The connections with inner animal guides support children going through crises.Sometimes a snake would show up, once a turtle, and another time there was a whole group of animals.
By Christian Lerch
When I was teaching fourth grade children I had a significant experience with one of my students. I’ll call her Anna. The class was planning to go to the mountains for a week long retreat where we would live, learn, and play together. Anna had never been away from home. She was scared and didn’t want to come along. Her parents and I tried to support her to overcome her fear, but she was very convinced that she was not to leave home for these five days.
In preparation for the week away, I guided the children on a journey to meet an animal that would guide them through the week. Every student drew a T-shirt with the animal painted on it. Anna was also present for these preparations, even though we had supported her decision that she would stay home. A hedgehog showed up to guide her. It told her that it supported her to defend herself. This was the only communication the girl and the hedgehog had. Anna was content with this.
Anna was so open to the world of imagery that she visited her hedgehog every evening after school. Every following day she would tell me what happened. Hedgehog showed her where it lived; they drank lemonade together; they took hikes to discover different places. This went on for eight days without any instructions from my side. I just listened to her stories. After about ten days Anna arrived at school with tears in her eyes.
She told me that her hedgehog had died.
I was deeply moved and I asked her if she were willing to stay after school to journey with me. She agreed. I guided her and the dead hedgehog appeared. It said: ”You don’t need me anymore. But look there, there is another animal coming.” Anna turned around in her imagery and there came a panda bear.
Panda bear said, “I am strong. I help you to defend yourself, also. But what is new is that you can hug me.” Anna hugged Panda. She went home very happy.
Two days later, Anna contacted me and told me that she changed her mind. She decided to join the class for the five-day retreat in the mountains. She brought a stuffed panda bear with her. She had a lot of strength and comforted other students when they got homesick. Her parents and I were amazed.
Hedgehog knew exactly what this girl needed and supported her totally in her “no.”
Journeys to Inner Animal Guides
It has been ten years since Anna’s journey, and since then I have guided many children and adults on journeys to the world of deep imagery. I support the children to connect with the inner animal guides who show up spontaneously during their inner journeys.
The animals spring forward from the individual energy of each child. Through their appearance they connect the children with their inner resources. Sometimes these resources are sane, sometimes they are broken. It is touching to watch the great variety of what appears in each child’s journey. The more a child gets in connection with the animal guide, the more the child is connected with his or her own resources and potential. At the same time the animal guides are bridge builders between the subjective and the objective reality – between everyday life and spirituality. Children are often coming naturally from the realm where the inner and outer reality is one.
It is comforting to the children to feel supported in making a connection with this inner dimension without assigning any esoteric or analytic concepts to the child’s world or labelling or interpreting their experience.
I will describe what can unfold in the journeys in the following four cases:
Fourth grader Paul came to the beginning of a group, called “Rituals for Relaxation.” I offered this after school program at a public school. We met every Tuesday for 90 minutes, on six consecutive Tuesdays.
Paul was very hyperactive. He had some problems in school and was already in different therapies. He was full of energy and I could tell that he didn’t decide to take this group.
He said: “Well, I am just here to check out if this is cool what you do. If not, I will leave again.” I assured him that he is free to decide after the first session.
It was very hard for Paul to stay calm during the journey. I went to him and touched him physically, so he had an outer focus to relax, which helped him.
I guided the children to an animal that would help them to relax in stressful situations.
After the journey we shared the stories. Paul was angry, even furious: “What a stupid, fucking animal I have. To hell with it. I don’t believe how stupid it is.” A turtle had come to Paul. “I wanted a tiger and instead of this I get a turtle. I won’t visit this animal once again. I will kill it!” I was astonished. He himself could have created the tiger that he wanted so badly. But he didn’t. He gave space for the turtle to come forward.
Paul had to hurry home, because he didn’t want to miss a TV show. Before he left I told him: “Are you willing to give turtle a chance for one week? We can kill it together next week.” He agreed. I felt better.
Next week Paul rushed into the room and told me that he was in the city shopping with his mother. He told about the variety of turtle toys and soaps shaped like turtles that he saw. He was surprised about that. He told all this in a very excited way. At the end he said, “But it is still a stupid animal!”
As we prepared to journey and all the kids were settling down, Paul went into a closet and tried to close the door. It dawned on me that he was going into the energy of the turtle. He was looking for the shell. So I let him do it.
After the journey he was very calm but also excited. He said, “I was with turtle. And turtle told me that she is a magic turtle. She said, whatever I wish, she has it under her shell. Now I can have whatever I want. Turtle is now my friend!”
I was touched at how turtle found a way to reach the boy and also at how the boy was longing for this place under the shell, where he can get what he needs.
Turtle helped Paul to find a place of quietness and resources within himself. My task at the beginning was to endure his anger and rage and to support him not to act it out by killing the turtle immediately.
In one group an 11 year old boy I’ll call Manuel. He was a very gifted child and had the best grades in school.
On one hand, school was boring because he was not challenged enough. On the other hand, Manuel had social problems, because he was teased and bullied by the other kids who called him “a grind” and so on.
His first imagery was very colorful and full of different animals. The next day his mother called me and told me that her son couldn’t sleep last night. The mother was upset. So we met together. It came clear that the boy thought that he made up everything that happened in his imagery. All the other children met one animal in their journeys. He had a variety of animals. He felt that he is wrong and an outsider again.
With my support, Manuel began to trust the way of the imagination. The children in the group loved to listen to his journeys, because, they were so special.
