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Lessons From The Animals

Author: Asoka Selvarajah    (all articles by this author)
Published on: May 31, 2002

According to religion and modern science, animals can be taken completely at face value. In essence, the modern notion is that they are little more than robots made of flesh, enslaved to their programming and instincts. Hence, is it any wonder that we are given dominion over them in the book of Genesis?

However, if you are willing to divest yourself of the brainwashing, a new and wonderful revelation reveals itself. There is an intelligence, and a sentient wisdom, present in animals. It readily reveals itself as soon as you are willing to look with fresh eyes.

This notion is hardly new to tribal peoples, who live in direct contact with nature. They need no laboratory, or scientific tests, to determine what animals are capable of. The innate respect these people have for Nature opens their minds to many wonders; marvels that remain a mystery to the mass of humanity.

Even the tiniest animal, upon closer examination, can reveal a level of individuality that might seem incredible. In her book, "The Voice Of The Infinite In The Small", authoress Johnny Elizabeth Lack proposes that even insects have a mysterious wisdom about them and, at the very least, a degree of individuality that most of us never observe.

I have personally witnessed two remarkable instances of this myself, largely as a result of the increased awareness I gained after reading this book. On once occasion in the woods, I happened to watch a group of ants at work. Two of them were dragging a rather larger insect carcass back to the nest. They were having a very tough time of it, tugging and heaving through the tangled blades of grass. At one point, one of them stopped for a while and walked away, out of direct line of sight of the other ant and their joint labour. It proceeded to clean its mandibles. This went on for at least a couple of minutes. Then, it walked back to the other ant and continued working on the job!

This demonstrates a remarkable fact. The ant seemed to have a memory of what it was doing several minutes ago. Yet, it doesn't have a brain! Rather than wandering off in search of a new task, as a "mindless robot" such as this should do, it went back to the job it had been doing minutes before, despite the fact that there was no direct line of sight between it and the insect corpse.

Another instance of insect individuality came when I first moved out to Italy. I was equipping my new home, and had to stay there for five weeks with the minimum of personal belongings or personal entertainment. At this time, three flies took up residence in the living room. After several days, they had still not left. Then I began to notice a remarkable thing. One of the three showed a distinct liking for settling itself on my knee whenever I was reading or watching TV! He would not move, but would just sit there for as long as I was still. Sometimes, it would not be my knee, but some other place, like a fold in my jeans. However, if I looked for him, I would eventually find him somewhere! Indeed, after several weeks, the other two also picked this habit up.

If I looked him straight in the eyes, he would always turn himself through 90 degrees after a few seconds and look in another direction! In other words, he did not like me "eyeballing" him! This happened literally dozens of times over several weeks, and so it is definitely no fluke.

I also observed that my flies were remarkably well behaved, and never troubled me at meal-times. I would leave my plates on the table for a little while after eating, without washing them. This gave them a chance to have their share. As long as I left them something afterwards, they never seemed to bother me whilst I was actually eating.

Contrary to what people think, flies are solitary and really do not like each other's company. Whilst one fly was always content to sit quietly on my leg, another was not. He always preferred to creep up on either of the other two and suddenly jump them from behind in a guerrilla attack! This is another example of a level of individuality in animals we consider to be little more than flesh machines.

Both in Myth and in the lives of tribal peoples, animals are teachers and guides. They can heal and help us if we open ourselves to their influence. Certainly, I find this to be the case with my cat, Hermes. He is a very calming and healing influence upon me, at a time when I have been encountering some stressful life situations. His presence makes them much easier to cope with. With the aid of a collar and lead, we are able to go for walks together in the local park or in the woods. It is a healing, calming experience to watch him leading the way, stopping to sniff some leaves on a twig, rolling in the earth, or wading slowly through the tall grass.

He is very good at Hide and Seek, even though he cheats the whole time; watching where I have gone to hide. On the occasions when I manage to conceal myself successfully, I can peep at him wandering methodically from place to place, checking out my usual hiding places one after the other. It's a marvel to see him doing it; his little brain at work: "OK. He's not there... or there... or there. That means he must be... behind the bathroom door!" And indeed, he is quite right!

