Watch an animal move. The rhythmic lope of a wolf and the way its body becomes the motion. A horse in a field—tossing its mane, pounding its hooves, running for sheer pleasure. The dolphin as it leaps high in the air above the water, twisting its powerful body then disappears beneath the waves to emerge a minute later in another joyous leap. For many years, I wondered why most of us after childhood no longer experience this kind of rhythmical freedom, joy and vitality. Why, so often do we often feel only half alive? Why have we been tutored to think of our body as separate from ourselves—something to be criticised, judged, or pushed and shoved into shape, rather than celebrating its power and feeling the enthusiasm that comes with the natural movement that is our birthright?
For many the primary experience of life is one of deadness. And since nobody can live long in deadness.We start to seek out artificial stimulants—drugs, alcohol, compulsive work or sex—in the hope that these things might, at least, bring back our sense of aliveness. The trouble is, none of the artificial practices work. Where do you find the real guide to joy and freedom? Listen to our animal friends be they domesticated or wild. Your whole life will change for the better. It stunned me when I became aware of this I then decided to see what I could learn from animals in my personal life.
The experience of becoming fully awake and alive lies in the body of an animal itself. The same applies to us humans. It has to do with muscle. It's not our mind but our muscle that creates life-energy for us to think, move and feel. The power of the horse, the rhythmical gait of the wolf, the wild playfulness of the dolphin come from strong, fluid muscles. The more fluid the muscles in any living body, the more does it feel fully alive.
Animal bodies have two fundamental components. So do we. They consist of lean body mass and fat. Like our own body organs like the heart, liver, spleen and pancreas, as well as their bones and skin must have a good supply of oxygen. They also need top quality nutrients from pesticide-free foods—proteins, fruits and vegetables. Both animals and humans thrive on foods grown in healthy soils. This is essential for us to think, feel, move, and grow so we can stay healthy naturally. The bodies of wild animals, as well as domestic ones—whose owners know enough not to feed their pets on the kibbled pet food junk sold everywhere—remain lean, sleek and beautiful lifelong. This brings power, ease of movement, stamina and beauty. Then they quite naturally express the exuberance essential to their nature that so inspires us when we are in their presence.
Too often, we humans treat our bodies as if they were machines. Your body is nothing like a machine. Use a machine, and it wears out. Move your body, which is designed to be active, and you can delight in watching yourself becoming stronger, more fluid and more alive— no matter what your age or condition right now.
Here are some more truths animals can share with us:
- Animals trust their instincts. If something smells bad, they don't question they just get away from it.
- Animals are in touch with their innate rhythms and the rhythms of the earth. This creates a life-sustaining harmony.
- Animals are powerful killers when they need to be.
- They are infinitely soulful as well and open to forming deep bonds both with us humans and with other animals.
- An animal eats when it's hungry if food is available. When it is not, it fasts.
- Animals love to play.
- Animals respect their elders and embrace the social order.
- Animals are unabashedly honest and loyal.
- An animal's patience and discipline when stalking or hunting is phenomenal.
- Animals form deep bonds with other animals even if they don't belong to the same species. A cat with an owl, a cheetah with a dog, a wild polar bear with a husky, a dolphin with a child, a duck with a rabbit.
In Buddhist cosmology, there are beings known as "Bodhisattvas." These are believed to be perfected souls who, out of compassion for the struggles of all of us, choose to forsake enlightenment in order to dedicate themselves to helping liberate all beings. It is said that a Bodhisattva can appear in many forms—as a teacher, a helper, a lover—even an animal. According to Mahayana Buddhist teachings, the Buddha himself spent many lifetimes before experiencing his own liberation beneath the Bodhi tree. In many of these lives, he came to earth as an animal with the intention of bringing wisdom, healing and comfort to all beings.
The eighth-century Indian saint Shantideva describes every Bodhisattva's intention:
For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain.
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.
I believe the gifts of a Bodhisattva are beautifully given us through the generosity of our animal friends. I have intimately known three animals that I sense carried the wisdom, healing power and compassion of a Bodhisattva. There was a cat named Carciofo (Artichoke in Italian), Alba, a hundred and forty pounds of pure white Arctic Wolf, whom Aaron and I shared a room with for five nights in Canada, and Tuffy, a gigantic Collie, who went everywhere with me from the time I was six years old. I have learned so very much from them. They showed me how important it is to watch and listen to animals I meet everywhere. I have always been so grateful for their wisdom.
Try spending more and more time with animals, be they wild or domestic. Ask them to teach you how to make your own life richer, healthier and more wonderful. Listen in silence to what they show you. You can be quite sure that they won't let you down.