Australian Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis
Vol. 34, No. 1, 2006, 71-81.
Working with the Inner Animals in Visualization
Artikel af Kaare Claudewitz - Psychologist
This article describes a method of guided imagery called the called the Personal Totem Pole Process (PTPP), which is a unique blend of Jungian active imagination, the chakra system, and ancient shamanism. The work with “inner animals” is crucial to this method. Applications to therapeutic work with various clients are discussed.
There are many ways to work with visualization in therapy, for example guided imagery, the directed daydream (Desoille, 1966), psycho-imagination (Shorr, 1983, 1998), guided affective imagery (Leuner, 1969, 1975) and of course Jung’s method of active imagination. One of the oldest methods is the shamanic journeying, which many new age therapists still use today (Harner, 1990). In a previous article (Claudewitz, 2003) I outlined a hypnotherapeutic method called “The Personal Totem Pole Process”(PTPP) which has been developed by the American psychologist Stephen Gallegos. The method is a unique blend of Jungian active imagination, the chakra system and the ancient shamanic practice of speaking to and learning from the animals, but Gallegos has excluded the many superstitious elements and rituals of traditional shamanism. No drums are used to induce the trance state, but merely a progressive relaxation technique. After the induction the client is told to imagine that an animal emerges from each of the seven chakras. This paper will present further therapeutic work with the inner animals.
According to Eastern tradition the chakras are energy centres in the body and they are vertically aligned, running from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. They seem to correspond to important points of acupuncture (Motoyama, 1984). Ancient tradition states that certain elements, colours and sounds are connected to them. Also, most of the chakras have specific animals associated with them, i.e. an elephant should be connected to the ground chakra, an alligator to the belly chakra, a ram to the solar plexus, a gazelle (or an antelope) to the heart, a white elephant to the throat chakra, while no animals are associated with the forehead and the top of the head. However, those who are familiar with the Personal Totem Pole Process will know that this is not true. It may have been the truth for the yogi who discovered the system ages ago – he probably experienced these animals in his own chakras and then he thought that it applied to all mankind. But Gallegos (1983, 1987) found that people imagine different animals coming out from each chakra and that these animals are symbols from the unconscious.
Many of the insights C. G. Jung achieved he attributed to a wisdom figure named Philemon, who appeared to him during his inner exploration using the method of active imagination. Philemon was a cross between a man and an animal, and in many ways he became Jung’s inner adviser and teacher. Philemon was not just a simple fantasy figure, but “represented a force, which was not myself…It was he who taught me psychic objectivity, the reality of the psyche.” (Jung, 1973, p. 183). The chakra animals are also inner guides, just like Jung’s Philemon. They have a reality of their own, with a particular consciousness and personality. They also have a profound knowledge of what the person needs to experience to achieve inner healing and personal growth. We are here interacting with the actual autonomy of the unconscious - just like in a dream.
The chakras are said to be connected to our thinking, feeling and willing, and Jung recognised the symbolic significance of the animals located in the chakras (Jung, 1999).
In Gallegos’ method, the client is told to relax and then to focus his attention on, for example, his heart chakra. According to yogic teachings alternations of consciousness are inherently linked to the operations of the chakras; thus focusing on a specific chakra should produce some kind of a trance state. Then the client is asked to imagine an animal coming out from his heart. When the animal has emerged the client is encouraged to greet the animal and to thank it for coming. It is also asked to tell something about itself and if it needs something from the client. The procedure is repeated until the client has met with all seven chakra animals. The technique in many ways resembles John Watkins’ method of ego state therapy (Watkins, 1997), but it is much easier to call out an animal from a specific body part than to contact a hidden ego state.
The Stages of the Process
The varieties of the PTPP fall into three basic stages. The first stage is: meeting the animal. For some (especially very anxious clients) this process can be strenuous. Sometimes, the animal cannot be seen at all. It may instead be heard, felt or even smelled. A young woman experienced no chakra animals at all, but every time she tried to call them out she immediately felt a tremendous headache. Clearly, something wanted to come out, but her conscious mind was not yet ready for the meeting with the subconscious part. Another client imagined fifty butterflies emerging from the ground chakra at the base of her spine. In such cases the therapist can suggest that the animals merge together in order to heal that split in the psyche. In this way there will be a relocation of energy symbolized by the new animal figure that will emerge from the process. When the butterflies merged together they transformed themselves into a beautiful orange bird.
