When was the last time you were really conscious of how amazingly deep and ancient the link is between some animals and humans goes? How we humans are animals and all the earth’s species are our cousins, albeit some more distant than others?
If you’re a person who feels an affinity with and enjoys interactions with animals, this article with exercises to try is for you. It’s a chance to look again at what you give and receive from being around species other than humans in life.
Have you ever thought about how our animal companions can teach us things, give us chances to more mindful in the moment and feel more connected by having that bond? How they can have a calming and healthy effect on our physical and psychological health, which in turn can enable us to stay more topped up when things get tough and we need to be resilient?
The therapeutic effects of having the caring responsibility for an animal we keep as pet can also give many people an important role in life, in particular people who may well otherwise be quite isolated, like older adults living alone or homeless people. We really can love our pets as part of the family.
Dogs and cats are often top of the popularity list to share our homes with so I will offer exercises specifically aimed at relating with them. But the important thing is to be aware of any type of creature you feel drawn to and happy about interacting with, whether it’s a pet, domestic outdoor or wild animal, whether it has a hard shell, scales, fur or feathers.
Then apply the same principles as these exercises for dogs cats and birds to your chosen creature. To be mindfully present in the moment when in contact with the animal, imagining the animal’s life and their version of the world and being aware of the ways your life is enhanced for having been near this creature/s. Why does this species fascinate and delight you?
Mindful Dog Walking
If you have a dog friend, when you go on your daily dog walks, do you tend to think about your to do list or busily chat on your phone? Are you able to zone out the rest of your life and be fully present to the time you spend walking? I invite you to treat your dog walks like a moving meditation, just you and your dog interacting with the world. Zoning out for this time in nature can have a positive effect to increase wellbeing and reduce stress. Having an outdoor loving animal which needs daily walks allows us to give ourselves permission to interact with natural environments.
Look at the world like the dog does, being totally in the moment and led by its senses of smell, sound and sight. The world is fascinating, every nook and cranny. Now I’m not suggesting you play act like your dog, but be ‘in the moment’ with your dog. It’s all about experiencing the here and now and being fully present to what comes your way. The dog isn’t thinking about whether he’ll need to put the rubbish out later or get up early to drive to a meeting. He is just there taking a sniff, simple as that. Can you slow your mind down to your sensory experience of the walk. Turn off your phone. Take in the view and listen to your breath. This is your daily chance to unwind.
Chats with Cats and Cat Days
If you have a cat, when was the last time you played a game where you wink your eyes to see if they wink back, or had a chat? Yes I’m suggesting you and the cat have a talk, maybe you do already, if not, it’s time to start. Chats with cats are a real interactive thing to try. If the cat is a lap dweller it’s easiest, once they’ve hopped onto your knee feel their soft fur and talk about your day, they are very understanding. Really look at the way a feline has evolved it’s amazingly shaped eyes and those ears and whiskers, not to mention the sharp claws paddling in and out on your knee. Ouch! Go on, I dare you to talk to your cat with other people watching!
Imagine how your cat lives their daily life where they simply mooch from one activity to another without a care in the world. Go on, see if you can plan yourself a ‘cat day’ where you can relax and indulge yourself by not planning anything and simply see where your mood takes you.
The Physical and psychological benefits of having interactions with domestic animals are widely documented. Simply stroking an animal’s soft fur can for example can temporarily lower the heart rate and blood pressure.
So we’ve looked at what our pets can give us in terms of building positivity and resilience. How can we gain similar benefits from looking at wildlife?
There are a plethora of wild animal species, but I’ve chosen to include the most likely kind you could spot on a day to day basis, our feathered friends the birds.
Mindful Bird Watching, Taking Flight and Chatter
Birds are often seen in our gardens, like the chirpy robin or by the sea like the gull. Birds are present on a daily basis for most people including those in cities.
Again I invite you to use your senses, be in the moment and use your imagination. Next time you see a flock of birds, take time to notice the details of flight patterns. Is there any sound? Wonder at their ability to fly and wheal around, to get above the height of trees, buildings and be free. Is it something very special you are witnessing like a starling murmuration or something evocative like a gull’s cry reminding you of times at the seaside. Let your imagination fly with the birds.
Can you imagine feeling as light as a bird on the wing? If you have a problem you need to solve, what would it look like if you were soaring high above it, how could this new bird’s eye perspective help you to look at the issue differently?
Birdsong is a sound which greets us each morning and night for to greet and end each day over the summer months in the UK. Robins and cheeky blackbirds follow us around the garden or allotment to see what we’ve unearthed for them to snaffle up. Next time you see one, I dare you to strike up a little conversation and see what wisdom comes back.
In the coming weeks, see how many interactions you have with animals which lift your spirits and help your sense of connection to the natural world around you.
All creatures great or small can be a source of learning and positivity to help us top up when things get tough. The more consciously and intentionally we can interact with our animal friends, clearly knowing how much they give us, the more likely it is animals gain our respect and care. It’s a win, win situation.
Written on 31/12/2018. Article written by Anna Rae-Jones, life coach, mentor, group facilitator, speaker and creative in Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK.
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