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with love, from the animals x

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People often say to me that they prefer the company of animals to people.  I understand that point of view, I suppose you wouldn’t find that surprising, given my line of work. So, what it is about animals that means that many of us would rather spend time with them over our fellow humans?

Let me share a perspective, based on what I understand from my work with animals. As always, I encourage you to take what feels right to you and lay aside what doesn’t.

For me, there are lots of things that make time with animals compelling, yet I feel the reason they’re so wonderful to be around is really quite simple.  Animals offer unconditional love and acceptance. Whatever’s going on for us, if we’re having a bad hair day, just want to stay in our PJs, if we’re out of enlightening conversation or we’re feeling particularly grumpy or sad, they’ll offer us love. In fact, they can be the most compassionate of carers when we’re ill or upset.

Animals observe our feelings and they may reflect them back to us at times, but they don’t judge them. I haven’t once come across an animal in a communication that’s told their person to ‘pull themselves together’ or ‘stop crying’ or reprimanded them for the way they are feeling towards someone.

I believe that’s why being around them can feel so comfortable and at times so healing. There’s something immensely powerful about ‘seeing’ the love and acceptance in an animal’s eyes when they look at us. This total acceptance for us ‘as we are’ allows us to be our selves. They show us we don’t need to behave a certain way, or hide the parts we feel are unacceptable or will be judged.  Something I believe we do with people, whether it’s consciously or unconsciously. 

When they reflect our feelings back to us, it can help us recognise and acknowledge them.  I’ve observed many times in communication sessions how animals can highlight feelings or even aspects of us that we’ve lost touch with.  We may have pushed them away, perhaps they were too painful, or hidden them away, perhaps we judged ourselves for having them. Maybe we had no one we felt we could share them with. It’s often emotions like anger and sadness and fear, ones we perceive as ‘negative’ that can evoke the responses ‘I shouldn’t feel this way’, ‘I just need to get over this’. Because of this we may deny them.

With the help of the animals I’ve worked with I’ve come to understand much more about the world of feelings and emotions. I’ve observed that when we deny our feelings they’re still ‘with us’. If you’ve ever experienced a time when you’ve asked a friend if they were ok and they’ve said ‘yes’, yet you’ve distinctly felt they weren’t, that illustrates the point. They might have been attempting to appear ok, but their feelings were saying something different.

There’s lots of focus these days on having a positive attitude to life, one which I buy. However, I don’t subscribe to denying an emotion if it needs expression or ‘putting a happy face on’ when that isn’t our truth. I believe it’s far healthier to acknowledge the feeling. There’s a lot of openness around mental health which is wonderful. Rather than just putting a sticking plaster over a feeling we’re grappling with, it’s more and more acceptable to talk about it.

I believe that our emotions are like signposts guiding us through life.  If we have an emotional response to something, that emotion is information. At its’ simplest it may be showing us the experience is wonderful for us, or it may be showing us the opposite.

Don’t get me wrong I don’t believe in wallowing in emotions.  For me it’s about finding a balance. I believe in acknowledging and using our emotions like a guidance system, then allowing ourselves to move forwards, rather than getting stuck in a ‘Groundhog Day’ loop with them.

I’ve come to observe with my work how feelings we deny can be like a ‘Jack in a box’.  When a person or a situation comes along that taps into them ‘boingggggg’ the box opens and what can seem an out of proportion response to a situation can arise.  If we then judge our response to that situation as ‘bad’ we effectively push the Jack back into the box, ready for it to remerge another time. Often when we experience the same emotion and block it, it can be like pushing the Jack back into the box with a bit more gusto. So as the Jack is successively triggered it can start to emerge from the box with more and more ‘boingggggg’

If you’ve worked with me in a communication session, you’ll be familiar with me talking about the strength of an emotion or feeling that an animal is showing me.  You may recall me saying if the animal has lots of strong feelings these are what I’ll pick up first. Going back to the ‘Jack in a box’ analogy, if the emotion gets stronger each time the Jack is pushed back into the box then ironically what we’re denying gets stronger, the more we deny it. 

We can choose to view a ‘Jack in the box’ moment as an opportunity to move through old or stuck feelings and emotions. Over the years, guided by the animals I’ve worked with, I’ve used many different approaches to help shift old and stuck emotions, for myself and with human clients. When I am working in a communication session and this comes up, I will ask the animal to guide me with the best approach to help the person.

Aside from the way that I may be guided by an animal in a session I believe there are lots of approaches we can use to help us shift stuck emotions. It could be that simply acknowledging the feeling is enough. It may be necessary to express it in some way, perhaps drawing or writing a poem or singing at the top of your voice! Doing something physical may help, such as a run or walk in nature, or dancing, or drumming. Or if addressing it on your own doesn’t appeal, then you may wish to seek professional help.

There’s no one ‘right’ way and as you’ll know if you have worked with me, I always prescribe in all my work to ‘do what feels right for you’. I believe what’s as important as the ‘practice’ itself is your conscious intention for it. The approaches we use to help us clear out our old emotional baggage can also be helpful on an ongoing basis, to keep our emotions flowing in a healthy fashion.

When I’m reflecting on the power of being at peace with our feelings and emotions, I often come back to an experience I had some years ago in a local café. The art on the wall caught my interest. I was struck by the abstract images, full of colour and so vibrant, yet at the same time there were aspects of them that looked (and felt) quite dark to me. The owner of the café introduced me to the artist, who was a local there. As we chatted the artist told me he was a manic depressive. I was really quite surprised. I’m very sensitive to feelings, so I usually get a strong feeling sense of people, yet I hadn’t felt that aspect in him at all. In fact, I was finding him a calm person to be around, enjoying the conversation, discussing his artwork and his approach to life.

It was later on, when I was reflecting on the conversation, I came to understand why I felt so comfortable around him. It was because he was comfortable with himself.  He had accepted the aspect of himself that he classified as ‘manic depressive’, in fact he had found expression for it in his art. In embracing that aspect of himself he’d prevented it becoming a ‘Jack in a box’. Were he not ‘at peace’ with that aspect of himself, then I believe it’s likely I would have felt it, or some aspect of it, strongly during our conversation.

We all have light and shade, highs and lows, in acknowledging that and naturally allowing our full experience of emotions we are learning from our animal companions and accepting ourselves the way that they accept us.

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