The other day a friend, Ashlee, told me that I must have been a cat in my previous life. She was trying to make sense of the phenomenon of why animals, and often times cats, are so attracted to me. But, I haven’t always been this way. I used to be afraid of animals and tried to steer clear of them for most of my life.
It wasn’t until I started doing yoga (Yoga One San Diego), that I’ve made a connection with these beings. The more I became centered and found inner peace and awakening, the more animals liked to be in my aura.
On the Salkantay Trek, in Peru, I made friends with dogs and cats on the trail. All over Greece, I petted cats on the streets of Athens and Amorgos. In Thailand, an adorable Orange Tabby fell asleep in my lap and even in Sacramento, a cat ran up to me on a walk through Capital Park.
On the Everest Base Camp Trek, I had two separate magical experiences with loving cats. The first one was on the second day of trekking when a cat jumped up onto my shoulder and wanted to come with me. I was happy to let him sit there, but the local girls came running out to take him back.
Then, on the fourth day, I stopped to pet another cat that was sitting on someone's backpack along the side wall. This one leaned her nose up to mine and crawled up on my arm. She started licking my cheek intensely. I received this act of love as a Universal sign of harmony and goodness. This incredible kindness brought tears to my eyes. My entire group stopped to watch this gift from the Divine. They started calling me the Cat Whisperer.
Dogs would follow us too. On one particularly freezing day in a blizzard, I saw a young pup that was following us on the trail. He was shivering and struggling to keep up. He must have followed us for miles, since we passed the nearest town. I leaned down and picked him up, holding him tightly and warmly while I walked until my arms needed a rest.
One of my favorite animal experiences is when I was walking along the Camino de Santiago in 2014. JoAnna and I were both missing our pet cats from back home when suddenly, out of the brush, five little kittens approached us. We stopped and started petting and holding them. They just wanted to be loved. Our hearts were filled with so much joy to share this connection with the natural world.
We stayed there for about thirty minutes then JoAnna said, “We should probably stop wasting time and continue walking.” I abruptly snapped back, “This is NOT WASTING time!” We still tease each other about that statement, but the truth is that taking time to stop and connect with nature and our inner source of love is really the best ways to spend our time and our lives.
Later that day as our hearts were still overflowing with joy, we approached our shelter for the night, an albergue, and found another six kittens in the back yard where we did our laundry! Love attracts more love!
Join me on my next adventure to complete the entire Camino de Santiago (or option to do parts) next Summer 2018. This all-inclusive Meditative Yoga Pilgrimage will include guided meditation, themed discussion, hatha and restorative yoga, as well as many opportunities to connect with the natural world, animals, cultures, traditions, and surprises.
Our Crown Chakra, Sahaswara, is our source of enlightenment, consciousness and spiritual connection to all that is. This connection takes the form of a circle, like a crown. Feeling enlightened with a balanced Crown Chakra is experiencing unity that everything is connected at a fundamental level. The other day, when I was meditating and bringing my concentration to this place of inner peace and connectedness, my cat walked over to me and pressed the crown of her head into the crown of my head. Moments like this are enthralling!
Similarly, just this past week at Fun Yoga on the Bay, after flowing through bird poses like Duck and Pigeon, a duck walked into the middle of our circle and made long eye contact with me and the others. It felt the loving peaceful yoga energy that we were all cultivating towards other living beings like itself.
At the Living with Animals exhibit in the Museum of Man San Diego, we are reminded that all animals can be our friends. Pets used to be wild creatures that have developed a relationship with humanity over time. We have made friends with dogs, cats, birds, turtles, fish, mice, and even beetles.
However, sometimes the way we live causes separateness and we lose connection with creatures when we label a certain creature as a pest or a taco.
Why is it that in the West we can develop laws to protect the treatment of dogs, but we are blind to the way cows, pigs and chickens are treated and manufactured in a factory?
Perhaps our first animal allies were wolves who would crawl up to a campsite at night and with a soft whine beg for some scraps of food or if our ancestors would abduct and raise wolf pups from 15,000 to 40,000 years ago. Over time dogs became protectors and hunting partners, then friends and even family members.
However, some parts of the world view dogs as pests and even meals. Historically, human consumption of dog meat has been recorded in many parts of the world, including East and Southeast Asia, West Africa, Europe, Oceania and the Americas. It was estimated in 2014 that worldwide, 25 million dogs are eaten each year by humans in many parts of China, Korea, and Vietnam.
Did you know that the Ancient Egyptians considered cats to be sacred? Killing a cat was punishable with death. When they died, they were mourned, embalmed, and given sacred burials. Some cats were specifically bred and mummified as sacrifices and offerings to feline-goddesses like Bastet (Museum of Man: Living with Animals).
We have the ability to befriend any animal. In Colonial America, girls who could nurture squirrels would supposedly make good wives and mothers. Likewise in many parts of Asia there is a long tradition of keeping pet insects; stag and rhinoceros beetles are among the most popular with children today.
Genius Albert Einstein emphasizes, “Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
When a dear pet dies, we often feel a whole in our hearts. This lonely place of missing their tender bark or meow, soft fir, or even just precious eye contact. When we make eye contact with other living beings, we recognize the oneness.
As His Holiness the Dalai Lama states, “Life is as dear to mute creatures as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures.”
