Every year, Thanksgiving week reminds us to be thankful for all of the wonderful blessings in our life. But how do we do this if our beloved animals are sick? Here are some things to keep in mind:
Take the time to just “be”
Set aside time each day to just sit with your animal. This isn’t time to caretake, give medication or focus on what’s wrong—this is just time to be together. Focus on things you love about your animal using your senses—for example, notice how your animal looks, sounds and feels to the touch. This will help to bring you into the present moment, without an agenda and without having to fix things.
Be mindful of thoughts and feelings—and let them come and go
You may feel happy and full of love for your animal. Or, if your animal is unwell, you may feel sad or worried about his or her health. Allow your thoughts to float by like clouds in the sky. All of these thoughts are natural; just try to hold them lightly so that you can let them go, one by one.
Notice your anxiety—and be stable like a mountain
You might think, “I wish he wasn’t sick (or old or what have you—fill in the blank).” Or, “If only I could change this situation!” Anxiety takes our focus out of this present moment to the past that we can’t change, or to the future which we can’t know. Imagine you are a stable mountain of strength for your animal, able to weather whatever might come. Letting go of anxiety will help you to be fully present in this beautiful moment of connection with your animal—this moment is a gift that we might otherwise miss.
Experience the heart of the matter—and see the light
Sometimes when our animals are ill, we can only see what is wrong with the situation. Choose to look deeper—with your heart. When we look into the heart of things, we can find peace, beauty and perfection in this present moment. Underneath what is wrong, your animal’s heart and spirit shine through! Choosing to go straight to the core or heart of things unveils our inner light that is always perfect, even when we are ill. Seeing the heart of the situation will help our focus to hone in on what is true this present moment, rather than being distressed by the surface of things.
Practice gratitude—and shift into positivity
Seeing things from the heart brings with it clarity, and with clarity we can more easily remember things we are thankful for. This is not easy in difficult times, as when an animal is sick, but it is possible. As you sit with your animal, list three things you are grateful for in this present moment. This can help to shift your mind, thoughts and energy into a more positive and optimistic space, which your animals will feel and appreciate. When we are mindful, our energy is balanced and calm, and we are in the best state to truly help our animals heal.
In the middle of a crowded Saturday afternoon in San Francisco’s Mission district, I found the wisdom of the farm: peace, compassion, presence.
I decided to participate in Farm Sanctuary’s Celebration for the Turkeys—a beautiful gathering of animal lovers, a delicious vegan feast and a live video feed of the sanctuary’s turkeys eating delicious platters of lovingly prepared food. Thanksgiving feasts “for” turkeys, instead of “of” turkeys—what a concept!
I was deeply touched and honored to meet two of my personal heroes: Gene Baur and Susie Coston of Farm Sanctuary. Gene gave an amazing speech about compassion, and Susie shared photos and stories of some of the many turkeys she cares for at Farm Sanctuary in New York.
I can’t believe Thanksgiving is just around the corner! This day truly is one of my favorite holidays, even though I gave up eating meat decades ago. That’s because Thanksgiving really isn’t about a specific menu; the day represents enjoying the company of friends, family and loved ones. But how can we celebrate animals next week when we are surrounded by well-intentioned meat-eaters? Here are a few tips to help you not just survive the day, but even enjoy it (and make it as animal-friendly as possible):
1. Show off your bounty. If you are the one hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, lucky you! Move over, Tofurkey: There are so many wonderful options for a Thanksgiving feast, how does one choose? This article rounds up awesome recipes, such as Squash and Apple Puree (which looks delish!) and Whole Roasted Cauliflower With Chimichurri and Almonds. Oh She Glows, one of my favorite sites, shares a whole host of inspiring dishes, including Crispy Smashed Potatoes With Avocado Garlic Aioli and Gooey Pumpkin Spice Latte Pudding Cake. And don’t miss One Green Planet’s “25 Soups, Salads and Starters for Your Vegan Thanksgiving.” (The Buffalo Sweet Potato Stuffed Mushrooms look amazing!) Of course, if cooking’s not your thing, consider catering a few courses from Whole Foods or your local vegetarian restaurant. I promise you: No one is even going to miss the meat.
How can we live a more heartful and fulfilling life? Is it even possible? I believe that it is. But only if we protect ourselves (and our hearts) from life’s inevitable stresses. Think of it as building an armor of sorts—against impatience, anger, short-sidedness, judgmental thinking, grudges and other negative emotions. If that sounds compelling, it is! To get started, you must learn to embrace the four dimensions of heartful living. They are as follows:
1. Peace: Peace can be difficult to find in our crazy, busy lives. Our complicated days often end up pulling us in different directions, leaving little time for ourselves. Our overactive mind can leave us feeling scattered and stressed—and closed off from those around us. But by finding that peaceful space within ourselves, we can handle the obstacles thrown our way and open our hearts to animals (and even people) on a deeper level. It’s not always easy, but I find peace by quieting my mind with meditation. I like to meditate when walking my dog, standing in a pasture with my horse or even taking a stroll on the beach. Meditate regularly, and peace will follow. Here are three tips for finding more peace in your day.
2. Love: Only once we feel peace within our hearts can we tap into love and its healing possibilities. Truly heartful living means universal love and respect—for ourselves, for those around us (human and animal), for the world at large. Opening your heart and connecting with others means so many things, including: learning forgiveness, feeling gratitude for the now, eliminating prejudices and showing love through actions, like volunteering or simply noticing and being friendly with those in the community around you.
