Gifts: Determination. Perseverance. Instinct. Overcoming obstacles. Learning and growth by going against the stream. Facing turbulent emotions head-on. Remembering where you came from. Honoring your roots. Cyclicality.
Challenges: Manifesting unnecessary obstacles. Overwork. Contrariness. Stuck in past.
Salmon loves a good challenge. Every five to seven years, physical salmon swim upstream, back to the place of their birth, to spawn. They rely on instinct and a collective consciousness to guide them on their journey. The return to the place they were spawned is a lesson for you to remember where you come from. The message is to incorporate your stories and honor your past. Return for a visit, even.
The shadow side of this is getting stuck in the past, blaming your past and your parents, and not learning or moving on from the past. Salmon may go back home every few years. But it doesn’t stay there. It doesn’t complain that its parents failed it. Of course, it’s just a fish. And it’s natural for humans to get stuck and to blame and complain. With Salmon as your spirit animal, you havea powerful guide to get unstuck, to move forward, and to own your life.
Everyone recognizes Salmon as that fish that crazily swims upstream, risking being eaten by grizzly bears en route. I even remember as a child thinking, “Why would they do that?! Just spawn somewhere safer.” But there is magic that happens when Salmon swims upstream. Salmon undergoes a physical transformation during the journey, mirroring the transformational power of our own soul journeys—including journeys to explore and understand the past. We can go back home, but we are never the same when we get there.
Salmon’s successful arrival at its spawning ground represents the determination we can borrow to reach our own goals. Contrary to how it may look to us, Salmon’s swimming upstream isn’t fighting the current. Salmon uses the current to help it jump and swim more efficiently. Going upstream is not a losing battle. In fact, it is not a battle at all for Salmon.
And it does not have to be a battle for you. You are not always best served by “going with the flow.” You have much more to gain by following your own current. When other people tell you you’re going the wrong way, when you encounter metaphorical bears along the way, use Salmon to dodge and leap and stay on course. Your course.
We think of flow as being a downstream event—or at least an easy, on-the-surface movement. But, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about in his book Flow, you much have both a challenge and the ability/talent to overcome that challenge in order to achieve the state of flow. (See also Whale.) In other words, flowing downstream is often not achieving the state of flow.
Salmon represents the true state of flow—the zone, as many athletes, artists, and writers call it. I’m no athlete, but I can’t writeor paint if I’m not in flow. Oh, I can go through the motions. I can technically write outside of flow. But my writing is good, it reaches people, when I write in flow. I feel ecstatic, I touch the Divine, when I’m in flow.
And it always starts with a challenge—feeling a block, feeling stuck, pondering what I’m going to write, how I’m going to say it, tapping those first few hesitant words onto the screen. Then, boom. The floodgates open, right in my face—like Salmon, I’m swimming against the current, jumping over rocks, dodging bears. And, gods, it feels good.
That’s flow. That’s Salmon.
The risk with Salmon is that you may become an “upstream junkie.” You may crave the pressure and the adrenaline rush that comes from facing an upstream battle. When it doesn’t feel like a battle, when it doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping, you may seek out more and more obstacles, greater and greater challenges. Your Salmon determination makes you a risk-taker. The reality check that Salmon advises is to watch out for bears. What are your bears? Where are your blind spots? What are your traps? Be aware so you can be prepared.