The second stage is to develop a relationship with the inner animal. It is, in many ways, the most practical, personal level. Sometimes, a dialogue is quickly established, but it may happen that the animal is completely silent. In such cases the therapist can suggest that the client simply ask the animal: “Why don’t you want to talk with me?” If the animal still does not respond he can suggest that the client approaches it in a non-verbal way, for example by touching or stroking it. In this way the client shows the animal (i.e., that part of the personality) that he accepts and cares for it. When a positive relationship has been developed, the animal will lead the client into hidden channels of his mind. The mind will begin to create dramas to help it cope with different situations. It is the language of the unconscious and it deals with problems metaphorically, rather than directly.
The third stage is journeying with the animal in the collective unconscious or the archetypal realm. The therapeutic effect of such a mental journey can be almost magical, both during the creative process and when the client looks at it afterwards. However, not all clients are willing to journey with their inner animals. It should be remembered that an encounter with the collective unconscious exposes one to the same contents that appear in psychosis, and this can be very frightening for some people. The reason why the involvement looks very much like a psychosis is that the client is integrating the same fantasy-material to which the insane person falls victim, because he cannot integrate it, but instead is swallowed up by it (Jung, 1972). But there can also be other reasons for the unwillingness to journey; for example, fear of change can sometimes be a significant factor. A very hypochondriac patient encountered a blackbird from her heart chakra, and it invited her on an inner journey, but she adamantly refused to journey with the animal and said: “I will rather stay here in my misery!” It turned out that she was not prepared to give up her “illness”, since she had a substantial amount of secondary gain from it, because her doctor, family and friends felt sorry for her and thus gave her a lot of attention. The response from the blackbird was that it immediately dropped dead. That reaction made her start a deeper process of reflection on her sickness and she eventually became totally cured of her hypochondria.
A young woman suffering from a severe eating disorder had for some time only experienced strange fantasy creatures coming from her chakras, but at one point a “real” animal turned up in her imagination. A white horse came to her and it invited her on an inner journey. The meeting with this animal had a deep emotional impact on her and she started to cry. The horse took her on a long ride into a desert and then put her down at an oasis. Here she could relax completely. At our next session about a week later she told me that now she had begun to eat more normally. Also, her menstrual period which had been absent for more than two years had started again. The mythical journey with the horse really marked a turning point in her life.
Sometimes the inner journeys cannot be completed during a traditional one hour session, but if the journey has to be interrupted the therapist can ask the animal guide if it is O.K. to stop now and continue the journey at the next therapy session. Usually, this is accepted by the animal. The therapist can also suggest to the client that he - before the journey starts - tells his animals that they only have a certain amount of time available. This usually works well, but the pitfall is that some clients may get quite nervous, because they feel that things must be rushed.
Active Imagination and Fantasy
Jung often pointed out that active imagination is not so much a technique as it is a natural process. But how can we in meeting the inner animals know that active imagination is really taking place rather that fantasy, daydreaming, or reverie? Fantasy in itself does not constitute changes. According to Hall (1989) there is only one sure criterion and that is when something unexpected and startling happens that is not the person’s voluntary creation. The unexpected and surprising events show the autonomy of the unconscious processes. For example, a depressed client called an animal from her solar plexus chakra (her personal power centre) and suddenly she felt very hot in that area. She experienced flames coming out of her body and shortly afterwards she imagined a dragon emerging from her solar plexus area. This was a complete surprise for her. After she had collected herself, she addressed the dragon asking it what it needed from her. It immediately became afraid and curled itself up and in this way it probably reflected the problems she had with expressing her own needs. It also constantly changed its colours. Then it invited her to follow it into a dark cave, which in the end had a small opening in the ceiling that allowed light to come in. Inside the cave the dragon allowed her to sit on its back. From the throat chakra (i.e. her communication centre) emerged an octopus which was guarding the entrance to a cave. It changed its colour when she addressed it, but it did not allow her to enter the cave. This client was very secretive about herself.
The Other Side of the Chakra Animals
Some time ago I discovered that the chakra animals also have “back sides”. The term “back side” of the chakra animal has nothing to do with the back of the animal or the bottom or anus. If I, for example, have called out an animal from the middle of a client’s forehead (also called “the third eye”), then I proceed and tell the client to focus his attention on the back side of his head aligned exactly with the “third eye” and imagine that an animal comes out from this position.
