I met my first soul mate when I was a baby. His name was Mittens, and he lived next door. He was a cocker spaniel and he became my first love and my devoted friend. When I became mobile, every day I would sit on the steps next door with Mittens, and I was at peace. Old enough for deep feelings, yet too young for many words, I found comfort, safety and welcome in the presence of this special being. Mittens provided a haven for me that only later in life could I realize was probably a lifesaver. He was an emotionally safe harbor from a dysfunctional family. He offered unconditional love and acceptance, and made me feel welcome on the earth.
Mittens died when I was two. I never forgot the loss. Perhaps the loss was so deep that while I have been gifted by almost constant guidance, teaching and companionship of other animals throughout my life, I have never since allowed myself to get that close again to a dog. As a 40 year old woman and the mother of a three year old boy who wants nothing more in life than to have a dog of his own, perhaps it is time to let another dog soul into my life.
I dedicate this article to Mittens and to all his brother and sister animals who have touched and guided my life, and the life of other humans alive today on the earth.
In our fast paced, "civilized" and technologized modem world, we humans may easily forget both that we are animals and that we share the earth with a larger family of other animals. For children, the knowledge that we are animals and that other species are our brothers and sisters is innate and a source of delight and comfort. A survey of children's literature, toys and music reveals the rich connection with animals that is fundamental to being a human being.
In an emotional safety exercise I have done in workshops for many years, the most common place people envision as a place of safety is a place in nature. Children who experience trauma, neglect and deprivation in their families and human world often turn to nature, especially other animals, for salvation, protection, friendship and spiritual meaning. The natural world provides physical, emotional and spiritual comfort in times of pain.
ANIMALS AND THE SOUL
"The word 'animal' comes from a Latin root that means 'soul.' To ancient thinkers, soul was the mysterious force that gave life and breath to the myriad of earth's creatures. Some even spoke of a 'world soul' or anima mundi that enlivened the whole of nature. Later, theologians restricted the possession of a soul to human beings. But what is soul or spirit? Spirit is the channel through which we become conscious of the essence - the inward beauty - that dwells within another living being.'"
In our modern world, as we humans have lost touch with our bodies and souls, we have lost touch with our connection with the souls of the animals around us. As we have separated ourselves from nature, including our own nature, the natural world and the animals who comprise it has become alien, scary, foreboding and objectified. In his introduction to the Animal-Wise Tarot, Ted Andrews notes that nature has become something to be studied, and unfortunately something often to be taken advantage of.
How can we as human beings not see essence or beauty when reflecting on animals and the natural world? How can we even question the fact that animals have souls, and that their souls are mirrors for our healing, growth and evolution as living beings? Ted Andrews writes, "Mother nature is very wise and provides many signs for us. We just have a tendency to ignore the signs or refuse to acknowledge them. Yet deep within each of us is a part that not only hopes, but also knows what is true. Nature does speak to us." And every one of us has been touched by animals in some way.
So many of us have special stories of being touched by animals. If we are open, the animals that cross our path have a special way of taking us deeper and reaching into our hearts. Both the animals we live with in daily life and animals we meet just for a passing moment can be spiritual messengers and mirrors for us. The following two stories illustrate some of the beauty of other animals' encounters with humans.
The Giraffe Story
Jim Donovan, 47, lives in Franklin, MA and is the father of six children ranging in age from 9 to 16. When his 13 year old son was a baby, probably five or six months old, Jim, his wife and children went for a visit to Southwick Animal Farm in Mendon, MA.
"My son was still in my wife's arms. My wife and I were together with our kids, who numbered four at that time, looking at the animals. We came to the giraffe cage. There was a mother giraffe with her baby. The mother was a good fifteen feet tall. The baby was six feet tall, probably a yearling."
"We were separated by a chain link fence. The mother giraffe came over to my wife who was cradling our baby in her arms. She put her neck over the chain link fence, which was only five feet tall, bent over the fence and took a look at my son. She then went over to her own baby, wrapped her neck around him and brought the baby giraffe over to look at our baby."
