As you know now, animals are sentient beings that are exceptionally in tune with the needs, feelings, desires, emotions, and thoughts of humans. When you allow one into your life in any way, that animal taps in to you, whether you asked for it or not. In fact, you can’t stop it! It doesn’t matter if you’re bringing a rescued dog into your home, carrying an injured squirrel to the vet, introducing a new cow into your herd, or sending money to help an animal on the other side of the world. That animal will still tap in to the deepest part of you, innately understand your challenges, and work in her way to help you master them. It’s a beautiful process but one that is much more difficult for everyone involved if you don’t know where she’s helping you or that she’s even trying to help you—hence your reading of this book.
Working your curiosity with your animal has assisted you in developing a newly heightened awareness of yourself, why you do the things you do, and why you feel the things you feel. You’ve not only identified what negative beliefs and work-arounds your animal is helping you to change but also how your animal is working to do this. The more curious you’ve been, the more you’ve observed your feelings, thoughts, and actions around your animal, which helps you better understand the self you’ve developed and better uncover those negative beliefs. (Good thing you had an animal to help you with this, right?)
As you learned in the last chapter through your curiosity, you’ve also proven to yourself the existence of your negative beliefs that have been unknowingly driving your choices, actions, decisions, and more with your animal. With each moment of observation in your relationship with your animal, it has become more and more clear that many (if not all) of the decisions you’ve been making are stemming from some belief of inadequacy within you. The beautiful part is that realizing this actually empowers you rather than crushes you; now that you can identify it, you can choose whether or not to use it.
Your belief that you are not worthy (or whatever your negative belief might be) is only a filter. By definition, a filter is something that you can change or remove, and that is what you’re now prepped to be able to do. Becoming disinterested in the old negative beliefs you’ve been working with is just another way to look at removing the filter of that negative belief. Once you achieve this, you’re finally free to decide your actions, behavior, thoughts, and feelings with your animal from a wonderful, calm, clear-headed positive belief about yourself, rather than through that old filter of negative belief. While this concept seems pretty easy, most people resist it. Because the filter is what we know, it’s where we go; it’s what we’re interested in perpetuating. For many years that negative belief filter has been your comfort zone, and we all know how comfortable our comfort zone is, even when it isn’t really! By working with your animal, you’re beginning to expand and shift that comfort zone into a bigger, happier, more accepting comfort zone.
As you know, negative belief filters are most often developed through personal experiences early on in life. Perhaps you didn’t receive the love or the protection you were looking for as a young girl. Perhaps you were always second fiddle in the hierarchy of the children in your family. Whatever the circumstances, things came together in a particular way to create a repeated experience that shaped your belief system about yourself. So to change your belief system, we have to do the same thing: create a repeated experience with your animal that will reinforce the new, positive belief you are looking to have and make the old belief seem outdated, unnecessary, and even just plain stupid. Doing this is simple, but it grows within you, rather than being forced through you.
It’s surprisingly easy to begin transforming those negative beliefs you’ve discovered through your work with your animals. First, you use your newfound curiosity skills to notice that one of those challenging moments with your animal is about to occur. Once you’ve noticed that, and before the challenging moment actually occurs, you simply decide how you want to handle the situation and then you take that action. The more often you follow this process, the stronger the effect it has on helping you change those negative beliefs.
I realize this sounds as if it might just be too easy. People often don’t believe that viewing their relationship with their animal in this way could actually produce change and growth and help them let go of their negative beliefs! This is why I have divided the process up—to help you see a structure in something that is a very natural process when you become truly curious within your human-animal relationship.
