I am a Reiki teacher who works with animals. Some might ask me if I’m an “animal healer,” but I don’t like that term: Partly because I respect the wisdom and power of animals too much to claim that I’m the one doing the helping, and partly because of what some amazing cats in my Reiki journey have revealed to me.
For those of you new to Reiki, the word itself literally translates as “spiritual energy,” which points toward our inner self. I see Reiki as our beautiful light of compassion, or our “heart.” Reiki meditation helps us remember that we are all connected, and in that place of Oneness, all healing possibility exists.
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:
Loving our animals just comes naturally. No matter what kind of day we’ve had, they always lift our spirits and help us to forget our cares. In this way, they are also our best role models for how to love and be loved by our partners. Yes, human relationships are much more complex, but animals (especially dogs and cats) remind us every day that:
1. Love is just listening. In my experience, animals understand this better than people. Sometimes when things go wrong, we just want to vent—we don’t necessarily want advice or to go over every possible solution right now. Though it’s very human for a significant other to want to “fix” things, it’s wonderful to know that when you talk to your dog, she’s happy to simply hear your voice and offer puppy-dog eyes and cuddles. Our animals also remind us to listen when our loved ones need to vent, too.
Unless your favorite animal companion is a tortoise or a macaw, you know that when you bring home a new dog or cat, that they will unfortunately enter their senior years far too soon. Cats live on average 15 years; dogs, just 10-13.
But because I always try to see the bright side of things, and having shared my life with a senior dog (or two), I like to remind myself of the many ways my senior animals have actually made me a better person through the gifts they share so freely. Here are five incredible gifts of wisdom my senior animals have offered me through the years (do any of these sound familiar to you?):
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize. In his letter to the committee, Dr. King wrote: “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of this prize than this gentle monk from Vietnam. He is an Apostle of Peace and Nonviolence.” Though he did not win, Nhat Hanh continues to work tirelessly for peace and enlightenment.
Now 89, Nhat Hanh, who lives in the south of France and travels internationally for speaking engagements, offers regular retreats at Plum Village, the largest Buddhist monastery in Europe. A bestselling author, he’s published more than 100 books, including The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation; No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering; and Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. Following are just a few of his most inspiring, life-changing quotes:
On opening our eyes:
“We have more possibilities in each moment than we realize.”
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves.”
On truly living:
“Many people are alive, but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.”
On finding joy:
“There is no way to happiness—happiness is the way.”
“Compassionate listening is to help the other side suffer less. If we realize that other people are the same people as we are, we are no longer angry at them.”
“You are a miracle, and everything you touch could be a miracle.”
“Buddhist practitioners have practiced vegetarianism over the last 2,000 years. We are vegetarian with the intention to nourish our compassion towards the animals. Now we also know that we eat vegetarian in order to protect the earth.”
“Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful.”
“We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the earth. Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.”
“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”
On knowing ourselves:
“Listening to and understanding our inner sufferings will resolve most of the problems we encounter.”
On finding peace:
“Peace in ourselves, peace in the world.”
Which quote inspires you the most?