"We told the mother giraffe how beautiful her baby was, how perfect. She was so proud of her baby. You could tell she loved him so much. That she would bring him over and show him to us made me see the depth of understanding animals have. I felt really connected with the mother giraffe. I thought this was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. This experience taught me about the intelligence and understanding other animals have."
The Feral Dog in Belize
Cathy Cilcius, 31, lives in Billerica, MA. On a trip to Belize, just before dusk, Cathy decided to sit on the steps in front of the guest house she was staying in for a few minutes before dinner. "I sat on the steps for ten minutes as the sun went down. Just as I was about to get up a little white dog with brown patches suddenly came up to me. He was about the size of a beagle, and came out from the bushes as though he had come out of nowhere. It actually startled me."
"I've always loved animals, so I said to him, 'Come here, come here.' As I reached out to him, he was scared. He backed up a few paces, put his head down and tail down. It was symbolic to me that he had been abused or hit. So, over a period of fifteen minutes I kept reaching out to him. I sat back down on the steps and again said, 'Come here, it's alright' using a tone of voice to coax him. He would continue to take a few steps forward, then stop and put his head down. We continued this for fifteen or twenty minutes."
"Finally after all that he came about ten inches from me. He wouldn't let me touch his head, but he let me touch his hind side, so I petted him. When he felt that, he turned his head towards me. He finally looked at me and connected. He had very wistful eyes."
"He was standing when I started to pet him. He had been a little hesitant to sit. As he grew more comfortable, he sat. Then, I began to pet his head. He immediately closed his eyes, sat for a good twenty minutes and took in the petting. He really soaked it in. You can see how really important love is for animals, for any creature. It was a really neat, connected experience for me. My soul felt warm because I felt the resonance from the little animal's soul. Our connection made him feel delight. He was receiving something he probably seldom got. It was a very spiritually connecting, intense moment for us both, I think."
"After I slowed up the petting a little bit, he opened his eyes. They were very caring, like they were saying 'thank you.' For some reason, at that point I scratched his ears. They were floppy like beagles' ears. I felt something crusty. So, I flipped both of them over. And both ears had three inch lacerations — identical marks on each ear. One was crusty and dried. The other, the left ear, was open and looked infected. So, that called to me. Not only could I share my love with this animal who was suffering, but also I could help him physically."
"I put off dinner for another hour and went to a local pharmacy. I just made it before they closed and got sterile pads and some Neosporin. I came back and he was still in the same place by the steps. I had to go through the whole coaxing thing again, but it was shorter this time. I petted him for five minutes. While he was in his meditative petting trance, I quickly flipped over his ear, cleaned it with one of the pads, and applied the Neosporin to stop the infection. I thought he would run when I did that, but he just opened his eyes, still sitting on his hind legs at my feet, and allowed me very patiently and diligently to clean it and fix it. That was really amazing. He just sat there, very at peace. My spirit felt that he knew he was being helped, that I was aiding his infected ear"
"I had to go to dinner then. I brought him back two hot dogs from dinner. I left them at the doorstep. I saw him eat them, and go to sleep on the doorstep outside my verandah. He slept there all night. The next day I got up and he was gone. But, the very last day I was in Belize, three days after our first meeting, as I was getting in a cab to go to the airport I saw him. He was sitting outside the guest house by the front steps. The cab drove really slowly and he walked out from the steps through the opening in the hedges and came to the curb. He sat and watched me go by in the cab. In his eyes, I felt a thank you. I felt privileged to come across him and thankful to help him. It was a very special experience."
HOW OTHER ANIMALS MIRROR OUR SOULS
Valerie Haven is an animal communicator in Boston. She works with people and the animals in their lives, assisting them to achieve greater clarity with the mirrors animals offer, so they can connect more deeply with their personal power. Valerie's work illustrates the profound spiritual bond between humans and other animals, and the way all animals truly serve humans in their emotional and spiritual growth.
