The beauty of soul retrieval is that Spirit will provide you with whatever power animal you need without you having to figure it out, because it isn’t a rational process. You simply have to work with what’s given to you and explore the animal’s attributes as it reveals its wisdom. You’ll call for a power animal, and it’ll leap out and follow you back, then it’s up to you to discover how you’re going to work with it.

For example, when my son was born, I retrieved the wolf as a power animal. He came to me unexpectedly and clung closely to my side. He informed me that he was going to teach me how to be deeply loyal to my family, as he was to his pack, yet be able to roam widely. He told me that his qualities were commitment and dedication without compromising individuality, which were the lessons I needed to learn, since I’d spent much of my adult life as an explorer in the Andes and the Amazon. The wolf taught me loyalty and independence. It taught me to be part of a family pack without feeling constrained by it. I learned that I could best serve my family by retaining my identity and sense of purpose in life at the same time.

Now, even though power animals symbolize the attributes we need to acquire to become whole, they also have pitfalls. The female jaguar, for instance, is fiercely dedicated to her young and amazingly protective, but the male jaguar is only around her for two weeks of the year—the rest of the time he’s marking territory a few dozen miles away. So, if you’ve become too homebound and domesticated, or if you want to come back to your explorer self, you might work with the male jaguar energy; yet if you lack a protective parent, or if you want to increase your sense of safety in the world, you might need the female jaguar. Just be sure to keep the strengths and weaknesses of your power animal in mind as you work with it.

A few months after her wedding, a young client of mine named Patty retrieved an ox as a power animal. She was a writer who worked in a home office with her new husband, and here’s her account of what happened:

I was really excited about my marriage, but I also felt burdened by the change it had brought about in my life. I didn’t feel comfortable with the day-to-day negotiations about chores and money; I was uncertain about what it meant to be married, how much my new husband would take care of me, and how much independence I could retain; and I didn’t know how to be nurturing with my husband and at the same time be free from the expectations of being “Patty Homemaker.” Yet, rather than discussing these issues with my husband, I just tried to do everything myself, which led to feelings of resentment and exhaustion.

When I first brought back my power animal, I was puzzled by the big lumbering creature that came to me—but when I engaged the ox in dialogue, it informed me that he was my partner. He said that he was there to work with me and share my load. He was accustomed to being yoked to another ox, pulling as a team for their entire lives. When the two animals are nurtured, they work together, each pulling far more than its own weight, but also only carrying half the burden. When the partnership works, there’s almost nothing a pair of oxen can’t do together.

He told me that because the ox is so powerful, it’s easy to overlook its vulnerabilities. We all know the expression “as strong as an ox,” but this animal can be killed through overwork—just as you can kill a relationship when one partner is working to please the other at the expense of his or her own needs and desires. And an ox can be very inflexible, refusing to change its way or work with a partner it doesn’t like. The danger is in being “as stubborn as an ox” and refusing to cooperate or resolve differences. And there’s nothing like an ox that just wants to pull its own way—particularly when it’s yoked to another animal!

The ox had a lot to teach Patty about developing nurturing partnerships, long-term commitment, and equality. She needed to learn to step in stride with her husband, each one carrying an equal load. As a beast of burden, the ox needs to be watered, cared for, and rested—similarly, Patty needed to learn to communicate her needs so that she wouldn’t feel overworked and resentful later. She needed to pull her own weight, without subconsciously expecting her partner to work as her beast of burden.

Patty began to see the opportunities in the ox as a power animal and what it taught her about collaboration, steadfastness, and hard work, but she also realized how to harness its earthy, plodding energy. Patty needed to learn how to gently guide her new life in order to yield its greatest potential.

Next week I’ll cover journeying to retrieve your power animal.