Animals as Teachers

“Animals are such agreeable friends. They ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” – George Eliot


The animal kingdom has something to teach us, it seems. Author and spiritual teacher Stephen Levine began collecting, at age 70, stories of encounters with animals who taught him life lessons.

Out of these experiences, a slim new book has been published. ‘Animal Sutras – Animal Spirit Stories,’ is a fast read and a glimpse into a world rarely acknowledged.

Levine believed that the animals he met in his daily travels were fated to teach him truths about his life and the life of the planet. The stories in the book detail how Levine learned about forgiveness from a salamander, greed from a crab, and meditation from a green snake. Sound unlikely? I’m not so sure. Animals, after all, have a consciousness that’s unfettered by the thinking or reasoning mind. This has to put them at an advantage in living in the present moment – something I can always practice.

Exercise: Consider the animals of all kinds you’ve met with lately. Could any of them have a message for you? If an encounter comes to mind, try writing about it. What did you learn?

Resolution: A Little Bit of Nothing

adult air beautiful beauty

Happiness, it’s said, is a ridding process.

At the start of a new year, some of us make plans. Sometimes we even call them resolutions. Usually these aspirations are to do, be or have more.

More money, more health, more success, more friends, more confidence. Or even more peace.

Funny thing is, my intuition tells me that first I must subtract. Instead of entering these goals onto yet another to-do list, then jumping into action, I must cultivate a habit of  pausing to just simply be. If, like me, you’re a ‘doer’ in nature, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. So far, I’ve managed only seconds or minutes at a time. I’ll persist, though, and see what happens.

Exercise:  Set a timer if you need to, and take five minutes of pause time. Look out a window, examine the leaves of a plant, take in your surroundings, listen to all the ambient noise. Then take your journal and write a page about your observations.

Write Into a Good Decision

“I must have a prodigious amount of mind; it takes me as much as a week, sometimes, to make it up!” – Mark Twain


Some of us have trouble making decisions, even small everyday ones. This tendency to overanalyze often has the opposite effect. Instead of finding the perfect choice, we are left doubting whatever choice we do make.

The way out of this trap is first, to admit a tendency to agonize. (At least to yourself, on paper. Everyone else already knows, anyway!)

Then, begin making more decisions every day.

Make a decision, and then decide to go with it, on small issues like what restaurant to visit, what outfit to wear, or what to have for dinner. Just choose, and then observe the results. No judgement, just: did it work out or not?

Big, scary sounding decisions are best handled with the “wait and see” approach. Got an idea to switch jobs or careers, begin or end a relationship, buy that house or move a couple thousand miles away? When a major change seems imminent, try spending less time analyzing pros and cons and more time in quiet reflection, asking the inner voice to guide. Writing about the feelings that arise after these sessions will provide the clarity needed.

Writing about decisions, both big and small, has been a big help to me in becoming less frayed around the edges about little choices and more confident about the big ones.

Exercise: Try a ‘today’s decisions’ writing. Simply list the small choices you made that day, and how you felt about each one.

We Are All Pilgrims

women wearing multicolored dress walking on sands pathway

Last year, more than 200 million people worldwide went on a religious pilgrimage.

Traveling to a faraway land to trek up a mountain or bathe in a sacred pool may seem absurd to some, yet it shows the depth of human longing for a rebirth.

Writing can be an inner pilgrimage, a voyage into the interiors of the mind and on a deeper level, the soul. As we write about the changes and events in our lives, we can see patterns and discover ways to encourage healthy growth.

Exercise: Set a timer for fifteen minutes and write about a pilgrimage you’ve taken in your life. Perhaps you left one career for another, began or ended a relationship, or moved to a new part of the city, country or even the world. What did you learn about yourself during that time?



white all we have is now neon signage on black surface

Positive Action Changes Everything.

That’s a bold statement, both in its simplicity and promise.

Journaling is an action, a verb, a live thing that moves and motivates me into a better and healthier frame of mind and body. It’s one thing to say to myself, I’d like to dust that cabinet (finish that report, make that phone call, do a one minute plank).

It’s a completely different experience to just do it.

When I take pen in hand and write, no matter what the topic and no matter how long, I am sending a signal to myself that my ideas, my thoughts and my feelings matter. And how can that be anything but positive?

The plus side is that positive action always follows – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. The action may be as minute as taking a ten minute walk or as far reaching as realizing a long term goal, like writing a book.

Exercise: Try a mini PACE break. Take just five minutes to empty your thoughts onto the page. Congratulations! You’ve performed a positive action.


Is Haiku for You?

white ceramic teacup with saucer near two books above gray floral textile

Writing a haiku

Nudging the right brain awake

Quiets monkey mind


Ok, it’s not Shakespeare.

I took a class recently on haiku writing as a form of meditation. While I don’t drop immediately into a meditative state (yet), I’m figuring out how to write this delicate form of Japanese poetry, expressed in:

5 syllables

7 syllables

5 syllables.

I find that being forced into a tight frame with words helps to sharpen focus. This is a good way to be creative and journal at the same time, too.

Exercise: Do you haiku? If you’d like to try, grab a pen and paper and choose one subject or feeling. Then describe it in this format: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables.



Making Sense

woman working girl sitting

No one needs to write fluently, spell correctly, or even make sense on the page in order to benefit from journaling.

Personally, I write longhand and sometimes my writing is sloppy, all over the place, misspelled and full of my own version of shorthand. The meaning is sometimes not in the words themselves; it’s in the feelings behind the words. At times I don’t have words for what I want to say; a squiggle or a picture will do. And still, I know I am expressing myself in a way that is completely unique.

One reason I think this works is what I call the “after” effect. I may be in a confused or bleary state of mind when I write, and what comes out may appear to be nonsense, boring or insignificant, but later on – that day, that week or even within an hour – I will have an insight. An aha moment. Perhaps an answer to a question I didn’t know I had.

Exercise:  When you’re having a sort of blank or off day, try writing anyway. Pick up a pen, a pencil, a marker or a crayon, and begin with “I don’t know where I’m going with this, but . . .” Finish the sentence, then go on to finish the page.