DETERMINE THE LESSON
As you’re very aware by now, the whole point of these human-animal relationships is to help the human involved learn a deep soul lesson. It’s wonderful to know how the animal in your life is helping you learn, but it’s very challenging to master the lesson if you don’t know what it is.
Within each and every human-animal relationship lies a tutorial—something that, once you learn about it, will shift your life dramatically. This isn’t an exaggeration in any way! Learning the lesson your animal is assisting you with will affect more than just your relationship with the animal—it will touch every aspect of your life. The possibilities for change are virtually endless once you get that lesson.
Three Facts about the Lesson
You’ve just finished figuring out how the animal in your life is working with you. This means you now have a solid handle on the methods this animal is using to draw your attention to the necessary places in your lives together that are being most affected by what you need to learn. Logically, it’s now time to identify the lesson itself. Without knowing what you’re supposed to be learning from all of this, you’re simply identifying a challenge with your animal that you want to change, and that is something you probably already knew before you picked up this book!
There are three things to keep in mind as you begin looking for the lesson in this very special human-animal relationship:
1. Discovering the lesson presents a challenge for people used to busting their way through something to reach their goal. You can’t force your identification of the lesson—it comes about through the development of a newfound understanding of yourself and your relationship with the animal. When you try to power through and make it happen (something that most people tend to do in their lives on a daily basis), you’re not going to be able to go deep enough within to be effective. And that depth comes from the newfound understanding you’re about to develop.
2. The second thing to keep in mind as you look for the lesson is that none of what you’re experiencing with this animal is a coincidence. Animals don’t affect us emotionally by accident. Every action they take is part of a great plan to stimulate us to evolve and learn. For some people, it may be challenging to accept this idea that there is more purpose and complexity to the animals in our lives than we’ve been taught to believe, but I’m willing to bet that if you’re this far into this book, you’ve been able to recognize the truth in what I’m saying: animals are our teachers in every aspect of their being, from how they choose to behave, to how they make us feel, to how they decide to act. To effectively uncover what lesson the animal in your life is helping you learn, remember there are no coincidences. That way, you’ll have an easier time finding the meaning in every single thing that animal does.
3. When you finally do identify what the lesson is, it won’t only benefit you in your relationship with this particular animal; it will also benefit you in every other area of your life. Picture that, through your parakeet, you’ve finally learned you are just as worthy of love as everyone around you. Imagine what a difference this would make in your life! You would alter your behavior in your friendships, you would have higher (and rightly so) expectations of those around you, and you would probably go a lot easier on yourself. If you’re working on believing in your inner power through your work with your animal, you can bet that that newfound belief will alter how you run a meeting at work, how you approach your spouse, how you advance a project at school, and more. This is because the lesson centers on your deeply held beliefs about yourself, rather than on the specific actions you’re taking. Yes, you read that right! The lesson is not about what you do but about why you do what you do (or feel what you feel) around your special animal. Your human-animal relationship isn’t going to directly improve your teaching skills, but it very well could help you believe in yourself more, which in turn boosts your confidence, which helps you feel great as you’re lecturing, which in turn helps you become a better teacher.
In a perfect world, where every human being is a fully functioning, healthy, productive member of a dynamic, happy, balanced society working in harmony with the earth, nature, the weather, and the universe, things would look very different from how they look today. All people would know, to the core of their being, that they are perfect, wonderful, protected, supported beings. They would align with unconditional love, and no one would view themselves as more valuable or more needy or less deserving or less smart or more vulnerable than anyone else.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the way things are working in our world today. Through our experiences when we were young, many of us formed inaccurate and negative beliefs about ourselves, and these beliefs for most people have been the underlying dictator of our decisions since we first formed them many years ago. Identifying the lesson through your human-animal relationship helps you change these negative beliefs.
The Creation of Negative Beliefs
Although animals are working to help people develop positive beliefs about themselves, they aren’t usually involved in the creation of people’s negative beliefs. It’s people who usually contribute to one another’s negative beliefs about themselves. There aren’t many people in our world who are truly aligned with unconditional love right now. It’s something animals are looking to change, and it’s why they are constantly working to help us align with our highest potential, living through unconditional love. No matter what negative belief the people and circumstances in our lives help us create, animals are there to assist in its release.
When you believe something negative about yourself, you have to learn the truth in order to change that belief. If you believe you are not lovable, for example, you have to learn that you are actually lovable in order to change that belief. If you believe you are a failure at whatever you do, you have to learn and believe that you actually can be successful in order to change that belief. This means that to identify the lesson your animal is helping you learn, you must first identify the negative belief driving it.
