I found myself wanting those cat T-shirts. They are the sort of silly T-shirts you buy in cheap stores for 20-year-olds. I’m in my early 40’s, is it ok to wear cat T-shirts? Probably not. Despite that, I wanted them, badly.

One pictures a cute and cuddly kitten with innocent eyes, the kind that melt hearts and turn people into putty. The other has enormous green eyes on a black-as-night background. This cat looks cranky! I loved them both, and eventually bought them.

I’ve been exploring “wanting” and notice that I don’t always know why I want something at the time. I just can’t see one good reason to buy the damn silly cat T-shirts. Maybe we don’t have to know why. Why comes later.

Animal instincts: I think that’s why I had to have those T-shirts. Right now, I need those two sides: the ability to be soft, sweet and lovable and the ability to say don’t mess with me, I am one cross and cross-eyed kitty-cat right now!

I had a most interesting experience with animal symbolism years ago. I was temping at the time and had just got to work with my toasted banana bread and  coffee (I was young and skinny with terrible breakfast habits).

It was an extremely dull workplace  with a couple of wildly eccentric exceptions. One of these was Gayle, a larger-than-life woman with a naughty sense of humour. On my second day we’d bonded over mild sex jokes and cake.

On this morning, I’m barely awake and Gayle is in my face for a chat. We veer onto the topic of shamanism. “I’m a shaman” says Gayle. Huh? It’s early, I haven’t finished my coffee yet. “I could do a power meditation for you. Find your totem animal.” Right.

She leaves. I sit there wondering whether she’s insane. Then a hawk appears. It hovers in the upper right-hand corner of my mind. I laugh. It might spice things up around here. Weird but interesting. Weird wins.

A week later we’re out in Hyde Park at lunchtime. Gayle (Big Sister Bear) is waving a feather over me and drumming. She guides me through a  meditation. I see animals. The zebra seems to be my totem. I am spat out the end of the meditation. That was fun but no big deal, I think. Then the real vision starts.

A crocodile visits me. I’m awake, at work. It too appears in the upper right-hand corner of my mind’s eye. It is so close I can describe the interlacing teeth, the yellow eyes.  He stays with me staring me down. I don’t remember how long this lasted but long enough to make his presence felt.

A week later I wrote a little song called Crocodile Truthseeker.  I saw my crocodile as a relentless truth-seeker. He was pure power and instinct, ancient, knowing and decisive; this lives, this dies!

An interesting side-note: we looked up the meaning of the hawk – the hawk is a messenger. I first “saw” a hawk and then decided to go do this thing.

Ours is a mysterious world under the surface. I haven’t explored shamanism  since but what I liked about it  is this: we don’t judge the qualities of animals as we do humans. With animals, we understand the importance of right instinct. An animal must simply be true to its own nature. I believe we must too.

We are animals, we have good instincts, we just have to listen to them. That doesn’t mean we live like a creature of the jungle, it just means we listen to our instincts and explore qualities that are useful, strong and true but not always “nice”.

The idea of a cat lets me explore what I may need right now. Maybe I’m going to need power, grace, rest, indulgence and killer clarity.  A cat is very clear with “yes” and “no”, they’re very good with boundaries. They hunt with total focus and rest deeply.

Exploring animal symbols may change how you see things.

  • What animal appeals to you?
  • How could you express this animal in your life?
  • If you were this animal, what would you do differently?
  • What qualities do you wish you had?
  • Which animal has those qualities?

Nature is wise but not always gentle. If we still lived close to it, we would likely learn from it. Thinking of people as animal archetypes makes it easier to be tolerant.  Arrogance and elegance are both catlike. Cats are honest about what they like, they don’t do favours, they don’t fake it.

Well, that was quite some justification for purchasing a couple of silly T-shirts!

What sort of animal are you? What animal inspires you?