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What We Can Learn from Animals


“I think I could turn and live with animals,

they are so placid and self-contained;

I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition”

~ Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman

Animals remind us there is another way to exist in this world outside of the turbulence of human emotion: outside of human striving, shame, and self-pity. It is ironic that for centuries the Western world has considered itself above the animal world, superior, and tasked with using and exploiting the animal world for its own, supposedly more lofty ends. We’ve called it “progress.” As we survey the brokenness of our society as well as the environmental destruction of our world, it’s obvious that hubris has been our undoing.

At the end of a depleting day, my pets remind me of another way. They whisper to me that I can put off over-concern with self and all its hangups: pushing to achieve expectations (my own and those of others), over-concern with image management, even energy expenditure over trivial matters of physical appearance. Of course pets provide unconditional love no matter what is going on in our personal worlds, but they also provide a daily reminder of the foolishness of so much frenetic busyness, posturing, self-judgment, and self-concern. My pets help me to transcend, if only for a moment. “What does all this matter?” they seem to ask. “How does this serve you?” There is great peace in spending even a few moments among animals, reflecting upon their natures.

Animals are an often overlooked gift and springboard for healing reflection. When you get a moment this week, spend time observing an animal whether a pet or some wildlife accessible nearby. A toad or bird will do. Did that animal wake up wracked with worry or a mile-long to-do list? Did they fret over their appearance or performance that day? Did they wish to be other than they were, other than their design dictates? Meditate on how you can learn from their way of being in the world.


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