I was listening to a podcast today about spirituality and youth. There was this guy talking about his project Soul Pancake (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soul_Pancake) in the endearing and cringe-worthy manner of an adult in his 40s attempting to relate to and engage teenagers. I mean, he even had a guitar. Think non-denominational youth pastor.
The website’s tagline: Chew on Life’s Big Questions was followed up by this guy saying, “Basically we talk about spirituality and all the other stuff that separates humans from animals.”
This sort of sentiment will always make my ears perk up. The first time an adult tried to teach me something that separated humans from animals, I was in grade two. I was told, “Only humans use tools.” I was even given pictures showing a child and a monkey under a tree, wanting an apple. The teacher explained that the child would know to use the ladder to get up the tree, while the monkey would jump at the apple until it got tired and gave up. (Apparently this teacher didn’t know monkeys could climb trees.)
As a child, this was the first statement from a teacher that I *knew* was wrong.
Not only did I know a lot more about monkeys and animals in general, I had seen animals with my own eyes use tools. I’d observed birds using twigs to scoop inscects out from rotten branches or under rocks. I’d seen squirrels collect acorns from the ground, carry them into a tree and hurl them on to the pavement to separate the nut from the shell. I’d even seen my own dog use her intellect to get a treat from the bottom of a boot – she took it to the couch, hung it off the edge and the treat dropped out.
Since then, science has caught up with the six year old. There are now plenty of documented cases of wild animals using tools in all sorts of ways. There’s even a wonderful documentary called “The Intelligence of Crows” that blows my old teacher right out of the water.
So why do humans like to line themselves up against all other things in creation and declare themselves separate? Even superior?
This latest statement, that spirituality separates humans from animals, is an interesting one. It even gets me to think about the nature of even having spirituality. What does that mean? Is that even a good thing?
To begin to address the question “Are animals spiritual?” I’m immediately bumped to define what is spirituality, anyway?
I guess, spirituality is all of the time and brainpower invested in thinking about things like death, the afterlife and what it all means.
I would widen the scope of spirituality to include philosophies and theories about our bodies, the afterlife even the way we relate to our own thoughts. Mindfullness, meditation, prayer – these are parts of spirituality too, aren’t they?
So whether you categorize animals as spiritual beings or not would depend upon how you draw those separating lines – and are those lines real or meaningful if the very word “spirituality” is open to interpretation?
I know for my definition, many animals engage in the practices that humans cultivate and categorize as “spiritual”.
Living “in the now” for one thing – this is a state easily achieved by most animals. In fact, I think that when we attempt to become MORE spiritual, we are trying to link back into our animal nature – we often immerse ourselves WITH nature to reconnect to our inner spirituality.
Pretty much every house cat meditates. Did you know that? They’re not always sleeping. A contented purr is very close to the word Om.
Many cats have relayed ideas and experiences to me that describe awareness of past lives, of their life’s purpose, of their “job” as a cat and what they do to help their human, their family and the world at large. I’ve talked to cats who describe “fixing” energy (including my own cat who sits on bills and cell phones to “fix” them) and cats who assist in reiki and other energy healing therapies.
Dogs and other domestic animals have on occasion described past-life connections to their humans, to other animals in the house and as other species or forms. A rare few have described lives on other planets, or multi-life spiritual missions.
Now this is coming from me, just my own personal experience as an animal communicator. My history and philosophies are told in anecdotes, which is why I write a blog and not research papers. But I am not the only animal communicator in the world, and I know that what I experience is real. I have enough confirmed “hits” in my practice to have faith in the unverifiable information; you can decide to take my interpretation or choose your own interpretation.
I just wish, and hope, that we humans as a species are circling back to a point where we see other species not as inferior or separate from us, but as our own brothers and sisters in different skin.