Those of us who love dogs and cats have experienced the many gifts to our lives they bring us. But what if farm animals, too, had many gifts to give, if only we would stop long enough to listen?
Have you ever gotten to know a pig, cow, chicken, sheep or goat? Chances are, your first introduction to some of these animal species was on your plate. We’ve built our human society around the idea that animals—in fact all parts of nature—are simply products to be used for human needs. It’s because of this kind of egoistic thinking that our planet is in such a mess with global warming, destruction of rainforests, wars and so on.
But what would happen if we could find a way to open our hearts to others in compassion? If we could learn how to do this, everything could change and the world could heal. I think as animal lovers, a great and easy start would be to transform the way we view farm animals. What if we could open our eyes and see them for who they really are and learn from their wisdom?
Here are three spiritual lessons I have learned from farm animals:
The Cow: Forgiveness
When my daughter was a toddler, I’ll never forget the day we visited a pumpkin patch before Halloween. A cow was living in a paddock on the property, and my daughter immediately ran to the fence. The cow walked over and stood with her head down just low enough so that my daughter could pet her through the fence. How touching it was to see the joy on my daughter’s face and the recognition of this joy in the cow—how trusting and close she was with my daughter. As I wondered about this cow’s future, I wished in my heart that this kind of sweet connection between children and cows could be repeated over and over in this world. No matter what has gone before in the realm of human/cow relations in this world, there is hope for change and there is space for forgiveness.
The Sheep: Gentleness
During one of my visits to Remus Memorial Horse Sanctuary in England, I had the good fortune to sit in meditation with the several of the sheep in their barn. They seemed fascinated with my practice and had all gathered near the fence, watching me as I sat and breathed peacefully. After several minutes, one of the older sheep came slowly out of the barn. Clearly, she had some difficulty walking and was very unbalanced on her feet. As she came forward to the fence to see me, all of the other sheep parted quietly and gently like the sea so that she could walk unimpeded through them to greet me. She moved so slowly, yet the other sheep happily gave her whatever time and space she needed to move freely. It was so beautiful to watch how they respected her and showed this with such gentleness. I thought to myself, if only humans could treat their elders in such a manner, society would be very different.
The Chicken: Focus
I love visiting the chickens who live in the garden at my daughter’s school. Have you ever watched a chicken hunting for seeds, leaves, bugs—well, just about anything to eat? They are so focused that nothing gets past them. They can find the smallest seed, unearth the most hidden insect and gulp down a piece of lettuce faster than the human eye can follow! And as long as any seeds remain, they will keep working for them through scratching and pecking. It is so sweet to watch, and I think to myself, if only I could be as focused! In this day and age, we have become so distracted by so many gadgets and technology. We are always doing several things at once, and I think this takes away from our experience in the moment. Perhaps we can follow the example of the chicken and turn our focus toward finding ways to honor others and transform this world through compassionate action. I hope so.
Join me later this month in Pennsylvania at Chenoa Manor Farm Sanctuary for four days of learning life lessons from farm animal teachers. Hope to see you there!
I’d love to hear what you’ve learned about life from farm animals.
Have you ever noticed your days, weeks and even months sometimes slip away without you even noticing? That’s a sign you’re moving too fast—and possibly losing sight of your sense of inner peace. To live more mindfully, reclaim your days as your own, and find more peace each and every day, try these tips:
1. Set your alarm 20 minutes earlier. It’s amazing how a change so small can accomplish so much. When you’re not rushing to get out the door, you can take a few extra minutes for yourself. Read a few pages of the book at your bedside, sip your coffee, meditate, or snuggle with your cat. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, just as long as you’re taking a few peaceful moments for yourself. Starting each day with a few minutes of quiet time will help you tackle the rest of what’s ahead.
2. If necessary, schedule some downtime. Many of us with chaotic, hectic lives forget to plan quality time for ourselves and our friends and families. Yet that’s exactly what we need every week to feel rejuvenated and peaceful within ourselves again. Also, having something fun to look forward to with those that you love (human or animal) has this surprise benefit: Studies show that merely anticipating a vacation or weekend away actually boosts happiness. You don’t have to take a vacation, though, to feel the positive effects of downtime. Those that find it difficult to take time to relax and unplug actually need it the most, so try setting aside a few hours in the weekend to relax and have some fun. Your busy weeks will feel more peaceful knowing you have that to look forward to.
3. Practice gratitude. It’s so easy to constantly compare yourself to others. They have it easier, the better house, more money and on and on. But learning to be grateful for what you do have (while remembering we all have struggles—even those who seem to have it so “easy” on the outside) can help you to put it all in perspective and bring more peace to your day. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”—and I certainly believe this to be true.
What are your tips for finding peace in your day?
They don’t argue back, they’re wonderful listeners, they love cuddles, and they never lose enthusiasm for seeing you at the end of a long day. Animals are the best, aren’t they? They’re so awesome, in fact, that sometimes I think I like them better than people (my family excluded, ahem). Here are some warning signs to look out for to see if you, too, tend to like animals better than humans:
1. When you get some great news, the first “person” you want to tell is your dog.
2. When you snuggle up on the couch to binge-watch Downton Abbey, the warm body next to you has furry legs and paws.
3. That secret ingredient in your amazing coconut-vanilla cupcakes (and all of your cooking, really) is 1 dog hair.
4. When your cat starts to cough up a hairball (again), you’re at the ready with a towel or paper bag to catch the mess before it hits the floor.
5. When holiday shopping, you can easily spend 30 minutes deciding whether she’d rather have the pink or red heart-shaped chew toy.
6. “Vacation!!” means hitting the road for some fun in the sun at your favorite pet-friendly hotels, beaches and restaurants.
7. When the person next to you on your flight to New York brings a ferret on board as an “Emotional Support Animal,” you don’t bat an eyelash.
8. You actually think rat tails are cute.
Fact: Rat tails are cute.
9. When your neighbor adopts a dog from the local animal shelter, your first question is, “Is it a boy or a girl?”
10. “Deathly afraid of needles” quickly turns into “superstar subcutaneous fluids-giver” when your cat becomes diagnosed with kidney failure.
11. When your best friend talks about her new shoes, you immediately think of your horse’s shoeing appointment you forgot to schedule.
12. The first thing you see in the morning when you wake up is your cat’s stomach laying across your face.
13. Your favorite smells are puppy breath and fresh manure at the barn.
14. When you find a spider in your apartment, you summon all your bravery and find a glass (or wide-mouthed jar, depending the size) to safely put it outside.
15. Your dog knows how to eat off a fork.
What about you? (Guilty as charged?) When did you know you were a delightfully unapologetic animal person?