What does it really mean to master the relationship between you and your animal? What does it really mean to transform negative beliefs by working with your animal? Does it mean that you’ll never have any challenges with your animal again? Does it mean that your animal now behaves perfectly all the time? Does it mean that this animal will only inspire you, rather than cause negative emotions, from this point forward? Does it mean that you’re now “fixed” and will have no more problems in your life? The answer to every single one of those questions is simply no.
When you master the relationship you have with this very special animal, many different things can happen. The challenges or hot buttons between the two of you often smooth out, but they will never be erased completely. Animals of all types—wild, pet, zoo, teaching, and other—are working every day to keep us on our toes, whether we’re in the midst of learning the lesson or we’re on the tail end of really getting it.
When we slip our behavior, thoughts, emotions, and actions back toward that which isn’t serving us, you can bet that animal is going to show up one way or another to get you back in line. If hearing about a particular animal killed through canned hunting moved you to start donating time and energy to animal activism and to align yourself with people, experiences, groups, events, and causes that assist you in that direction, then you can bet that when you start associating with someone who is out of that alignment, that original particular animal will show up for you again to remind you of your purpose and newfound enlightenment. Perhaps you’ll be scrolling through Facebook and a story will show up in your newsfeed that focuses on some new aspect of that killing, or perhaps a friend at dinner will mention canned hunting to you. However it happens, the animals are going to keep you in line and on track—if you keep watching out for the signs.
It doesn’t matter how far along you are on the journey or how much you’ve mastered, the animals, all of them, are aware, watching, and working every moment of every day. In many ways, mastery of the relationship with your animal doesn’t really allow for a letting go or a stopping or a “phew!” It more allows for a time when you can relax a little bit into what you’ve learned and what you’re creating. Just know that if you fall off track with your newfound awareness, that animal is going to let you know!
So far, this book has shown you many things. First, it’s helped you explore a deeper relationship with an animal that profoundly affects your life. Second, you’ve come to see how this animal is constantly helping you evolve in a particular area and how the animal assistance can change your life when you’re inspired to accept it and run with it. And third, this book has shown you how what you’re learning about yourself through your animal will benefit you not only in the relationship with your animal but also in other areas of your life as well.
As you begin to master the ins and outs of the relationship with your animal, though, the changes that occur can be very subtle. So subtle, in fact, that you might even ask yourself, “Did any changes really occur?” In fact, often nothing monumental has actually occurred in your life. Not with you and not with this special animal being who has been assisting you along the way. Or at least it will seem that way at first glance. If you find yourself in this position now (this is a very common experience), it’s a very good thing.
As you master the lesson your animal is teaching you—when your negative filters about yourself are dissolving away and being replaced with positive beliefs about yourself—there is no way that your life will not change. It will. It absolutely will.
But utterly without fanfare.
Through curiosity and conscious decision-making, you’ve simply but definitively begun changing the negative beliefs driving your thoughts and behaviors, and in their place grow happy, healthy, creative, supportive beliefs. You may have struggled to trust you could be good at anything before Bobo came into your life and forced you to address that conviction, but now, at this stage, believing in yourself is starting to seem almost … normal. Of course you’re going to try out that obstacle course race with your dog. Maybe you’ll finish, maybe you won’t, but it will be a fun and great experience for both of you. Whether or not that experience has any bearing on your inherent goodness or worthiness isn’t really on the table as a question anymore. It’s just a dog obstacle course. Do you or don’t you want to run it?
When your beliefs change, your decision-making process changes as well. If you inherently believe that you’re a pretty awesome person, there is a whole lot less “deciding” that has to happen. Either the obstacle course race sounds enjoyable or it doesn’t. Neither of these answers has anything to do with your goodness, worthiness, or lovability, and at this point, it would begin to seem really weird if they did.
That drama—“Am I good enough to do it?” or “I’ll never win” or “I don’t want other people to see me struggle”—or whatever old commotion prevented you from choosing to take on that obstacle course with your dog is finally (or mostly) gone because your experiences have devalued it. And while that sounds like a wonderful and even inspiring idea (No drama? Count me in!), it can be very scary for many people. It means there are no more obstacles standing in the way. It means that you do have to take your dog for a walk every day because you have mastered leash work after you’ve started believing in yourself. But do you really want to have to go on a dog walk every day? What about the weather? What about when you’re tired? It was almost easier when you couldn’t take her because she was so unruly. In other words, the results of shifting how you think, feel, react, and believe through this work with your animal are so all-encompassing that many people get almost all the way through to the mastery phase and then try to quit.
