A friend of mine had a rough day last week. Personal, professional, and financial stress had her beaten down and dejected, the world hostile and unsafe. Needing relief, she turned to a time-honored solution for a troubled soul: she took her dog on a long walk, then went home to snuggle with her cats.
My friend knew that her animal companions could soothe and inspire her better than any drink or Amazon shopping cart ever could. Judging by the countless animal videos and memes on social media, many of us agree. What do animals unlock inside us when all else fails? How are they able to thaw our hearts when the day’s problems have such a chilling effect on our lives?
The great Chief Seattle knew, “All things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man. The air shares its spirit with all the life it supports.” Without energy, there can be no life. We share energy sources with our animal friends: the sunlight, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. What keeps them alive keeps us alive, reminding us that we are but animals ourselves.
Animals’ therapeutic power is potent and well-documented. From the simple act of petting a dog or cat to interacting with rabbits and birds to working with horses in equine therapy, science tells us that Animal Assisted Therapy lowers stress, enhances recall, quiets our nervous system, and promotes the release of serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin – hormones that help elevate our mood, among other benefits (https://www.uclahealth.org/pac/animal-assisted-therapy).
Animals live in a world free of shame, full of the potential contained within each moment. When my cat has an itch, she scratches it. When she is hungry, she eats. To behold a happy dog or cat is to see life whittled down to its most elemental pleasures— a safe and warm spot for a nap, fresh, plentiful food, kindness, and affection. We celebrate animals’ unabashed declarations of joy, their inexhaustible curiosity, and their penchant for unconditional love. We declare our “spirit animal” when we see our own essence thrillingly expressed in animal form. We delight in the discovery.
I was raised around animals. Growing up, I spent every summer on my Grandmother’s ranch in Montana — a safe, idyllic place of rolling mountains and bright blue skies, my Grandmother’s horses and me, running wild. Riding her horses, my adolescent struggles melted away, and I was free: arms outstretched to the sun and the wind, a moment of perfect joy in an otherwise imperfect world.
With this awareness, much becomes available to us. We have an opportunity to discover what is truly important today. We might all find our moments of joy.
What might your favorite animal unlock inside you today? What will you do with this newfound, peaceful freedom?