Animal Wisdom at Work
A Labor of Love …
By Galina Pembroke  



In every occupation, there is an opportunity to achieve more than the task at hand. The beaver, while building his lodge, is also building the origins of a happy home life. Living simply and in the moment, his rodent-thoughts are always and only on where he is, and on doing what he’s doing. He is immersed in the Buddhist tradition of mindfulness; attention on the present moment.

Though many animals are great teachers of mindfulness, the beaver in particular reveals how this transcendent condition can improve our work life, by teaching us about “damage control.” When a dam becomes damaged by the whim of a flood, the beaver repairs the dam. Simple. He does not call a team meeting and evaluate the situation. This is analytical human thinking. Instead, the beaver just “does.” Since mindfulness doesn’t label situations according to good or bad, the beaver is not woeful as he labors. This is a human luxury. In the case of his damaged dam, idle time in self-pity can turn functionality into flood. In work as in life, there will always be another “flood.” But when we practice mindfulness, floods transform into “flow.”

International authorities on the beaver, James Brown, Ph.D. and Sharon Brown, MA, state that “beavers reliably and economically maintain wetlands that can sponge up floodwaters, prevent erosion, raise the water table and act as the “earth kidneys” to purify water.” Just imagine. The beaver accomplishes all this, simply by following his natural impulses.

Our fur-bearing friend is practicing what the Buddhist’s refer to as “right livelihood.” Right livelihood means earning a living in a way that achieves the highest possible end for both self and environment. This is defined in the Vanijja Sutta; one of the ancient text of Buddha’s teachings, as abstaining from the following: “Business in weapons, business in living beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.”

In Buddhism, the highest possible end is not measured by money. It is measured, instead, by our outpouring of love into the world. Participating in the above businesses is not conducive to a loving relationship with others on our planet. Neither does it facilitate the practice of mindfulness. When we are mindful, we cannot engage in these destructive activities without feeling their results. Imagine the positive effects of our actions, when we find and pursue our highest calling. When we see that we are interrelated, we can clearly observe how our actions affect others, and let this knowledge overcome the temptation of gain from harmful vocation.

Obviously, we have to earn a living. Sometimes, our work may take us in a direction that is away from right livelihood. This may be indirect. For example, we may work at a deli. Though we may not be harming anyone in preparing and measuring meats, we are indirectly contributing to the harm of animals. Yet, we can minimize this. We can resolve to stay at our job only until we can replace it with right livelihood. And we can be forgiving of ourselves in the meantime.

In his book “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” Vietnamese Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh states: “We cannot succeed at having a right livelihood one hundred percent, but we can resolve to go in the direction of compassion and reducing suffering. And we can resolve to help create a society in which there is more Right Livelihood and less wrong livelihood.” The universe is a forgiving entity. Imagine yourself as a tree: Wrong livelihood is the wind that forces you to sway in unnatural positions. You cannot stay here. Yet, you will not break unless the wind (wrong livelihood) persists. Right livelihood is the calm that will keep you rooted.

We all have undiscovered abilities. In “How to Have More in A Have-Not World,” Terry Cole-Whittaker discusses how to use our unique abilities to achieve supreme bliss in our working life: “Living your vision is rediscovering (if you haven’t already) what it is you’ve always wanted to do. When you take your natural talents, which may not seem like much to you, and combine them with a commitment to use those talents to enrich, inspire, empower, and transform other people’s lives and the quality of all life, you have the key to paradise.”

Why are you at your current vocation? If you are choosing prestige over priority, staying at a vocation that neglects your inner life, there are always alternatives. Don’t be afraid to be creative. Daily, we restrict our artistic impulses with negative self-talk. Imagine if the beaver were to do this. If he were to interrupt his daily building-rituals with the thoughts of the messiness of his actions, he would have no dam to protect his family from flood. Surely, he would feel this effect physically. As humans, we also feel the effects of guarding our instinctive behaviors. We may survive physically, but emotionally we are wounded. Do not restrict yourself by the expectations that are thrust on you. Everyday you are alive you have another opportunity to follow the call of your soul.

Galina Pembroke is an internationally published writer currently working on a book. E-mail:  Her website is

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