"Every person has the ability to acquire exquisite information about his or her energetic path or spiritual path," says Valerie. "Animals agree to assist people as mirrors of their energy field along with the potential for using their power to create more personal comfort. Animals represent the planet and our root chakras. They help us with how we hold energy in our bodies,"
According to Valerie, domestic animals that live with us are a mirror of what is going on in our energy fields on a day to day basis. Wild animals are a mirror of our energetic potential. They offer opportunities to know ourselves at full spiritual power.
One of the ways animals hold up mirrors before us is through their behaviors. The clues to the information they are signaling to us lies in how we feel about what they are doing. To illustrate this, Valerie shared a story from her own life of how her cat Raiana helped her work with her own fear of loss.
"A while ago my older cat was escaping out the front door of my apartment, which was very upsetting to me. She continued to do this until I realized she was being more than just a curious cat. I first asked myself what the mirror was and then asked her what she wanted to tell me. She said that her behavior was prompting me to look at my fear level about her getting out and getting hurt."
"I concluded that at a deeper level the mirror was about my fear of losing love. When I learned the lesson she chose to teach me, not only did she stop going out, but now I take her along with me. This showed me that my fear of the loss of love has shifted."
Animals also provide an opportunity for us to heal physically. The diseases they get reflect the energy patterns of the humans they live with. As my soul cat Angelo faced chronic renal disease at the end of his life, I was forced to face the level of fear I was holding in my body. The depth of my own fear held an energy pattern that offered the potential for me to contract renal disease one day. Angelo was trying to help me move forward in my emotional and spiritual growth by mirroring the depth of my fear back to me so I could heal it. By the time he died, I was at much greater peace with my fears.
Animals From God
All animals provide an opportunity for us to grow spiritually and emotionally if we can slow down, be present and really listen as we relate to them. Wolves are particularly deep and powerful spirits who in Valerie Haven's words, "offer mirrors of our potential for magic at full power and of releasing the fear of living with an open heart at full power." The story of Tony Cifizzari and his 19 year old Maine Timber Wolf hybrid. Bandit, illustrates the magic in overcoming the initial fear of wolf meeting human and growing a deeply bonded relationship based on love and respect.
Bandit was found in Maine as a cub and taken in by a human. When his original owner passed away, other family members wanted Bandit destroyed. Four years ago, Tony came across Bandit while at his job as a certified animal control officer. He asked Bandit's remaining family if they would give him custody and they agreed. Tony contacted the Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife in Boston, told them Bandit's story and requested that he be allowed to keep and take care of Bandit for the rest of his life. The Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife thanked Tony for wanting to maintain Bandit's remaining life.
Bandit became the first wolf in the state to be registered after the 1994 Wildlife Act was passed. The Wildlife Act allowed someone with a wolf or wolf hybrid to keep it provided they contact the state to get a special permit. Today, about 200 wolves are legally registered with the state, and no more wolves are allowed in the state of Massachusetts.
The process of building a deep bond of friendship and trust took time and effort on both Tony's and Bandit's parts. "When we first met, we were both scared of each other," notes Tony. "Over time, he could see that I respected him for what he was. I had to show him that I was in control. "He learned to respect me for that. We became friends shortly thereafter."
"When I first got Bandit, I just let him be who he was and I allowed myself to just be who I am. Through just talking and relating to him, we adapted to each other. He knew I was in tune with him. He felt it. We just enjoyed being around each other. I appreciated his space. The difficulties were in avoiding things he didn't like so he wouldn't be afraid or threatened. When wolves are scared they do fear biting so avoiding threats prevents fear biting."
"For the human to honor the wolf spirit one needs to be in tune with themselves and their own spirit. Patience, stillness and inner space are needed within you to understand the full meaning of the spirited wolf. You have to be in touch with your own soul otherwise one could never appreciate the real meaning the wolf brings. When I look into Bandit's soul I see the importance of being free in this world. I see the toughness of the wolf in order to survive. I see perhaps the smartest animal on earth. He's been here first with the Indians. The Indians honor and respect the wolf. They've learned to live together and respect each other's boundaries."