Notice That a Challenging Moment
Is about to Occur
As you advance in being curious about your relationship with your animal, your understanding of what is happening between you and your animal advances as well. This evolves innately as you continually observe yourself in this special relationship. You’re on track to move from observing moments that happened in your memories (the past), to observing events and feelings occurring between you and your animal in the moment (the present), to finally being able to predict that a moment worth observing is about to happen (the future). Being able to predict when one of these particular moments with your animal is about to occur is one of the main goals of curiosity. Think of yourself as a fortune-teller in this relationship. Here’s an example of what predicting one of those challenging moments with your animal looks like:
Before Charlie started witnessing and observing his relationship with a famous elephant on social media, he often felt overwhelmed by his love for this elephant. As he continued to be curious about this relationship, he eventually noticed that each time he thought of the elephant, he felt in awe of the fact that the elephant was so comfortable being his elephant-like self that everyone loved him for it. He also noticed that his overwhelming love for this elephant also made his feel inadequate, and he realized that when he read about this elephant, he himself would begin experiencing emotions of unworthiness. Soon, Charlie was able to predict this: “Oh, when I read a story on social media about another amazing feat this elephant has accomplished, I’m going to feel small.” And this is what predictions look like in the human-animal relationship—simply knowing how you’re going to feel or react in a certain situation. It isn’t complicated or fancy. Predictions are just the knowing that in this particular place, event, or experience, a certain negative belief around your animal will show up. Charlie was able to uncover that his belief that he needed to do more to earn the love of others was being triggered through his relationship with this famous elephant.
Each time you enter into that situation with your animal, that negative belief filter will appear until you’ve shifted it. Start calling out various situations in your human-animal relationship where those emotions you uncovered earlier show up again and again. If you can’t do this yet, it’s okay. It just means that you have to spend a little more time being curious so that you can be sure you understand where this filter shows up and how it affects you within your human-animal relationship. Simply spend some more time (maybe another day or two) being fully present in your relationship with your animal until you get to the point where you can easily name five to ten places where that filter always appears. You’ll want to have as many moments as you can in your pocket because the more moments in which you can predict what is about to happen with you and your animal, the easier it will be to allow this to grow and change. Don’t rush it. Be patient and wait until you’ve reached the point where your pockets are symbolically overflowing, so you know you’re really equipped to continue on this amazing journey with your animal. Don’t you feel like it’s finally time to stop living with that filter?
Decide How to
Handle the Situation and Take Action
The process you go through to decide how you want to handle the predicted situation between you and your animal has a truly significant effect on changing your belief, but probably in a different way than you think. Imagine that you’re driving in your car on a crowded highway and a small red car cuts off the cars several lengths ahead of you, making one of the cars swerve into the next lane to avoid a collision. While watching this occur in front of you, how do you feel? You’ll probably experience various things like anger, confusion, concern, fear, surprise, or frustration, for example. Now imagine that the cars in the offender’s lane are all slowing down, while the cars in your lane are maintaining their speed. As a result you’re going to end up right next to that offender’s car, and you’re going to have a choice to make. Now, if you were my husband, your emotions might compel you to bring your car even with the offender’s car to give the driver a super angry look in hopes of teaching him about proper driving. If you were someone else, perhaps you would just ignore the offender or try to get away from the offender’s car.
When we make choices while we are emotionally charged, those choices aren’t necessarily the best choices in the long run. Let’s say you’re taking a walk on a new path through the forest with your dog. You’re pretty calm on the walk, giving a few corrections here and there to your dog, who is also pretty calm, walking on the leash by your side. You reach a waterfall and as you’re taking it in, you hear something in the bushes next to you. It sounds big. In a panic, you drop your dog’s leash and go running back down the path, screaming, with your dog nowhere in sight. It takes several days to recover your dog, who ended up getting lost in the woods, and you find out later that the rustling in the bushes you heard was merely a family of wild turkeys that had taken up residence near the waterfall. Ugh.
Now let’s look at this story from a different angle. You’re on that new path with your dog, enjoying yourself. You’ve already heard stories from others about the wild turkey family that was living in the vicinity, particularly near the water, and you’ve decided that you would love to be able to see them. As you reach the waterfall, you know that if you’re going to see them, this could be the place, so when you hear a rustling, instead of panicking, you’re prepared. You think to yourself, “Could this be the wild turkeys? How do I want to handle this?” After a moment of being quiet, you think you see a baby wild turkey run by, so you decide to sit down with your dog and wait to see what happens. In less than five minutes, the entire wild turkey family emerges from the brush and starts walking down the trail. You’re treated to a spectacular moment.