Anyone who has really spent time loving his cat or dog knows full well their complete capacity to reflect that love back, and to create a deep and mysterious bond between human and animal. It is not an illusion, or our sentimental imaginative projections, as some scientists would tell us. These animals can display a wide range of emotional responses that we can recognize and identify with. For instance, cats are very jealous of their companion's (a more accurate word than "owner") love and attention.

I was amazed and concerned at the way my Hermes stopped eating and drinking for almost a day, when my father, uncle and aunt came to stay for a while. Initially, I thought he was ill, as he is usually VERY active and naughty. Instead, he just stayed glumly in his box, and even resisted being pulled out. Both my uncle and the vet said that he was jealous because I was paying attention to other people besides himself, and he did not like them on his territory either. All this proved to be the case.

Hermes was 100% himself within an hour of my relatives' departure! Good riddance, he must have muttered to himself!

If you ever get the chance to tend to a young bird that has fallen from its nest, it is a blessing to do so, albeit very hard work too. Whether the bird survives your care or not, the experience will teach you a lot. The first sparrow came to me a year ago, within a few hours of the death of my uncle. I have heard tales of such "hauntings", i.e. visits from animals following the death of a loved one. It was an unearthly experience to actually participate in one. Sadly, the sparrow did not survive beyond the second night, which was apt, given the circumstances of his arrival. I was very sad for over a week. Yet, this little messenger from beyond taught me a huge amount; far too many lessons to mention in this brief space.

As I write these words, I am tending to a new baby sparrow. Happily, this small visitor has survived his fourth night with me and is doing well. The difference in care between the two birds is a small but revealing one. These birds need companionship and noise. In the case of the bird that died, he was with me in the bedroom the first night and was fine as a result. On the second night, thinking he might prefer a quieter place, I left him in another room which was silent and dark. In retrospect, I realized that such an environment is not natural for these birds. Too late. He died of fright.

Last night confirmed this beyond a doubt to me. The first three nights, the present sparrow has stayed in my bedroom, perfectly happy to remain in the box I have provided for him. However, last night he refused. Every time I put him back in it, he came out again and went scuttling around in the dark, trying to find me. Initially, I thought he was still hungry and tried to feed him. That was not the problem. The problem was that he/she wanted ME. You see, I was mummy now, and the little bird wanted to spend the night sleeping right up close to me!

That is what had to happen in the end. Of course, I spent a difficult night sleeping flat on my back the whole time, careful not to turn over, whilst the little sparrow slept contentedly against my cheek, or on my chest, or in my hand. All of this reinforced upon me the fact that LOVE is a universal force, recognized by all beings. It is not the sole preserve of humans. This little being needed something very badly last night, but it was not food or drink, or even a comfortable place to sleep. It needed to know someone cared. That can be the difference between life and death, and literally was in the case of these two birds.

In conclusion, even a cursory but open-minded observation of animals reveals that there is a much richer depth to their private lives than will ever be revealed in a biology textbook. First Religion, primarily through Judaism and Christianity, taught us that we were given dominion over the animals, and are hence at the top of the pyramid. Next, Darwinism reinforced this with alleged scientific evidence for "survival of the fittest"; most noticeably, US. Now, traditional Science tries to perpetrate the myth that animals are just robots programmed by instinct.

Consequently we can, without any guilt, put them in line to be turned into hamburgers, perform cloning experiments upon them, shoot them for pleasure, and perform a whole range of other activities that confirms our deep-seated philosophical belief that these living beings are mere THINGS, apart from our glorious selves.

Do not buy into these second-hand notions, without checking out  the facts for ourselves firsthand. Now is the time to renew your heritage and get to learn the lessons and heart-warming unfoldments available through the animal kingdom. Do not approach them as a superior. Instead, approach with the open-hearted wonder of a little child, willing to learn whatever is there to be learned. A world of wonder will open up to you. And learn, you most certainly will.

Copyright 2002, Asoka Selvarajah. All Rights Reserved.

Originally published in Project X Newsletter #75

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