Animals As Independent Thinkers
By Allen and Linda Anderson
Anyone who lives with an animal or watches them in nature knows they are independent thinkers. They have their own ways of viewing the world. They make decisions that often are incomprehensible to humans. Yet if we’re observant and reflect upon animals’ choices, we can learn a lot about our own mental, emotional, and spiritual processes.
In our family of animals and humans, we often look at our animal companions and appreciate the friendship, unconditional love, and sense of family they provide in our home. We’ve made the mistake, at times, of presuming to know their routines, needs, and moods. Humans are funny that way. But animals teach us that although they are in our care, their independence and sense of self are totally intact. These traits keep them unpredictable and immensely interesting to live with.
For example, our cockatiel, Sunshine, decides when he is ready to go to the mantel each morning. His flight from the cage to the mantel, where he struts back and forth and looks out the windows on either side, is always on his terms and timetable. He regards our act of opening the door to his cage as simply an invitation, not a command performance. When he is ready, he ventures out.
We say, “Sunshine, you have been cooped up all night. It is time to fly around.” He ignores human reasoning, though. If we try to assist by offering to give him a finger-ride to the mantel, Sunshine opens his beak threateningly and squawks. He’s quick to let us know that he’s in charge of the decision about if and when to fly. To us humans, Sunshine’s refusal of instant freedom is illogical. So we’ve settled for labeling our curmudgeon bird’s behavior as “independent thinking.”
As an aside, Sunshine’s newest trick is to make the sound of uploading AOL on the computer. He sings every beat of it perfectly. When he sits on Linda’s shoulder in the morning, he reminds her that she hasn’t checked her e-mail yet by turning on his version of AOL.
Sunshine shows a bird’s independent thinking, but can there be anything more inscrutable than a cat’s point of view?
One day, our cat, Speedy, took a liking to a large brown paper bag from Menards, a hardware store that sells home repair and remodeling items. After we took our items out of the bag and it fell onto the floor, Speedy rushed from downstairs where he’d been sleeping. He ran into the dining room and curled inside the bag.
Thus began a ritual.
We are not sure why. We thought we knew our unflappable, immutable, household Lion King from all the years we have shared our home with him. He has the couch, soft chairs, and the bed to rest and sleep on. But from the moment he first discovered the bag on the floor, Speedy slept either inside or on top of it.
He even tried to carry the bag with him to pull up onto his favorite chair. When that didn’t work, he gave up the chair and returned to sleeping on top of the bag every chance he had. He made it clear that this bag belongs to him. Everyone, including our other cat, Cuddles, our dog, Taylor, and the two human family members, Linda and Allen, had to learn to live with Speedy’s new best friend.
For about three weeks, Speedy continued his love affair with the hardware bag. Then one day, we found him sleeping again in his previous favorite spots. The hardware bag lay crumpled and abandoned on the floor. Finally he had given his imperial permission for us to discard this unsightly treasure. Go figure!
We believe that everything is connected and animals are often spiritual messengers, so we decided to see if we could find a bigger picture to Speedy’s love for a Menard’s bag. Was Spirit showing us something about ourselves? Animals have a way of letting people know things they would not normally figure out on our own.
Since Speedy seems to have turned into a case study in attachment, we asked ourselves what we might be excessively attached to. Where were we rigid in our thoughts, opinions, and comfort zones?
Contemplating on the subject revealed aspects in our lives where we were acting as attached as Speedy to the paper bag. In other words, we had fixed ideas about the way certain projects should turn out. Speedy became a great reminder to stop and whisper to Spirit: “Thy will be done.”
How do animals decide to do certain things in certain ways? How do they choose their friends?
Christina Louise Dickers has a small farm near Victoria, Australia. She shared a story with us and our “Angel Animals Story of the Week” readers about a pig and a ram who became friends throughout the rest of their days.
“Our old Suffolk ram [a male sheep], whom we called Rambo, was due for retirement and needed to be separated from his ewes, so we placed him in the front paddock with Ginger, our huge sow [a female pig]. This arrangement suited me well, since the front paddock was right beside the house, and I would be able to observe them from the kitchen window.
“At first, Ginger and Rambo were wary of each other and remained a respectful distance apart. However, as the weeks wore on, these two very different creatures began to grow more familiar. I enjoyed watching their friendship develop. They would graze together on the lush pasture, and when they’d had their fill, they would lie together in the sunshine. There were many occasions when I saw them resting side by side and I would sneak out with my camera, hoping to capture the moment.
“After a few months, Ginger and Rambo became more obviously affectionate toward each other. The only time they chose to be apart was in the evening when they would each retire to their respective sheds to sleep for the night.
“The seasons changed. The days were warm and pleasant. One particular day, I had spent a busy morning in the kitchen. Glancing out the window from time to time, I noticed that the pig and the sheep were nowhere to be seen. That afternoon, my husband and I went out to check on all the animals, and this was the day we discovered how strong the bond between Ginger and Rambo had become.
“Inside the sheep shed, Rambo’s body lay still and lifeless — old age had finally caught up with him. A couple of feet away, Ginger lay quietly watching over the body, reluctant to leave her friend alone. Ginger had remained at his side since his death, which must have been several hours earlier.
“It was a sad sight to behold, yet it struck me as having enormous significance from an educational perspective: If we lower our defenses and learn to trust a little, we can offer our relationships a chance to grow. Eventually we may find that love has no boundaries.
“The pig and the sheep were a fine example.”
Have these examples of animals as independent thinkers, stimulated you to examine your fixed notions about life and friendship?
When are you, unlike Sunshine, impulsive and eager to fly just because the door has been opened?
What attachments, like Speedy’s hardware bag, do you think you can’t live without but are actually passing fancies?
Which people and animals, if you ignored “natural differences,” would you choose to love, even though others might not understand?
Watch, and the animals will teach you.
Allen and Linda Anderson are founders of the Angel Animals Network and authors of a series of books on human-animal relationships, most recently, “Angel Cats: Divine Messengers of Comfort.” Subscribe to the free online Angel Animals Story of the Week. (www.angelanimals.net)
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