Lessons from Salmon: A New View On Struggle

Some days
I flow with the river
Surging
Like a rainbow trout
Others days I thrash and flail
Like a salmon
Desperately trying to get back upstream
Not even knowing what I struggle for

I wrote this poem many years ago at a time when I had a very strong sense of struggle in my life.  The other night I had a dream that I was walking beside a large river.  As I looked into the river, I saw a salmon, then another and then suddenly the river was filled with salmon of all different sizes swimming upstream.  What I noticed was that the salmon were not struggling to get upstream, they were moving with ease, riding the currents below the surface.  It was beautiful to watch the way they were carried with grace and ease as they connected to the currents and just allowed themselves to be carried upstream.

When I awoke, I remembered my poem; it had been a bit of an anthem for me in my 20’s.  I often performed it when I did poetry readings; it seemed to represent the sense of struggle I felt about life.  Now, I notice that even then was able to acknowledge the times when I felt the flow of life although back then I was much more focused on struggle.  Over the years, my sense of flow has definitely increased and now I can see it relates as much to the salmon as to the rainbow trout.

I realize that I mistook the energy of the salmon as struggling when in reality the salmon only appears to be struggling as it moves upstream.  The salmon are not really fighting the currents but jumping to go deeper so that they can ride the reverse currents below the surface that carry them gracefully upstream.   What a beautiful metaphor for life.  At the surface, there is much that appears to be a struggle – there are a plethora of issues we deal with daily such as work, family, finances, health etc.  When we allow ourselves to delve deeper and to go below the surface, the energy and wisdom we need to flow through life is uncovered.  It was there all along but as we jump and dive deeper, we connect with those energies.

For some reason as I am writing this post the title of one of  Zen teacher Cheri Huber’s books comes to mind.  It’s called “When Your Are Taking a Fall – Dive”.   The salmon jumps upstream and is carried by the currents below the surface.  When we allow ourselves to go deeper,  to go within,  all of the support and energy that is an innate part of ourselves becomes accessible.  When we are willing to move with our resistance, there is spaciousness for great changes to occur.  We can learn from the Salmon who jumps out of water, it’s native element, essentially trusting that is will make the connection it needs to be carried upstream.  As we allow ourselves to move out of our comfort zones and be vulnerable, we are able to connect with those energies that can carry us and bring us into greater harmony with life.

I’d like to really honor the wisdom of the Salmon as a Power Animal or Totem.  It is often said that a Power Animal comes to you through a dream, journey or vision quest.  Power Animals can also be animals that we encounter in physical reality and have a strong connection with.   In a sense, they are  a reflection of our innermost essence; they represent our own talents and abilities and the qualities we need to thrive in the world.  When we connect with a Power Animal, we are gifted with a greater awareness as the Totem offers its power, medicine, protection and wisdom unique to its being; this can  help us to learn and grow. The term Totem is derived from the an Ojibwa word ototeman, meaning “one’s brother-sister kin.”  Through cultivating this sacred connection and spiritual support, we are able to become more in touch with our own self and the web of life.

There can be wisdom to learn from all animals whether or not they are our personal Power Animal.  In more traditional cultures, a relationship with animals is innate and reflects a sense of connection to the greater whole.  In many ways, we have lost this connection in modern societies.  Through exploring the energies and qualities of animals and the wisdom they bring, we are honoring our true nature and allowing more of our own essence to emerge.

The Salmon is a major totem for the Eskimo and other cultures along the North Pacific Rim.   For thousands of years, the rhythm of daily life has been ordered in accord with the Salmon population.  The Salmon are thought to inform the humans of their connection with the natural world and attune them to the natural rhythms of life.   Additionally, the Salmon is considered an animal totem in Celtic myth.  According to their mythology, there was a sacred well situated under the sea where the sacred Salmon acquired their wisdom and shared it with the Celtic people.

Some of the medicine or wisdom that Salmon brings includes the awareness that we have the strength within to:

  • Overcome obstacles that present themselves
  • Move steadily on our spiritual journey
  • Find meaning and purpose in our life
  • Swim upstream through emotional waters to gain insight
  • Roll with resistance and fear of change
  • Explore our bonds with the past and gain understanding from of our history
  • Connect with natural rhythms of life
  • Allow ourselves to be childlike, playful, spontaneous and inquisitive
  • Develop awareness of the currents and energies beneath the surface
  • Learn to go deeper to find those energies that support our movement
  • Persevere
  • Find fulfillment within ourselves and harmony with our world
  • Find satisfaction and self-expression through creativity
  • Connect with our source
  • Find strength from within
  • Know we are always home, wherever we may be

There are many books on Power Animals and resources online that can help to gain insight in animal totems.  One of my favorite books is Animal Speak by Ted Andrews.  It can also be beneficial to study, meditate or journey to a Power Animal or animals we feel drawn to and see what specific messages and wisdom they have to offer us.

I’d like to conclude with a new poem honoring Salmon and the deeper understanding I have of it today:

Jumping upstream
Diving deep
Finding currents
Being carried
We grow
We flow
We know
We are always home

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