One of the special aspects of our Mindful Safari visits to Africa is meeting kindred spirits from around the world. There are usually participants from USA, Australia, UK, and other countries, and while we have very different backgrounds and lives, we come together in our deep appreciation of nature, our practice of mindfulness and meditation – and our recognition that life is finite and if we want to do something extraordinary, now is the time!
Over sundowners in the bush, or meals under the stars, we come to learn more about each other. Over the past four Mindful Safaris, we have got to know Bruce Muhlhan and Rae Watson, from Whyalla in South Australia pretty well – because they’ve come on all four of them! Back home, they are mainstays of Story Dogs, a literacy program where children read aloud to delightfully non-judgemental dogs, a fun and relaxed setting in which children’s focus and reading confidence soar. (For more see: https://www.storydogs.org.au/)
Bruce is an animal lover as well as being a long-term meditator and Tibetan Buddhist. Since childhood he has believed that some kind of attunement with animals is possible, and since coming to meditation, he has discovered a place where such attunement naturally occurs.
It is fascinating how this discovery has been made in spontaneous, unexpected ways by many people in different places quite separately.
Where Bruce has taken things further is in developing what he calls Mindful Animal Attunement – Metta Meditation. During our 2019 Mindful Safari, he generously shared this with our group. Whether sitting on the back of vehicles, or meditating with elephants, or back in our home environments, we’ve been able to practice mindful attunement with sometimes delightful results. And Bruce has kindly agreed to let me share it with you in this blog.
(Below – Bruce getting to know the cockatoos at The Twala Trust Animal Sanctuary)
Before I do, I’d like to point out three things I especially like about this meditation. The first is its simplicity. At it’s most basic, we focus on an animal, and simply practice ‘metta out’ as we exhale and ‘metta in’ as we inhale. We don’t need to recollect any elaborate visualisations or affirmations. Second is its structure. Given that we are all obsessive compulsive thinkers, if we try simply to ‘stay present’ with an animal, chances are we’ll soon be away talking to ourselves, focusing on our own narrative chatter instead of the animal. But using the anchor of the breath, we are less likely to do this. Third is its flexibility. Anywhere, anytime, we can flick the ‘metta out, metta in’ switch and start practising right away.
During the notes that follow, Bruce talks about focusing on an African animal. For your own purposes, feel free to think of any wild animal in your natural environment, like dophins, bears or deer.
At the end of the attunement instructions, you’ll find a summary of the assumptions which underpin this practice.
Anyway, that’s enough of an introduction from me. I would now like to share Bruce Muhlhan’s Mindful Animal Attunement with you in his own words. Take it away, Bruce!
(Below: Bruce shares Metta Meditation instructions with the group, in the garden at Masuwe Lodge.)
Please feel free to do as much or as little of the following guided meditation as you wish, based on your own unique world-view. It will happen in two parts. The first part involves relating to a beloved domestic animal that you know or have known, then the second part involves relating to a significant African wild animal.
During the guided meditation, I will be using the ancient Pali word “metta”. The special term metta is deliberately used to encapsulate the concepts of loving-kindness, unconditional warmth and friendliness, good-will, intimate connections, an inner glow, and opening of the heart. I will also be referring to my dog, who is called Newton, as an example in several places.
Mindful Animal Attunement – Metta Meditation
Let’s first do some slow and deep mindful breathing to relax and become centred.
Take several slow, deep breaths, then let your breathing return to its normal rhythm. PAUSE
Please begin by recognising or acknowledging that there is something deep inside of you that embraces your highest ideals, your most positive qualities, your greatest good. Something that you can pay profound homage and respect to. Something that you can take refuge in. You may wish to represent it as light, energy, a symbol, a word or words or a seed syllable. PAUSE
This is your kernel, your essence, your foundation. It is your spiritual anchor. It is the true and enduring nature of your mind which is grounded in wisdom and compassion. It is your innate-awareness. PAUSE You may want to think of your heart centre or heart space as being the symbolic seat or location of the true nature of your mind, that is softly permeated by a warm glow. PAUSE
Now say to yourself the following words, “I respect and honour the true nature of my mind.” PAUSE
Next, carefully think of a beloved pet, who may be living or no longer living. PAUSE Or it could be somebody else’s pet that you have known or it could be a relative’s pet. PAUSE
Silently say to your pet, “I respect and honour your true nature.” PAUSE .
Imagine now that there is some kind of free-flowing, energetic connection between you and your chosen pet as a result of the heartfelt warmth of metta that is shared between you. You may prefer to visualise or feel this special connection as a beam of white light that flows between you or some other colour that you really like.
Take a slow, deep breath in and as you gently exhale, imagine that you are sending metta to your pet from your heart centre via the beam of light. And as you breath out, at first you may wish to use the words,
“Sending metta to pet.” Or just “Metta to pet.” And when the word “pet” is used, you can replace it with the actual pet’s name if you wish. For example, “Metta to Newton.” PAUSE
As you softly breathe in, imagine that you are receiving metta from your pet’s heart centre via the beam of light. And as you inhale, initially you may want to use the words, “Receiving metta from pet.” Or just, “Metta from pet.” Or “Metta from Newton.” PAUSE
Try to keep the breathing, visualising and phrases going for a few more breaths. And allow yourself to be both the “sender” and “receiver” of metta. Please give yourself permission to really feel this.
