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
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.