Just as ancient mystics ventured out into the wild to commune with nature and find divine guidance, I had to journey far, far out of familiar territory to find my power animal. This spirit guide would help me plan my future and calm my soul. I knew it would not be an easy trek. There would be many obstacles in my way: clogged intersections, speeding minivans and office parks with just one driveway entrance.
I wouldn't have to climb any mountains or leap off towering precipices into the vast unknown to achieve this journey deep within my soul, but I would have to navigate the Preston Road and Royal Lane intersection in the middle of Saturday afternoon shopping madness. If there's a place on this planet where Zen is more needed, I don't know where it might be. Evil, evil conspicuous consumerism!
I finally found my way to an office park near a Bibbentucker's—the only cleaners in the world that looks like a casual dining restaurant rather than a laundry facility—where a woman named Dorayne Breedlove Poklikuha was leading a guided power animal meditation class. Downstairs, people were eating fresh at a Subway. Upstairs, at a space called Inner Wisdom Wellness, nine people lying on cushy sleeping bags were circled in silence, visualizing a place Poklikuha called "the underworld."
Poklikuha is an urban shaman. First, she started going to drum circles. That led to classes in shamanism. Today, she goes on journeys to "recover lost souls" and calls herself Dancing Rainbow Woman. Part of being a shaman is teaching, and this is her first-ever power animal workshop.
"There has been such a disconnect from nature," Poklikuha told the class, her waist-length brown hair cascading down her back. Sitting cross-legged in front of an altar representing wind, earth, fire and water, Poklikuha began her lesson. There are still elements of our primitive past in the way we name our sports teams, like the Atlanta Falcons or Chicago Bears, she said, but for the most part, we are no longer tied to the biorhythms of the planet. But, Poklikuha said, "we still have some primordial connection."
Not that I really needed to say "ommm" and close my eyes to find out what my power animal might be. My first word was "kitty," which my mother worked harder on teaching to me than "mama" or "dada." Growing up in a family that raised up to 10 cats at a time, depending on which stray mama cat had recently gotten some action, I was first a cat baby, then a cat child and cat teenager, and am now a full-on cat lady. The only thing I might like more than cats is a stiff drink, and even then, I can't separate my two loves: Whiskey is a silver tabby and Sake is a Siamese.
I may be bat-shit crazy and borderline creepy when it comes to felines, but I'm fully aware of it. For some women, a lifetime of buying Meow Mix and muttering to themselves in robes covered with cat hair is terrifying. I consider it my primary retirement plan.
But when Poklikuha told us to visualize a big tree and imagine descending its trunk into the ground, I started to get nervous. Guided meditations are easy for me because I have an active imagination, but what if my power animal was not a cat? What if I got something lame like a gerbil or a flounder? "You may be surprised by your animal," Poklikuha warned us. If I got a sucky power animal, I was going to be pissed.
My "underworld" looked like one of the nighttime cave levels in Super Mario World. Deep blue cave walls rose around me, and a navy night sky twinkled with stars. It even had those brown and green stumps so favored by the little Italian plumber. Getting a Goomba for a power animal would be even lamer than a gerbil. If our power animal could be mythical, as Poklikuha had said, I figured mine could be invented by a Japanese dude with an overactive imagination. Surely my power animal would not merely be a character from a popular videogame. A Goomba goes beyond kitsch. It would be a deep, internal manifestation of a consumerism-crushed soul.
Having safely ushered us into our respective underworlds, Poklikuha stopped talking but continued to beat on a drum. I visualized a bridge in front of me and a figure padding over it. Four legs. Pointy ears. But no tail.
It was a little white cat with a couple of big brown spots. Hardly any tail. I recognized it immediately as a Japanese bobtail cat, seen most of the time as porcelain knick-knacks in Asian restaurants, their paws raised in greeting. The cat jumped onto a rock in the middle of a stream that had just appeared. She was no Goomba! I decided to keep her.
Poklikuha pounded faster and faster on the drum, then stopped. That was our signal to return to the present. Christina, a blond woman across from me in the circle, looked miffed.
"I got a gorilla," she said slowly, as if she thought she might have gotten the wrong answer. But Poklikuha smiled. "What did that feel like?" she asked.
"It was a sense of protection and security," Christina said. Next to her in the circle was Brian, another urban shaman who was in the room, as Poklikuha said, "holding the space for us." He meditated, but he did not join us in our power animal search.
"I bumped into your gorilla," he said, smiling at Christina. Around the circle, we found a falcon, a bear (or maybe a mountain lion, Bill wasn't sure), a snake, my cat and two lions. Cats obviously rule.
When I shared my power animal experience with my friends, it got even worse. One by one, they laughed when I told them about the little white cat. "Your power animal is Hello Kitty!" my boss taunted. If a Goomba was a deep, internal manifestation of a soul ravaged by consumerism, having a ubiquitous cultural symbol of twinkie-girlhood like Hello Kitty for a power animal was far more embarrassing. Then I realized that I should have seen it coming all along.
I have a Sunday morning ritual. It involves waking up on my couch, where I'm usually snuggled under a hot pink Hello Kitty blanket, having fallen asleep the night before watching infomercials in a pair of flannel Hello Kitty pajama pants. As I turn on the lights, my Hello Kitty night light, the one that flashes four different colors, turns itself off. I stumble to the kitchen, where I make a cup of tea in my Hello Kitty teapot and stick a piece of toast in my Hello Kitty toaster, which imprints Hello Kitty's face on every slice of bread. While the toast roasts, I empty the cat box into a Hello Kitty trash can. I wash my hands and then slather them with lotion. Sparkly, sugar-scented Hello Kitty lotion.
I am a power animal failure. I have no primordial connection to nature. I have a primordial connection to a cartoon.