How Animals Are Masters of the Present
“The most important hour is always the present. The most significant person is precisely the one sitting across from you right now. The most necessary work is always love.”
These are the words of Meister Eckhart written in the thirteenth century and are still as true today.
It’s not a new idea that being present is the essence of the spiritual path. “So how come it is so hard to do?” asked Ryan, a veteran in one of our Human-Animal Connection classes. It is hard because thinking, which takes us out of the present moment, is so habitual for us humans. One way out of the tyranny of endless loop thinking is to go back to the senses. To focus on our senses means to put our full attention on what we see right before us, what we hear, how the air feels on our skin, or the touch of our hands.
One reason it is so pleasant to spend time with animals is they are fully in their bodies, fully using their senses to experience the world. The pleasure of moving, feeling their feet on the ground, eating, breathing. Their experience is profoundly simple, without thought, just pure experience.
Please listen to our podcast, Episode Five, all about how Animals are masters of the present and can teach us to enter this peaceful place.
In this podcast episode, I tell the story of a wild rabbit that helped me learn how to be more present. The rabbit taught me that only if I was still in mind, body, and spirit would he stay and eat the baby carrots I had left for him. But the slightest disturbance of thought would send him running for the hole in the fence.
We invite HAC students to contemplate what it is that invites them to be fully engaged in the moment, fully sensing the pleasure of just being here. For example, when you pet your animal, can you slow down and really feel how your hand feels against their fur? You might find some sensory pathways such as what you see -- the clouds, rainbows, and leaves blowing in the wind. Or it may be sounds -- birds singing, the music you enjoy. Or perhaps it is the absence of sound – the silence that embraces you into peace.
As humans, we must retrain our nervous systems to gravitate toward pleasure, the pleasure of the senses. Thoughts and words are important, but they rarely lead to a peaceful state. For that, we want to cultivate stillness and simplicity of experience, such as can be gained by fully focusing on one sense at a time.
When I work with shy, frightened, or traumatized dogs in shelters, one of the first things I do is get them oriented to their nose by offering a stinky treat, like a piece of hot dog. In the shelter environment, dogs’ senses are overwhelmed. There are too many smells, sights, and sounds – and there is no escape from this stimulation. I believe these over-stimulated dogs get their senses out of order.
A healthy, calm dog will experience the world nose first. Stressed dogs can be overstimulated auditorily or by the sight of movement outside their kennel. By getting the dogs to become interested in the treat I offer -- to sniff, explore and take this tasty treat. This nose-activation moment calms their nervous system down enough that I can begin my healing methods such as The Trust Technique. It is as healing for me as it is for them to slow down the senses. Soon they are ready to accept my healing touch.
Ah, the world is much better now…
as we both move into the present...
one sense at a time.
Please enjoy our book that describes the 33 Principles of The Human-Animal Connection. Available on Amazon.
The Human-Animal Connection -
Deepening Relationships with Animals And Ourselves
Genie Joseph, PhD
Executive Director of
The Human-Animal Connection