“Metta outwards. Metta inwards. Metta out. Metta in. Metta out. Metta in.” LONGER PAUSE
Now respectfully thank your chosen pet for this exchange of metta and gently release the heartfelt connection for the time being with the words:
“May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.”
Of course, you can re-establish a conscious connection with the pet again anytime in the future when you need to.
Again say to yourself, “I respect and honour the true nature of my mind.” This is your anchor which you can return to at any stage during the meditation. PAUSE
Next bring to mind an African wild animal that you feel that you have a connection with or you would really like to have a connection with. This can be an animal or a bird that you have seen in the wild during this safari or perhaps a collection of animals or birds that you know are living in this region or have lived in this region.
(David with Kukurukura at Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery)
It might be a herd of Elephants mud-bathing at a waterhole, or a journey of Giraffes browsing amongst the thorny acacias, or a crash of Rhinos trampling the veldt grass, or a troop of Baboons guarding their territory,or a bloat of Hippos swimming in the mighty Zambezi River. Or it might be one or more birds such as the stunning Lilac-breasted Roller, or the melodious Cape Turtle Dove, or a soaring African Fish Eagle, or an inventive Southern Masked Weaver.
Spend a moment or two selecting your wild animal or group of animals and really getting a felt-sense of the animal, as best as you can. PAUSE It might just be a moment of awe! PAUSE
Now say to this wild animal in your mind, “I respect and honour your true nature.” PAUSE
Imagine that there is some form of reciprocal, energetic connection between you and the wild animal that is based on your respect and good will towards this wild animal. Again you may wish to visualise or feel the energetic connection as a beam of white light or some other colour. As we continue with the meditation, you may want to replace the words “wild animal” with the actual descriptive name of the animal or animals.
Take a slow, deep breath in and as you gently exhale, imagine that you are sending metta to the wild animal from your heart centre via the beam of light. As you breathe out, at first you may choose to use the words, “Sending metta to the wild animal.” Or just, “Metta to wild animal.” Or “Metta to elephants.” for example.
As you softly breathe in, imagine that you are receiving metta from the wild animal’s heart centre via the beam of light. And as you inhale, initially you may wish to use the words, “Receiving metta from the wild animal.” Or just, “Metta from wild animal.” Or “Metta from elephants.”
Try to keep the breathing, visualising and phrases going for a few more breaths, sending and receiving.
“Metta out. Metta in. Metta out. Metta in. Metta out. Metta in.” LONGER PAUSE
Next you will be invited to ask a couple of simple but perhaps far-reaching questions in this state of relative communion with the wild animal. PAUSE
Only do so if you feel it is appropriate or you get the intuitive feeling that the wild animal is comfortable for you to do this. PAUSE
If answers do appear, where the answers actually come from, is not so important at this point, as it is all about intention! And our intention surely is to open our hearts so that we may hear the gentle whisperings that can come from the wisdom and compassion deep within us, in the spirit of oneness and reciprocity with the wild animal. So in a moment we will ask the questions, let them go and relax.
It may be that as a result of honouring your own true nature or honouring the true nature of the wild animal or indeed honouring both of these, an answer will intuitively come from your innate-awareness in the form of a feeling or images or words or even a knowingness or a combination of these. Or there may be no perceived answer at all, which is perfectly fine also. Or an answer might come later. So now we will gently pose the questions, let go and rest in silence.
First question to the wild animal:- “Is there anything that I can do to help you to continue to live in accordance with your true nature? LONGER PAUSE
Second question to the wild animal:- “Is there something that I can do that will help me to live more in accordance with my own true nature?” LONGER PAUSE
Next gently thank the wild animal and express gratitude for this perceived exchange of metta, this dynamic interplay of our singularity and our commonality with other living beings, this sacred dimension that we have shared together. PAUSE And now carefully dissolve the connection with the words:
“May you dwell in equanimity, within the circle of life, in harmony with your true nature.”
Finally, dedicate or wish for the welfare and well-being of all the wild animals and people here in Zimbabwe and for all living beings everywhere.
Summary – Assumptions underpinning the Mindful Animal Attunement
- All beings are connected by a universal energy.
All living beings are inter-connected and inter-related in some way and in the broader sense we are all dependent on each other. The foundation or basis for this connectedness and relatedness can be depicted as a kind of all-pervading subtle energy or intangible mind-essence.
- Our true natures are an expression of this energy within us.
The deep innate-awareness or natural sensitivity inherent in all living beings can be described as an individual expression of this subtle energy or mind-essence. Consequently this innate-awareness in each living being has the same vast potential as the mind-essence. It appears to be endowed with an intrinsic wisdom and a heart-felt compassion. From this point of view, this innate-awareness is undoubtedly the true nature of our minds and its natural radiance can be cultivated.
- The worldly expression of our true nature is dependent on the physiology in which it resides.
The worldly expression of this innate-awareness is totally dependent on the individual physiology in which it resides. For example, we relate to dogs with their “dog consciousness” and our brains can translate feelings or sensations, that we may intuitively receive, into words or images.
- Our true nature appears to continue beyond death, dependent on causes and conditions.
Just as there is an ongoing clarity in the gap between thoughts in the profound stillness of meditation, this innate-awareness of all living beings has an unbroken continuity of clear luminosity, which appears to have the potential to continue after death, dependent on causes and conditions.
(Photo Credit: Thank you Borna Bevanda on unsplash for the kitten photo at the top of this article).
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