Learning the 5 Cs from your pet

What Your Pet Can Do For You

We love our pets and they love us. Even if your animal darling is a fish called Wanda, the joys of having a friend from the animal kingdom are real and true. Pets are powerful! I have to smile at the growing number of quips about watching pet videos when the world becomes too much to bear. In homes and offices across the land, people are tuning in to the world of animals for sweet relief. The work is too hard, too much, too stifling? The boss is cranky? The people unkind? The news horrendous? Check out the latest kitten and puppy antics online to soothe your soul!

One friend of mine shares news of heart-rending current events, followed by heart-warming videos of her cats playing in their favorite cardboard boxes. Her message? No matter what troubles the world is suffering, the animals remind us of our essential consciousness. They remind us not to lose heart or forget that love rules our existence. Love does and will conquer all. We love our pets and they love us. And in this exchange, our animals give us an amazing array of gifts that help us grow in spirit and live up to our responsibilities as their human partners.

The spiritual gifts we receive from our contact with animals are immeasurable, but we can focus our attention on a few core values. Here are five of the gifts we enjoy from our pets each day:

1. Companionship – Who is always waiting for you to appear and ready to show affection and enthusiasm for your presence? Even Wanda may do pirouettes in her fish tank when you peer in to check on her wellbeing. Pets provide company in the world whether we are walking, talking, sleeping, watching TV, working, socializing, or eating. Dogs especially love to be present while we are eating and I’m ashamed to admit I had a cat named Ginger that I let sit in the middle of the kitchen table during dinner. Pets increase our connection to the world by bringing out the best in us and bringing us into social settings from a walk in the park to the pet supply store to the veterinary office. Here we focus our caring attention on our animals and take a healing break from our own concerns. Animals can help us build communication skills in our efforts to understand and be understood. They can draw strangers to us to share our mutual love for the animal kingdom.

2. Comfort –We all need unconditional love, and sometimes we need a role model to remind us how love feels. The physical touch you experience with your pet can heal and soothe. Petting your dog or cat or horse or rabbit can help you feel less stressed, more at peace. Employees from one company I know make regular visits to a nearby animal shelter to play with the pets who are waiting there for permanent homes. The visitors report receiving as much comfort and joy from petting the animals as the pets so obviously do. Volunteers are always welcome at shelters to comfort the animals and expand their own hearts. Pets find homes more easily when they have opportunities to give and receive love. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that petting a dog can spark production of two calming hormones that help you feel more relaxed. The unconditional love we receive from our animals helps build a self-esteem and self-acceptance that enables us to bring our better angels forth in everything we do. Loving family support heals us, even if we are talking “animal family.”

3. Courage – Animals are brave in defense of their loved ones, their homes, and one another. What is your favorite classic story of pet loyalty, unconditional love, courage, and steadfastness? From Black Beauty to The Incredible Journey, animal strength and courage lie at the heart of many of our most beloved tales. Today, you’ll find hundreds of true accounts of animal valor online—animals who have saved lives from war zones to their own backyards. Our animals remind us of what we wish to be: unselfish, loyal, joyful in simplicity, present in the moment, unworried, courageous, and unconditionally loving. We need role models for living, for keeping on under all circumstances, for fortitude. Our pets keep us grounded and focused on the things that really matter.

4. Caretaking – Animals teach us the important spiritual lesson of taking care. Although we are mostly providing the food and shelter, our pets are giving us the opportunity to do so. They don’t supply a share of the rent or provide any financial support, but in caring for them, we grow in empathy and responsibility. The fact is that we are our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers in this world. We are stewards of the Earth and protectors of the animals. It is a role we are called to honor and we grow in spirit when we carry out our duties faithfully. Taking care of pets expands our powers of nurturing and giving and builds empathy. The ability to recognize the needs of other living creatures and to see the connections between us all helps create an atmosphere of caring and compassion. Isn’t that just what the world need now?

5. Comedy – Lastly, I probably don’t need to remind you that we have fun with our pets, and fun is a spiritual gift, too! Never forget the healing and restorative value of laughter. Remember those pet videos? Our pets are natural comedians who know how to delight us with their innocence and inquisitiveness and just plain cuteness. Laughter heals us and returns us to a state of innocence. We experience present moment awareness –where our pets always dwell. They provide a special kind of happiness by encouraging us to love freely, live joyfully, and maybe even roll around on the grass or run through the sprinklers.

Thank you, animal kind, for all the blessings of your presence! If you’re seeking a deeper connection with pets and animals, checkout my course, Communicating with Pets and Animals.


Help Save the Elephants

“Elephants cannot be manufactured. Once they’re gone, they cannot be replaced.” – Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder of Save the Elephants

You probably don’t remember the first time you saw an elephant. Was it on a TV screen, in a book or a magazine, or maybe at the zoo? You may have been a child with a stuffed elephant on your toy shelf or a pair of elephant-patterned sleepers. This iconic animal has been a part of human consciousness for millennia—think about the ancient Hindu god Ganesh, for example. Always believed to be highly intelligent as well as mighty in strength, elephants are not mythical beings like unicorns or dragons. Elephants are real, and they need our help desperately if we are going to keep them with us on planet Earth.