3. Clarity: What happens when we quiet our mind through meditation and open our heart with love? We are able to see deeper than the surface of things and awaken to what truly matters. A dog at the shelter that is sick and depressed doesn’t need you to use Reiki to try to “fix” this or that. What he does respond to is you sitting quietly with him, opening your heart and inviting him to share that space. This may take up to 45 minutes or an hour or more. But with patience, I’ve seen dogs like this open up to me, walk over wagging their tails and offer me their tummy. Only with peace, love and clarity can we see beneath the surface.
4. Compassion: If all beings felt and lived with compassion, our world would be transformed. Though we can’t control what other people say, do or feel, we can control ourselves and then radiate heartfulness into the world. So choose compassion. Realize that we are all One, and therefore we must choose kindness and be of service to others, as often as we can.
When we can learn to live a heartful life by embracing these four dimensions—peace, love, clarity and compassion—we find ourselves closer to happiness, closer to fulfillment, closer to being the kind of person we want to be. But like any puzzle, the picture isn’t complete without all four pieces. So if one is missing in your life, strive to reconnect with that dimension in order to maintain your balance and harmony. Your heart (and the animals) will thank you.
We all want to provide a happy life for our animals—after all, they’re special members of our family. A good start is to provide clean water, healthy food, a warm bed, toys and socialization. But are you feeding and nurturing their hearts and spirits? Are you harnessing the joyous power of now?
Even more important than the basics to ensure your animal’s happiness is to develop a relationship based on mutual trust, respect and shared peaceful presence, which is something animals are great at teaching. Watch what your animal is telling you by his behaviors; listen to your heart to help you savor moments when your animal is truly blissful; and meditate with your animal to help you connect more deeply and strengthen your bond with each other. Your animal will respond in amazing, contented ways to your new mindful attitude. In turn, the happier your animal is, the more joy will radiate in your own life!
Read on for the top signs your cat, dog, horse, lizard, bird or bunny truly is happy. Taking time each day to stop, open your heart and share mindful, meditative moments with him will increase these behaviors and ensure a happy animal. I’ve written many sample meditations you can share with your animal to bring peace and contentment.
A happy cat:
Is playful and curious.
Lies on his back with tummy exposed, and rests with paws tucked.
Nudges you with the crown of her head or her nose, or rubs her body against your legs.
Is welcoming when they see you.
Puts his tail up when saying “hello.”
Gives happy meows.
Does “the long blink” when you look at them across the room.
Kneads biscuits on you when you cuddle them.
Shows interest in what’s going on around her and the environment.
Grooms and licks.
Drools on you.
Follows you everywhere.
A happy dog:
Has relaxed ears.
Wags his tail enthusiastically.
Stands or sits with a playful or relaxed body posture.
Gives slurpy kisses.
Spends most of the day exploring, playing with toys, walking around and doing things.
Asks for attention.
Shows enthusiasm for their favorite things: snacks, walks, when you return home, etc.
A happy horse:
Is relaxed with floppy ears.
Has sparkly eyes.
Walks with a spring in his step.
Perks his ears forward in a friendly greeting, as if to say, “Hi, it’s so great to see you today!”
Holds his head up and looks around.
Enjoys horse toys and companionship.
IGUANA OR BEARDED DRAGON
A happy lizard:
Eats well and has a full tummy.
Lives in a clean environment.
Goes willingly to you (a sign of trust).
Has space to climb and a large enclosure.
Likes new sights and smells. Consider taking your iguana for a walk outside on a leash.
Has happy vocalizations: singing, soft chattering, talking, whistling.
Purrs, especially when paired with a relaxed body stance and fluffed feathers.
Preens her feathers (and tries to preen you).
Perches on a single foot.
Plays games with you, like “peek-a-boo.”
Regurgitates her food for you (you’re welcome).
Wags his tail, much like a dog.
Is alert and uses her assortment of toys, chews, perches, mirrors (assuming she likes mirrors).
A happy bunny:
Rolls on her side and relaxes with her eyes closed.
Lies down with his head flat on the ground (an invitation for pets).
Grooms herself to stay clean and shiny.
Shows off with “binkies”—meaning, he runs and jumps and twists mid-air.
If these signs don’t seem as prevalent as they should be in your animal, and you’re seeing negative behaviors instead, it’s probably time to schedule a vet appointment. Here are some general warning signs to watch for, which may be signal illness or depression:
Over-grooming: Chewing skin, pulling fur, licking paws too much, chewing on paws
Changes in eating habits: overeating or eating less
Reluctant to play or go for walks; general inactivity
Negative changes in potty routines
A bearded dragon who has turned his beard black
A horse that holds his head down, kicks the stall or paws the floor, shows signs of aggression or flashes his teeth when you approach
Destructive dogs that chew on your couch or shoes instead of their toys
A panting bird or a bird that sits on the bottom of the cage
Although the above warning signs may on the surface seem obvious, sometimes in our busy lives, although we may be taking care of the basics with our animals, we often forget to stop and check in with the deeper levels of feelings our animals may be having. Sometimes we are just too busy to just be with our animals. Learning to slow down and spend time sharing the present moment with the animals we love can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary—each and every day!
How do your animals respond when you slow down and remember to savor the moment with them?