Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Simple and Beautiful Lessons of Animals

Yesterday my family lost our beloved dog, who had been with us for nine years. As profoundly painful as this loss has been, I have found solace in thinking about how much we can learn by taking the time to mindfully observe and reflect on the nature of animals. They just act, without any self-surveying, or worrying about what anyone else thinks. They just do what they do, living completely in the moment. There is no looking back with guilt or remorse, or looking ahead into the future with worry or anticipation of something great to achieve. They really have little else to think about aside from finding their next source of food or water, place of shelter or rest, or seeking their next mate. If you observe an animal in the wild searching for food, you will see that that very task is the only task at hand with little distraction. They simply live in the moment.
Animals also exhibit unconditional love. My dogs come running to the door every day I arrive home from work. They are so happy to see me that sometimes I wonder if they might just jump out of their skin - and it is not even feeding time! Although my family members love me very much, I cannot say that the excitement of my homecoming peels my 14-year-old off the couch or invites my 18-year-old to leave his bedroom. No one's reaction to seeing me walk in the door is even closely matched to that of my dogs. In response to this tremendous, daily gift, what I should do is get down on the floor with them and love them up in return for this often unrequited showering of love, but inevitably, the school bags are dropped down as the shoes are kicked off, and the chaos of running the kids to sports practice or getting dinner ready ensues. Even still, the dogs happily give their same daily dose of unconditional love no matter how much attention is reciprocated by our busy family.
I know, too, that forgiveness is inherent in animals. How many times have you heard of abused animals being readopted or reintegrated into homes from shelters, and, against all odds, becoming some of the most trusting, loyal, and loving pets imaginable? And elephants, who share much of the same complex emotional intelligence as humans, are often injured at the hands of man yet they still happily acclimate to new beginnings at sanctuaries and enjoy new interactions with caring humans. Animals seem to forgive even if they do not understand why these things have happened to them.
There are so many lessons we can learn from animals, just by observing. How many of us can honestly say we have taken more than a few moments out of our busy day to stop and watch a mother cow lick every inch of her baby calf or behold the miracle of a squirrel gathering acorns in preparation for a long winter?
As fellow animals, it is important that we humans not only observe, but also remember the importance of listening to and following the patterns and cycles that nature has ingrained in us over millions of years of evolution. Let us find beauty in the simplicity of it all. Like animals, may we listen more than we talk, make time to get the rest we need, follow the natural rhythms of our own bodies, exhibit bravery when we sense danger, explore our own paths, love unconditionally, forgive without knowing all the answers, live in the present moment, and embrace death without fear, for death is a part of life's great cycle.

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