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 just spent a wonderful weekend teaching animal Reiki at Chenoa Manor, a farm sanctuary in Avondale, Pennsylvania. The animals (and people) were so welcoming! I just loved spending time with them and being on the farm. There is something special about farm animals. I feel like these days, everywhere I turn I’m hearing stories of how farm animals opened people’s hearts to compassion, inspiring amazing lifestyle and diet changes. Even Jon Stewart of Daily Show fame has purchased a New Jersey farm to turn into an animal sanctuary. Here are a few more inspiring examples of farm animals inspiring change:
1. Rowdy Girl Sanctuary: A cattle rancher’s wife in Texas, Renee King-Sonnen recently converted their cattle ranch (which had been used to sell livestock for meat for four generations) into the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary. Now the 96-plus acres save farm animals from slaughter and give cows, chickens, pigs and the like a safe place to live out their lives. She and her husband are also practicing vegans.
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.