And we do want to keep them! Elephants are gentle giants, largest of all land animals. They play an important role in maintaining the biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they live. Both African and Asian elephants form female-led, tight-knit groups consisting of a dominant matriarch and her female relations plus their calves. Living in groups makes individuals safer and allows them to devote more time to caring for and teaching the young. Research shows that elephants have amazing long-term memory and can recognize themselves in a mirror, showing self-awareness. They understand what other elephants are feeling and comfort one another. They also assist other injured elephants, and even mourn their dead.

What makes elephants special in addition to their intelligence and self-awareness? Their amazing anatomy! Here are some details from the International Elephant Foundation: The elephant trunk serves as a nose, a hand, an extra foot, a signaling device and a tool for gathering food, siphoning water, dusting, digging and much more. Elephants don’t drink with their trunks, but use them as “tools” to drink with. This is accomplished by filling the trunk with water and then using it as a hose to pour it into the elephant’s mouth. Elephants can swim – they use their trunk to breathe like a snorkel in deep water.

And then there are the elephants’ precious tusks. Most precious to them, and they should be allowed to keep them! Both male and female African elephants grow long tusks. Tusks are actually elongated upper teeth embedded deep in the elephant’s head with up to a third of the tusk hidden from view. They have a variety of uses: as a tool to dig for food or water and to strip bark from trees; as a weapon in battles with rivals; and as a courtship aid. The tusks of elephants grow throughout their life and can weigh over 200 pounds.

Each year tens of thousands of elephants are killed for their tusks. Although people do care about elephants being killed in Africa, they may not be aware of the full story and the implications for world peace. Because of the high value of wildlife trafficking, organized crime and terrorist organizations have a stake in the black market operation that brings in billions of dollars and funds civil wars in Africa as well as global terrorism. According to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “Stopping poaching is no longer only about protecting the planet’s natural resources. It is also a national security issue, a public health issue and an economic security issue.” The Elephant Crisis Fund proposes using “the best ideas and actions from a diverse coalition of effective leaders, non-profit organizations, institutions, media, scientists, and governments.”In other words, it will take a village, a global village, to solve the elephant crisis.

Ironically, one of the most popular elephant stories of all time is Jean de Brunhoff’s children’s book The Story of Babar (1931) which begins with Babar the baby elephant being orphaned by hunters. Today, aid organizations are working to protect the animals from poachers while keeping their natural habitat intact—no easy matter. In fact, this crisis of existence for the elephant is a spiritual crisis for humans. While some humans are destroying, others are choosing to protect.

You may remember another classic children’s book, an elephant tale which portrays the heroic efforts of Dr. Seuss’s Horton to save an entire civilization. “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful 100 per cent!” are Horton’s words to all the naysayers who don’t think his mission is possible. Horton’s efforts defined his noble spirit, just like our human spirit must grow and be defined by our effort to defend and protect our planet’s most at-risk members.

For more information on elephants, check out my newest course.


Endangered Species: What it Means for Us

“Blessed are those who love animals, for they shall preserve the Earth.” I’m misquoting the Sermon on the Mount for a really good cause. Environmental protection looms large in our minds right now due to the extreme threat our planet faces from climate change and the missteps we humans continue to make. Whenever we think of protecting our planet, we also need to think of the other sentient beings who have something at stake. We are not alone. We live here with an incredible array of other life forms whose existence also hangs in the balance. And their welfare impacts ours in every way.

Our natural world is a complex interconnected system of human, animal, and plant life. We now know that the health and well-being of animal and plant populations reflect the quality of the environment we share. Think canary in the coal mine. We function with the millions of other living species on our planet as part of a finely balanced system. The loss of any single species can create a ripple effect that will eventually touch all of us.

The ecosystems of the earth function smoothly because of biodiversity—the full array of diverse life forms that populate our planet. Biodiversity, it turns out, is critical to ending poverty and promoting shared prosperity for the millions of people who depend on nature for their livelihood. When species disappear or fall in number, ecosystems and people suffer—especially the world’s poorest. We can’t know how valuable a species of animal or plant may be for us in the future. Everything is connected. When we protect endangered species, we also protect the ecosystems that permit us to live.

Naturalist and author Paul Rosolie writes about the urgent importance of preserving endangered species, “Wild animals keep our world alive. Without them, there is no us.” We don’t want to find out what the world would look like without our fellow creatures, and yet the problem of disappearing habitats and dwindling animal populations continues to grow. Just two months ago, the world’s last male northern white rhino, “Sudan,” died, leaving only two females left. Among other endangered animals are tigers and other big cats, elephants, gorillas, sea turtles, black rhinos, blue whales, and whooping cranes, to name the most widely known. There are many other endangered species within more localized habitats. Maybe you even know of some close to where you live.

