Can I admit something to you? It isn’t always easy for me to meditate. There are so many “human” challenges that can trip me up—an overactive mind that refuses to quiet, difficulty in accepting the present moment, or being so busy my energy is scattered all over the place. I want to share with you my secret weapon to strike down these obstacles and ensure a more powerful meditation: the animals.
You see, in my work with animals and Reiki over the years, I began to notice something interesting; when I would meditate and my animals would happen to be present, I found myself able to quiet my mind and be present with an open heart much more easily. I began to realize that perhaps I should rethink the way I approached my own meditation practice. Meditating alone is all well and good, offering numerous health benefits that have been backed by science. But when I began to meditate with the animals and follow their lead, all of the benefits of meditation I had always experienced began to improve. Here are three ways animals helped me become a better meditator:
1. It’s easier to stay present and peaceful in the moment with our animals. If we are trying to meditate but our intellectual minds keep analyzing, judging and interpreting everything (which is just natural for us, really), the animals will often mirror this agitation. The more we feel ourselves shift into a state of quiet, and the more we can just “be,” the more we can see the animals relax. I can always tell what state I am in by how the animals around me are responding to my presence. A peaceful mind and peaceful heart means peaceful animals. In addition, animals have a natural calming presence. So when we have trouble letting go, and we’re stuck inside past problems or future fears, simply sitting with our animals can help to calm our energy, quiet our thoughts and take us to this moment right now.
2. Animals help our hearts to open, so that we can radiate our inner compassion. According to a 2013 study by Northeastern University, those who practice mindfulness meditation feel more compassion for others. But sometimes, compassion can be a difficult feeling to tap into. That’s where the animal factor comes in: Animals show so much unconditional love for us, we just can’t help but open our hearts when we are with them. If we are with our animals during our meditation practice, our inner compassion arises effortlessly because we are already opening our hearts to our animals at that moment. This compassion will radiate out to all animals … and even ultimately to the world.
3. Animals helped me realize an informal meditation can be just as effective. Some people think, “Oh, I have to light a candle and sit on this cushion to meditate.” And that sometimes works well, but it’s also very limiting. Meditation isn’t about escaping the world, shutting our eyes and sitting in a stiff position. The most important purpose of meditation is to bring compassion to our lives, and the truth is we have to learn to take our practice off of the cushion, bringing this compassion with us into the world. What the animals teach us by their compassionate presence is very freeing: That truly any moment in our lives can be a meditation. We can practice peaceful presence while sitting, walking or standing—cuddling our cat, walking the dog or standing in a pasture with our horse. You see, this is how our animals live already, and they can show us how to live this way too.
Meditation is about bringing all of our energy here to this present moment, and opening our hearts to the peaceful power that exists in the now. Animals are always present, they don’t judge like we do, and they live life with an open heart. They are my best meditation teachers: mirrors, reflecting to me how I should be, and lights, guiding me along the path of inner healing.
How have animals helped your meditation practice?
This fascinating article in The New Republic declared 2014 the year of mindfulness. Because meditation is such an important (and beneficial) part of my life, I love that it’s starting to take off in such a big way and that people in general seem more open to this idea than ever before. But the article left out a very important factor: animals. In my work with Reiki, I’ve realized they just “get” meditation and the idea of living in the moment more than we ever will. In fact, by following their lead, it’s easier than ever to find that mindful “ideal” we’re all striving for.
With that in mind, here are some easy ways we can all practice daily mindfulness with our animals (a.k.a. our best meditation teachers):
1. Savor the sun and smell the roses. Yes, it’s cliché. But next time you’re on your daily walk with your dog, instead of rushing through so you can get back to your next task, take a few moments to experience everything around both of you in nature. Smell the salty air, breathe and feel the sun on your skin. Resist the urge to do your daily walk on autopilot. You can even wander in a new direction; the two of you can just enjoy the moment and see where it takes you. If you’re more of a horse person, take the same approach on your next trail ride with your horse.
2. Give 100 percent full attention to your animal. This isn’t always easy. Next time you cuddle with your cat and talk sweetly to her, do so without any other distractions—no TV, laptop, phone, magazine or the like. When grooming your horse, focus on the moment and truly take it in: the sweeping of the brush, his nickers, the shine of his hair. Sit with your dog and give him your 100 percent attention. Really try to feel and embrace every aspect of the moment—sights, sounds and so on—instead of letting your mind fall back on other distractions, like your to-do list or what you’re cooking for dinner tonight.