When change happens, it happens. Change that takes place at the core of your being is not something you have to keep an eye on; it is just there. Many people experiencing resistance will question whether the changes that are happening are worth allowing so much of their life—and often their personality—to shift. They start worrying about losing who they really are and actually begin to battle the transformations that are already occurring within as their beliefs are changing, perhaps even abandoning their curiosity/awareness process.
I’m probably dating myself here, but in the 1987 movie The Witches of Eastwick (I love my ’80s movies) Jack Nicholson, who plays the role of the devil, is finally almost defeated. Through magic spells, he’s reduced to a small creature-like thing that is melting away. But even as he’s melting away, he’s fighting to stay alive. This is very much like the resistance that so many people at this stage will feel. It’s the old beliefs doing anything they can to remain in power: Your dog won’t love you if you have rules! You can’t make enough money to send your horse to that awesome stable! You’re never going to find anyone who will love you other than your rabbit!
Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for those beliefs, our positive beliefs are much stronger. Your curiosity and newfound understanding of yourself will overcome any resistance those old beliefs are throwing in your way. The animal in your life will ensure that, as you grow, your personal positive outlook grows, and in exchange, the relationship with your special animal will grow as well. While your cat used to hiss at visitors all the time, she’ll begin greeting them with a quiet meow from across the room. While your favorite goat used to shy away from you whenever you approached the barn, he’ll now show signs of warming. The further you move into this mastery place, where you believe yourself to be the positive, protected, wonderful, deserving, loving being you are, the more incredible the changes and growth will continue to occur between you and this special animal.
There is something very cool yet at the same time completely unnoticeable that happens between you and your animal once you’ve been working on this process for a little bit. I call it mastery, but that wording may be a little strong. When it happens it is a huge deal, but also you tend to overlook it. I know it may seem like I’m contradicting myself, but I’m really not!
Let’s say that your animal, Larry the wild bobcat, has been working with you to help you believe in yourself more. With each little bit of belief in your own power, Larry comes onto your property and kills fewer chickens. Well, since this process is going on over a few weeks, by the end of that time, you probably won’t even notice that Larry has stopped killing your chickens because it seems so normal to not have him killing your chickens and to feel this sense of power within you.
When you reach this mastery phase, things are the way they are. It will seem so typical that you may forget that things were ever any different with your animal. For me, my mastery with another one of my dogs, Bella, showed up in the form of forgetting to consider the “Bella jumping problem” before inviting friends over. As she helped me change my belief in myself and as I started to feel that I really am a pretty great person, it became just an ordinary part of our lives that we would have people we wanted to hang out with over to our house. I didn’t spend time preparing Bella for friends to come over and didn’t worry that I wouldn’t be able to control her. Bella, in fact, wasn’t part of my thought process at all on that subject, and that was exactly the way it should be. Because my belief about myself had changed deeply and thoroughly, I didn’t have to focus on it anymore. I didn’t have to worry about myself and my power or Bella and her behavior: all of that had changed because my belief had changed, and so I was placing myself in the world from my inner power rather than my inner fears.
But this can all be very anticlimactic. I know
I pretty quickly forgot that Bella used to jump up on everyone and go nuts when people came over because she wasn’t doing it anymore. A dog is supposed to calmly greet people, wag her tail, and say hi—and that’s what she was doing, so I didn’t give it two thoughts. But when I finally did pause for a moment to remember how it used to be, I was able to see that things in my life had drastically changed. When your belief changes to the positive version, it just makes so much more sense! And it’s easier too. You don’t think, “I’m so glad I’m about to trust myself,” you just trust yourself. It’s natural. It’s just the way it goes.
So here you are: you’ve been working with your animal; you’ve been allowing her to show you into your soul, using her messages to help you manage your energy; and you’ve been looking to her to help you become truly curious about yourself and your crazy decisions. With all that work with your animal, there is no way that change hasn’t happened. The problem is that many of you aren’t going to think about it—you’re just going to go on with your everyday (changed) life, feeling that it’s normal and forgetting to look back and see what you did.
It’s important to celebrate that you have shifted through this relationship with your animal! Try to remember how it used to be with your animal. Think back to those emotions you held or the feelings you avoided or the thoughts you didn’t like that you had. When I’m working with a private client, this is usually the point when I advise doing something to celebrate the changes that have come. When things are good, we so often forget to look back and feel grateful for how far we’ve come. I fall into this pattern as well, being caught up in the now and in what’s ahead versus giving myself a moment to notice all that I’ve accomplished. This is not ego overpowering you; this is you taking the time to give yourself and your animal the credit you both deserve for shifting yourself into the positive.