The decisions you make are very different depending on your emotional state. It’s really hard to make solid, balanced, good decisions when you’re emotionally activated (in this instance, panicked). Deciding how you want to handle a situation is all about making your decision from a place of calm, clarity, and balance rather than from fear, worry, and insecurity. Coincidentally, most people are not able to make their decisions from a balanced place within themselves, instead reacting to the feelings within, whether or not those feelings are balanced or justified.
It’s all about timing. Making your decision before the challenging moment with your animal is about to occur not only takes advantage of the calmer mindset you’re in, it also takes advantage of the time and space that is created by your prediction. Before the challenge moment with your animal arises, you’re in your normal, everyday (and most likely calmer and easier) emotional state. Wouldn’t this be a better, healthier place from which to make important decisions? Deciding how you’re going to behave, how to understand a situation, and whether or not to take it personally is much easier when you’re not in the thick of it, and it is predicting your challenging moment with your animal that allows you to do this.
When you predict that a challenging moment is about to show up, you are lengthening the time you have between when you have to decide on your behavior and when you actually need to take action on it. That’s the luxury the curiosity creates—you’re now able to see what is about to occur, what you are about to experience, and what your animal is about to do, rather than be washed over by the moment. Isn’t it just wonderful to become so conscious?
Let’s use the example of Ricardo and the squirrel and bird situation in his backyard. Ricardo has noticed that there is a bird that frequents his backyard, and this bird seems to have a problem with its foot. He doesn’t know if the foot is deformed or broken or something else, but the moment he saw this, he wanted to help this bird the best he can. The problem is that there is an extremely large red squirrel that keeps chasing the deformed-footed bird away whenever she is at the feeder eating. The squirrel pops up (from seemingly nowhere), does that loud squirrel screech, and scares the poor bird away. Ricardo has noted that this is a challenging situation for him because every time it occurs, he feels like he should be doing more. He’s upset that this bird might be experiencing pain and that he’s not able to fix it, and his feelings of helplessness come out. As Ricardo continues the process, his curiosity allows him to see that his feelings of not being good enough are being activated through the squirrel and bird situation, and his work-around is to “fix” the bird to prove his own value and goodness.
Now that Ricardo understands his situation, he delves deeper. He’s able to predict that whenever the bird lands on the bird feeder and that squirrel shows up, his negative belief filter is going to be highly activated. Luckily, this realization is a good thing! Ricardo now has time and space available to him because he is able to foresee that he and the bird are about to go through another one of those challenging experiences; he just put fresh food into the feeder, and the bird usually shows up to eat within a few minutes of that.
Ricardo can now take advantage of the time and space he’s created by predicting the challenge moment with the bird. Since Ricardo’s feelings of not being good enough have not yet been activated (the bird and squirrel have not yet shown up), he’s in an emotionally clean and clear place from which to make his decision about how to handle the approaching situation. Normally, he couldn’t do anything once the bird showed up because the squirrel quickly followed.
But here, Ricardo has a choice. Lots of choices, in fact.
Option 1: Ricardo can let everything progress as it usually does, with the deformed-footed bird showing up to feed on the new food in the birdfeeder and the squirrel chasing him away.
Option 2: Ricardo can think about these animals in the past and remember that only the squirrel is scared of him. Through this clarity, Ricardo can decide to sit in a chair in the backyard in order to scare the squirrel away but allow the bird to get to the feeder.
Option 3: Ricardo can ask his friend to build a squirrel feeder so the squirrel no longer has to bother the deformed-footed bird.
