Posts Tagged ‘emotions’

The truth about animal sentience—and why it matters

Though a majority of scientists today agree that animals are sentient, that hasn’t stopped outmoded beliefs from persisting. This editorial published by Psychology Today claimed (in basic terms) that animals don’t speak, laugh, cry, think, get depressed, fall in love or have spiritual experiences. (We’ve all met people like this; the essayist isn’t alone in his beliefs.) Luckily, a few weeks later, Mark Beckoff—author, scientist and behavioral ecologist—followed up with his own essay, knocking down each one of these misguided statements.

Why do so many people continue to discount the worth of an animal’s life? Perhaps because “going there”—where your food come from, where your makeup, handbags and fancy leather couches originate—is too painful and awkward to face. But the truth about animal sentience is out there for those who will listen:

This book is changing my life right now

I’ve realized something about myself this past week: It’s really, really hard for me to let go of “stuff.” Even if said stuff is crammed into every nook and cranny of my closets, garage and cupboards and I haven’t seen it in ages.

But thanks to the inspirational (and doable) tips from author Marie Kondo in her bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, I’m happy to report that paring down is getting easier by the day. And the benefits really are life-changing: I’m feeling newly inspired in my business. I feel mentally “lighter.” And the serenity of this experience has reminded me, again, how we have much to learn from our animals.

When I first heard about her book and the so-called KonMari method of tidying up and its connection to happiness, I immediately thought: I have to try this. But where to begin? This book is showing me the light. After just 2 days of organizing, I’m already seven large bags (ready for Goodwill) lighter, three closets more organized and two bookshelves cleaner. Awesome!

tidying book cover

The basic idea is this: Every item in your home should “spark joy,” and objects need (and even want) to serve a purpose. We imbue the objects around us with our energy, so if they don’t bring us happiness, they weigh us down—and it’s time to say goodbye. It’s as easy as saying a simple, “Thank you,” to those objects for the joy that they brought you (or the use they fulfilled) in the past, and then … let them go. I love the positive focus the book has on the things we keep, rather than the things we get rid of. As I began the process, little did I know I was embarking on a life-altering experience full of raw feelings tangled up with old junk.

Out with the old …
I started with my master bedroom closet. But my excitement for getting organized soon deflated as I realized the contents before me had transformed into a Pandora’s box of negative emotions. I’m talking really heavy emotions—emotions surprisingly attached to things.

As I dug through a too-high pile of shirts, pants, dresses and the like, the clothes transported me to places in my past. Sometimes, places where I didn’t want to go. A lot of these clothes, I realized—which I wasn’t currently wearing—were from my long months of cancer and radiation treatments. Guess what? Whenever I saw them, which was virtually every day, they sparked bad, negative feelings inside of me. They always reminded me of my cancer—and who wants to think about that?! So I got rid of them. But remembering all of that was painful.

With those dumped into garbage bags, then I noticed: Wow, a lot of my new clothes are Pilates clothes—and let me tell you, these ignite happiness within me! They make me feel strong. I never thought I’d lift weights again—but here I am, able to do just that. I sorted through everything, memories of my past and hopes for the future. Now everything in my closet is something I love (bad memories begone!). I’m so much happier when I look in my drawers now. I feel practically weightless.

It’s amazing to me how such a small thing can resonate deeply the way this has. Perhaps that’s why Kondo’s book has connected with so many people. It gives real tips to help you achieve an emotional positivity that you can’t really put your finger on. But it’s there.

Business inspiration
This part amazed me. After cleaning out my closet, I was able to, finally, revamp my Equine Reiki Manual, which I’ve been wanting to do for a few years. I just didn’t know how I wanted to change it so it just sat in the back of my mind. But then it totally came to me in a magical moment of inspiration after going through this process, throwing out tons of stuff, and bringing more Zen into my daily living space. This is not a coincidence, my dear readers.

Again, the animals are our teachers
I’ve said this before, but it’s so true: We have much to learn from animals. My dog Mystic doesn’t need to surround herself in a mountain of material items to find inner peace and happiness. She’s content with a small box of toys, a collar and leash, her brush and food dishes. And on top of that, she gets a lot of love and hugs and special doggy time from her family. This experience reminded me the importance of paring down to be more like Mystic. I cannot wait to tackle the rest of the house.

Have you tried the KonMari method? I’m excited to hear your story here.

13 of the coolest characteristics about dogs

It’s no secret I’m a dog person—I’ve lived with a dog by my side since I was 4 years old. And as any dog caregiver knows, dogs are smart, fun, complex, interesting and generally awesome creatures. Here are 13 of the coolest (and some super surprising!) scientifically backed characteristics about dogs:

1. They can read our emotions—if we’re happy, sad or angry. A recent study found that dogs’ emotional centers in the brain light up in response to happy barks or joyful laughs. Over the years, having had three dogs, I can tell you all three of them were cued into my emotions. And if I needed extra love, they were there, ready to lend a paw, share a hug or rest a chin on my leg.

2. They prefer new toys to old toys. This ties into the fact that dogs are intelligent creatures. And they are interested in new things (called “neophilia”)—new smells, new tastes, new shapes, new textures and the like. That’s why they play with new toys and get bored of old ones: A recent study found that dogs definitely respond more positively to novel toys over familiar ones.

3. For dogs, yawns are contagious. Just like us! So next time you open wide and yawn, take a sneak peek at your dog to see if he copies you. Hilariously, he probably can’t help but yawn, too! This study also found that dogs, like us, can tell the difference between a real yawn and a fake yawn.

