We all know that nature has equipped its members with some pretty ingenious survival resources. Unfortunately, as we remove ourselves from the wisdom and ways of the earth – we lose some important skills. Nature combines the spiritual with the practical. It’s time to take a seat and learn a few things from our “mother earth.”
- “In the beginning of all things, wisdom and knowledge were with the animals, for Tirawa, the One Above, did not speak directly to man. He sent certain animals to tell men that he showed himself through the beast, and that from them, and from the stars and the sun and moon should man learn… all things tell of Tirawa.” The Eagle Chief of the Pawnee reminds us to look to the animals for wisdom. In fact, natural medicine owes its beginnings to watching animals heal themselves. Animals naturally seek comfort tranquility and balance. We can learn from that to find harmony in our lives. Simply put –“what would your dog do?”
“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
- Rats show empathy. Yup. Compassion is a smart way to foster social connections and to boost your immune system. A Berkeley University study explains this phenomenon, “scientists have started to map the biological basis of compassion, suggesting its deep evolutionary purpose… when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up,” when we care for others.
Rodents second this finding. In a recent study, rats exhibited astounding pro-social behavior by rescuing trapped comrades and sharing treats with them. This type of compassion and sharing has also been expressed by primates.
The Berkeley empathy study found that “when individuals regulate their compassion, they sense an inner conflict between valuing morality and abiding by their moral rules, and they feel that they must make a substantial trade-off between the two… people alleviate this conflict by either placing less importance on morality or relaxing their adherence to moral principles.” This study (and the rats) warns us that if we suppress feelings of compassion, we hurt our society and ourselves.
“Clearly, animals know more than we think, and think a great deal more than we know.”
Irene M. Pepperberg
- It’s not just chicken scratch. Biologists discovered that chickens are capable of planning for the future. Dr. Christine Nicol’s research into avian behavior has revealed some astonishing facts about these brainy birds. She regularly opens conferences by mentioning intelligent behaviors that the audience assumes belongs to chimps. Nope, each trait is shown by the farm fowl favorite – the chicken.
Chickens also teach us that prudence and careful thought are important. We need the patience and intelligence to sketch out what we want to do. Chickens’ “ability to plan in advance and deploy impulse control (abilities not developed in humans until one’s early twenties – and even then….well),” reveal complicated mental abilities that few humans choose to practice! These feathered strategists also teach us to withhold gratification. It is the path that matters, and fast often equals substandard – we need to hurry up and wait.
According to biologist Carolynn Smith, chickens “possess sophisticated cognitive abilities. Their communication is not simply reflexive, but is responsive to relevant social and environmental factors. Chickens demonstrate an awareness of themselves as separate from others; can recognize particular individuals and,” especially their respective rank with those other birds.
“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.”
- “Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Anatole France tells us that animals teach us about love. Often humans have abstractified this basic behavioral trait. Love or caring is an emotion and we share the basic ability to experience emotions (fear, anger) with other animals…and neuroscience is proving this.
In a groundbreaking study, dogs were found to use the “affection” hormone, oxytocin, when interacting with their human friend. Oxytocin is the key to how we and other animals feel parental warmth, love and behaviors like trust and empathy.
Animals teach us that love is reciprocal, is unconditional and it always makes us feel safe. Real love never involves manipulation, fear or mistrust. It just doesn’t work that way. Animals show us an authentic emotion, rooted in biology but blossoming into a much bigger thing. Love does not have to say anything. As Vint Virga, DVM, tells us, “In the silent presence of the creatures around us—all alone on the sofa with our dog by our side or cat resting cozily curled in our lap—we sense their regard for our thoughts and feelings, and we respond in kind without reserve. If we choose, we can do so, as well, with each other.”
- Hello! We need to pay attention – to everything. Get your head out of your inner consciousness, away from the cell phone… and turn OFF those darn ear buds. You live in the world and in the now. Why are humans always blanketing over reality with “stuff” and noise?
