There’s nothing like the power of joy that animals bring to our lives. And when we strive to live a sacred and mindful life, it’s often the animals that serve as powerful reminders of how to live a life filled with compassion, gratitude, kindness, joy, patience and connectedness. Whenever I start to feel disconnected and distracted, the following quotes help me to get back on track. They remind me never to lose sight of the endless grace and wisdom of animals:
“Lots of people talk to animals. … Not very many listen, though. … That’s the problem.”
—Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh
“We all are so deeply interconnected; we have no option but to love all. Be kind and do good for any one and that will be reflected. The ripples of the kind heart are the highest blessings of the Universe.”
– Amit Ray, author and spiritual master
As an animal lover with a very soft heart, I sometimes feel the world is a very cruel place, especially for the innocents of the planet, like animals and children. As a Reiki teacher, I find meditating on the Reiki precept “be compassionate to yourself and others” helps me to be mindful in difficult moments.
When emotions run high, compassion can be an unlikely choice, as anger and worry come much more easily. I think it’s often much easier to be kind to the animals we love than we are to ourselves—if only we afforded ourselves the same kindnesses we offer them. In other times, it can become very difficult to get past our worry and anger over what has happened to the animal so that we can be full of compassion and kindness for them in the present moment.
I remember a dog that I volunteered with who had to be walked with a harness because someone had allowed her collar to grow into her neck. Although it had been surgically removed by the shelter veterinarian, the wound and stitches were fresh, and it caused me great angst to see them. By meditating on compassion as I walked her, by seeing the joy in her face at exploring the world through all the sights and smells on our walk, and by focusing my actions in kindness for her in this moment (letting go of what “was”), I was able to have a beautiful walk with her. I was so inspired by her sweetness and joy—in spite of her injuries. After the walk, she enjoyed lots of pets, eventually crawling into my lap and placing her neck right into my hands and then falling asleep. Sitting there with her in that peaceful moment, letting go of everything except “being” together with an open heart, was such a profound experience. As I left her, I knew we had both been healed by each other.
I was so inspired by her sweetness and joy—in spite of her injuries.
On the other hand, when we allow emotions to overwhelm us, it can be almost impossible to think, speak and act in the best ways to help the animal to move forward into healing. Had I spent the walk feeling angry at the person who had done this to her, or being worried about any lasting scars she would have (physical or mental), I would not have been able to enjoy even a moment of it, or to experience her kind nature and connect in such a place of peace. In fact I would have missed the healing potential of our time together!
Meditating on compassion can help us to stay mindful. When times get tough, we can remember to place the filter of compassion over every situation we encounter. We can practice filling each moment with kindness and love.
By practicing compassion in this way, we will be clearer in our thoughts, more balanced in our emotions, and wiser in our actions, for the good of animals. In addition, the animals we want to help will sense and feel our compassion, and this will deepen our bonds with them. The ripple effect of our compassionate thoughts, emotions and actions will create healing shifts—not only for us and for the animals, but also for everyone who crosses our path. Being able to leave a healing trace wherever we go is the ultimate blessing we can offer to our world!
What acts of service will you offer to animals today?
With the holidays now upon us, many of us are beginning to feel the stress of this time of year. So how can we make the holidays more mindful? How can we get back to truly enjoying this time of year? I plan to approach this holiday season with a more mindful mindset than in years past. So along with baking holiday cookies, sipping tea by the fire and wrapping gifts, I plan to add these five reminders to my holiday to-do list:
1. Practice gratitude. I think about the concept of gratitude a lot, especially this time of year, when we’re bombarded by advertising and crowds and the expectations of others and an overly full calendar. When that overwhelmed feeling begins to creep in, it often helps to count the many small blessings in my life. Because the holidays aren’t really about buying the coolest, hippest gifts—they’re about being grateful for things both big (my health) and small (my daughter’s smile over waffles on a Sunday morning).
2. Embrace the moment right now. We are all pulled in so many directions during the holidays—from potlucks and decorating to shopping and parties. These things are fun, yes, but they can be stressful, too, especially when you are trying to fit them around an already busy schedule. When I can slow down and savor and embrace this moment right now—and put aside my worries about my to-do lists—I can connect with my inner happiness and peace again.
3. Eat mindfully. I do try to eat mindfully on a regular basis—and as animal-friendly as possible—but so much temptation surrounds us this time of year. Even though I intend to try my best, I must also practice compassion for myself if I eat too many cookies or too much chocolate (which I’m pretty sure is going to happen).
4. Take time for yourself and your animals. Our animals find happiness in the most simple things—a warm bed, a clean bowl of water, a soft pet on the head. Let us all remember to take breaks for ourselves when we feel overwhelmed, and also to look to our animals for inspiration. Spending one-on-one time with them, either walking a favorite trail or cuddling on the couch with their favorite blanket, can calm our frayed nerves and bring us back into balance.
