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?
I got to pet a super soft koala bear for the first time this week while visiting Featherdale Wildlife Park in Sydney, Australia. This trip Down Under—seeing the native wildlife, helping shelter cats and teaching Reiki classes—has allowed me the opportunity to slow down a little and reflect on the vital role animals have played in my career and life. I’m so grateful for all of the lessons they’ve taught me through the years, and all of the heartful connections I’ve been able to make. So as my Aussie trip winds down, I’m reminded of my favorite, most inspiring quotes about animals. I’ve always loved the sentiments behind these 12 quotations (do they make you smile, too?):
Have you ever wondered: What is the greatest gift we can give to the animals? Things like providing them a safe home, healthy food and access to veterinary care come to mind. Those are all wonderful things. Now imagine if you had a million dollars—you could give all that money to your favorite animal shelter or sanctuary (or even start your own).
Unfortunately, all of those things cost money. What is the greatest gift we can give to the animals that doesn’t cost a thing? (Aside from the obvious answer: love.)
The answer to that question came to me during my years of Reiki work with animals. And it is quite simple, really: to be in the moment. That really is the biggest gift we can give to the animals—to be present and with an open heart, right here and right now—without anger or worry or ego. And meditation can help bring us to this peaceful place.
Meditation helps you find that space where the animals can reach out to you and connect with you.
This isn’t always so easy to do, but luckily, animals will really help us. A lot of my students come to me and say, “Oh no, it’s a meditation with your animal? But I hate doing meditation. I can’t meditate. My mind won’t quiet.”
And I say, “Well, do you meditate by yourself?”
“OK. Instead, try meditating with your animal. Ask your animal to help you meditate. Ask your cat. Ask your dog. Ask your guinea pig. Ask your rabbit. Go out in the pasture and ask your horse or your cow or your goat or your sheep. Ask your bird. Ask your lizard. Ask your fish.”
When you share a meditative space with an animal, it is much easier to let go of that monkey mind because animals’ minds are much quieter than ours. So when we open up and share an energetic space, they teach us how to let go and just be. They do that already very easily.
A wonderful meditation to use is the Joshin Kokyu Ho meditation, which involves Hara (lower belly) breathing. With this meditation, we breathe in through the nose and connect with the Hara, and then breath out and expand. Inhale and connect, exhale and expand. This meditation is a traditional Japanese technique, and it helps us to get in touch with the Hara—our center, grounding and stability.
This is why I encourage my students to meditate as often as possible. Meditation helps you find that space where the animals can reach out to you and connect with you. Meditation helps us quiet our minds and go inward—and that truly is the greatest gift we can give to the animals. Of course, depending on how you look at it, that is also one of the greatest gifts the animals can give to us.
Here’s a wonderful nonprofit animal shelter I’d like to share with you today: the Cat Protection Society in Australia. I can’t wait to see the cats (and hopefully some of you) at my special one-day workshop at this shelter next Monday (click here for more info).
Cat Protection Society, which has been rescuing and rehoming cats since 1958, does such amazing work. Here are some fun facts about this wonderful shelter for cats: