Some animals go out of their way to make community with humans and to join our families and our clan. Dogs, cats, horses and many others seem happy to link up with us.
A number of years ago I wrote about the “Spiritual Lessons Animals Teach Us.” Among them are the following:
- That it is good to be an animal. Some of the happiest creatures I know are animals and they do not hesitate to demonstrate their joy at living.
- Ecstasy without guilt. Animals can truly let go and let be and even celebrate without guilt feelings at “wasted time” or self-consciousness at letting their masks down. They instruct us in realizing that intensity of living is more important than duration.
- Play is an adult thing to do and needs no justification.
- Animals are experts at non-verbal communication—their language with us is mime, tone of voice and dance. And a truthful language it can be, also. Consider a dog barking and wagging its tail on seeing you. Max Scheler comments on how this provides a “’universal grammar,’ valid for all languages of expression, and the ultimate basis of understanding for all forms of mime and pantomime among living creatures.”
- Openness and sensitivity. There can be little doubt that animals have developed powers of empathy and sensitivity that exceed that of humans. Many a dog, for example, on entering a room will know if someone is depressed or sad and will act to do something about it.
- Beauty. Who cannot be caught up by the form of a seagull in flight, by the straight back of a proud dog, by the graceful strides of a tiger, by the perfect musculature of a fine stallion? Animals grant us glimpses of the grace of beauty. The beauty of the singing of birds is a kind of music in itself, as is the gurgling of a brook, the dashing of ocean waves against a rocky shore, the whistling of the wind among leafy trees.
- Sensuousness. Animals teach us that one can be sensual and spiritual at the same time. They know that abstractions by themselves, such as money for example, are not what living and ecstasy are about.
I remember one time switching a dollar bill into my wallet and its dropping on the floor in front of my dog. He didn’t bat one of his white eyelashes and had it been a thousand dollar bill he would not have reacted either.
Had I dropped the wallet, however, there would have been a great game of tug of war. Why is this? Because the wallet, containing some cowhide, still retains a semblance of sensuousness. Thus there is some fun and ecstasy to it. It is an end and not only a means. Money, however, is only a means and is therefore not what living and ecstasy are about. Children hold this same instinct since, as Freud pointed out, “money is not an infantile wish.”
To be continued.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion, pp. 166f.
Banner Image: The melted-butter look of pure love. Photo by Amiya Nanda on Pexels.
What spiritual lessons and lessons about community do animals teach you?
A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice
In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.
“Well worth our deepest consideration…Puts compassion into its proper focus after centuries of neglect.” –The Catholic Register
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