Most of our negative beliefs about ourselves (such as “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not lovable,” or “I’m not safe”) are created through our experiences with other people at a young age. Perhaps someone didn’t get the type of love they needed, maybe a boy was left to fend for himself too often, or perhaps a young girl experienced a violation that made her feel unsafe in the world. Whatever the circumstances were, a negative belief was formed through that experience, and whatever that negative belief was, it will continue to affect the person into adulthood until it is understood and reversed. This is what animals are helping us do—realize the good within us and let go of all those negative beliefs!
We all place ourselves in the world based on what we believe about ourselves. Whether our beliefs are true or untrue, they simply dictate the choices we make in life. When you go through life believing that you’re safe, awesome, wonderful, supported by the world around you, valuable, loved, worthy, and more, the decisions you make will reflect that. If you formed negative beliefs about yourself early on (when most people have), you’ve then fallen unknowingly victim to those negative beliefs as your guide to making the (often bad) choices you make today. Negative self-beliefs are like a slow-growing black mold, expanding their reach until they have overtaken every aspect of your life. The challenge is that this spreading occurs at such a young age that you don’t detect it and at such a slow pace that it seems normal. When something changes bit by bit, it’s hard to challenge it, because it’s only a little different from what was happening before. This is how your negative beliefs came to have a hold on you, and your animal is helping you to bring these negative beliefs to the light.
If hidden within you is the belief that you aren’t up to par with those around you, every decision you make is going to be based on proving that you are up to par or possibly based on proving that you’re better than up to par. If your negative belief is that no one will ever come through for you, the actions you take will be to ensure that that doesn’t happen. Perhaps you’ll decide it’s not okay to rely on others, and you subsequently have a difficult time asking for help. Every negative belief you have about yourself pulls you more deeply into survival mode and further and further away from aligning with the unconditional love of the universe.
When a man robs the apartment across the street to pay his rent because he believes that’s his only option, he’s in survival mode. For him, the end justified the means. Survival mode is the emotional space where many people spend most of their lives, doing whatever is necessary to cover up whatever negative belief they have about themselves, and it is exactly the mode of operation that will be most affected as you change and grow through the work in your human-animal relationship. When our animals present challenges to us, many of us go into survival mode, but when we work consciously with the animal, we’ll encounter the opportunity to move toward unconditional love and shift those negative beliefs.
Animals have mastered unconditional love. In their natural habitat they don’t experience negative beliefs about themselves. In fact, when untouched by humans (who have all sorts of negative beliefs about themselves), animals live in perfection. They wake every day believing in themselves. They accept without judgment that their limitations are not weaknesses they should be beating themselves up about but simply things that don’t work for them. They adapt with their environment, and they accept their lives for what they are without spending time and energy in anxiety wondering and worrying about the past or the future. Even the squirrel, gathering nuts for the winter, understands this as he goes about his daily routine with determination but without anxiety for what is coming.
People, on the other hand, do not usually operate this way. We worry about the future, our bank accounts, whether or not we offended that person at the office, what our life purpose is, whether our weight is appropriate, what other people think about us, and more. We tend to evaluate everything, and that evaluation often creates experiences that match what we’re worrying about. Many people have lost touch with the part of themselves that connects to the unconditional love within, and it is the animals that are bringing us back in touch with it. They’re helping us learn to love ourselves, accept our strengths and challenges, believe that we have power, operate from our own places of inner-knowingness, and more. And they are doing it every day through these beautiful human-animal relationships.
Figuring out your negative beliefs and the subsequent lesson the animal in your life is teaching you will open the door to a depth of work that you’ve probably never done on yourself before. Animals are assisting us in letting go of endless negative beliefs—now it’s up to you to figure out what yours is.
How to Identify the Lesson
When you’re searching for the lesson in your human-animal relationship, what you’re really doing is working with your animal to correct some form of a harmful belief. I’ve found that every negative belief can eventually be drilled down to one of the following:
• I’m not good enough.
• I’m not safe, supported, or protected.
• I’m not worthy or deserving.
• I’m not lovable.
The majority of our challenges in life come back to an erroneous belief in at least one of these four ideas around self-love. Worried you can’t get that new job? You’re probably struggling with a belief about being good enough. Concerned about money? You probably believe you’re unsupported in the world and others won’t come through for you. Feeling overwhelmed with love for your cat because you’ve never let anyone into your heart before like this? You’re most likely working on believing in your lovability.
Think again about that sentence you wrote earlier about your relationship with your animal as you worked on creating your Animal Lesson Statement from this template:
____________________ (Animal name)
is doing __________________ (how)
to help me learn __________________ (what lesson)
by making me feel __________________ (emotions)
and therefore do __________________ (work-arounds).
Let’s use the hypothetical example of David and a raccoon. David has been dealing with a raccoon that continues to break into his basement and destroy property there, no matter how many different methods for stopping the raccoon David has implemented. As a result, David has been feeling angry, frustrated, fearful, and helpless.
David’s Animal Lesson Statement could read something like this:
The raccoon keeps
breaking into the basement
and wreaking havoc on my life
to help me learn __________________ (what lesson).