And it is through this positive place that you’ll not only feel happier, more content, less anxious, and more love for yourself, but you’ll also be open now to experiencing a higher level of consciousness, empathy, understanding, and love for everyone else as well, either human or animal, because you’ll be feeling this from within. And what we feel from within radiates outward into our experience, our environment, and our worlds.
True change that stays with you throughout the rest of your life—no matter what your circumstances, no matter who is around you, no matter what other people say—occurs because your beliefs about yourself have actually changed. Your animal taps into this, understands this, and works with you to inspire, shock, and excite you into creating new beliefs through your experiences. We’ve been talking a lot about these four core erroneous beliefs that people hold about themselves: I’m not safe/supported/protected, I’m not good enough, I’m not deserving/worthy, and I’m not loveable. When the change you make within actually transforms these from negative to positive, everything in your life will shift, beginning with the relationship with your animal and continuing outward into every single other area of your life. This is the type of change you’re working toward with your animal and the type of change that arises out of this new way of being with yourself.
As you’ve probably realized, working with your animal is an ongoing process, one that will continue as long as this animal is part of your life and, for many, even after the animal has left your life. The skills you’ve learned through working in this manner with your animal don’t just apply to your animal anymore. Most people start applying them to their human-human relationships, to their career, to their family, and more. And I believe that that’s what animals want us to do—they certainly want us to evolve ourselves into magnificent souls that are able to access our greatness every day. But they don’t want us to stop there. They want us to take this greatness we’ve discovered and spread it out to the rest of the world by holding compassion for others who haven’t yet discovered it, feeling grateful for the animals that are working so hard to help us learn about our greatness, and just plain living that greatness every day.
While this book has been all about you and your animal, as you expand into seeing who you really are, it will affect your entire being. In turn, that will affect everyone who comes into contact with you. In this way, the animals of the world are working, very effectively, to shift human consciousness, making us into the people we really are—wonderful, compassionate, and unconditionally loving of ourselves and of others.
The easiest way to understand and accept animals as our teachers is to see the phenomenon in action. Let’s take a look at something you’re probably more familiar with: therapy animals. Through animal-assisted therapy, which often takes place in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, the goal is to improve a patient’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning using animals as the “treatment.” Animals employed in this type of therapy may be dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs—pretty much any kind of animal that a person can feel affection for or bond with. The therapy that occurs between the person and the animal ranges from the animal simply hanging around with a recovering patient, to the patient caring for the animal in some way or performing a particular task with the animal. There are so many ways that animals help humans that how the therapy is carried out is very much based on the skills of the animal and the specific needs of the human.
There are programs all over the United States and even throughout the world that aim to take advantage of the innate soft spot most people hold in their hearts for animals. I’ve seen therapy dogs brought into nursing homes to cuddle and bond with the residents, which creates excitement and something to look forward to for the residents and a profound sense of love between the person and animal. I read about two dogs, both born without their front legs, who were adopted by a family and trained to become therapy dogs. Now, their owners take them on trips to hospitals and hospice centers where they buzz around in their specialized dog wheelchairs, greeting patients and lifting the hearts of all those they come in contact with.
Yes, this really is a form of therapy! In fact, working with animals is so universally transformational that many other programs that focus on inmates and dogs have since sprung up in prisons around the country. The training of the dogs by the inmates is usually a great success, but the even bigger success is the emotional transformation in the inmates chosen to train the dogs: they became happier, healthier, and more positive, and they typically leave prison with a newfound purpose.
In California, there is another program taking advantage of the healing that happens between a person and an animal. Rescued wolves are paired with veterans coping with PTSD—in fact, the rescued wolf chooses which veteran he or she will be bonded with, and the two will spend hours together in the woods, just being together and caring for one another. The participants have said that their time with their wolf partner taught them the skills they needed to reenter the world: how to be calm, assertive, and more confident. This is an amazing feat when you consider that the veterans are just “hanging out” with and caring for their wolf.
Working deeply and emotionally with animals is already a well-documented form of healing that has had a lot of mainstream success. This book takes animal therapy to a new level that is much deeper, more profound, and more easily attainable for the everyday person. When working with your animal as your teacher, you don’t have to be ill, suffering from PTSD, or in prison in order to work with an animal to access your best you. You only have to want to achieve something in your life (more happiness, a better job, a more passionate relationship, less worry) and have an animal to whom you feel connected. Animal Lessons makes healing, growing, and expanding through your animal accessible to a much wider audience—you!
Animal Lessons takes advantage of your love of animals to help you achieve your best life. By taking stock of your relationship with the animal you love—what upsets you about her, what puzzles you about her, how she makes you feel, what you experience through her—and by learning to work with that information through her, you’ll be able to make changes in yourself and in your life more easily and with much less effort. And crazily enough, I’m not overstating what this system can do for you.
