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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

Shapeshifting with Our Animal Companions: Connecting with the Spiritual Awareness of All Life

I’ve got a cold. The world’s worst cold, to be precise. I’m hacking, spitting, and I feel as if I’m ten feet under water. What better time to read a book about consciousness? My brain is already exploding. My thoughts and ideas bore me to tears, so dropping them and saying to myself, “What if this is true?” has been a relief.

The book I’ve been reading requires nothing less. Shapeshifting with Our Animal Companions by Dawn Baumann Brunke (Bear & Co., 2008) is categorized as New Age/Nature because it is about people’s spirits, animals’ spirits, plants’ spirits, and all spirits sharing information and, ultimately, being one consciousness. But the categories of New Age and Nature are limiting in a way that is false — the same way our notion of separate consciousnesses for dogs and trees and rocks and people is false, according to author Brunke.

In Shapeshifting with Our Animal Companions, Brunke has conversations with her dog, Barney. (Think Conversations with God on steroids … with a flavor of indigenous wisdom … and God is Dog who acts as Brunke’s co-writer.) After Barney dies, the conversations continue, getting ever more expansive, little by little chipping away at our notions of spirit/soul, intelligent life, who we are, and time:

“Let us remember,” says Barney, “that time is a software program through which you experience your conscious awareness. The ‘time’ that you know is simply a program — a manner of holding reality so that you can make sense of it. From some aspects of spirit, time is nonexistent; from other levels, time is much more fluid than you understand it.”

Does that make your head hurt, and not because you’ve got the world’s worst cold and your brain’s exploding? Good. Expansion requires a work-out and some pain, and Brunke’s book is metaphysical boot camp. Here’s some more:

“We are all part of the web that has no weaver. And we are all the weavers of that web,” she writes in a final chapter called “Here and Now.”

Brunke sees evolution as happening through “shapeshifting,” which, by her definition, is “change.”

“Shapeshifting is a movement, and all of life is movement,” she says. “. . . you are constantly shifting your shape: growing as a human, plant, or animal; being weathered; taking in other forms and essences and releasing them via food or air or water or sunshine or nourishment. This, too, is a form of shapeshifting . . . . Life and death is this: the taking of one form and the letting go of another form; … And once you become aware of this, then you have opened to the understanding that shapeshifting offers.”

What is that understanding? That shapeshifting is what we are. Change is our essence — making the mantra “Be the change you want to see” kind of silly, since the notion that we can be anything other is false.

Shapeshifting is not easy. It requires us to try out opinions that may contrast with those we hold dear (for instance, that humans are the only creatures that think philosophically). We shapeshift when our fear and fury suddenly transform into gallows humor, or when we look at someone we loathe and see ourselves, or when we have the world’s worst cold and suddenly think it’s cool to be ten feet under water where everything is slow and muted.

Shapeshifting with Our Animal Companions is a complex and finely written, meaty Buddhist koan — a statement or question with paradoxes and no obvious answer. What’s a web with no weaver that we all weave? And what does it mean that we are all one consciousness? Throughout the book, Brunke conveys words that seem to come from different spirits, so how can there be only One?

Like all good koans, this one requires a high dive. In Shapeshifting with Our Animal Companions, Dawn Baumann Brunke has created a high board for a dive into a bottomless pool of understanding.

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Dawn Baumann Brunke is also the author of Animal Voices: Telepathic Communication in the Web of Life; Animal Voices, Animal Guides; as well as numerous articles, reviews, and short stories for children and adults. A massage therapist and editor of Alaska Wellness Magazine, she specializes in the areas of bodywork, healing, metaphysics, and spirituality. She lives in Wasilla, Alaska.
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