The next piece of this puzzle is to simply think about why the thing that the animal is doing (for David it would be breaking into his basement and destroying things) affects you the way it does (for David that would be anger, frustration, and helplessness). Emotions, while they may seem to just appear, are based on our feelings, our observations, and most importantly our beliefs about ourselves. David could have been a person who would laugh it off when he found out the wily raccoon got into his basement once again, but he wasn’t. In fact, every time it happened he was frustrated, angry, and overcome by helplessness and fear. Why was he feeling those particular emotions? Why didn’t he laugh it off or maybe decide to finally clean up the basement to change the situation? What was the reason he reacted that particular way? When we figure out why David felt those particular emotions, that’s our clue right into his negative belief about himself.
Whenever the raccoon got into the basement, David immediately felt like he was losing control over his life. Why was this his conclusion? It’s simply a wild animal breaking into a seemingly safe space. Couldn’t he have concluded that the raccoon was being driven by food? Or perhaps that the raccoon was a trickster or maybe that it was sick? There are so many other roads that David could have gone down in reacting to this situation, but he consistently felt helpless every time the animal broke into his basement.
David experienced that anger and frustration because his repeated attempts at controlling the situation weren’t working. He also experienced helplessness because what he was doing was ineffective. Every time he tried to control the situation and that control didn’t stick, David felt fearful and helpless. Why was it so important to David to be able to control the situation? What does it say about David when he can’t control that situation?
I bet you’re beginning to clue in to David’s underlying negative belief about himself. When the raccoon breaks in, David’s first inclination is to control it, and when he can’t control it, it elicits in him a feeling of not being good enough. This means that David’s lesson through this raccoon is simply to learn that he is good enough (the opposite of his negative belief). But David’s intellectual understanding, that he needs to learn that he’s actually good enough, will not be a big enough realization. Through the raccoon, David is also going to have to believe this himself as well.
David’s Animal Lesson Statement would now be this:
The raccoon keeps breaking into the basement
and wreaking havoc on my life to help me learn
that I am awesome, wonderful, and terrific.
You might be wondering how breaking into the basement could possibly be an effective way for any animal to teach someone about believing in themselves, and we will address that in a little bit. First, it’s time for you to apply this to your own human-animal relationship. Luckily, with all the foundational work you’ve already done, this will be easy!
Think about the repeating pattern that the animal is experiencing with you, and take into account your circled emotions from Chapter Three. Why does that repeating pattern make you feel those particular emotions? Would someone else feel a different way? Why do you always feel that way when this occurs? Look at how you’re feeling and notice that, to some degree, it will match up with one of the four base negative beliefs. When you can correlate which negative belief is coming up in this situation with your animal, you have figured out the lesson. If you get stuck, simply go through that list of four negative beliefs and try out each one to see if it fits. At least one of those negative beliefs will fit the situation with your animal.
Once you’ve found one (or possibly more) of the four negative beliefs that are linked to the experience with your animal, stop for a moment. It’s important to double-check that you’ve really nailed that lesson down as completely as possible.
First, ask yourself if this negative belief (or these negative beliefs) show up elsewhere in your life as well. For example, if one of the emotions you had around your horse was “powerless,” do you feel powerless at home or at work too? If one of the negative beliefs you felt around your horse was “I’m not good enough,” observe whether that belief rears up in other areas of your life as well. If your answer is yes, then you’ve hit the nail on the head, as the deep soul lessons that our animals are helping us learn are not limited to only our relationship with the animal.
If your answer is that no, you don’t see this belief pattern occurring in other areas of your life too, then I urge you to continue with this process anyway using the belief you have uncovered. Often in my private practice, the belief is so deeply imbedded that my client doesn’t see it outside of her human-animal relationship until later. This is not a bad thing or a good thing—it simply means you’re in the very beginning stages of developing this awareness of yourself. You can be certain, though, that as you get further into this relationship with your animal, you’ll start seeing it elsewhere in your day-to-day activities too!
If you’ve realized that you are learning several lessons through your animal, that’s just fine, and that’s very common. I always laugh when my private clients come to this point in the process and say things like, “Wow! Bernie is helping me learn three lessons!” I like to make the joke, “Well, then you must be really messed up!” But that’s only a joke (and probably something that only I find funny). Discovering that your animal is assisting you in changing more than one belief only means that you’re really ready to do this work. Additionally, the more you find to work with, the easier the whole process is, so be excited that your animal is assisting you in such an all-encompassing way! Those of you who are coming up with two or three different beliefs really should feel good about working with all of them in this process. Multitasking can be you and your animal’s friend!
Take a moment to write out your Animal Lesson Statement here, as you have now determined it to be, and then you’re ready to move forward.