"Nature means having love, giving love, showing love and respect to God for all that he has given. The land nurtures the wolf. The wolf watches over the land. Bandit has brought me closer to God. He has shown me how to enjoy and respect the tranquility of life that a wolf could bring. It is an experience you really need to have individually in order to understand."
Tony continues to take fine care of Bandit. At age 19, Bandit has outlived the average wolf in the wild or captivity whose average life span is 10 years. And Tony and Bandit have forged a very deep bond of friendship. They are truly best friends.
WHAT ANIMALS HAVE TO TEACH HUMANS
Animals have great compassion. Many a human has been responded to and cared for when they are ill or suffering by an animal companion. Animals offer a haven of comfort in trying times.
Animals are mirrors of the soul. We experience parts of ourselves in the eyes and presence of other animals. Our animal companions often take on emotional, physical and spiritual challenges we are facing to help us move forward along our soul's path in life.
Animals are messengers and spirit guides. Animals speak to us all the time if we know how to listen. Different animals bring different messages. The timing and appearance of a specific animal often moves us forward spiritually and practically. When a stray cat shows up at your door, it is no accident. When a bird flies overhead, there is a gift in their appearance. Our work is to learn how to read the signals the animals are trying to offer us.
Animals remind us there is a God or life force and that it is alive and strong. Witnessing a mother dog or cat give birth to their puppies or kittens reminds us of the miracle of life. Watching a sick animal fight for its health with courage and determination offers hope and inspiration. Assisting a feral animal who eventually comes off the streets shows us the possibility of making a difference through love and connection.
Animals are perhaps our most intimate, long-term and devoted companions. In this day and age relationships are fragile and come and go far too easily. How many humans commit to staying in each other's intimate daily lives for twelve to twenty years? When a cat or dog dies, a person may experience the grief of losing a life partner.
Animals remind us of the importance of presence and being. How many other animals suffer from workaholism, anxiety and the inability to relax? Our animal companions help us learn to slow down, relax, and be in the moment.
Perhaps if we can slow down, relax and be in the moment, our animal brethren will help us heal our most wounded parts and reclaim a peaceful way of life that incorporates and honors the soul. In the mirrors of our animal companions we see the possibility of what it means to be fully alive.
Linda Marks, MSM, has practiced heart-centered, psychospiritual body-centered psychotherapy for sixteen years. She is founder of the Institute for Emotional-Kinesthetic Psychotherapy in Newton, and author of LIVING WITH VISION: RECLAIMING THE POWER OF THE HEART (Knowledge Systems, 1988). She has taught and spoken nationally and internationally, and has been a leader in the emerging field of somatic psychology. She lives in Newton, MA with her four year old son, Alexander. Linda's new book EMBODYING THE SOUL: DANCING INTO LIFE is due for release in the spring of 2001. You can contact her at (617)965-7846 or LSMHEART@aol.com
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1. From The Souls of Animals by Gary Kowalski (Stillpoint, 1991)
The Souls of Animals by Gary Kowalski (Stillpoint, 1991)
The Dog Who Saved Cats and The Blessing of the Animals by Philip Gonzalez and Lenore Fleishcher (Harper-Collins, 1996)
When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Life of Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Mason and Susan McCarthy (available in audio tape Newport Classic Recordings, 1995. Distributed by Dove Audio, Beverly Hills, CA)
Animal-Speak by Ted Andrews (Llewellyn, 1993)
The Animal Wise Tarot by Ted Andrews (Dragonhawk, 1999)
The Hidden Life of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (TimeWamer. 1993)
Animal Talk by Penelope Smith
Valerie Haven, M.Div, MTS, Animal Communicator, (617)859-1704. email: Ashara@world.std.com