Saturday, 4 October 2014

Lessons from the Animals

Please watch this wonderful animation based on "Guardians of Being: Spiritual Teachings From Our Dogs And Cats" by Eckhart Tolle and Patrick McDonnell before reading the rest of this blogspot...

I was talking with a friend recently about the animal service that the congregations I serve host annually We were talking about animals and spirituality and got into deep conversations about the soul etc. This is the kind of thing that ministers are supposed to engage in (tee, hee, hee!).

The friend told me how much their dog had taught them, about how to live spiritually, particularly how to live in the present moment and how not get lost in regrets about the past or fears about the future, how walking with their dog allowed them to connect to life and to be set free from the million and one thoughts that can swarm around in their mind. As we walked together with their dog I really got what they were saying, I connected deeply to it. It also reminded me of the time when I was a student minister when I would walk in Platt Fields Park Manchester and watch the geese there and how they helped me connect to life in a deep way. I fell in love with geese during my time, it is a love that has never diminished and whenever I see them flying overhead I always feel a deeper sense of connection and belonging. I feel at one with all that is, all that has been and all that will ever be. I feel alive and awake.

Mary Oliver captures this beautiful in her poem “Wild Geese”.

"Wild Geese"

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

The conversation also brought to mind the following words from Matthew’s Gospel chapter 6 vv 26-28

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”

...Worrying certainly never added a single hour to my life...

Now a little while later I was recounting this conversation with another friend who recommended a book to me. This was by Eckhart Tolle. It wasn’t “The Power of Now” or “A New Earth” but something completely different that he had co-authored with the illustrator Patrick O’Donnell, author of the comic strip “Mutt’s”. The book goes by the title “Guardians of Being: Spiritual Teachings from our Cats and Dogs”.

Reading the book and getting caught up in the delightful artwork, brought a huge broad beaming smile right across my face. It brought back lovely moments when I myself have become caught up in nature and the way that animals just be. Meanwhile the joy and humour in the pictures somehow enabled me to connect at a heart level with the thought provoking and soul-searching words of Tolle.

In the book Tolle writes

“Millions of people who otherwise would be completely lost in their minds and in endless past and future concerns are taken back by their dog or cat into the present moment, again and again, and reminded of the joy of Being” (pg 60) This is delightfully accompanied by an illustration of a dog taking his owner for a walk and another dog appearing from behind a rock asking “Where are you taking him?”…where are you taking him indeed? well out of himself.

Or another example “Nature will teach you to be still, if you don’t impose on it a stream of thoughts. A very deep meeting takes place when you perceive nature in that way, without naming things.” (pg 98) Again this is delightfully accompanied by an illustration of a cat sitting in nature surrounded by the words “Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass goes by itself. Zen Proverb”. There are countless other examples throughout the book also, such as “I have lived with many Zen masters all of them cats”.

In describing the form of the book Tolle says it is like “the oldest from of spiritual teachings: the sutras of ancient India. Sutras are powerful pointers to the truth in the form aphorisms, or short sayings, with little conceptual elaboration…the advantage of sutra form lies in its brevity. It does not engage the thinking mind more than is necessary. What it doesn’t say – but only points to – is more important than what it says,”

“Guardians of Being: Spiritual Teachings from our Cats and Dogs” is a wonderful book that speaks a deep universal truth. The pets in our lives and all the animals do not worry about what might happen. Instead they just simply eat and play and love unconditionally. They just are, they just be. They can teach us how we could better live this beautiful gift of life that we have been so freely given.

Finally what it left me thinking and feeling as I next walked with my friend and their dog was, it’s not we who take the dog for a walk, but the dog who takes us for a walk and if we let him he will enable us to see the world in a whole new light. 

I'm going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with three little pieces of wisdom on the spiritual lessons that our pets can teach us...All three were shared in this Sundays worship service...enjoy...

“Dog Days” by Gary A Kawalski

Everyone needs a spiritual guide: a minister, rabbi, priest, therapist, or wise friend. My wise friend is my dog. He has deep insights to impart. He makes friends easily and doesn't hold a grudge. He enjoys simple pleasures and takes each day as it comes. Like a true Zen master, he eats when he’s hungry and sleeps when he’s tired.

He’s not hung up about sex. Best of all, he befriends me with an unconditional love that humans would do well to imitate.

Of course my dog does have his failings. He’s afraid of firecrackers and hides in the closet whenever we run the vacuum cleaner. But unlike me, he’s not afraid of what other people think of him or anxious about his public image. He barks at the mail carrier and the newsboy, but, in contrast to some people, I know he never growls at the children or barks at his spouse.

So my dog is a sort of guru. When I become too serious and preoccupied, he reminds me to frolic and play. When I get too wrapped up in abstractions and ideas, he reminds me to exercise and care for my body. On his own canine level, he shows me that it might be possible to live without inner conflicts or neuroses: uncomplicated, genuine, and glad to be alive.

Mark Twain remarked long ago that human beings have a lot to learn from the Higher Animals. Just because they haven’t invented static cling, ICBMs or television evangelists doesn’t mean they aren't spiritually evolved. Let other people have their mentors, masters, and enlightened teachers.

I have a doggone mutt.

“Cat Calling” by Elizabeth Tarbox

The cat entered our lives with her tail up and her eyes alert for possibility, stalking her calling in our home, in our chairs, up the chimney, in every closet, and behind every impossible obstruction.

She stares with magic eyes, inscrutable, all-knowing. She is all cat: stealthy as a winter breeze that skims the top of the snow bank, impertinent as the sudden blast that blows smoke down the chimney and out into the room.

She seduces, lying back in our arms with the wanton abandon of Aphrodite. She exhorts, rumbling like an old volcano or yowling like an exorcised poltergeist.

I am seduced by her unabashed affection, mystified by her eyes which steal my secrets, envious of her unquestioning delight in the warmth of an armchair. It is serious, this partnership between the cat who stalks her calling and we who are called. I am in the presence of Isis, our home is her temple, and we are called to serve.

...And finally a little bit more of Mary Oliver...

“How it is with us, and how it is with them” by Mary Oliver

We become religious,
then we turn from it,
then we are in need and maybe we turn back.
We turn to making money,
then we turn to the moral life,
then we think about money again.
We meet wonderful people, but lose them
in our busyness.
We’re, as the saying goes, all over the place.
Steadfastness, it seems,
is more about dogs than about us.
One of the reasons we love them so much.

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