More Spiritual Lessons from Animals

We continue our meditations on spiritual teachings from animals.

“What animals are thinking and feeling, and why it should matter” Carl Safina on TEDxMidAtlantic

Openness and sensitivity. There can be little doubt that animals have developed and not allowed to atrophy powers of identification and sensitivity that we humans have almost totally forgotten. 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.

Because the senses of animals are often so much more acute than ours, they remind us of how limited our sense awareness often is and therefore of the need to continually expand our intuition and sensitivity and compassion. 

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?

Beauty is not an appendage to human and spiritual living but of its very essence. Animals are here in part to grant glimpses of the grace of beauty. The beauty of the singing of birds is a kind of music in itself. It has been proposed that “aesthetics may actually be a factor in evolution” of birds, for example, since “the females tend to choose the best singers and thereby help perpetuate the genes for musical talent.”

“Song of the Wood Thrush.” Unforgettably lovely music of the springtime MidAtlantic forest. Lang Elliott

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 dropping a dollar bill 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? Because the wallet, containing some cowhide, still retains a semblance of sensuousness. God and nature made the cow–thus there is some fun and ecstasy to it. It is an end and not only a means. Money, however, whatever the denomination, is only a means and is therefore not what living and ecstasy are about.

Julian of Norwich: “God is in our sensuality.”

To be continued


Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion, p. 167.  

See also Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 71-87.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: “Zebra Love.” Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Have you undergone meaningful spiritual lessons from animals regarding sensitivity, beauty, and/or sensuousness?


Recommended Reading

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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8 thoughts on “More Spiritual Lessons from Animals”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today we continue our meditations on spiritual teachings from animals, and you now share other qualities that animals can teach us, that if we would learn and incorporate them into our lives, our lives would be much richer. The qualities you share with us today that animals have are: Openness and sensitivity, Beauty, and Sensuousness–and Julian of Norwich says: “God is in our sensuality.” In our Queries for Contemplation you ask us: “Have you undergone meaningful spiritual lessons from animals regarding sensitivity, beauty, and/or sensuousness?” One of my grandsons has a black lab that is a puppy still–though he is big and in to everything, constantly chewing things up, and jumps on me every time I walk in the door to his house–my grandson loves him and they even sleep together (my grandson is 7). He is a beautiful dog, and he teaches me patience and acceptance of how nature and the divine are when incarnate in an animal !!!

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    Thank you Mathew, for expanding our awareness about all animals, their presence and awareness and sameness of them within ourselves. All we have to do is be aware of them as they are aware of us . If we pay attention we can accept their gifts (Divinity within them as within us, one and the same Life Being)

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    Yesterday, Matthew, you reminded us that it was the Feast Day of St. Francis and Animals. Like the enclosed speaker in the Ted Talk video says, ‘ civilized’ man has not honored and respected Mother Nature and All Her creatures, including ourselves, enough; in fact, we have been very destructive. This historical imbalance, toxicity, and destructiveness of patriarchal societies have crescendoed to our modern era of world industrial ‘civilization’ destroying our planet’s environment/natural climate and all living creatures (many tens of thousands of species have already become extinct in the last few decades). Are we next as a species of Mother Nature? We haven’t recognized that we’re part of the same family of Sacred Living Creation with our patriarchal, egocentric, narcissistic, destructive, ignorant, suicidal behavior towards the Feminine and Mother Nature. We truly are in an era and time of reckoning with the imminent collapse of our patriarchal world industrial ‘civilization.’ Hopefully, the deeper spiritual meaning of our painful societal and environmental collapse is the personal, communal, and world societal transformation and rebirth towards a more just, compassionate communion with one another and Mother Nature and All Her living creatures in God’s Spirit of Compassion~Wisdom~Justice~Healing~Peace~Joy~Beauty~co-Creativity and Loving Diverse Oneness….
    ?❤️??

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    Bounding Beyond Fear
    One day I had a need to do my breath work practice outdoors, so I headed for my favorite tree in the woods behind my building. I breathed rhythmically as I walked through the snow on the one-person path. Far ahead I saw Woman and Dog approaching. Dog stopped as soon as it saw me, went behind Woman, and peeked out at me. I saw her talk with Dog. No luck. Automatically, without thinking, I stopped. My body immediately took one step off the path and knelt down in the snow. I didn’t move a muscle. I breathed to Dog. Dog advanced about 6 feet. Woman worked with Dog more. I didn’t flinch, and breathed to Dog. Dog continued with this pattern of slow advancing. When Dog got close enough I slowly put out my hand and talked soothingly. Dog sniffed my hand, came and licked my face, then bounded for joy all around me. When Woman tried to call Dog off, I objected, saying I thought this was incredible. Woman looked at me very perplexed and with tearful and halting words, expressed appreciation for how I had been with Dog. When Dog’s experience was so clearly fear and I felt that fear, we had a mutual exchange at the heart level.
    Dog taught me that I can overcome my fears when they are respected.
    Heart Selah: Have you recognized the feelings of another species? How did you identify the feelings? How did you honor the feelings? (Selah is a word found in the Psalms, and means ‘stop and listen; pause and think of that’

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    When I was very young, my parents sometimes took our family to the Vilas zoo, which had a large, round “monkey house” filled with dozens of rhesus monkeys cavorting in big display cages. The mother monkeys had little infants cuddled protectively in their laps, while somewhat older ones rode around on mothers’ backs. The littlest babies ventured out only a bit, then ran back to their mothers for comfort, or the moms scooped them up and held them protectively. I was deeply affected by watching the comforting and protective mothers cuddling their infants. Those monkeys became symbols of love for me, even though I didn’t conceptualize the idea until I was older. It was intuitive recognition of love at a deep, bodily level. It also taught me about a physical, cuddling love that was lacking from my own mother, but I knew it was love when I saw it. The monkeys taught me about hugging and the importance of touch. Later, in one of my college psychology classes, I learned about the Harlow-Suomi monkey studies (using those same Vilas zoo monkeys, ironically), which demonstrated the vital need (in monkeys and in humans) for “contact comfort”: infant monkeys got extremely depressed when deprived of any soft things to cling to, and food alone wasn’t enough for them to thrive. Love is a whole-body experience.

    1. Avatar

      Visiting the San Diego Zoo in 1992 with my 2.5 year old son and 8 month old daughter I was holding my daughter observing the monkeys playing in their area. An adult monkey watched me, then scampered off and returned with her infant monkey, standing across from me at a distance of 70 yards. We locked eyes. She and I shared a maternal moment of understanding and love. I have never forgotten our meeting. There was a cord of energy connecting us.

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