Thursday, February 9, 2012

Spend Time in the Presence of Animals

The squirrel sat on his hind legs and held a piece of bread in his front paws. Cautiously, hurriedly, and determinedly he nibbled at the bread, his eyes darting around constantly, ready to scamper away at the slightest hint of trouble. I stood silently and watched him from the balcony door. I smiled. When he gulped down the last few crumbs, I felt fulfilled. Content. A lot like I do when I have just eaten a delicious meal.

It didn’t take long for me to be drawn into the world of the squirrel. I silently observed his movements, and marvelled at his alertness and resolve to procure food even though it meant exposing himself to possible harm. A deep feeling of compassion for the squirrel surged from within my consciousness. All my other thoughts were silenced, for a while. It was like a meditation of sorts.

Animals and birds have the potential to bring out the best in us, and spending time in their presence can put us in touch with a part of ourselves that we often tend to ignore. When I approach them in silence, respectfully not intrusively, as a guest in their world, I find that I am able to communicate with them at the level of feeling. I have felt the same surge of compassion when I watched swans glide over still waters, when I observed a turtle clumsily swim to the shore, and when I stopped in my tracks and silently watched a pig rummage through mud and dirt!

I’ve seen them in zoos as well, but few zoos are able to fully re-create the rich natural environments that the animals are supposed to thrive in. In most zoos I’ve visited, the energy that emanates from the animals is one of resignation – meek acceptance of their imprisonment. The very act of caging a creature is disrespectful to the life energy that flows within it. By disrespecting the life force in another being, we ultimately disrespect the life force within ourselves. We wonder then, why we are never at peace with ourselves. Loving ourselves has much to do with loving those around us, and that includes birds and animals.

Have you ever wondered why children are so fascinated by animals? Why does every child’s toy collection include ducks, bears, mice, and dogs? When a child walks past a stray dog, the child will invariably point to the dog and say “doggie,” even as the parents will, more often than not, pull the child along and make a comment about how the dog will bite you if you don’t keep walking. Children are born with an instinctive love for animals. Yet, few parents allow their children to express this love. As children grow, they are taught to fear animals as beasts or look upon them merely as pieces of food. In many countries, the only ducks that children get to see are dead ones hanging in the windows of meat shops.

As I write this piece, I look out the window. A beautiful brown bird whose eyes are lined with bright yellow streaks is sitting on the ledge and chirping away with energy and enthusiasm. Have you ever seen a depressed bird?

Each morning, I’m greeted by my pet dog with a joy and fervour that a human cannot possibly match every single day! Sometimes, she’s all over me and ready to play ball first thing in the morning.

On other days, she’s gentler; she puts her head on my knee and nudges me until I hold her head in my hands and stroke the back of her ears. While I’m massaging her head, she closes her eyes in pure bliss, and that bliss rubs off on me as well! I think she knows the energy that I need for the day – active and extroverted or gentle and soothing, and she greets me accordingly.

More often than not, animals reflect to us the feeling that we put out towards them. When we approach them with fear, we see aggression or a fear response from them. When we approach them with love, we’re rewarded with more love, sometimes a lot more than our fragile hearts can handle.

(This was my post for a writers' event organized by Katherine Jenkins on her beautiful and inspiring blog: Lessons from the Monk I Married. )