3. Practice mindful eating—for both you and your animal. We all know the benefits of thinking about what you put into your body. Support your health by eating fresh, wholesome foods—and support your animal’s health, too, by doing the same and serving natural, nutritious foods. Thankfully, due to consumer demand, premium and organic dog and cat foods are easier to find than ever before. And when you want to spoil your favorite dog, whip up some easy (and deliciously healthy!) homemade treats.
4. Meditate and “be” Reiki with your animal. I’ve created a special series of six 20-minute meditations to help you tune into and connect energetically with your animal, with the natural world around you, and with that deep inner space of peace and strength within yourself—all important ingredients to mindful living. Click here to get started.
5. Take 10. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or the very last part of your night, take 10 minutes to breathe, be calm and just “be.” If they’re not already, your dog or cat will probably end up in your lap!
How do you practice mindfulness in your daily life?
Many of you know me as a horse person. It’s true—my favorite days are often those spent at the barn or in the dressage ring, caring for and riding my two horses Shawnee and Kodiak. But sometimes I have frustrating days where I just don’t understand my horses, and I can’t get through to them. For instance, Kodiak, the young one, is very pushy and strong-willed. And I admit it: At times I’ve been a complete pushover when working with him. I wanted things to change.
So imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity recently to work with Dean Voigt, a very talented horse trainer and clinician who trained with Ray Hunt, a pioneer in natural horsemanship. Voigt is an old-fashioned cowboy and a true natural when working with horses, and I now think of him as real-life “horse whisperer.” His approach is “using communication rather than intimidation to achieve positive changes in preparing a horse to accept the saddle and a rider.” And it works!
Voigt has taught me many helpful strategies over the past several months (we now work together once every four to six weeks), but here are three lessons that stand out in particular. Keep in mind these lessons have helped me not just with my horses, but also with my Reiki business and life in general:
1. The problem isn’t always what you think. As I mentioned earlier, my horse Kodiak is dominant, strong and willful; he often doesn’t listen to me. He can be so feisty sometimes that I almost stop breathing. My instincts have always been, “He’s being bad!” but luckily Voigt set me straight. After working with Kodiak, he said, “Your horse has a very high play drive. If you can make what you do with him a game—make it fun—he will do anything for you.” I took those words to heart and now when Kodiak challenges me or gets high energy, instead of fearing him I reframe it in my mind as respectfully playing with each other. Now I’ll smile and say, “Oh, do you want to play today?” and channel his energy in a positive way. Voigt helped me realize that Kodiak wasn’t being mean; he just wanted to play. Now that I understand the intention behind his strength and energy, I can finally enjoy it (and make strides we couldn’t before).
2. Remember the important role emotions play. Again and again, Voigt has pointed out to me (and to the other participants at the barn) that a lot of the problems we have with our horses have to do with emotions, either ours or those of our horse: fear, frustration and confusion, for example. Voigt has shown us that once you can heal that emotional part, then everything else will come together. He helps you to realize what’s really going on so you can move past it. He’s kind of like a therapist in that way.
3. Create a state of being that is peaceful and calm. Voigt gets results by achieving this in the ring, and it’s also something I’ve noticed in my work with animals and Reiki. When I watch Voigt work with the horses, I can see that he understands the language of energy and speaks it to our horses. He’ll stand there and barely move his pinkie, and the horse will know exactly what he was saying.
I saw him with some really fearful horses once and he stood there really calm, like a rock. No matter what the animals were doing, he didn’t react to it. He was just calm, quiet and gentle. And within 30 seconds, these horses were like, well, he’s not scared, so why am I expending all this energy? And then they came over and stood with him. And that’s what we do with Reiki: How do we bring our meditation and calmness to every moment, even when the animal is being difficult?
I always say, “Be Reiki with your animal; don’t DO Reiki to your animal.” That’s why Voigt is so successful. He creates a state of being that is peaceful and calm, and that really heals any problem he has with an animal. His presence is very much a healing presence.
Horsey friends, what life lesson have you learned from working with your horses?