March 27, 2008
Reflecting on the "Living Waters" that Connect People & Animals in Creation
Has an animal influenced your faith? Contributors to The Francis Files share their stories.
by Lisa Kay Adam
While still in high school, I overheard the mother of another student complain, "All he does is play with his kitty cat!" Not only was I surprised that this he-man football player had a kitten, I was surprised that anyone found this activity so objectionable.
The older I become, the more I find play with my cats and other animals to be a spiritual exercise. Play, more than petting or training animals, engages and refreshes me. While stroking their fur, I may daydream or ruminate. If I am training or grooming an animal, my mind is at work on an objective. But when a cat and I tensely lock eyes over a twitching string, I experience a wonderful suspension of ego. Our play provides me with a pause in the stream of consciousness that I recognize as "self." That pause—the pause that refreshes, to borrow an advertisement line—allows me to dip into a state rare in hectic life.
In a favorite novel, "Immortality," a soul-weary character decides that what is painful isn't "being but being one's self." The self is a burden, she thinks, but being is a refreshing fountain. Lying unaware beside a murmuring stream, she joins with "primordial being."
To me, that primordial being is God. From my faith tradition, it is the "living waters" and the "fountain of life," but people of many faiths share this conception.
Lal Ded, a Kashmiri mystic, wrote of "the lake [from which] all Beings drink." "Into it deer, jackals, rhinoceri, sea-elephants falling," she extolled, "from the earliest moment of birth, falling and falling in You." Like Lal Ded, I share a sense of kinship with the world's many beings, all dependent upon living waters. Daily life muddies and obscures this joyful kinship; moments of play with animals reveal it in instant clarity.
Of course, absorbed play with a kitten is not the only way to experience this state, and I know that, for some people, it is not something religious. For many, it may be like the "flow" that psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi described, a mental state of satisfying and self-forgetting immersion in activity. Meditation, prayer, painting, even driving, allow different people to escape occasionally their wearying awareness of self. Playing with animals, like gardening, has the additional advantage of engaging us with living creation.
It is miraculous to me that humans can connect with other species, beings with their own inviolable, precious, and fundamentally mysterious essences. Despite innumerable days alongside my pet companions, I know that in them are whole worlds of sensation, thought, and, yes, feeling, beyond my comprehension.
Self-forgetting, connection, and mystery are parts of religion that animals allow me to experience. Such concepts, however, are in with my conscious self. While romping joyfully with a dog, weighty thoughts are replaced with light-hearted unawareness. After our play, I feel refreshed, as if we had bathed in a bubbly, deep, and infinitely rejuvenating spring of water.
Do you have a story to share? Submit your story and we may share it with our readers. The opinions of the authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of The Humane Society of the United States.