope around my neck, tied to an anchor that sat at the bottom of the sea. The dream was reflecting one of my key Shadow themes: that in order to find surface cause, we must often dive deep and explore below.
By following the rope into the watery realm to locate the source of my pain, I descended into the subconscious. Isn’t it intriguing that the anchor (the ‘hold’ of the rope around the neck) sits next to a treasure chest?! As if to make clear: as we begin to explore with serious intent that which holds us hostage, we may find our treasure is near!
The treasure is not gold or jewels or what we might expect from a pirate’s booty, but rather mirrors: objects of reflection. Mirrors are truth-tellers, showing us what is — both what we want to see as well as what we don’t want to see. (In some dreams, mirrors show us what we need to see.) Choosing the hand-sized mirror indicates the dreamer may be looking at a personal (hand-held) perspective. And here the dream is very specific with its message: Different Perspectives!
The dreamer ponders: is this message inside the mirror (inside myself?) or a reflection of something outside? As if in answer, the flat mirror cracks and rounds. Suddenly it is pregnant with possibilities, for there is no longer only one reflection, but many faceted reflections. Said another way, the hand-held, personal mirror becomes spherical and collective: a global mirror.
There is something powerful about a flat two-dimensional surface suddenly becoming round and three-dimensional, a ‘mirror’ perhaps of our evolutionary shift from believing the world was flat to the truth of knowing it as round. Also interesting is that when this mirror bends and fractures, its pieces hold together.
And then, with lucid awakening, comes the shark: a water creature of heightened awareness, discernment, and ancient knowledge. As it approaches the dreamer, it gently nudges the reflective globe, further emphasizing the importance of this object. In response, the dreamer reads the words written in the mirror, transporting them into a new medium by speaking to them aloud: Different Perspectives. And the shark smiles: a wide grin that is not at all threatening but encouraging.
I have worked with Shark in many dreams, and, for me, its appearance does not generally signal fear, but rather growth and evolution. However, every dreamer will have his or her unique experience with Shark or other animal teacher that appears in the dreamworld.
So, what does this mean? What answer does the dreamer receive in pondering the cause of her neck pain?
On personal levels, I felt the dream was prodding me to acknowledge that getting stuck in any one perspective (especially one’s favorite perspective, the one we are convinced is “right”) can compromise flexibility. On physical levels, getting stuck equals loss of movement, which may cause pain. On psychological levels, it may reflect stubbornness and a refusal to see other perspectives.
The dream reflects a timely, collective vision of a world fragmented with divisiveness. Different Perspectives is an answer, a reminder, and a hopeful message — for the fragments of the mirror do not fall away, but rather are held together, united.
My interpretation is this: that by exploring our Shadow (both individually and collectively) we might rediscover the global treasure chest of mirrors. By reflecting upon this gift of ‘different perspectives’, we might learn from each other —and from all creatures on this planet — and begin to celebrate the remarkable richness of our diversity. Instead of being torn apart by superficial opinions and small-minded perspectives, we might invite discussion, listen to other points of view, welcome the messages from our dreams, and so begin to uncover truth.
So, too, I sense a feeling of reassurance from the Deep: the ancient Spirit of Shark smiling gently, reminding us that by facing our fears, we also find our treasure.