Of course, it goes without saying, as in the Metta prayer, to ultimately extend our wishes of well-being, happiness, safety, and love to all beings. Yet, I want to bring to the table of this wave of compassion the awareness and acknowledgment that our two- and four-legged friends desperately need our compassion right now. This includes domestic animals, our “pets”, and all wild animals. For the scope of this blog, however, I am focusing on wildlife.
Indeed, the earth is in turmoil, as is the atmosphere around our beautiful planet. Plants and landscapes the world over are being affected by climate change, plastic pollution, and human overpopulation. More and more, due to rampant development, wild animals, in particular, are being displaced as their habitats are destroyed. I can personally attest to this tragedy because within two blocks of our home, there is a huge housing and business development planned soon that will destroy small farms and precious green and wild spaces. So sad.
During the past year, I have had the great privilege of getting to know a great horned owl that often roosts on alder trees behind our backyard. I gave her a name, Sunflower, because she appeared one morning last summer as I was gazing at a tall sunflower by the fence. As I looked up, there she was staring at me. We had eye contact many times and I spoke to her as she swiveled her large, round head and blinked her eyes in between her long naps. She is utterly beautiful. I wrote an article about Sunflower and you can read more about my experiences on my website listed at the end of this blog.
My point in sharing about the owl is that it touched something very wild in me that needed reawakening. During the pandemic we moved after my husband retired and our world was shuttered for a time. Thank goodness for zoom and computers, something I never thought I’d hear myself admit. Anyway, what kept me sane was hiking and spending time outdoors. Although we saw deer and lots of birds, beavers, and coyotes, those were and still are fleeting moments of encounter. Having the experience, over time, in getting to know this gorgeous bird-of-prey in a more regular and intimate way, helped me develop a deeper sense of connection to her and all that is wild and free. It grew profound compassion in my heart even more for the suffering and dilemma we humans have caused for all animals, with wildlife being seriously threatened.
I suppose it’s only natural for us to think of humanity, first. But having spent many hours observing the same small, wooded area and the same owl (and recently, I’ve met her mate), I realize how vital it is that we speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. For example, I have been a fierce advocate for wolves for many decades and it is heartbreaking to me that these beautiful canines are despised by so many. There is a great deal more to this tangent, so please read my article about Wolves and Biodiversity on my website if you are interested in learning more. The issue is that once we connect with a wild animal, we do make room in our hearts to care for all of them. Suddenly, it’s about all the Sunflowers.
When I visited a wolf sanctuary many years ago and stood in the center when they were all howling, it touched me in a very profound way. I took into my heart all wild beings as I could not separate myself from them. We are truly one. As a very young child, I would visit a vacant field across the street and play in the tall grass. Sometimes I would be there with others, but many times I would wander alone, encountering snakes, coyotes, hawks, and all kinds of bugs. From an early age, I was deeply connected to the earth and all creatures. There are many now who do not have this opportunity, and we are losing something crucial if we do not feel that connection. The good news is that no matter where you are, no matter where you live, you can connect to nature, which is actually connecting to yourself because we are nature. All that’s needed is to step outside and look, listen, and feel. Absorb the equanimity and peace of the outdoors.
Throughout my life I have enjoyed loving my animal family members, cats, dogs, and horses. Although they have been domesticated, their roots were once wild. Domesticated animals face a great risk when we humans suffer. During the pandemic, for example, many horses were abandoned because their owners lost their jobs or became too ill with Covid to care for them, or even passed away. If something happens to us, what will happen to them? We owe it to those who depend on us to do all we can to change the course of our current trajectory.
Teaching children to have compassion for all living things is very important, especially for things like insects, snakes, and bats, for example. As a grandmother and retired teacher, I have found that helping children to care about all creatures indeed, transfers to caring about people. Perhaps the opposite is true, that caring for people could make us compassionate about animals, but why wait to help them learn? Start early in instilling these traits by offering, as Dr. Rick Hanson writes, opportunities for children to experience states of oneness with all life. They do it naturally if given the chance.
To make a connection with wildlife, if you have the opportunity, find a special place (which can be a nearby park or even a tree in your neighborhood) where you can sit for a time regularly. You may be surprised at how you get to know the squirrels as individuals, the birds as friends, and the trees as your brethren. May our circle of compassion truly include all beings.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be free from pain and suffering.
May all beings be safe and protected from harm.
May all beings be held in love.
May all beings fly, swim, and walk happily on this beautiful earth.
Gratefully, there are heroic people and organizations who are on the front lines of animal advocating and rescuing every day. The list is too long to include, but I want to thank the people of the Humane Society (US and local) and Defenders of Wildlife as examples of what we can do when we feel compassion for animals and able to make a difference with our heartfelt actions.
Thank you, all of you.
Marianne Bickett is a retired teacher, grandmother, author, and artist and is writing in her own capacity. You can learn more about her and her work in the world at MarianneBickett.com.