The day after I got home from Sesshin, while I was at work and still totally enraptured by the energy I have been talking about, I had two different animals appear to me that seemed extremely relevant to the things I have been going through. I don’t mention this within any kind of Zen context. Animal totems and the significance they bare are more related to shamanism than any form of Buddhism but for me it is all connected. I have studied and practiced different kinds of shamanic techniques just like I have with Zen and found them to be equally beneficial and revelatory.
Anyway, the first animal that appeared was a toad. I saw three of them actually and they all jumped straight into my vision without me kicking them up or turning anything over. The second was a Quail, which walked right in front of me while I was driving an ATV and it stared directly into my eyes without an ounce of fear or hesitation. Neither of these instances would have meant much to me had they been spaced out or at a time that wasn’t right after Sesshin but because they came as they did, they felt like meaningful encounters and so I decided to look into them further.
According to several sources, a toad often signifies luck or good fortune but it also represents a symbol of looking inward and examining the spiritual self. It is a guide to turn toward when trying to communicate with the spirit world. One source I found said that when a toad presents itself to you it can be seen as a sign of growth or progress. The toad is a messenger between the physical and the spiritual because of the transformation it goes through from a water dwelling tadpole to a fully developed amphibian, a creature that moves freely between both worlds. This transformation is incredible but it is also gradual. The other half of the message it brings is one of patience. For me, I think this means that I need to embrace this energetic opening I’m currently experiencing but I also need to stay grounded. The process of spiritual awakening is not something that happens over night. I need to integrate what I’m feeling into my daily life.
The Quail is supposed to be a teacher of higher knowledge and a guide toward a deeper sense of spiritual awareness. It is a reminder that we need to remain open and curious about the things we don’t know or understand. The other thing a Quail is associated with is an inquiry into the quality of time that is spent with family. It is asking if we are giving enough attention to the people who love and support us most or if we are expending that energy on other things. One of the articles I read literally asks (from the voice of the Quail) whether our minds and hearts are actually present with our physical self when spending time with loved ones or if we are distracted and distant.
These two topics (spiritual growth and remaining present with what is) are so incredibly relevant to my life right now and I find it totally amazing that these two animals represent these exact situations. I didn’t know the significance of these totem animals before encountering them. I’ve never even thought to look into these specific animals before this experience so to say I found significance in their appearance would be an understatement. Discovering their meaning was like connecting the circuits between my mind and my heart. I felt the current flow in a way that logic or reason cannot define. Feeling is the only standard that significance can be held up to and when you feel something like this, your need for validation immediately crumbles beneath the weight of knowing.
These synchronicities continued through the next couple of days as my eyes remained open to them. The next morning when I brought Zara to school, one of her friends walked right up to me and handed me a stuffed quail the moment we walked in the door. She just smiled and walked away but I stood there slightly stunned and probably looking quite crazy. I turned the stuffed animal over in my hands and chuckled out loud with a kind of deranged certainty.
A couple of days later, while having dinner with some friends, I somehow ended up with the only plate that had bunch of quails flying on it. At first I didn’t believe it and told myself they were pheasants but when I turned it over it had a little description on the back that said something about the artist and mentioned “Quails in flight,” or something of that nature. I just quietly laughed to myself and held in my excitement. I wasn’t about to go into this whole story just to describe the magic of this tacky old dinner plate.
This could, of course, be considered coincidence or paranoia but it certainly feels like much more than that. Both the topics of going deeper into my practice as well as the need to balance it with my family life are the most relevant situations and challenges I’m facing right now. Just about everyday since getting home has presented me with a need to resolve and merge these two worlds together.
The reason I am connecting these animal totems with my Zazen breakthrough is because of the deeply related feeling they share. I have been practicing every single day since getting home and the strange things that have been occurring feel like they are intimately connected with the sitting. Its almost like meditation is allowing me to wipe clean the dust-covered layers of my normal perception. The more thoroughly I sink into the vastness of Zazen, the clearer my vision becomes. The more I let go of my ideas and conditioning about what is possible or what is meaningful, the more I find potential and meaning.