Animals Know The Secret
Next time you get a chance, watch an animal move. The rhythmic lope of the wolf whose body seems to become its motion. A horse in a field, tossing its mane, pounding its hooves and racing about for joy. The dolphin leaping high in the air as it twists its powerful body before disappearing into the waves, to emerge a minute later with yet another ecstatic leap.
For many years I wondered why, once we grow up, most of us no longer experience this kind of explosive, rhythmical energy grounded in our physical body. Why too often do we feel only half alive? Why do those of us women tend to look upon our body as separate from ourselves—something to be criticized, judged, pushed, and pushed into shape, instead of being able to celebrate the power, freedom and joy the way animals do?
DEAD OR ALIVE
For many of us, our primary experience of life is one of deadness. And since none of us are able to live with deadness for very long, we become forced to seek artificial stimuli through drugs or alcohol, compulsive work, or sex—just to make us feel alive again. The trouble is that none of these artificial things we turn to ever work for very long. So where does the real key to genuine freedom lie?
MIRACLES FROM MUSCLE
The answer to this question may surprise you. It stunned me when I first came upon it since it was so simple. The key to aliveness is found in the body itself. It lies in the same place as the key to burning excess fat in our muscles. Your muscle is the engine that turns food calories into energy, burns fat, and creates an experience of ongoing simple joy, whatever you may be doing. Muscle creates the life-energy for you to think, to move, and to feel. The power of the horse, the rhythmical gait of the wolf able to run on and on with ease, the wild playfulness of the dolphin—all depend on good strong muscle. To create a firm, beautiful, lean body for yourself, begin to listen to, nurture, and develop your muscle. Your body is a potential powerhouse of vitality. If you want to access it, you need to move.
People often talk about the body as if it were a machine. In truth your body is nothing like a machine. A machine, when you use it, wears out. Your body was designed to be active. The more you use it wisely, the stronger and more beautiful it will become—regardless of your age. I learned all this the hard way—the best way I guess—but believe me, it wasn’t fun.
Several years ago I injured my left leg badly from a nasty fall while walking up a steep incline to board a plane in Munich. The incline was running with water. Amidst a lot of blood and mess I had no idea just how badly I had been injured until I found I was in constant pain and could hardly walk for months. This injury was followed by another nasty one, which was to my right ankle. And yet another injury followed a few months later, when I cracked my sacrum at 5am in the middle of winter while getting out of a spa and tumbling back onto a hardwood deck. If you were to accuse me of being a glutton for punishment, you would be spot on. I never seem to do things by half! Anyway, all of this meant that I was forced to stop using my body. In fact my body became a source of pain and fear for me, not pleasure. Where I had once done exercise regularly for the sheer joy of it, I stopped completely—not just for months at a time—but for years. I forgot what it was like to experience the joy and feel the sense of freedom I had long been used to from the running and weight training that I’d enjoyed for well over 40 years. As a result, my body lost much muscle tone and ease of movement.
Then one day, for no apparent reason, I woke from my ignorant stupor and began to move a little, just to find out if my body might still have life in it: I began, ever so slowly and gently to dance, to stretch, to cycle on a wind trainer. I tried to allow my body to feel the sensuous pleasure of swimming gently in our pool as well as spending just 10 or 15 minutes in passive relaxation on our Power Plate.
Slowly, but surely, it began to come alive again. I kept asking myself, “How could I have forgotten how simple and joyous moving my body could become?” I remembered the rewards that can return when we begin to exercise—not because it’s supposed to be good for us—out of some kind of duty—but because we owe it to our bodies to bring them alive again.
That was some time ago. I still wrestle with pain in my lower body because my injuries were so severe, but I exercise daily and continue to grow stronger and happier. Every morning now, I wake up in wonder, giving thanks all I have personally been able to learn from my animal friends.
AGE OF NO CONSEQUENCE
I wanted to share my experience with you. No matter what your age or how much you may have neglected in moving your body, regardless of any tone your muscles may have lost, your body still has an astounding capacity to regenerate, and restore its vitality and its capacity to provide you with the joyous experience of freedom that animals know so well, and it is your natural birthright too. You need only need to remember that this is possible for you, then with kindness and respect for yourself, gently begin to move again.
Let me share with you a few other truths that come close to what my animal friends have taught me:
- Unlike 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 brings to them life-sustaining harmony.
- Animals become powerful killers when necessary.
- Animals can be infinitely soulful as well.
- They are open to forming deep bonds, both with humans and with other animals.
- An animal will eat when it’s hungry if food is available.
- When it is unwell, it fasts to get better.
- Animals play a lot.
- Animals are honest and loyal.
- When stalking prey or waiting for someone, an animal’s patience is phenomenal.
In Buddhist cosmology, there are beings known as “Bodhisattvas.” They are said to be perfected souls who, out of compassion for the struggles of all of us, have chosen to forsake their own enlightenment to dedicate themselves to help liberate all beings. It is said that a Bodhisattva can appear in many forms—as a teacher, a helper, a lover, or even an animal. According to Mahayana Buddhist teachings, the Buddha himself spent many lifetimes as an animal 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.
I have come to believe that the gifts of a Bodhisattva are given us through the generosity of our animal friends. Spend more time watching and learning from animals, be they wild or domestic. Ask them if they can help you make your own life healthier and richer. Listen in silence to what they show you. They can be superb teachers for all of us.
Animals Know The SecretApril 3rd, 2016