To determine the procedure, I looked at a map over the acupuncture points and noted that there are acupuncture points that are horizontally aligned with five of the main chakras, but not with the ground and crown chakra. Some esoteric writers (e.g. Tansley, 1982) claim that the chakras actually are placed along the spinal column even though most books about the subject show them positioned on the front of the torso. Nevertheless, the question for me was: Would my clients be able to imagine an animal coming from the “back side” of the second to the sixth chakra? I began to experiment to see what they would experience. It turned out that there actually are animals emerging from the back side of these five chakras, and sometimes they are more willing to show themselves and talk than the animals from the “normal” front side. They often even seem to express something much deeper than the “ordinary” chakra animals are willing to come forward with. For example, I worked with a man, who experienced a wolf coming out from his forehead. It did not want to have any close contact with him and it quickly disappeared into a cave. But from the back side of this chakra a big bear emerged. It embraced him and said that it very much needed his affection and love, because it had felt neglected for such a long time. No animal emerged from his throat, but from the back side of this chakra he experienced a seahorse which immediately began to criticize him. Then it told him that it was his father and at that moment it transformed itself into a giant snake which frightened him very much. The snake also said that it controlled him because it had eaten the animal from his throat. Then an eagle appeared which said: “That is not true” and it attacked the snake, but did not kill it. In the after-talk the client said that he always had felt inhibited in expressing himself. His father had always put him down as long as he could remember. However, the encounter with the powerful eagle gave him much more self-confidence.
Another client experienced a vulture coming out of her solar plexus area telling her that it was her father. She always had been very afraid of him and this animal scared her a lot. However, from the back side of this chakra she imagined a ferocious lion, which was not afraid of anything, and it wanted to attack the vulture. It seemed that the vulture had taken up the place of her own power animal, the lion, and now the latter wanted to regain its rightful place.
A client experienced a fish coming out of his sixth chakra in the middle of the forehead. The fish wanted him to float in the water and just relax. But from the back side of this chakra a furious crocodile emerged and it frightened him very much. The crocodile had been locked up in a cage during most of its life and now it wanted to get out! It even showed him a picture of himself as a child who had to be set free. The “back side chakra animals” seem to represent very deep unconscious behavioural tendencies inside us, in many ways similar to Jung’s concept of the “shadow”.
How do I call out these animals? First I call out the animal from for example the forehead. If it turns up and the client develops a relationship with that animal, then I proceed and tell the client to focus his attention on the back side of the head aligned exactly with the “third eye” and imagine that an animal emerges from this position. Sometimes, I tell the client that now he is going to encounter the “back side of his chakra animal”. Most clients are very excited and curious about this exploration. After the client has met both animals, I suggest that the two animals meet each other. Since there can be a very big difference in the character of these animals such a meeting may not be peaceful at all. However, if the two animals accept each other I sometimes suggest that they merge together. Usually, they are not very willing to do that, perhaps because they often are so different from each other.
A Clinical Case Story
I shall here briefly describe a therapy with a 27-year old woman, whom I worked with for almost a year. She had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and she also suffered from OCD. The cancer had already spread throughout her body and the doctors had only given her a short time to live in. During the period I saw her she did not undergo chemical or radiation therapy. A tumour had squeezed her urinary tract so much that she had to have a urostomy performed. She had a very strict religious upbringing and she was not allowed much leash in her teenage years.
From her abdomen, she encountered an elephant and a giraffe. Both these animals scared her a lot because she perceived them as foreign bodies representing the cancer cells and she told them to go away. The animals were very surprised at her reaction and they told her that they had come just to help her, but that did not change her attitude towards them. From her throat chakra appeared a lizard which said to her: “You are stupid because you always do what your father wants instead of enjoying your life.” Then the lizard went into a swamp where it transformed itself into a grumpy crocodile. From her heart chakra came a worm saying to her: “You need to relax so that you can heal!” From the solar plexus she encountered a small grey mouse, which led her through a tunnel into a green landscape. Here she met a big snake that told her it was very angry. It even bit her in the face because it wanted her to wake up. From her forehead came a roaring lion and a caterpillar. The lion immediately ate the caterpillar because it wanted to prove that it was the stronger. Then it showed her a snow landscape. From the top of her head came a zebra which took her to see the savannah where it lived.
When all these animals met, they formed a circle around her and shined healing light from their hearts onto her. She immediately felt a strong heat and afterwards she experienced a whole new energy in her body.
At a later session she encountered the animal of the cancer which was a crocodile – the same that she eventually had encountered from her throat. It scared her very much, but amazingly it told her to relax. Then I asked her to call for an animal of healing. An elephant appeared and it invited her to journey with it inside her body. During the journey they encountered a big white cancer tumour in her left side. The elephant started to blow on it and suddenly she felt very hot in her left side. In her imagination she saw the tumour slowly diminish and eventually disappear. Afterwards, the elephant continued the journey to heal her abdomen.
