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 Gratitude and Patience--Animal Style
By Allen and Linda Anderson

     During a radio interview we did a few months ago, the host asked if listeners were learning spiritual lessons from animals. One young man called in and said he loved his dog, but didn't think she was teaching him anything. We'd talked about how animals demonstrate spiritual qualities, such as compassion, kindness, and courage. How, he wondered, could a dog ever demonstrate a spiritual principle?

     Then the host asked the man if he thought he'd learned anything by sharing his home with this animal. The man said he was looking at the dog, resting comfortably on his couch, as she patiently waited for him to take her for a walk. He said as much as this dog loved her walks, no matter how busy he became doing graphics out of his home office, the dog never pestered him. He said he often wished he could be as patient as she is.

     We smiled, listening to this man describe a spiritual quality--patience--while denying that an animal had anything of spiritual value to teach him. His experience with the patient dog demonstrates something that we've seen in the hundreds of stories we've collected from around the world and which we share in our newsletter, book, toys, interviews, and workshops. Repeatedly, people, who are willing to put their human egos aside, tell us how animals show from their hearts--not through animal instinct, behavior or training--unconditional love, forgiveness, and joy.

     If we want to understand how to live higher quality lives with each other and other creatures on this planet, we have to look no further than our furry, flying, flowing, and feathered friends. Animals offer us some of the most enduring and endearing examples of spiritual values.

     The spiritual quality of gratitude is one important quality that soothes the grinding of daily life.


A Grateful Kitten

     When people want to ridicule those who conserve and protect the Earth, they call them "tree-huggers." Maybe that's not such a disrespectful description when hugging a tree means showing gratitude.

     We had an example of "tree-hugging" recently when Cuddles, our kitten, sparked the fire of gratitude in our hearts.

     Cuddles has taken a fancy to the edges of our sofas. She flies into the living room and immediately stretches herself out for a good scratch, leaving the fabric in tatters. We've read articles about how to change this behavior but nothing seemed to work. Finally, an organization sent us a booklet with a chapter that showed a photo of a tall scratching post made of gnarly yarn. It was a cone-shaped structure, perched firmly on a stand that didn't wobble. The article mentioned that this type of scratching post worked well and would save our furniture. To get a cat to use the post, the author suggested rubbing catnip on the yarn and then getting down on all fours and scratching the post to show the cat how to use it. This sounded like a pretty weird thing to do, but we were feeling pretty desperate to save our sofas and were willing to try it.

     While shopping at the pet supply store, we found a post that looked like the kind in the photo. We brought the post home, smeared catnip on it, called the kitten into the living room, and hunkered down on the floor, trying to entice her to try follow our lead. She watched for a few minutes and then began scratching the other side. The sound, touch of the twine, and smell of catnip combined to bring her into some kind of kitty ecstasy. She scratched and stretched and rolled and purred.

     Then she did something we will never forget. She stopped this intensely pleasurable experience for a moment, looked into Linda's eyes, and with all her emotion communicated, "Thank you." Then she returned to her joyful pursuit.

     Later that day Allen found Cuddles alone with her new "friend." The kitten sprawled out on the floor in front of it, her cheek pressed against the platform, and her little arms hugging the post with all her might.


     It brought tears to our eyes to see such a heartfelt display. We couldn't stop ourselves. We had to sit down right away and talk about the many things we appreciate, especially our animal family of spiritual teachers. Cuddles had evoked the spiritual quality of gratitude with such intensity that we could do no less than take a moment to reflect on the abundance and love all around us.

     Could an animal help you to remember to be grateful for the blessings in your own life?


How to Give Thanks, Animal-Style

     On another radio interview, the host told us how his dog reminded him daily to be grateful. He said that when he puts the dog's bowl in front of him, piled high with food, the dog never lunges into it immediately. Instead, he always stands in front of the bowl, looks up at the man, and with his eyes expresses such thankfulness that it almost moves the man to tears. The host believes that this is the dog's way of saying grace before meals, offering a blessing for the food he is about to receive.

     A woman from Switzerland wrote to us about how an animal showed her that expressing gratitude could teach her the true meaning of love.

     Kathia said that she was participating in a workshop held in the San Bernadino desert. The residence, where she was staying, had a hot tub outdoors at floor level. One night Kathia couldn't sleep so she got up in the hours before dawn and decided to soak in the hot tub.

     She closed her eyes and let the warm water lull her into a meditative state. She began to contemplate on a question that she'd wondered about for a long time. Inwardly, she asked God to show her what love is. She asked, "What is love?"

     Kathia said that she seemed to drift away into a world where wild animals roamed peacefully, living together in harmony. It was such a wonderful daydream that she felt a rush of gratitude as she lingered there. Suddenly though, her quiet moment was interrupted by the sense that something was licking her hand. She looked up and met the gaze of a pair of deep, sparkling eyes looking into hers. It was a coyote who had silently appeared and brought the answer to her question.

     "This is love," Kathia whispered as she basked in the glow of appreciation for such a beautiful example of her spiritual connection with all life.

     Could you try the same approach as Kathia's? When you're out in nature or relaxing at home, sit quietly, close your eyes, and reflect on the question: What is love? Fill yourself with gratitude for the blessings that are all around you. Be alert to the subtle yet profound ways your question may be answered.


     A spiritual virtue that leads to respect for life and for all creatues. We can learn it from the animals.



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