Learning Spirituality from Animals
Animals of all kinds, especially the ones sharing our home, can be our spiritual guides and healers if we pay attention.
From the time we’re born, it’s natural to not only connect with animals, but to perceive in them something sublime. Because they don’t use words, animals and humans communicate with a different kind of language, one of spirit and energy, that can be uniquely pure and profound. Children in particular may feel a kinship with animals because they are fellow creatures who also have not been socialized or distracted—by a culture of words, expectations, and “information”—to disconnect from their spirituality.
As adults, tapping back into communion with other species can be good for the soul. Every day, as I sit at my home office desk, my dog Cayenne—my companion of 15 years—settles in her bed next to me. Her breath is the soundtrack for my work. Out my office window, I watch birds flutter around and take particular pleasure in witnessing my cats, Stoney and Dylan, explore and enjoy the sunshine. I’ll take a break for a stroll around the block with Cayenne or a yoga exercise outside where the cats—and bugs of all sorts—inevitably join me.
Each of these creatures has a peaceful effect on my state of mind, and I think it has a lot to do with their divine energy and their lack of internal and external noise that can muck up our own. I experience a supercharge in my spiritual wellness just by being in their presence. While I’m mostly surrounded by dogs, cats, birds, insects, and deer in my region of Texas, I did recently find myself swimming along with a sea turtle in the Atlantic Ocean. Matching the pace of my arms swooshing through the water with his paddles, hearing nothing but my own breath, and thinking of nothing but being was the most perfectly content I could remember feeling in years. To briefly immerse myself in the world of that turtle was a privilege.
Animals of all kinds, especially the ones sharing our home, can be our spiritual guides and healers if we pay attention. I have no favorite animal, and my love for my dog is immeasurable, but I’ve noticed cats have a lot to teach me. When I’m with a cat, I feel simultaneously soothed and mystified. In the tradition of spirit animals, the cat represents independence, curiosity, courage, and the ability to act only when the time is right. Their intuition is as sharp as their claws. The animals we’re drawn to can often represent what we need to manifest more of within ourselves. When I recognize how much second-guessing and hesitating I do in my life, I know I could use more cat in me. (Read "The Healing Energy of Cats.")
Whether appreciating an animal for its individual essence; marveling at how different species connect, share, and communicate love; or pondering what animals can teach us, there are so many ways they can help us understand grace and spirit.
Here are some simple practices to try with the animals in your life that may not only help you appreciate their spirituality and connect with them but could even heighten your own well-being.
Take five minutes to simply observe your animal companion. Whether your cat is basking in a sliver of sunlight, or on the prowl … or your dog is sniffing up the daily news on a walk, or sleeping … just watch. Listen. Smell. Try not to touch. Rather than snuggling, use this time just to witness.
When my husband Nathan was a boy, he spent countless hours at a pond near his home watching muskrats coming and going from their den. One evening, he lay on his belly, slowly and almost silently inching toward the den until his face was right above it, and he waited … and waited, perfectly still. After a time, a muskrat emerged, so close Nathan felt its movement on his face. Recalling the experience still fills him with joy.
When we are still, and we wait quietly, it’s amazing what might come to us: a muskrat, a sea turtle … and maybe over time intuitive breakthroughs, peace of mind, or even hints of enlightenment.
Communicate with energy.
I once attended a workshop hosted by a shaman and a horse trainer. I’d been around horses much of my life, but I was still fascinated to learn just how attuned they are to energy. The premise of the workshop was how we can understand, and control, our own energy through observing horses’ responses to us. We even practiced silently making requests of the horses with nothing but our focused thought. Watching a 2,000-pound animal come to me and follow, simply because I concentrated my energy on that request, was empowering and enlightening.
Mindful breathing is a well-known meditative technique, beneficial for peace of mind, calmness, physical health, energy, and more. Try sitting with your cat or dog and listening to their breath along with yours, or even breathing at the same pace (if that’s comfortable).
Be a student.
Ask yourself what your animal companion might be here to teach you. Does your elderly cat try your patience when she cries at 4 a.m. for food or affection? Are you most vulnerable when nobody is around but your dog? Have animals in your life offered you opportunities to be more confident and self-assured? Do they remind you how to forgive?
Animals can teach us all to practice regular gratitude. Notice when they make you smile or laugh, and be grateful. You might say a (silent or audible) thank-you to your dog for her display of utter happiness every time you come home. You could even thank a bee for their almost miraculous role in pollination and the life cycle of ecosystems, or a horse for allowing you to take a ride on his back.