This is a personal story about animals as teachers.
Our special animal companions give us the gift of their presence. Their soft, warm bodies and hearts greet us as a good friend. Our relationships go far beyond words. The animals have a great deal to teach us about giving and receiving in relationships, and in life, but because words are not part of the whole conversation with them, we sometimes overlook what they are trying to tell us. If we can slow down enough to tune in and “listen” to them, we may be surprised what we “hear”.
Years ago I was totally overwhelmed by the demands of being a working parent. Sound familiar? At my job I was doing the work of many, but alone. I was barely keeping my head above water. I would get home in the evening and couldn’t wait to just get into the house, take a shower, and wash away the day. I was overly stressed and constantly in “doing” mode.
Everything was about “the critical path”. Crossing things off the list. Always moving forward.
As a consequence of this pace and mindset, the glitter of life began to dull.
The cheerful dogs waiting at my gate, prancing around my car as I drove in, seemed like a dangerous nuisance rather than a triumphant welcome home. I would see their eager faces and interpret it as a demand for dinner, instead of a “Hello, it’s so nice to see you.”
This went on for some time. Of course they were fed, sheltered, kept free of pests, and we enjoyed weekend strolls together, but something was missing, and they knew it. Me, not so much. It took me awhile to figure it out. I was caught up in a pattern of stress, responsibility, and losing touch with myself. I just assumed that being an adult with obligations was supposed to be that way.
Everyone was “taken care of” on the physical level. I made sure of that. But spiritually and emotionally they were suffering right along with me. I was doing my best but ignoring the signals of discord. So the signals got stronger.
Aside from my own physical and emotional challenges, the animals were trying their best to get my attention. Instead of just an eager gaze when I got out of the car at the end of the day, my male dog started bumping me on the leg with his nose. Instead of coming to greet me upon my arrival, my female dog would stay on her pillow and turn her gaze away from me when I looked at her. Yeah, it was bad.
I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually depleted, and I was taking everyone down with me. Of course, at the time I didn’t realize how interconnected we all are. Or maybe I did but was in denial, or maybe I didn’t know what to do about it. I had always loved animals, trained and taken care of many, and here I was, totally out of touch.
This was a difficult time. And it was only when I was finally brought to my knees by sadness, frustration, and confusion, asking for help from God/the divine, that things began to soften. I surrendered, and as I did I saw with more clarity than I had in a very long time. I felt deeply. My heart reawakened. I started to change.
My life changed too. My priorities shifted into love and awareness. The external conditions of my life had not changed but everything within me had, and it was just the beginning.
I have since come to realize that pain is a powerful catalyst for change, and we can often only see this in retrospect.
So getting back to the animals. When I look back at those times I see that our male dog, Fred, was desperately trying to get my attention, to show me how much he loved me, to help me receive and feel the love. He would gaze deeply into my eyes whenever he could, and then watch me as I rushed away to tackle the next item on the to-do list. My female dog Deja, on the other hand was reflecting back my own state of being. At the time she had been my companion for ten years and knew me well. She was being aloof, would turn away from my affection, and really didn’t seem to be enjoying her once joyful doggie life.
I was feeling sad and confused about Dejaʻs somber state of being, and when I came across an announcement for a workshop on animal communication, I figured I’d give it a try. It was an interesting experience, and much of it remains a blur, because when it came time to practice communicating telepathically with our chosen animal, a wave of emotion washed over me, and most of my focus turned to keeping myself together and not losing it in front of a group of strangers.
What had moved me so profoundly was the “brick wall” I encountered upon connecting with Deja on that level. It was solid, dense, and immovable. I didn’t know what to make of the sensation, but it stirred something deep inside me, and awakened an aspect of myself I had been denying for a long time.
Although I hadn’t felt like I’d gotten through the “brick wall” during the workshop, as soon as I got home I could tell something had shifted. Deja was interested in me again. I kneeled down to her and apologized for my past behavior. She looked me in the eyes and licked my face, something she hadn’t done in a long time. This was a turning point for us both, and the beginning of a healing journey for all of us.
One of the things I’ve learned from this experience, and many others (Iʻm still learning this), is that we must be open to receive. Not just the ”Thank you” kind of receiving, but being open to really feeling blessed by the offering. Whether it’s a material gift, a gesture of love, or the gift of someone’s time, allowing ourselves to slow down and soak up the energy of the exchange will benefit ourselves as the receiver, as well as the giver.
The more we practice receiving the loving gaze of our animal pals, or the tender kiss from a loved one, the more they will feel “heard” even though no words were exchanged. When we receive in this way, we can become more gracious givers, because the exchange is rooted in gratitude and appreciation, not resentment or obligation.
When we slow down, take time, and tune in to the messages from the animals, the Earth, and each other, our lives become richer and the glitter of life gleams with excitement and curiosity as to what will be revealed.