As caregivers for our animals, we work hard to keep them healthy—with vet visits, healthy food, regular brushings and the like. But sometimes we forget that they, too, can show us important ways to stay healthy and happy every day. Here are 12 animal habits you need to emulate:
1. Exercise each day. Animals are masters at sitting around and chilling (see #2), but they also find joy in keeping their heart rates up. Hamsters run in their wheels, cats tear through the house like buffalos, and dogs bring their leash to you in their mouth. They remind us that exercise isn’t just healthy, but it can be fun, too.
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.
So you’ve bought your meditation cushion and chosen your favorite meditation position. You’ve contemplated and picked your mantra or visualization. You’ve found a quiet time of day to practice. You’re ready to start meditating, right?
Maybe not. What if you were missing the most important piece that could improve your practice quickly and easily? I’m talking about animals, and why it’s so important you invite your animals to sit with you while you meditate.
It may sound strange at first, but consider these five reasons why you should be meditating with your animals every day:
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?
With the new year just around the corner—in a few hours it will be 2016!—it got me thinking about my hopes for the coming year. 2015 was a mixed year for the animals—we lost Cecil the Lion, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally added African lions to the Endangered Species List. My parents lost their beloved black Lab, and my sister her cherished kitten following a deadly illness, but I also have many friends experiencing great joy by opening their homes to welcome new animal companions. New Jersey passed a comprehensive dog-fighting law, but the state, like many others, still allows bear hunting. Oklahoma and Pennsylvania boosted penalties for harming a police dog; meanwhile, France lost a brave 7-year-old police dog named Diesel, who was killed in a raid on apartments following the Paris attacks.
I suppose that with every year, for animals there is good along with the bad—but sometimes, when we lose animals we love or witness cruelties or abuse to animals, it can be hard to focus on the good. With that in mind, I would like to wish all of my heartful tribe a happy 2016 filled with the peace and light of Reiki and the companionship and wisdom of your favorite animals. Here are some of my wishes for 2016, a year that I hope holds more good than ever before for our animal friends:
Wish #1: Compassion. Meeting Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary this year was such a tremendous honor for me. Knowing there are articulate, passionate animal advocates such as Gene gives me real hope for the animals of our world. I know people who aren’t “animal people” are not going to change overnight. But my hope for 2016 is that we can continue to work toward changing people’s collective consciousness when it comes to animals. Maybe one day, animals will be regarded with the same dignity as humans—and 2016 can be a true beginning to meeting that goal. Helping children learn to love animals is a start. The Meat Free Monday movement is another small change that can greatly impact the animal world. I yearn for a time when people realize they need to bring their animals inside during inclement weather, and not leave them panting in hot cars. I hope we can begin to awaken to the understanding that perhaps animals are not products for us to consume, but rather beings worthy of our respect and protection.
Wish #2: Gratitude. My wish for 2016 is that everyone (myself included) can remember to find gratitude in each day, even when life feels like it’s falling apart around you. That we can look into our animal’s eyes and feel grounded again, at least for that moment. That we can make time to count our blessings and feel in our hearts that each day truly is a gift, because it may be our last. Life is such a blessing; may our animals help us to realize this each and every day.
Wish #3: Unity. When I spoke at the ARC International Reiki Convention in Australia in October, I was struck by so many Reiki teachers from different lineages coming together for a common goal. The experience actually inspired me to create World Animal Reiki Day, which will fall on February 5 in 2016 and beyond. Make sure to mark your calendar—animal lovers around the globe will be coming together on this day to celebrate and honor all animals as our spiritual teachers.
Wish #4: Generosity. Animals are often forgotten when people open their pocketbooks to give money to charity. According to the most recent statistics available, charities classified as “animals/environment” received just 3 percent of the $358 billion donated in the U.S.—compare that to 32 percent given to religious institutions. My wish for 2016 is for generosity toward animals. That more people will remember the animals when they think about which organizations they want to support. To those who argue that nonprofits helping people need to be the top priority, I answer: They already are. So now it is the animals that need us so much. They are living beings who share this world, too, after all.
Wish #5: Mindfulness. Living mindfully boosts your health and heals your soul, so let’s all reach our wellness goals in 2016 with our favorite animals by our side to support us. They really are an amazing help: As I wrote earlier this year, here are 5 mindfulness lessons from our animals, and tips on How to practice mindfulness with our animals.
Happy New Year to you! Share your wishes for 2016 here. I’d love to be inspired.