Animals in Action
The following stories are a few examples from people who have worked with animals in this way to change the course of their life.
Rhea and Dolly
Rhea was a computer programmer who typically worked eighty to ninety hours per week. She would come home exhausted each night and crash into bed until the next morning, when she would wake up and do it all over again. For months her cat, Dolly, had been suffering from hairballs due to overgrooming, and Rhea had been forced to make frequent trips to the vet to get help for Dolly.
When I first met Rhea, she was at her wit’s end with Dolly and vet visits. She couldn’t figure out how to control the situation and how to help Dolly get better and stay better. The suggestions and medications from her vet to curb the overgrooming were not working, and Dolly was clearly unhappy and uncomfortable. When Rhea brought Dolly to me, I intuited what was going on and explained this to her. Dolly’s overgrooming was directed at Rhea, who wasn’t taking care of herself and was instead dedicating all her time to her work. Rhea was surprised that her cat would care whether or not she took care of herself, but felt she was out of other “more logical” options and decided to make a change in her life. She told me she had nothing to lose by listening to her cat’s message (since everything else she had tried had failed) and began following the first step in the program.
As Rhea went through each of the Animal Lessons steps with Dolly, she noticed that the better she took care of herself (working fewer hours, getting massages, going to the movies), the less troublesome Dolly’s hairball situation became. Interestingly (and not surprisingly), Rhea’s other life challenges also began to even out as the work with Dolly forced her to create balance in her life. Within a few months, Rhea had made two new friends, and she found herself enjoying leaving work to meet her new friends for dinner. Paralleling that change for the better, Dolly’s hairball problem had alleviated as well.
Mike and Fly
Mike consulted me because his dog Fly was excessively shy. He was concerned because Fly didn’t interact with any of the other dogs in his home and didn’t want to hang out with people other than Mike. When I first met Fly, it seemed that Mike was right. It took quite some time with Fly for me to gain his trust, but once Fly opened to me, I saw that he viewed his life with Mike very differently from how Mike viewed his life with Fly.
Fly wasn’t super shy. Fly wasn’t shy at all. In fact, the challenge, according to what Fly showed me, was that Mike had an anxiety problem and Fly could feel this and didn’t want to be around all the worry. Mike’s anxiety was twice as bad whenever friends visited the house or when the other dogs approached Fly.
It surprised Mike to learn that it was his own anxiety that was causing the problem. Until that time, he’d always seen his anxiety as just part of who he was, somewhat like a personality trait. He accepted that he stayed up late at night thinking about every possible angle on a situation and that he needed to be early wherever he went because being late made him worry. It had never occurred to Mike that his worry would be something that Fly would notice or even be affected by. Mike decided to give my Animal Lessons process a try. He didn’t want Fly to be uncomfortable because of his own anxiety by realizing he didn’t feel safe, supported, and protected in the world.
As Mike moved through the steps with Fly and discovered and found success alleviating and preventing his own anxiety, Fly, in turn, began to behave more comfortably in social situations. With Fly as his anxiety barometer, Mike now meditates every day for fifteen minutes, and he’s begun karate lessons to “get out” any lingering worry. Mike’s happier disposition and newfound belief that he is safe in the world has also helped him become more social, giving Fly, who has come out of his shell in tandem, plenty of opportunities to play with others (both animal and human).
Tom and Whiskers
When Tom was nine years old, he convinced his mom to buy him a rabbit from the 4-H club at the farmer’s market in his hometown. The rabbit had soft, beautiful, white fur that he loved to mush his fingers through, and he promptly became Tom’s very best friend. Tom named him Whiskers but called him Wisk for short. Tom would take Wisk on walks in the backyard on his leash, let him loose in the house so that he could get exercise, and let him play throughout the day with the family guinea pig, Sunshine, for fun. The duo really seemed to like each other and would scamper through the house together, hiding under furniture and chewing on random wires.
A few months after Wisk came into Tom’s life, his parents called his brother and him into the living room where they swiftly and seemingly spontaneously (to Tom’s nine-year-old ears) announced that they were getting a divorce. To Tom, this was the worst thing that ever could have happened, and he ran to his bedroom—straight to Wisk—feeling devastated and alone. Tom’s dad was moving out of the house, and Tom felt abandoned.
All kids handle divorce differently. Some kids act out and start causing trouble, while others might start doing poorly in school. Tom’s brother, who was three years younger than him, became sullen and angry and very needy with his mother for the next few years. It was clear that he felt abandoned by the situation as well and wanted to receive enough love from their mom to make up for the loss of love from their absent dad. Tom chose a different route.