There is an endless number of options for when Ricardo has the time and space to make a decision. Now, I bet you expect me to go into a big, long explanation about why one choice is better than the other, but surprise! I’m not going to do that! In fact, in most cases, it’s not going to matter what choice Ricardo actually makes. The only thing that matters is that the choice is made from a place of calm and balance within instead of from a negative self-belief.
Here’s how it all breaks down:
At first, as you read through the options, it may seem like one was better than the other. But at this stage of the human-animal relationship all you’re really being asked to do here is be conscious and clear in your decision making. That means your decision is all about the intention behind why it was made rather than about which particular decision was made. This will make more sense in a minute. Keep reading.
Ricardo could choose option 1 to completely avoid dealing with the challenging moment by letting things proceed as normal, activating his negative beliefs about himself. That choice is still a possibility even when a person is making a conscious decision such as this, and in some respects this could be a solid choice because this is what Ricardo knows and is comfortable with. However, this is the experience that had been producing so many “less than” feelings in Ricardo, so it may not be the best choice.
Ricardo also could choose option 2, which is to go outside in order to scare the squirrel away. The problem with this option is that it’s not really much better. If Ricardo is unsuccessful in scaring the squirrel away, then he is defeated and his negative beliefs come up anyway. If he takes his eye off the ball and forgets to go outside to keep the squirrel away one time, then once again, he is unsuccessful. Since his goodness is judged based on his success here, he’ll once again walk away not feeling good enough.
Ricardo also could choose option 3, to make a squirrel feeder and thereby eliminate any potential problems between the bird and the squirrel. But in the end, what option Ricardo chooses doesn’t really matter.
All of Ricardo’s options for handling the upcoming challenge moment could be bad choices or good choices. What the choices are actually has no bearing on Ricardo’s success in this situation. The potential for success and failure lies within each. That’s because it’s not about what Ricardo decides to do—it’s about why he decides to do it. It’s about the intention behind the decision.
Remember, because Ricardo is in a state of curiosity and is able to notice that a challenge moment is about to occur, he is now sitting in his newly created moment. He still could choose to scare the squirrel away, for example, but if he does it because he needs to prove to himself that he is a good rescuer to the bird, then he didn’t take advantage of the time and space created by his prediction. If, on the other hand, he stays calm and clear and remembers how much he loves watching this bird eat and wants to be outside with the bird, he’s then shifting his intention behind his choices, which will lead to a new outcome. He’s still keeping the squirrel away, but the reasoning behind that action has changed.
Additionally, while still in this calm and clear emotional space, Ricardo could decide that squirrels need to eat too. He would find enjoyment in making a squirrel feeder, and that’s okay too. It may be the same action, but notice there is no need or proof within it; it’s purely for the experience or enjoyment.
Notice that in all these options, the decisions made are no different from the above decisions, except for one major component: there is no emotional charge. The negative belief (in Ricardo’s case, of not being good enough) is not playing a role in his decision-making process anymore because he took advantage of the time and space created by his prediction. Ricardo is successfully determining his course of action before he’s emotionally wrought, which allows him to decide how to handle things in a more factual way.
It should now be clear that the action Ricardo chooses is of much less importance than the reasoning behind why he is taking it. It’s all about clear intention coming from a place of calm and peace within (as opposed to coming from an emotionally charged place), and this is what your animal is going to demand of you in this work. Even here, your animal is expecting you to do whatever it takes—to stay in curiosity mode as much as possible—to manage your emotions so that you can make the best choices for yourself. What amazing beings these animals really are!
Let Your Experiences Inform Your Beliefs
The more often you go through this new kind of decision-making process with your animal, the more often you’ll have positive experiences that reinforce positive thoughts about yourself and subsequently begin chipping away at your negative beliefs. When Ricardo chooses to go outside to watch the bird purely because he loves the beautiful way she eats (rather than to prove he is a good rescuer), he is empowering himself to do something through his passion rather than through his inner need. The more Ricardo plays in his passion, the more positive experiences he’s going to have, and the more those positive experiences will begin to erode his negative beliefs. So as Ricardo is enjoying himself watching the bird, he’s thinking things to himself like “Oh, this is fun! And I love this” and “What a beautiful bird!” and “Oh, wow! This feels so peaceful!” Perhaps he finally notices it doesn’t even look like the bird is in pain from his deformed foot. All these thoughts counteract his belief that he’s not good enough.
