5 Life-Healing Lessons We Can Learn from Animals
We are often taught in life to avoid being like animals. For instance, the saying, “You’re behaving like an animal,” is used as a put-down more than anything else. But those of us who love animals know that they are, in many ways, far wiser than we are. Indeed through yoga poses such as cat pose and down dog we can learn to truly exist in the moment, both physically and mentally.
Here are a few life lessons that we can learn from animals—including how to unlearn some of our more damaging ‘human’ traits.
- “The dog has no self-image, good or bad, so he has no need to play roles, nor does he love himself or hate himself. He has no self! How to live free of the burden of self—what a great spiritual teaching.” ~Eckhart Tolle in Guardians of Being
In a society that often prides itself on human uniqueness, it is all too easy to feel separate from others. We are taught to be different! We are taught to be memorable! But when we learn to breathe, meditate, or focus on the present moment, we can lose our sense of separateness and begin to feel at one with life. Just as the dog doesn’t know ‘reputation’, so we, as humans, can learn to enjoy the gift of being.
- “Trust your instincts and stay away from people or creatures who smell like bad things or bad moods.” ~Jennifer Freed and Stanley the Cat in Lessons from Stanley the Cat
Throughout our human lives, many of us are taught to think before we feel, and to follow the rules of politeness in order to feel embraced. The result? We squash the instincts we once so naturally had, and tell ourselves to follow the “rules” instead. But we’d often do better to follow our instincts like cats do—these instincts tell us who we can trust and who we’d do best to avoid. We can get back in touch with these instincts by experiencing the moment rather than constantly trying to control it. Meditation can be a wonderful way of doing just that.
- “Why are you afraid to bark out your truth and show the world your trueness? It is their privilege to see your truth. And if they can’t understand that, then turn toward the sun instead and let it fill you. Because if you try to grow toward them, you will miss the warmth, just as they will miss the warmth…” ~Lana Fox and Sophie Bulldog in Paws Off My Bone! An Assertiveness Guide for Bulldogs and Their Humans
Dogs are wonderful pack animals and they tend to be experts at tuning into the group. But often, dogs also understand that they can’t control the feelings of others. A dog will comfort a human, but they won’t fight that human’s feelings or try to artificially change them. They’ll sit with the human’s feelings, as long as those feelings are safe—or, if those feelings feel destructive for the dog, they’ll often go and find their own space. After all, a healthy dog can understand that they mustn’t sacrifice their emotional world for another. They known that by being true to their emotional needs, they will best be able to serve the world.
- Ladybug: “Have you ever noticed how small I am yet how much attention I can attract when I land somewhere nearby? My colors and my unusual dot markings do attract the eye in spite of my size. It’s important to notice the little things around you, like how the veins in a leaf look like tiny rivers, the way that spider meanders along as if she knows exactly where she’s going, or the scent of the flowers on a spring day.” ~Steven Farmer in Children’s Spirit Animal Cards
As humans, it is all too easy to think of experiences in terms of their relative size. Is the salary I’ll now be earning bigger than my last salary? Is my house grand enough? Have I got enough certificates from enough amazing places? Such questions rob us of what the ladybug teaches—that being still and small does not mean being invisible. As I have learned myself in life, it is possible to earn a smaller salary and live a far richer life. Animals and insects do not tend to own things. Perhaps that is because they are so good at being, and so good at looking outside of themselves.
- “Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.” ~A. A. Milne in Winnie-the-Pooh
Have you ever seen an animal listening to you so intently, as if they understand your every word? Animals seem to be able to understand us because they tune into feelings, rather than words. (Even if the word is “cookie!”) When we listen to the feelings behind others’ words, they can feel especially embraced by us. And when we listen to the feelings behind our own words, which is sometimes very hard to do, we begin to take better care of ourselves.
Does Your Heart Have a Mind of Its Own?
Until recently, modern science perceived the heart as merely a pump to regulate the flow of blood throughout our bodies. But across numerous cultures, the heart has historically been thought to have a much greater function that corresponds with our thoughts, emotions, and spirit.
When we speak or share feelings from a place of deep meaning or passion, we say we’re speaking from the heart or we’re trying to convey something that is heartfelt. This is no longer just an archaic maxim, but instead, one with factual backing. And science is now realizing that the heart and brain have more of a corollary, interactive relationship than previously thought … a relationship that has residual consequences on our bodies, and possibly even humanity as a whole.
Connecting Two Major Organs
The brain has typically been thought to be the control center for the body, sending directions through the nervous system to different organs, telling them how to behave. This is done through voluntary or involuntary action, like telling the heart to pump blood. But in reality, the heart sends more signals to the brain than the brain does to the heart, influencing emotions, memories, problem-solving, and high-level cognitive functions.
In fact, the heart has its own network of neurons. This network is so sensitive that our heart rhythms become highly ordered when we experience positive emotions, love, and joy. On the contrary, negative emotions and psychological activity cause erratic and jerky heart function, leading to inefficiency, lack of energy, and poor reasoning.
While massive fluctuations can shake up our energy and emotional levels, our heart rates already fluctuate very regularly, sometimes even every beat. Although these fluctuations are minute it shows just how sensitive our hearts are and how susceptible they are to change. These oscillations in our heart rate are called Heart Rate Variability or HRV. HRV essentially measures the change in our heart rate with each beat. It is an effective way of being able to maintain and effect psychophysiological coherence or heart-brain coherence.