Nine years old is fourth grade. And Tom has very particular memories from that year: a girl in his class stood up and read a story she wrote about the word hate. She didn’t like the word hate and she refused to use it, because she didn’t really think it was possible to hate. For some reason, that had always stuck with him, probably because fourth grade was the first time he’d ever really experienced hate. Fourth grade is also when Tom decided to stop talking. To humans, that is. Sure, he answered when adults spoke directly to him, and when his therapist wanted him to talk, he talked. But, for most of his day, he kept his head down and tried to go through unnoticed, as if he could become invisible and escape his feelings of abandonment and of not feeling good enough to keep his dad around.
It’s hard for any young kid to go without anyone to talk to, and as a result, Wisk became his confidant. After school, he would walk through the door of his house, throw his backpack down next to the stairs and immediately make his way down the hallway to the rabbit cage in the backyard so that they could spend time together. If they had good weather, Tom would take him outside and sit in the grass or talk to him about how he was the only one in his life who really understood. It was Wisk’s never-ending interest and devotion to Tom that helped Tom see that, regardless of his father leaving his life, he was still loveable—even if it was just this little white creature twitching his nose and running across his lap to grab a carrot.
As Wisk grew a year older, Tom began to feel more comfortable with himself. Wisk’s continued interest in Tom boosted the self-confidence that had been shot by his father’s leaving. By fifth grade, a classmate named Janine was telling Tom how popular he was in fourth grade because he was so mysterious by not talking. Ah, how kids translate things!
But for Tom, his relationship with Wisk had opened something up within him that had not really been there before. Wisk taught him that although some people in life were going to disappoint him, there were others who were dependable, sticking with him through the good times and the bad. Wisk stuck by him, showing him that he really was worthy of love. His repeated experience with Wisk of receiving love and support counteracted the experience of abandonment from his father. When I spoke with Tom about this, he said that to this day, he feels that the love of his rabbit is what kept him from going down the road of not believing he was worthy of love. He still, as a forty-five-year-old man, expresses great gratitude toward Wisk for his unending love and devotion.
Candy and Leila
My client Candy was concerned about her cat Leila because Leila was tossing the other cats in the house, counter surfing, destroying the garbage in the kitchen, and generally being a bully. Candy was particularly upset by Leila’s behavior because prior to that year, Leila had been the sweetest, most easygoing cat of all the cats in the house. Candy wanted nothing more than to bring back the sweetie pie cat Leila had been for the eight years before.
After checking with her vet to ensure that Leila did not have a medical problem that had caused the change in her behavior, Candy began working with Animal Lessons to try and shift the situation in the household. Within a week of beginning this work, Candy finally began to appreciate that Leila was being overly vocal about what she wanted because Candy herself was not being vocal at all. Candy had been in a relationship for several years in which she was not speaking up about her real needs and wants with her partner. She also had a situation going on at work in which she was allowing her business partner to take advantage of her rather than acknowledging that she didn’t think the behavior was appropriate. Leila was modeling extreme speaking up until Candy could shift her beliefs and start doing it for herself.
Candy knew she had to change this pattern within if she ever wanted Leila to start getting along with the other cats—and if she ever wanted to feel supported in her relationship and at work. Determined to shift things with Leila, Candy started seeing a therapist, reading self-help books, and working with a life coach, in addition to working directly with Leila. Her goal was to master the art of standing up for herself. Excitingly, as Candy started to believe she was more valuable in the world and improved at speaking up, Leila’s bullying behavior subsequently subsided. Today, Leila and Candy have a newfound understanding for each other, and Candy is standing up for what she believes in with more ease and grace than she ever thought possible.
Opportunities for Growth
In all three stories, the people involved were able to recognize that a challenge they were having with their pet was actually an opportunity for their own growth, which would in turn better the life of their pet as well. If they had not been open to this idea, however, they would most likely have had a much more difficult time in their respective situations. Rhea may have spent thousands more dollars at the veterinarian trying to figure out how to get Dolly to stop over grooming, when all she really had to do was start taking care of herself. Mike might have become a recluse, using the excuse that Fly couldn’t handle social situations (while really hiding his own anxiety), and Candy may have had to rehome bully Leila instead of learning the art of standing up for herself.
I’ve seen people work with the Animal Lessons steps to finally leave a bad relationship, overcome anxiety, stop believing they are worthless, let go of having to be number one, finally feel comfortable showing themselves to the world, stop losing themselves in their loved ones, earn promotions, get better jobs, come out to their friends and family, and become truly happy for the first time in their lives. The list of things that you can achieve by working with your animal is unlimited.