At our next session a couple of weeks later she told me that her urinary tract - much to her doctors surprise - now was functioning normally again. The tumour which had squeezed it apparently had disappeared, and the doctors had now removed her stomy pouch, which was a great relief for her. It is of course difficult to say if this was a direct result of the imagery journey, but there is some evidence that patients can influence their immune system by specific imagery (Achterberg, 1984, Hannigan, 2001). Imagining large animals (like an elephant) fighting the cancer cells also seem to have a positive effect on the disease (Achterberg, 1984).
A couple of months later, I invited the client to meet the chakra animals again. Now the animal from her throat had transformed into a pelican, which told her that she was on the right track. But this time I also called out the animal from the back side of the chakra and then a snake with black stripes appeared. It told her that she was up against more than she could match and that she eventually would die of the disease. Unfortunately, it later turned out that the snake was telling her the naked truth.
During almost all her life she had obsessive thoughts and when she was diagnosed with cancer these thoughts grew even stronger. For example, she felt compelled to tell herself at least a thousand times daily that she would get well again. This was a terrible torment for her. However, the work with the inner animals helped her to relax and at one point I asked her if there was an animal that could help her when these obsessive thoughts came up. A polar bear with a “stop signal” in its paw appeared in her imagination. Afterwards, she was able to control her anxious thoughts with the help of the bear and that was a tremendous relief for her in the last months of her life.
In a session shortly before she died, she encountered the “animal of death.” It was a small white mouse which said to her: “Don’t be afraid.” She also met the “animal of life” and it was a black snake which scared her a lot. In the after-talk she told me that she was much more afraid to live than to die, because she did not really know how to live. After almost a year of therapy she passed away. However, I believe that the meeting with the inner animals gave her extra strength to deal with her extremely difficult situation.
Working with Tobacco Addiction
The PTPP can also be used in working with tobacco addiction. The therapist can for example call out an “animal for the addiction” or he can ask the client to imagine that an animal emerges from each of his lungs. Meeting the animal of the addiction gives the client an opportunity to ask the animal when and why it came into his life, what it needs from him and whether it will agree to leave him. Meeting the animals of the lungs can on the other hand be a very horrifying experience. If the client for example has been a heavy smoker for a considerable number of years there may be living ugly black monsters in his lungs feeding on tar and smoke. Such an experience can really be a deterrent – and a strong motivating factor for the client to quit smoking.
Creative Combination with Other Visualization Techniques
In 1987 Tajima and Naruse described a special form of psychotherapy, tsubo imagery psychotherapy, in which the client is asked to imagine that he enters a tsubo, which is an oriental jar or pot. The technique, in many ways, resembles the traditional shamanic journeying where the person visualizes that he enters an opening into the earth and then follows a cave or tunnel downward (Harner, 1990).
Many different kinds of emotions can arise depending on what the client encounters inside the jar. However, the problem with this method is that the client is journeying alone inside the tsubo, that is, he has no “steering wheel” or guide and this can result in a lot of unnecessary anxiety in some clients. Therefore, I developed a technique where the client first calls for an animal which is willing to accompany him during the journey into the jar. Almost always an animal will emerge as a travelling companion.
I will here present a few clinical examples of this work: A very anxious and depressed woman with low self-esteem journeyed into the tsubo and found a letter which read: “Dear R. You are great! Don’t be afraid. Everything will be fine if you just will allow yourself to relax.” In another tsubo, she encountered a rat which also told her to relax. When she agreed to do that, it immediately transformed itself into a happy squirrel.
Another client imagined three tsubos. She journeyed into the first accompanied by a dog and discovered Aladdin’s cave where she found a big treasure. In the second tsubo there was a storm raging and a lot of noise. In the third she found a cave with a lake. Here she felt a great relief and an inner calmness she had not experienced before in her life.
The animal work can successfully be combined with the tsubo imagery technique by calling for an animal guide before the client enters the jar. This reduces anxiety because it gives the client a sense of some control of the imagination.
To live in harmony with the world around them, clients need to live in harmony with themselves. The PTPP is a very versatile hypnotherapeutic method to find inner peace and to discover both powerful and creative resources in oneself and it can be used with many different types of psychological problems. It also helps the client acquire a better understanding of the self and the inner parts that constitute the self.
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