Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Learning from Animals

Learning from Our Pets
September 2013
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

A deacon colleague remarked that people “can learn a lot from animals if we are willing to see it.” People with dogs and cats as pets have an idea of what she was saying. For my own, I found a ready example in one our cats, Mr. Snuggles, whom earns his name well. There are many ways that Mr. Snuggles offers helpful, often cuddly, “advice” to life, and let us review a couple of them here.

First, there is time to enjoy the opportunities in life; Mr. Snuggles will meow until you give him attention when you walk in the door to let you know that he has been waiting all day for one of us to come home. When we sit down on the couch or are sitting at the table having coffee, he finds the opportunity to snuggle in an open lap or just simply wanting to enjoy the time with us. How many times have we gone through a day looking for tomorrow, the weekend, or maybe wondering why there was so much anxiety in life? Simply enjoying the moment can help us to collect our thoughts, to relieve tensions, and to consider what needs to be done in some cases. Yet, most of all, enjoying the moment is where we are now and that moment offers opportunities that we can savor, if we allow them.

Enjoy the opportunities to play. A boring day is suddenly exciting when we bring out his toys or when the other cats start to play. We can see this extend to our lives at work or at home where just a few moments of break from a task can help ease concerns. Further, exercise is well documented as an aid to help with increasing brain, muscle, joint, and sensory functions. Exercise does not have to be all work as one can have fun or just play.

Enjoy your meal and be thankful for what you have. Part of growing up in a working class home, we did not have many fancy meals, but we were grateful to have what we had, except maybe when the meal was liver and onions. Pets are not going to be near as fussy as people over food. They will be excited for the food during preparation and they will be willing to dive right into the meal. With so many people in the world suffering from hunger, we can be grateful for the food that we have to eat and be grateful to people that are preparing that food. Even in a restaurant that served poor food, one does not need to get bent out of shape in reaction. Being thankful for the food and effort at first may help to defuse some situations.

There is always time for a nap. Snuggles loves his lap time, his meals and his naps. He will find a bed in the most unique places around the house with a few favorite locations. That is when not eating, playing or looking for attention; Snuggles finds time for a good snooze. Especially after a long day, we need to be reminded of our own animal needs for rest. We can go through life always busy and working, but if we do not give ourselves adequate rest, we sacrifice our own work quality and productivity.

Dogs and cats are not afraid to show their feelings, and they move on from events quicker than humans. They will communicate when they are excited, stressed, and in pain. Communication is important, and as I noted in my previous column, communication benefits more than just oneself. Also, cats and dogs are not attached to pride or self-importance in the way we humans are. They may or may not foresee an outcome to a situation, but the expression they exhibit is about what they value most (e.g. security, companionship, or excitement), rather than ego, material goods or pride. Even when they have been scolded for doing something and regardless of whether they recognize what they did, they will try to apologize quickly for the supposed transgression (and often with a nose nudge).

That leads to their most valuable lesson that our pets can teach us. Most of all, cats and dogs are willing to love without condition. From the moment I saw Mr. Snuggles at the ARL, he came right up to me, rubbed next to me, and jumped right into my lap like he was waiting just for me. Little did I know, he is willing to snuggle up to most anyone, thus his name. He did not care about the type of clothes I wore, did not care about the kind of car I drove, nor even care how I looked. Today, he might showcase some jealousy when we are tending to one of our other pets or to other tasks around the house, but he is ready to love and to snuggle at a moment’s notice.  Sometimes clothes, cars, money, or things of the like just do not matter.

Non-attachment, communication, finding time for those important things in life, and loving unconditionally are aspects of life that people are too easily willing to overlook in search of some other ideal.  Yet, our own pets can show us how happy one can be with having these things regardless of house size, car styles, or elsewise. We see this type of philosophy from various other sources including remarks from Alan Watts when he says that a “plant doesn't know that it is growing, it just grows.” This may seem ridiculous to some people. Yet, if you are willing really learn what to expect in life and what you can gain from your existence, there are many lessons that we can learn from our pets in how they approach life.

"Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked int he wrong way." - Alan Watts