It takes surprisingly little time to have the weight of your experiences start pointing in a new direction, thereby transforming your negative beliefs. That’s the beauty of this work with your animal—each and every experience you have with her in which you make your choices consciously from that place of clarity (before the challenging moment hits) has an effect on those beliefs. It doesn’t matter if that experience with your animal is a huge moment or a teeny-tiny, almost imperceptible moment—each and every experience effectively chips away at that old negative belief.
The belief change that starts happening is not an absolute, all-at-once change. It’s more of a bit-by-bit shift because it’s based on the various new experiences you’re creating with your animal. It’s easier to understand if you imagine that the negative belief shifts in small percentages. Perhaps when you first encounter your animal, 97 percent of you believes that you aren’t worthy of love, but as you keep doing your work and have more and more experiences with your animal that show you you’re worthy of love, that percentage goes down to 92 percent and then 87 percent and so on. Even the smallest change in what you believe about yourself changes how you think about yourself. Without you having to force it, it forever alters the choices you’ll make in a very positive way. So a 5 percent change is really a very big and wonderful change!
Just like how using willpower to shift your behavior with your animal isn’t an effective method for true, deep change, the differences in beliefs that arise from doing this work with your animal are not something you can make happen either, although your first instinct may be to do just that. (And you may be wondering, then why am I reading this book at all?) As I’ve said before and I’ll say again, you can’t talk yourself into believing that you’re an awesome, loveable person if you don’t believe it (even though your animal believes it!). Your beliefs about yourself were formed through your experiences. It was your experiences (interactions with other people, animals, things; words people said to you; successes and failures) that shaped the foundation for any negative beliefs you hold about yourself, so it is through your new experiences that you will have to change your beliefs.
You cannot learn the lesson your animal is helping you learn by forcing yourself to behave the way you think you should be behaving. You’re not going to make yourself suddenly like yourself by telling yourself you should. Has that worked in the past? Kind of, right? As long as you kept reminding yourself that you’re good or awesome or lovable or safe, you could tap a little bit into that feeling, but the moment you took your eye off that ball, the old beliefs came rushing back. So since the work with your animal is all about learning something at the deepest levels, talking yourself into it, forcing yourself to behave differently, and relying on good ol’ fashioned willpower are not options here.
What will work here is continuing to experience your relationship with your animal through your newfound awareness. Put the willpower away!
I always like to say to my clients, “You can’t bake a new cake with the same old ingredients!” You can’t command a cake baked with your regular vanilla ingredients to become a chocolate cake just because you understand that a different flavored cake is possible. You have to slow down, keep the curiosity going, and let the moments of clarity and decision happen so that you can use some new ingredients in your cake. The more curiosity you hold with your animal, the more conscious you are in making your decisions regarding her, the more opportunity you’re giving to yourself to have new, positive experiences that rewrite the old negative beliefs. This is truly why this animal is part of your life—to assist you in doing that rewriting. No one wants to walk through the world believing negative things about themselves, but the amazing creatures we allow into our lives have the ability to see into us, to understand what we think about ourselves, and to help us let go of those negative filters through the behaviors and what they inspire in us.
Animals in Action: Danielle and Kelso
Before my son was born, my husband and I decided to rescue a dog. We’d just finished up our graduate school degrees and purchased our first home. It just felt like the right time to rescue, and with us finally having a backyard of our own, we knew things were lining up well for this to happen. Kevin and I adore big dogs and always love an underdog, so we were both very attracted to pit bulls, boxers, and any other kind of dog that most people would be scared of. Over the years, I’ve learned that these wonderful breeds—mixed or not—have huge and loyal hearts, and Kevin loves a good lap sitting with a seventy-pound dog. Yeah, we’re weird like that.