5. Breathe. And meditate. I am hoping my daily meditations will help me if I begin to feel overwhelmed by those myriad holiday stresses (difficult though well-intentioned relatives, busy parking lots, a sky-high pile of dirty dishes). Of course I feel like I have even less time now to meditate, but that’s when it’s more important than ever to keep it a priority.
6. Remember that this is a special time to enjoy. How easy it is for us to forget. I want to try my best to truly savor what matters most in my life—love, kindness and sharing with an open-hearted presence. I find this Dr. Seuss quote from How the Grinch Stole Christmas! perfect and inspiring for this time of year: “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.”
Every year, Thanksgiving week reminds us to be thankful for all of the wonderful blessings in our life. But how do we do this if our beloved animals are sick? Here are some things to keep in mind:
Take the time to just “be”
Set aside time each day to just sit with your animal. This isn’t time to caretake, give medication or focus on what’s wrong—this is just time to be together. Focus on things you love about your animal using your senses—for example, notice how your animal looks, sounds and feels to the touch. This will help to bring you into the present moment, without an agenda and without having to fix things.
Be mindful of thoughts and feelings—and let them come and go
You may feel happy and full of love for your animal. Or, if your animal is unwell, you may feel sad or worried about his or her health. Allow your thoughts to float by like clouds in the sky. All of these thoughts are natural; just try to hold them lightly so that you can let them go, one by one.
Notice your anxiety—and be stable like a mountain
You might think, “I wish he wasn’t sick (or old or what have you—fill in the blank).” Or, “If only I could change this situation!” Anxiety takes our focus out of this present moment to the past that we can’t change, or to the future which we can’t know. Imagine you are a stable mountain of strength for your animal, able to weather whatever might come. Letting go of anxiety will help you to be fully present in this beautiful moment of connection with your animal—this moment is a gift that we might otherwise miss.
Experience the heart of the matter—and see the light
Sometimes when our animals are ill, we can only see what is wrong with the situation. Choose to look deeper—with your heart. When we look into the heart of things, we can find peace, beauty and perfection in this present moment. Underneath what is wrong, your animal’s heart and spirit shine through! Choosing to go straight to the core or heart of things unveils our inner light that is always perfect, even when we are ill. Seeing the heart of the situation will help our focus to hone in on what is true this present moment, rather than being distressed by the surface of things.
Practice gratitude—and shift into positivity
Seeing things from the heart brings with it clarity, and with clarity we can more easily remember things we are thankful for. This is not easy in difficult times, as when an animal is sick, but it is possible. As you sit with your animal, list three things you are grateful for in this present moment. This can help to shift your mind, thoughts and energy into a more positive and optimistic space, which your animals will feel and appreciate. When we are mindful, our energy is balanced and calm, and we are in the best state to truly help our animals heal.
Walking your dog is so great in so many ways: It’s excellent exercise, you spend quality time with your pooch doing what they love best, you get to breathe in fresh air, and dog-walking has even been shown to reduce stress and build your sense of community. But here’s an easy way to amp up your daily ritual and make it even more powerful: walk your dog mindfully.
When we think of mindfulness, we think of stillness, meditation, awareness and savoring this very moment with a full heart. Now incorporate these mindful intentions next time you walk your dog—and get ready to watch the many benefits unfold!
1. Slow down. If you walk the same loop around your neighborhood every day and you’re on autopilot, take a different path and consciously slow down. Instead of seeing the walk as a doggie bathroom break, awaken your senses and reconnect with nature around you. Feel the earth beneath your feet. Notice the new things around you. Breathe. Pay attention to how the flowers and trees smell, or maybe the crisp autumn air from a distant log burning in a fireplace somewhere. Listen to bird calls or the sound of the wind. Feel the sun on your skin. Follow your dog’s lead as he walks with balance and harmony on the earth. Getting out of your head and into the natural world in this way is very healing for both mind and body. (For more on the powerful healing properties of spending time in nature, check out my article on the Japanese art of “forest bathing.”)
2. Connect with the now. On this mindful walk with your dog, do not worry about what happened yesterday or in the past, or stress over what’s to come. Yes, this is difficult to do—but focus on setting your intention to focus only on this moment before you. This exercise in mindfulness allows you to free your mind and find a quiet place where true healing, inspiration and problem-solving can begin to grow.
It may help you to remember the five Reiki precepts.
For today only …
Do not anger.
Do not worry.
Practice diligently in your work.
Be compassionate to yourself and others.
3. Make mindful dog-walking your new habit. In our chaotic, busy lives, the reality is that, for most of us, mindful dog-walking will be difficult to do each and every time. But if you aim for 30 minutes three times a week, you’ll be incorporating more mindfulness into your life than ever before. And pretty soon something amazing will begin to happen: You’ll find it easier than ever to access that space of inner peace that our animals just naturally reside in—especially when times get tough.
Have you ever walked your dog mindfully?