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 Image courtesy of Lynne McMahan

Animal Speak - May 2017

The Change We Wish to Be: Animal Teachings

By Lynne McMahan


"In the beginning of all things, wisdom and knowledge were with the animals, for Tirawa, the One Above, did not speak directly to man. He sent certain animals to tell men that he showed himself through the beasts, and that from them and from the stars and the sun and the moon should man learn...When man sought to know how he should live, he went into solitude and cried until in vision some animal brought wisdom to him. It was Tirawa, in truth, who sent his message through the animal. He never spoke to man himself, but gave his command to beast or bird, and this one came to some chosen man and taught him holy things."

-Letakots-Lesa, Eagle Chief, in his “Introduction to the Pawnee Songs” in The Indians’ Book: An offering by the American Indians of Indian lore, musical and narrative, to form a record of the songs and legends of their race, recorded and edited by Natalie Curtis, 1907


In researching May's theme of thought re-patterning, forming new habits and focusing on our mental health, I considered two books I have been reading: The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human by Vint Virga, D.V.M. and Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home: And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals by Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D. I also thought about an old friend of mine, Dr. Bonita Bergin and the work she has done for over forty years with Service Animals; first as the founder of Canine Companions for Independence, then as founder of The Assistance Dog Institute and it's evolution into the current Bergin University of Canine Studies.


Each of these amazing individuals will tell the wisdom story of animal wisdom and their teachings of "holy things" as Eagle Chief shared. Through Bergin's, Virga's and Sheldrake's connected areas of expertise, their lessons may help us find our path to mental health and well-being.


From puppy training, to animal and human bonding, the vision of Bergin University of Canine Studies is "to become a lyceum that inspires the pursuit of a deeper understanding of the human-dog bond, to benefit society with new applications of that bond but also to seek a profound understanding of humanity’s relationship with dogs, and consequently, with the animal kingdom." Dr. Bergin's forty year old passion and the university's research focus on discerning, utilizing and matching humans and dogs for service, is shared in her statement that "no animal does more for us, none share a more intimate relationship with us, nor can any claim more years of alliance with us–than the dog–our partner, our friend, our helpmate".  (


Two additional research projects highlight the intelligence and wisdom of service animals. The "Paws for Purple Hearts Project" is helping "heal our returning combat veterans by teaching those with psychological scars, including PTSD, to train service dogs for their comrades with combat-related injuries" ( Additionally, research emerging from the "Teaching Dogs to Read" project demonstrates that dogs can recognize abstract symbols, networking areas in the brain ultimately leading "to the dog’s increased ability to conceptualize, to think outside the box and to open new worlds of cognitive capability." In my mind, it simply shows humans how intelligent and amazing our canine wise ones truly are, by learning a communication style we're conditioned to.


Bergin University's research connects well to Dr. Sheldrake's studies about animal behavior, sharing in his book Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, "that the animals that are closest to us have much to teach us about science, nature, and consciousness" (2011). Sheldrake shares 1,500 case histories and his research on animal navigation, animal premonitions of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as animal/ human telepathy.


He states that his book is a "recognition that animals have abilities that we have lost. One part of ourselves has forgotten this; another part has known it all along...we have much to learn from our dogs, cats, horses, parrots, pigeons, and other domesticated animals. They have much to teach us about social bonds and animal perceptiveness, and much to teach us about ourselves" (p. 305).


In Dr. Virga's book The Soul of All Living Creatures, she shares her stories from her behavioral medicine practice through an outline of themes her animal clients teach us about being human. I highly recommend reading her client stories illustrating each lesson. Until that time, here is a condensed version to help you on your healing journey.


Through our connection "to animals, we embrace a part of our human nature that's as vital to us as our hearts and minds, and that connection stirs our spirit to transcend the limits of what we think is possible, to become even more than we believe we are. And it begins by looking outwards, away from ourselves, to the animals around us" (p. 25).


With "sensitivity...a process of always reaching out, beyond what we think we know, to embrace the viewpoint of another...we strive to truly understand what others may perceive, and recognize the inherent limits of our own perspective, [allowing] ourselves to open up to new ways of being and a world of new experiences" (p. 45).


A wealth of brain research...has granted us amazing insights in the inner workings of animals' minds. What these studies reveal, across a wide array of species is that animals live intensely thoughtful lives...animals' neurons are very much the same as ours, constantly generating images, emotions, memories, and thoughts." Animals practice mindfulness, "the state of being attentive in each moment to all that is happening within and around us" (pp. 61-62).


Mindfulness requires awareness and responsiveness...the "quality of being by which we choose an action or feeling as a result of perceiving a stimulus either within or outside of introspection and forethought... mindful discretion..." (p. 83). Through mindful awareness and responsiveness we can "trust in our instincts, wisdom, and judgment and risk doing something" (p. 90). Our ability to express ourselves--to be seen, heard, and understood; to connect with others, as we long to do--depends upon us fully claiming all the ways we communicate...And as we communicate with clear intention, while being mindful and sensitive, we more fully embrace our human nature" (pp. 108-109).


All of this requires the ongoing process of adaptability, always evolving, "animals             get this. It's not that they don't have objectives, but they adjust them more willingly than we do. While we hold focused on our goal, animals accept adapting as a process, adjusting their plans according to each situation....We have a choice whether to stay on course, fixed and locked in our intention, trying to change the world and others as needed to meet our goals; or to look around, take stock and adjust where we are headed" (pp. 129-131).


Ultimately, we must live "with integrity...[it] requires that we are honest with ourselves and others about our needs and wishes. Yet, it also means that we fulfill those truths by living them...If we're willing to consider the animals around us and take notice of where we limit their lives, we can better see how we set limits on ourselves. And where we bring them opportunities to find fulfillment in their lives, we can be inspired to create our own new ways of being...We begin by noticing and caring for every part of the whole" (pp.155-157).


Our final steps to wholeness are forgiveness and presence. We need to forgive ourselves and others, "overlooking insults and misfortunes for our higher values: our health, happiness, and connection to others." Animals have "memories of pleasure, suffering and remorse, [but] they move past them with greater poise than humans often do. It's not that they are indifferent to insult or injury, but they more willingly return to their relationships and their lives, giving as before...beyond their fitness for survival, animals demonstrate a capacity to give as before with grace and equanimity" (pp. 170-171 & 175).


"When we're fully present, we embrace each moment for all that it offers and then act accordingly. Animals by their very nature, fully live in the present moment" (pp. 190 & 198).


Perhaps these practices shared by Dr. Virga and her wonderful animal clients will inspire each of us to listen to Tirawa, the One Above, who sent these animals of wisdom to teach all of us the holy things from the beginning of all things. If we follow these practices the animals have shared, any re-patterning that is needed, or habit to change or include, will, I believe, lead us all to the mental health and well-being we seek.

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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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