Four days later he phoned me and said: “I am afraid to go ask the animals about my problem.” I asked if he would be willing to do it with me right there on the phone. He closed his eyes and called an animal. An eagle came. Eagle said, “Yes, sometimes you do create an animal by yourself, but this is very important for you. If you don’t meet the animals you make up, you would miss some very important teachings. And the teachings come by themselves. Also, sometimes the animals come by themselves to you.” I helped him ask if it was
necessary for him to know when the animals are real and when he makes them up. Eagle said: “No, that is not important. The important thing is that you communicate with them.” At the end of our phone session I said to the boy: “Ask Eagle if you made him up or if he came by himself.” I was just curious. Eagle replied: “Didn’t Mr. Lerch listen? I already said that it is not important to know this!” I was astonished once more about the integrity of the imagery world.
The issue of “being wrong” was transforming for the boy. It was not such a heavy issue for him anymore. He felt much more integrated within his class at school, although it was still boring for him from time to time.
I was with a Training group in Germany. The couple who ran the place we were staying had a son, Tom, who was 9 years old. Tom asked me at the beginning of the Training, what we would be doing in the coming week and if he could participate. . At this time, school was tiring for him because he had so many ideas. I told Tom what we were going to do and that it would be boring for him if he were to attend the whole time with us adults in the Training. I offered him to guide him on a journey and asked him, if he would be willing to do it in the circle of the Training group. He agreed. In fact, it was exciting for him.
On the third day he came in to the group room. He laid into the middle of the circle and closed his eyes. It seemed to be easy for him. After a short relaxation, I let him find his most beautiful, comforting power place. He found himself in the rainforest. There he called out for the animal who was willing to guide him for this time in his life.
Nothing happened first. After a while a Panda bear appeared. Tom said: “Panda is afraid of the hunters. They hunt him.”
“Ask him, if he needs something from you.”
“He needs help from me, but I don’t know how to help.”
“Ask Panda, if he knows, how you could help him.”
“No, he doesn’t know either.”
This appeared to be a tricky situation. Tom was lying here and within his journey was Panda who needed help and who was afraid and didn’t know where to go for help. Both of them didn’t know how to proceed. I let Tom be in his dilemma for a while. I also had to endure this tension of no solution here in the middle of the Training group.
After a while I asked: “How is this for you and Panda?”
“It is not nice.”
“Are you afraid yourself?”
Tom opened his eyes. He looked at me astonished and asked me, “Wouldn’t you be afraid in this situation?”
After a period of silence Tom said, “Panda has an idea. I should call all the animals of the rainforest so that they could support each other to help him.” So Panda and Tom called all the animals of the rainforest. All of them appeared. But they had also no solution. They themselves were being hunted by the hunters.
After a while Tom said, “The elephants have an idea. They have friends in the circus. They perform there. The elephants have the idea to ask their friends to refuse to perform until the hunters stop hunting the animals.” You see, the circus also belonged to the hunters. Tom and the animals were excited about this idea. They went together to the circus and all the animals of the circus agreed to strike, not only the elephants.
After a while Tom said: “The hunters have not given up their hunting. The danger is still present. We don’t know what to do anymore.”
It seemed that Tom was getting tired. The animals also meant that it was enough for the moment. I let him give thanks to the animals and say good bye. He was a little bit confused when he returned from his journey.
I trust the inner process even if it doesn’t lead to a solution right away. In the circle of the Trainees I felt challenged a bit. Some of the Trainees had difficulties with the fact that I let the boy hang in this unsolved energy of the journey.
For Tom it wasn’t so difficult. He was quiet and rested with himself after the journey and he seemed to be more in his own thoughts. One day before our departure, I asked him how Panda and his animals are doing.
Naturally he answered: “Oh, they found a solution. They took a plane and are on the way coming to Germany.” I asked him if all the animals will come to him. “For sure. They just landed in Frankfurt and I am curious when they will arrive here.”
Some weeks later I received a drawing of the arrival of the animals at Tom’s place.
When the time is ripe, blockages can dissolve very easily for a child through imagery.
Susi was eight years old. She was in one of the relaxation groups. Her mother told me that Susi has been waking up every night full of fear and then has a hard time going back to sleep. This has been going on for a couple of years.
In the group I experienced Susi as quiet and withdrawn. It seemed to me that a lot was going on inside of her that couldn’t find its way into expression. She didn’t talk a lot about her journeys. In every one of her first journeys a snake showed up for a short time and then disappeared. After telling this in the fourth session, I asked Susi: “Are you willing to visit snake once again right now?” To my surprise, Susi was willing to without hesitation.
Susi closed her eyes in the middle of the other kids. Snake was there very quickly. She crawled back and forth in front of Susi.
“The snake is sad,” Susi said.
“Ask her, why she is so sad.”
“She is so sad, because she has no poison anymore in her teeth.”
“Ask her, if she needs anything from you.”
“Snake wants me to give her poison. But I don’t know how to do this.”
“Tell her that.”
“Snake tells me that I have a lot of poison in my own teeth and that I should squirt this poison into her mouth.”
“ Are you willing to do this?”
“Yes,” replied Susi.
It was clear to Susi what she had to do. For about two minutes she made chewing movements with her mouth.
After that she said, “Now it is good. She is happy again.”
“Thank her and tell her goodbye,” I said.
Snake said to Susi, “You can call me any time when you need me. Okay?”
After this journey Susi looked totally relaxed. The energy of her journey was fascinating. I didn’t analyze it.
One week later Susi’s mother brought her to the next session. She told me that Susi slept though the night every night last week, the first time in months that Susi had done this.
We all have this tremendous treasury of growing, living, and healing inside of us. Most children live very close to the door of this reality. The connection with inner animal guides is one way to open the door to this treasury and to access to these living resources.