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Puppy play group. Image courtesy of Lynne McMahan

Animal Speak - April 2017

Cooperative Earth Healing

By Lynne McMahan


More than ever, I know that the work that we do together in expanding our awareness of our interconnection with all beings, human and non-human, has the potential to create a new story, a new paradigm, a new way of living and being that comes from a deep understanding of our relatedness, and the importance of living from the reality of connection, rather than separation.

-Nancy Windheart, "Silence, Listening, and Connection," 2016,


This interconnection that Nancy speaks to is a responsibility each of us have to caring for our Mother Earth and all who dwell here. To preserve and sustain her well-being and all she supports, cooperation on a small and large scale is needed. Thus my focus for this month is what we can learn from our animal teachers about cooperation in order to create this deep understanding of connection and how to heal our Earth and ourselves, every day.


Beyond my life as a Reiki practitioner, I am an educator, starting out as a teacher and administrator, then as a professor and consultant. Though each of these "lives" seem different, they intersect through a common strand, my focus on cooperative communities through mutual respect, love and connection. In education the expression "it takes a village" is more true than it has ever been. Just as it takes a village to raise and educate our children for our human future, so does it take a village with our animal friends and wise ones, to heal and protect our Earth for the generation of animals and humans to come.


In researching for this column I found an interesting study by Jeremy Adam Smith and Alex Dixon, "Birds Do It. Bats Do It," that supports cooperation in animal communities.

To foster cooperative success in human organizations, some scientist-philosophers believe that we should look to nature for inspiration. Nature nurtures life through communities, says physicist and author Fritjof Capra. The research has resulted in a small but vibrant renaissance in the science of cooperation, which reveals that cooperation is not unique to humans. It’s not even unique to animals. Cooperation is part of nature, down to the cellular level. The reason why is simple, according to evolutionary biologists: Cooperation is one of the most important and beneficial behaviors on Earth. We literally would not be here without it. (2009,


What then can we learn from our animal wise ones about cooperation, connection and trust? In last month's column I shared Escobar (now lovingly called Eski) and his friend and guide, Roxy. Arriving at Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary traumatized physically, emotionally and spiritually, Eski has found a loving cooperative home of 9 other elder dogs who respect and cooperate with each other as they spend their final days of peace and well-being together. Especially caring of Eski, Roxy has shown him the lay of the land, introducing him to the other animals and humans at the sanctuary who work together for the well-being of all.


At the Santa Fe Animal Shelter, cooperation and working well together is also essential to the rhythm and health of this community. Beyond the daily walks, playgroups are offered to the dogs for socialization and freedom for self-expression in the many areas designated for playgroup activity. The cats have their area as well--an indoor patio with access to fresh air and the many structures made available to play on. And not to be forgotten are the rabbits who regularly come out to the lobby to play in the temporary maze-like structure created just for them to explore and interact.


I was happy to know our shelter is at the forefront of a reform movement to improve the quality of life for animal friends in shelters, and playgroups are pivotal to this effort, says Natalie DiGiacomo, shelter director of the Humane Society of the US. “Play enriches dogs’ lives and reduces stress so their true personalities show."


Vint Virga, author of the book, The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human states, "Providing some type of enrichment is essential to the well-being of animals in captivity...The whole idea of Dogs Playing for Life is wonderful...It gives dogs an opportunity to have more social interaction as well as to practice appropriate play behavior in a controlled setting.” And they "need both dog-dog play and dog-human play...The two serve different purposes." One purpose is for them just to be and not to "behave" for us, while the other purpose is to help them learn to interact and be ready for human and other animal companionship. (2013, "Shelter Play Groups",


When I observe and watch animal playgroups I think of my years supervising school playgrounds and I notice the similarity of play for children with their animal counterparts. On the school playground children learn to cooperate and solve problems during this unstructured play time. Our animal friends do this as well. Who will get the ball? Who will play and share the kiddie pool? Who can chase their tail the fastest?


How then can we embed "play" into our lives as humans to better support our own well being, the well being of our children and our animals, and ultimately our Mother Earth? Let's start with a few benefits of play from the article "The Benefits of Play for Adults" (; what is true for us is true for our children and animal friends as well. Play relieves stress, improves brain function, stimulates the mind, boosts creativity, improves relationships and connection to others, and energizes both individuals and groups. To heal our Earth and ourselves I believe a playgroup is needed and that playgroup needs to include our animal friends, our children and other adults. Through play and cooperation, our creative process and relationship with others will help us sustain a healthier, more holistic Earth connection.  


Margaret Mead's quote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has" supports the theme of this month's column, that small groups cooperating and playing together can heal our Mother Earth, every day.

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Bunny play group. Image courtesy of Lynne McMahan

Lynne McMahan, Ed.D., En-Light-En Reiki, is a Usui/Holy Fire Karuna Reiki® Master and Mind-Body-Spirit Mentor, supporting the healing of each person or animal on their journey of transformation. For more information:,, or 505.400.3168. 

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