We brought ten-pound, twelve-week-old Kelso into our lives, and right away we bonded with him. He snuggled the entire trip back to our house, tucked inside my sweatshirt with only his two amber eyes and dark black nose poking out. When we arrived back at the house ninety minutes later, however, it was a different story. Up and down the stairs and then up and down again, never actually using his back legs. We guessed he felt that was just too much work!
As Kelso grew up, he became the most loyal, caring, cool dog. Always watching, always wondering, always aware of what I, Kevin, or (eventually) Cole was doing at any given moment. Kelso was seventy-three pounds of pure love and muscle. His mother had been a boxer, and we suspected his father was at least part pit bull. Whatever breeds came together to produce Kelso didn’t really matter—he was just gorgeous. With his broad chest, powerful legs, and super cute mashed-up nose, we couldn’t walk him down the street in our town without at least five or six different people stopping us to compliment his beauty and talk about him.
The thing about Kelso was that not only was he beautiful and powerful, he was also sensitive. Even as a puppy, he didn’t like loud noises, he hated aggressive machinery (like the lawn mower), and he ran away from loud music. The other things Kelso didn’t like? Anger. Negativity. Conflict. From two people angrily fighting on TV to someone cheering excitedly at a soccer game, Kelso would become visibly upset and either start shaking or try to tiptoe away from the negativity as quietly as possible. And yes, I mean tiptoe. Imagine a midnight black boxer tiptoeing down the stairs and now you have an accurate picture of Kelso.
So what do you do when you have an ultra sensitive dog? If you’re paying attention, you adjust. We had to learn that we couldn’t just push through Kelso’s upset. We had to stop and change what we were doing. This was hard for me, as I had spent my whole life prior to this trying to push through and ignore my own sensitivity. This mind frame resulted in a major depression in high school, depression and panic attacks throughout my modeling career, and escalating panic attacks through graduate school.
Through Kelso’s reactions, I learned to be more mindful of my schedule, as we found that he was happier when he knew exactly when he was going to eat, when bedtime was, when his walk was. It was like this routine helped him relax into his day. The funny thing is having a routine also helped me relax into my day. Kevin and I also had to change how we behaved in our house. Prior to Kelso, we played loud music all the time, we had friends over who liked to drink and get loud and obnoxious, and we watched crappy TV shows in which people were often angry with each other or the tension was just too high.
One show in particular, 24 with Kiefer Sutherland, made me quite anxious. The series, which focused on finding and killing the terrorists who were threatening the United States, was filmed as if it were real time, and there was always a countdown clock on the screen. I noticed that while we were watching, Kelso would become upset, shaking and cowering on his bed. It was Kevin who finally called me out for doing the exact same thing. I was constantly walking out of the room to get away from the stress of the show (this was before the days of TiVo and DVR, so I couldn’t just pause). As soon as we eliminated 24 from our TV habits, I felt more relaxed and calm each evening, and clearly so did Kelso.
Kelso’s sensitivity really did force me to pay attention to my own sensitivity. For years I had been trying to escape it, only to have this one seventy-pound dog enter my life and push me to deal with it. I didn’t have plans to look deep within myself to discover why I was having these panic attacks. I thought, “This is just who I am.” But with Kelso’s assistance (he freaked out when I freaked out), I realized the panic attacks weren’t who I was; they were, in fact, taking away from who I was. I wanted nothing more than for Kelso to feel light and easy in his home, so I dedicated three months to weekly acupuncture and finally rid myself of those panic attacks. Kelso definitely benefitted from this, as did Kevin and I.
Throughout his life, Kelso and his sensitivity continued to push both Kevin and me to eat more cleanly, take care of ourselves better, and really acknowledge the special people that we are. As the years wore on, I started having my students work with Kelso as well. His conscientious, unconditional love was contagious, and to this day, I still meet students who talk to me about their time with Kelso and how he helped them acknowledge and embrace their own sensitive selves.