In the jungle of Thailand, monks, who have reached a high state of connectedness and inner peace, show a brilliant example of our capacity to connect with any creature. By cultivating respect and awareness, these monks have offered a safe sanctuary to very endangered tigers.
In 1998 two tiger cubs took refuge in an isolated Buddhist temple, about a 2-hour drive west of Bangkok. Now, with ten endangered tigers, Wat Pa Luangta Bua, has been declared a tiger reserve by the Thai government and has a monk to take care of each one. While they cuddle and play with the cubs, they treat the grown-up animals with great respect. They go for a walk with these sacred creatures on a leash every day.
The documentary, The Tiger and the Monk, portrays the harmonious relationship between humans and predators without disregarding the monks' motto that a tiger will always be a tiger. Even if it feeds from the hand, it will always be a wild animal.
Sometimes we live with animals that we do not want in our space. We call these creatures pests and we often try to kill them. When I was a child, I used to be petrified if I found a spider in my attic room. I was so terrified of these creatures that I would stare, shake, and freeze for hours at a time. It wasn’t until a dream that I had in January of this year, that I began to see creepy crawlers as beings that are beautiful living miracles. Now, if I see a creepy crawler in my living space, I practice capturing it with a jar and paper and take it outside to release it into nature.
The Living with Animals exhibit, takes a look at how a pet can become a pest, a pest can become a pet, and a pet can become a pest that ends up on our plate.
It is becoming increasing clear that we humans have taken advantage of the environment, our Mother Earth, and animals are taking back what they need to survive and be happy. This interference with our “plans” of concrete civilization often creates a war of separate walls and violence. For example, in Hinduism (India’s main religion), monkeys are revered and treated with respect. However, as their habitats get bulldozed, millions have moved into cities where they pick pockets and rampage through homes searching for food.
A Family of Monkeys Watching the Sunset in Rishikesh, India
Have you ever watched a mouse die?
One time, I was working in a restaurant that had spotted a Ratatouille. A company came in and set up a sticky trap to block the escape route for this wanderer. I had to walk back into this storage room to put something away when I heard scrambling and twitching. I looked over and it was freshly caught. It stared at me with desperate eyes and I looked back with compassion and love, but I didn’t know what else I could do for it. This image stayed in my mind for a while. Now, I wish I would have taken it outside and let it go. Having tasted the potential death of this trap, this mouse would probably not return. Perhaps the problem lies more in the dead end of a trap. Using the trap to reroute the pest would be much more kind.
Pests of the Living with Animals Exhibit
Nineteenth-century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham preached,
What should we do when certain species become multitudinous?
We could turn them into pets as Jack the Reaper did with white albino rats, or send them back out into the wild with a balanced amount of natural predators, so that they don’t overpopulate like situations with the lion fish in the Atlantic or rabbits in Australia.
Sometimes, we turn pets and pests into creations on our plates. For thousands of years, most people saw and lived near the animals that they ate. Sometimes, they would eat their pets, like pigs and chickens, on special occasions and feasts. However, in 1878, Swift & Company created a refrigerated railcar that allowed slaughter of animals to occur out of sight and mind for individuals consuming its meat. Since then, this has saved money for manufacturers and lowered prices for consumers, but placed the living conditions for animals out of sight and mind for most people. Because of this we have been increasing the amount of animals that we eat, not only in proportions on our plate, but also in quantity of every meal.
Up until six months ago, I have been guilty of disconnecting the animal with the flavor. Then, I became confronted with some yoga philosophy of Ahimsa (non-violence) and how it relates to karma. I finally opened my eyes and heart to the documentaries available on Netflix and other platforms that are trying to awaken us to how we are responsible for torturing animals every time that we buy meat or animal products.
I used to think that we “needed” to eat animals for protein and have since learned that we can find much more healthy nutrients and proteins in a plant based diet. Leo Tolstoy announces, “A man CAN live and be HEALTHY without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he partakes in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite, and to act so is immoral.”
The Living with Animals exhibit showcases mini video footage that we “are not supposed to see” about the atrocious suffering that our cows, pigs, and chickens endure so that they can end up on our plate. Many pigs are stuffed in cages so tight that they are NEVER able to even turn over or around during their entire lifetime. Chickens are piled high and stuffed into machines and drawers while they are still alive, and cows are overfed, injected, and pumped, also while begin squeezed into cramping cages.
Pythagoras, a Greek philosopher from the 6th century BCE, stated, “For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap the joy of love.”
Like an ex-smoker who still desires a swig of cigarette every time they smell one, my mouth still waters at the smell of crispy bacon and tasty hamburger, but then I close my eyes and visualize the whole creature and how it is being treated today, under horrible conditions, with the purpose of companies making more money, and I can no longer partake in this bad karma. Peaceful Mohandas Gandhi, past leader of India proclaimed, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
The Museum of Man poses the dyer question, “How Can I Live Better with Animals?” Attendees at this exhibit have responded with their heart-felt experience…
Charles Darwin urges,
Join us for Yoga in the Rotunda at the Museum of Man San Diego and visit the Living with Animals Exhibit to awaken connectedness and inner peace.
Please share your stories of being an animal whisperer or awakening to an awareness of living with animals in the comments section below.