“The appreciation of wildlife goes beyond merely what they have given us,” says Rosolie. “Wild animals have their own inherent value, their own reasons for existing. There are many species capable of making tools, sharing innovations, and having complex thoughts and emotions. They, like us, have families, endure struggles, feel pain, experience joy, and even play with one another.” I know you can testify to the truth of Rosolie’s words. Recently, I saw a heartbreaking photo of orphaned baby elephants wearing small blankets on their backs. Placed there by animal aid workers, the blankets were meant to simulate the feeling of their mother’s trunk draped over them for comfort and protection. These babies were not orphaned by Nature, they were orphaned by us.

We humans are now the dominant population on planet Earth with numbers greater than 7 billion. How have we been treating our fellow inhabitants? You may have heard the term “sixth extinction” coined by scientists as an expression of how rapidly species and ecosystems are vanishing under our watch. Humans of an earlier era did not have the scope of knowledge we have about our planet and its complex workings—and the delicate balance of life. With our increased awareness comes increased responsibility and the need to take action. We can work to reverse the ongoing damage. We don’t want to find out what it would mean for us if wildlife becomes extinct.

“Blessed are those who love animals, for they shall preserve the Earth!” What we love we protect. People around the world are working to help save endangered animals from extinction. Conservation organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, Project AWARE Foundation, the Jane Goodall Institute and many others work to increase public awareness of the problems facing endangered animals, and by association, all living creatures. Opportunities to support the cause of animal welfare are global and local. You can help save creatures great and small, far and near—from the elephants in Africa to the local wildlife in that nature preserve your city is working to create. Every loving action counts. For more information on animals and what you can do to help save them, check out my newest course.


A Thoroughly Modern Mother’s Day

What Mom Really Wants: Peace, Love and Understanding

Bloomingdale’s flagship store in New York City is honoring Mother’s Day with something a little different this year. Instead of the usual spring fashions, their windows will showcase the good works of five New York moms in “Magnanimous Moms, Moms Who Make a Difference and Moms with a Heart.” Consumerism, move over – it’s time for what the world needs right now: the loving activism that mothering is all about.

Honoring activist mothers turns out to be in perfect keeping with the energy that started Mother’s Day to begin with. Contrary to what you might be thinking, Mother’s Day in the U.S. was not founded by the florists, the candy shops, or the greeting card companies. The holiday was first celebrated in 1908 when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. Anna’s mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, had been a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. Anna’s campaign to create an official Mother’s Day succeeded in 1914 when Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May a national holiday to honor mothers.

Giving cards, candy, and flowers on Mother’s Day is sweet, but look deeper into the activist heart of the holiday. What do today’s mothers really want? They want the same thing that mothers throughout time have always wanted—a better world for their children. Each of the activist moms being honored in the Bloomingdale’s window found a cause that mattered to her and took action. Each of them leads a philanthropic organization that they created to make things better.

Bloomingdale’s didn’t have to look far to find these caring mothers: Agnes Gund founded Studio in a School in 1977, in response to city and state budget cuts that were threatening art education programs in public schools in New York. Gund is a legendary arts patron known for supporting a variety of social justice causes.

Chelsea Clinton’s Too Small to Fail promotes the importance of early brain and language development and empowers parents with tools to talk, read and sing with their young children from birth. Christy Turlington Burns founded the global maternal health organization, Every Mother Counts, dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother. Kim Sweet is Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York, whose mission is to ensure high-quality education for New York students from low-income backgrounds. Elizabeth Bryan-Jacobs is an upstate New York artist who pioneered her “Spread Your Wings” art-making program at Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin, Texas, where it broke all fundraising records and “brought out the angel in everyone.” Think children in wheelchairs painting brightly colored feathers for an enormous pair of wings!

The possibilities for celebrating Mother’s Day with social activism are truly boundless. One thing about today’s world—there is no scarcity of vital, life-saving work to be done. Whether the realm is health, education, justice, government, environment, animal welfare, the arts and whether the venue is local, national, or global, finding a cause that speaks to your heart is easy. Making a better world is an equal opportunity job with room for everyone. In addition to the local public schools, day care centers, health clinics, libraries, and senior centers that could probably use your in-person assistance, there are national and international organizations ready to welcome your support. Heifer International out of Little Rock, Arkansas, works to end poverty and hunger and build community with donations of farm animals (and bees) around the world. Habitat for Humanity (think President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter) works locally and internationally to build homes for low-income families. Doctors Without Borders provides humanitarian medical care wherever it is needed most. Amnesty International supports human rights efforts. The Sierra Club works to preserve the environment and the World Wildlife Fund? Their name says it all.

Taking loving action in the world seems like the perfect way to warm a mother’s heart and honor the day that is dedicated to mothers everywhere. Everything in this world is connected to and dependent upon everything else. To honor our connectedness is to honor life itself and the Creator of all. Whatever actions you take to provide loving service in the world will send forth pulses of healing energy. When you choose a way to serve that matches your passionate interests, it brings joy to you and to Mom and to all the moms who pray for the health, safety, freedom, and happiness of their children. Think about Ann Reeves Jarvis, Civil War nurse, who did not discriminate between North and South in her healing mission. There couldn’t be a better symbol of the stuff that needs healing today than the American Civil War. Thank you, Ann Jarvis, and daughter Anna, for the loving spirit that inspired Mother’s Day. It’s just what the world needs now.

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