4. Oxytocin spikes in both species when dogs and humans share a mutual gaze. This explains why when we meet eyes, I feel like we really are bonding and connected. The scientists even compared it to “human mother-infant relations.”

5. Dogs feel jealousy. Jealousy is a very humanlike emotion—and it amazes me that dogs really can and do feel it. Of course, any dog owner could have told the researchers this (including me), but it’s nice to know it’s backed by science. It’s something to be mindful of if you have multiple pets, a new member of the family, or any other situation that may upset your pup.

6. Dogs know when people are lying. And, as a result, they stop listening to the person they deem untrustworthy. Again, anyone who has a dog knows this one, but the study reveals just how sophisticated dogs are when it comes to social cues.

7. Dogs can “smell” cancer. I know my dog Mystic alerted me to my cancer when she was just three months old! Dogs have such an amazing sense of smell. And after a decade or so of research, the evidence is piling up to suggest that dogs can smell the chemical differences in healthy tissue vs. that which is cancerous. The Penn Vet Working Dog Center works with four trained canines in its nanotechnology research for cancer detection; and in this study, dogs detected prostate cancer correctly 90 percent of the time. Amazing!

8. Dogs align with magnetic fields when going to the bathroom. Hilarious, but true! Since my dog only goes in one tiny place in my yard, I must have lucked out and randomly placed it perfectly according to the earth’s magnetic fields. (They relieve themselves in a “north-south axis,” in case you were wondering.)

9. Dogs are awesome stress-busters in the workplace. Many offices today still don’t allow dogs at work (though they should). Employees lucky enough to have dogs by their side are happier, less stressed out and communicate better with co-workers, which leads to higher productivity.

10. Dogs avoid people who are mean to their people. I love that my dog always has my back! And those with “guard dogs” experience amazing levels of loyalty as well. And this interesting study shows that when dogs observed another human not helping their human caregiver, they then snubbed the “mean” person offering them a treat (and took a treat from a stranger instead).

11. Dogs are calmed by classical music. I love using animal Reiki to calm stressed out and anxious dogs (and all animals, really). But this study shows that they are sensitive to music as well. If your dog gets lonely while you’re at work all day, it wouldn’t hurt to play a little Mozart in your absence. Imagine, too, how playing classical music could improve a chaotic shelter environment.

12. Dogs prefer to earn their treats. Just like how we humans feel good after figuring out a complicated task, dogs, too, get excited when they have the opportunity to solve a challenging problem in exchange for a treat. Smart puppies!

13. Dogs would rather you pet them instead of praise them. Sure, it’s nice of you to say, “Good dog!” But as these scientists discovered, dogs really do love their pets, even more than vocal praise, so if you want to make them feel really special, give them a bunch of cuddles instead.

What are your favorite characteristics about dogs?

4 wild facts about animals’ (very real) emotions

Every animal lover knows it’s true: Animals are capable of complex, and very real, emotions. Our society doesn’t quite accept this—yet—but research is continuing to put forth evidence way beyond the anecdotal. The latest? A study revealing dogs’ amazing capability to recognize human emotions (more on this below).

But dogs are not the only ones. Here are four amazing facts about all species of animals and their complex, humanlike emotions:

1. Dogs and human emotions: Dog owners (me included) could probably have already told these researchers this, but now science confirms evidence of what animal lovers already know: Dogs are able to recognize the emotions on our faces! The study, which you can read more about here, confirmed that dogs clearly understand the difference between happy and angry expressions. The study didn’t look at cats or other animals, but my sister Charlotte reports her Persian Paddington is totally clued into her emotions; he always pads over gently in support if she’s feeling blue.

2. A whale’s complex emotional center: Recent research points to a highly complex “limbic system” in whales that may even be more complex than humans’. The limbic system supports emotion, memory and other brain functions—and it’s so highly developed in whales that neurobiologist Lori Marino was inspired to co-author the “Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans,” which states that cetaceans have the right to “life, liberty and well-being.” Marino is also director of the Nonhuman Rights Project, which works to gain “legal rights for members of species other than our own.” This article delves even deeper into whales’ and dolphins’ advanced communication, cognition and emotions.

3. Marc Beckoff’s comprehensive research into animal emotions: Marc Beckoff—author, award-winning scientist, behavioral ecologist and columnist on animal emotions for Psychology Today, who also wrote a nice endorsement for my first book Animal Reiki—has spent his life documenting and researching animals and their very real emotions. His book The Emotional Lives of Animals, which shares scientific and anecdotal case studies of all types of animals feeling joy, sorrow, embarrassment, humor, altruism, empathy and more—questions the ethics of using animals for food, experiments and the like. (I recommend everyone read this and share it!) He’s also co-founder with Jane Goodall of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. This recent article by Beckoff in Huffington Post argues research on rats should be “abolished once and for all.”

4. Jane Goodall’s life’s work revealing chimpanzees as emotional creatures: As noted above, conservationist Jane Goodall co-founded EETA with Beckoff. And after 50-plus years in the field, her observations have concluded without a doubt that wild chimpanzees are not just biologically close to humans in their DNA—they share a wide-ranging, and very human, emotional capacity as well. Here’s a TED Talk from Goodall about what really separates humans from chimpanzees (hint: it’s just language):

And on a parting note, enjoy this TED Talk on moral behaviors observed in animals:

What are your thoughts on the emotions of animals?

{For more on the subject, check out this, this and this.}

Life lessons from my horse whisperer

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?