__________________ (Animal name)
is doing __________________ (how)
to help me learn __________________ (what lesson)
by making me feel __________________ (emotions)
and therefore do __________________ (work-arounds).
But wait! Your first instinct, at this point, will probably be to start working on changing the situation that is creating this challenge with your animal (so you can just “get through” this lesson), but it’s not yet time. These human-animal relationships don’t function in the same way that tackling a project at work does. Hold off just a little longer to learn the very best way to address this special relationship.
Animals in Action: Melanie and Squeak
When I first met Melanie Reynolds, she was an intense woman with some workaholic tendencies. I immediately liked her, as I have struggled with my own workaholic traits and have, in my years working with people and their animals, witnessed numerous variations of workaholism in people’s lives.
In the human-animal work that Melanie and I were going to do together, she needed to choose one of her pets to be her guide. Immediately, Melanie knew that she wanted to choose her cat Sam. I asked her about Sam, and she said he was definitely the right choice because she felt that they really understood each other and that since things were going along pretty smoothly in their relationship at the time, he would be the best one to work with. Then she paused and said, “And that’s good, because I really don’t understand my other cat, Squeak, at all.”
And right then, I knew that she just had to do her work with Squeak.
Melanie felt confused about Squeak and didn’t know what to do with her or how to make her happy. Every day when she came home from work, she would drop her workbag on the table and immediately begin cooking dinner for herself and her husband. And every day, throughout the entire cooking process, Squeak would jump up on the table, the countertops, and anywhere else she could reach within the kitchen—all the while making the loudest unceasing meowing. If it took Melanie an hour to cook dinner, then Squeak followed her around for an hour, meowing the whole time.
When Melanie began to look more closely at her relationship with this very vocal cat, she noticed that Squeak meowed more loudly the days she was more frantic about getting dinner ready. She found this curious and decided to keep a closer eye on the situation to determine if it could yield any more information. Sure enough, after just a couple days of observation, she realized that the more she did in the evenings and the busier she was, the more annoying and loud Squeak became. Melanie remembered that an animal will keep sending a message, and that message will get louder and louder until you finally listen, and so she decided to listen.
Melanie determined that her emotional state of chaos when she came home from work was what Squeak was drawing her attention to, so she wanted to do something to shift that state. She started by working on simple energy management. Before walking up the stairs to her home after work each evening she would do one or two exercises to calm and center herself. By the time she reached the top of the stairs and opened the door to the kitchen, her whole demeanor would shift. Instead of throwing her workbag on the table and immediately beginning dinner, she would put her workbag away in its proper spot in the closet, spend a moment saying hello to Squeak and Sam, and only then would she begin the cooking process.
The result was an immediate change in Squeak. Instead of meowing at her, he laid about on the floor of the kitchen, lounging around while Melanie prepared the meal! After a few days of experiencing this each evening with Squeak, Melanie noticed something else: she was enjoying her evenings. She was moving through the night more deliberately, more slowly, and more peacefully, and it was making her feel a whole lot happier to be home. And with each passing moment that she felt happier, she also began to let go of many of the “have tos” that were driving her each night.
Before, Melanie was cooking dinner for herself and her husband, cleaning up dinner, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, and more into her evening. With her newfound peace, she started to relax about these things. The laundry will get done, she would think to herself, just perhaps not tonight, so she could have a little downtime before bed. Not doing it didn’t mean she was shirking her duties or being a bad person. The dishes will get cleaned, but it wasn’t the end of the world nor would anyone judge her if she didn’t do them until the next morning.
Soon, Melanie found that she wanted to repeat her success at feeling peaceful at home at her work. She would take breaks throughout the day anytime she noticed that she was losing that wonderful sense of calm she felt. She also began measuring how much work she took on against how it would affect her ability to feel calm and peaceful, and it became easier to delegate and say no.
At her home things changed even more! When she came home one day in her new, more peaceful mood (and with a calm and quiet Squeak waiting by the door), her husband nonchalantly said, “Oh, Melanie, I did the laundry today.” Melanie was floored. Her husband never did the laundry until she specifically asked him!
As Melanie continued to consciously manage her energy and emotions and let go of her need to do everything perfectly, Squeak continued to monitor her, keeping her in line whenever she fell off the wagon. Squeak had no problem meowing for an hour if Melanie forgot to take care of herself or tried to start proving her worth again through chores and tasks.
Recently, Melanie and I reconnected, and she told me about the new way Squeak had decided to ensure that she was taking care of herself—through a game of chase. Each night, prior to dinner, Squeak would run into the room where Melanie sat and skitter to a stop. She would meow once, look at her, and then run away, initiating a game of chase. Melanie would chase him all the way down the stairs where he would be waiting on her yoga mat, stretching and yawning. She wouldn’t end the game until she got on her yoga mat and started stretching too.
It’s pretty incredible what these animals do for us when we listen, isn’t it?