“My little old dog … a heartbeat at my feet.” —Edith Wharton
Anyone who’s loved a cat or dog into his or her golden years understands the powerful bond shared following years of weathering life’s ups and downs together. And though our senior animals eventually succumb to health problems—a road not easily traveled— physical hardships don’t alter the size of their heart or their capacity to love.
But you may be surprised by the age at which your best furry friend is considered a senior. Different breeds age at different rates: Irish Wolfhounds (so adorable!) enter their sunset years at the mere age of 4.5; other breeds, like Dachshunds, don’t dip a paw into the next chapter until 11. (You can check your dog’s breed here.) Cats become seniors anywhere between 7 and 10 years of age. Keeping up on well checks helps you stay informed.
One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time. —Madeleine L’Engle
Humility, as a human character trait, is a virtue sorely lacking in the modern world. If human beings learned to practice humility more often, it would heal and elevate the place of animals in the world. We would realize that animals are not just products for us to use as we wish. We would realize that we, too, are animals. We would awaken the joy of service, to be a steward—rather than a consumer—on the planet.
Meditating on the Reiki precept “be humble” is a wonderful way to let go of the ego and honor animals in a deeper spiritual way. When we learn to be humble and see animals as our teachers, we can soften the edges that separate us from other species and remember that we are all connected. Sometimes we think—well, I am the human and my animal can’t possibly understand things as deeply as I can. What I have learned over the years is that animals actually understand connectedness even more deeply than we do.
I remember sitting with my dog Dakota, while he was in hospice from lung cancer, and feeling all my sadness and grief overwhelming me. This was a problem that all my human reasoning, actions and money could not solve. The more upset I became, the more agitated he was. The only time he could relax in peace was when I would let go of all my worries and just meditate. Through meditation, I could remember that we would always be connected by our hearts, no matter what happened. To be humble in the face of death required surrender to the flow and wisdom of the universe, and this was something my dog could model for me.
Because dogs and cats still live in the original state of connectedness with Being, they can help us regain it. —Eckhart Tolle
By practicing humility, we can become more open to receive the wisdom of our animals. We can become better listeners and contemplators, able to discern the subtle aspects of right action. If we take time to meditate with our animals, learning to just “be” with them—then we can cultivate a heart-to-heart connection that will nurture a deeper awareness of the Oneness of the universe.
This might seem at first something very difficult to understand—and, yes, if we are trying to understand it intellectually then it might seem impossible to grasp. But we just need to drop our minds into our hearts and it all becomes very simple. Because our animals inspire us to open our hearts and LOVE to our fullest, they are the best partners to us to help us to explore the deep wisdom of Oneness of all things. The Oneness of the heart.
Humility is a simple practice that can heal ourselves, our animals and the world.
How has your animal been your teacher?
I’ve said before that animals are our greatest teachers. My beloved dog Dakota was my first animal Reiki teacher. And the animals I’ve worked with over the years have taught me so much about compassion and even guidance on meditation. But the other day, as I caught sight of my dog Mystic napping contentedly in her little dog bed, I realized the animals teach us other important lessons, too. Do any of these spiritual lessons from animals sound familiar to you?
1. Unconditional love. Mystic loves me when I’m in my PJs, grumpy, sick and even if the house is messy. No matter what mood I’m in, she’s there for me without judgement. It’s definitely a perk when you share your life with a dog, isn’t it? You can just be yourself. And it’s always been the same for the other dogs I’ve shared my life with, too (and also the cats!). Even my horses love and accept me for who I am. They don’t tell me, “Be different. Change who you are.” The wisdom of animals in rising above and embracing their humans (warts and all) is something for me to remember, learn and carry over into my life and those I share it with.