Let’s get quiet for a moment. Look at the ground, at the trees, at the pebbles in the pavement cracks, at anything. What scents are in the air? Did a horn beep, did a starling warble? Geez, folks, WAKE UP. Literally. We are living in a haze. Life is real. The world is on. Turn off everything and walk with awareness to the everything going on in real-time. That “buzz” that takes up space in your head is a mirage.
Once we relearn how to simply exist in a space without disappearing into dream-land, our ability to focus gets some much needed exercise. This type of sensory meditation leaves us refreshed and invigorated. Take along a plant or bird book to test your observational skills. Is that a mockingbird in the cherry tree?
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
- Stop being a faker. Stop believing that you are a faker. Animals don’t compare themselves to each other. They don’t mimic stupid, random nothings. What you wear, what you drive, doesn’t matter. Animals teach us to focus on who we are. Your stuff has no impact on who you are.
In fact, if you cover yourself with certain clothes, buy certain cars or live in “certain” places, you are buying objects instead of building yourself. A pair of Italian shoes and a Corvette are NOT personalities and they can’t give you one.
What you act on, what you feel and what you do authentically for motivation builds your personality. And that all comes from within, and by HOW you act. Your dog told you this already. Did you listen?
Who we are today matters. What we were in the past does not. When we hold ourselves accountable we understand achievement. Respect yourself, respect others and live on an authentic path. Animals don’t value manipulation. Neither should we.
“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.” Eleanor Roosevelt
- You’re not special. We are all in this together. Nature has no hierarchy. Animals tell us that survival goes to those who cultivate skill. Sometimes this is a group effort and that is why we have empathy, caring and collaboration. Wolves, chickens, primates and elephants all work together to accomplish a goal. Honeybees tell the other bees where to find the best flowers. They don’t fly home to the hive and keep that a secret.
Selfishness is bad for everyone. If that one bee held back, the whole hive would lose out – there is no gain in narcissism. Animals remind us that we may think we are above the world, but the world will throw a banana peel in your path. Floodwaters don’t care if there is a tree, a car, a house or you in their path. Nature isn’t impressed with your “humanity.” Let’s all take it down a notch. Being humble is a virtue and it will keep you alive. Life is not all about you.
“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.”
- Work smart not hard. Squirrels teach us this one. You need to gather food for the winter, but you also need to be clever about it. Squirrels use triangulation to remember where they have hid their stores. It doesn’t make sense to rush around burying a bunch of snacks only to lose track of them all. If you just blindly work hard, you’ll get tired and lose in the end. Working hard without purpose and common sense is a bad idea. It offers nothing to you in return.
Dolphins team up to enjoy some seafood. They swim below the school of fish and blow a veil of bubbles to trap the fish inside the effervescent ring. The dolphins then swim up to dine on the confused school. That’s working smart.
“Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”
- Learn stuff. Life is all about curiosity. Animals are hard-wired to seek and to inquire. Animals spend their days unplugged and tuned in to whatever is happening around them. They fill their minds with knowledge gleaned from observation and responsiveness to the environment they are in. The world is full of learning opportunities waiting for those who take the time to perceive them.
When a horse is grazing in a pasture he is not looking at the grass, he is scanning the horizon with his eyes and ears. He watches and uses body language to converse with his herd buddies. The horse never wastes the opportunity to observe. He multitasks. If you are opening the gate at this time – he also watches as you work the latch. He’ll open that gate later. Learning doesn’t take a lunch break.
“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.”
- Don’t give up. Animals don’t tell other animals that they aren’t good enough,
that they are foolish, that what they think doesn’t matter. Resilience is a survival tool. It sits within everyone and no one can erase that. Resilience, determination and vision are life skills. And animals don’t quit. Chaser the border collie learned over 1,000 English words. Alex, the African grey parrot, learned abstract language and even began to create new words.
Rufous hummingbirds migrate a harrowing 3,300 miles. And that won’t gain the frequent flyer miles of the Sooty Shearwater’s astonishing 45,000 mile journey. Grit, determination and success come from cultivating a sense of focus and purpose. Animals tell us to capture what we know we can achieve, not to wait in the quicksand of doubt.
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”