People sometimes ask me, “Do animals know that you can do this, and do they come up to you out of the blue wanting to talk?”
Yes, they know. They recognize an awakened quality in me. An openness to them, and a receptivity.
Whether it is a black lab passing me on a hiking trail with his person trailing behind, a horse at a barn, or a koala bear at a zoo, they often give me a knowing look, or feel comfortable coming closer to me for a friendly hello.
They sense a light in my heart, and an availability not only to care, but to fully understand what they are experiencing and what they are consciously, purposefully telling me.
But they generally don’t accost me with requests to translate for them and their person.
Or come up to me and start pouring out their hearts to me.
But there have been a few exceptions.
One of these exceptions happened when I was on a road trip a few years ago, passing through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. I came upon a very sad, upset horse. Or I guess she came upon me.
I was driving from Northern California back home to Arizona, on my way back from a meditation retreat. I always find a way to drive down Highway 395. Mono Lake and the Inyo National Forest are sacred territory to me. I feel so alive weaving my way through mountain passes with the windows down, the road curving along the edge of post-card-picturesque rocky streams, and then into stretches of open, arid, hilly land. And then back again into the tall pine forests. So beautiful.
But it’s a total food desert. There are no decent places to eat along the way, only gas stations and sometimes-open diners in tiny, empty towns.
So I pack a lunch from a grocery store in Reno, Nevada, and plan to pull over on the side of the road somewhere interesting and sit there in my red pickup truck and eat.
On one of these trips, I chose to have my lunch along a lovely stretch of highway where there were gorgeous mountains on one side, and fields with cows and a few horses on both sides of the road.
As I was sitting in the driver’s seat, taking the first bites of my vegetarian sushi, I felt that eerie feeling we all know. Someone was staring at me.
It was a horse, from way over there! Across the two-lane highway and across a huge field. She was a tiny dot in my line of sight from where I was on the side of the road.
I turned my attention back to my sushi. Maybe I was just imagining this.
But within one or two minutes, she was up at the edge of the fence, her gaze fixed on me.
Obviously she wanted to talk.
“Really?” I wondered.
A few seconds later I thought to myself, “I can’t ignore this horse. She clearly has something to say.”
So I set my sushi on the passenger seat and got out of my truck, walked across the highway, fumbled through the tall-weed-covered ditch on the opposite side of the road, and walked up to the fence where she was still waiting. Still staring.
I touched her nose, gently petting her. She let me.
By this time, all kinds of cows were gathering around, and another horse, a gelding who had a sweet disposition but was not quite as sharp as this mare, came closer as well.
My mind was still surprised, and I didn’t know what to expect. But in my heart, I could feel this horse had a story she needed to tell.
So I opened my heart and listened, made myself ready to receive her experience.
Right away, she showed me an image of a dark black steer lying on the ground on his side. Obviously sick.
“He takes care of things here. He was my friend. He was a leader and the others looked up to him.”
She showed me an image of a gun, and a man using it to kill the suffering cow.
“I don’t understand this. My cow friend could have gotten better. The man did not understand. He could have gotten better. He was my friend and we all depended on him, he was the smartest and wisest and most noble of the cows.
“I am so mad at our person, he doesn’t appreciate his cows, what they do for him. He thinks they don’t understand anything but they do. They know what they provide for him. They give to him. I want him to respect the cows. Appreciate them for what they give him. They know why they are here.
“And I want my friend back. We were friends, looking out for the herd together. He was sick but he could have healed. Our person did not understand this, and he didn’t give him time to heal. Now he is gone and I am sick with grief.”
I stood there with her, just listening. There was nothing I could do to solve her problem. I couldn’t make her friend come back alive. I couldn’t go and talk to her person. And she wasn’t asking me to talk to her person.
And I can’t imagine that scenario anyway. Not only would it be unethical and incredibly rude, but they might think I am a lunatic and have me arrested for trespassing.
Even communicating with his horse without his permission was questionable in the ethics department, in my opinion.
But there was a higher good needing to happen here. This intelligent and compassionate mare was very upset, and needed someone to listen.
So I continued to listen.
In the next minutes there, standing in the grass up next to the fence, my new horse friend didn’t say much more that was different. I could feel the same feelings and thoughts rumbling around inside her heart and mind.
Around that time, I started to notice the hearts of the other beings who had gathered, the cows and the other horse, together with hers and mine.
They created a little gathering of warmth and curiosity. I could feel each of them having their own experience of the situation.
“Why is this human caring about us?”
“How did our smart horse friend know that this lady could talk to us?”
“What will this lady do? We are sad and we miss our friend.”
I continued to be present with the horse from across the fence. Feeling her grief with her. Just being there. Occasionally petting her nose.
After a few more minutes of this, it was clear I had done all I could do. And by this time the chestnut mare seemed a bit relieved. Someone understood. A human being understood.
“Thank you for sharing your story with me, Beautiful Mare. I am sorry this happened. You are a special being.” I sent these feeling-thoughts to her, and then told her it was time for me to leave, showing her an image of me getting back in my red truck.
Then I turned around and slowly walked back across the ditch and then onto the street and got into my truck.
As I turned on the ignition and headed on down Highway 395, I saw the cows and two horses watch me leave and each slowly start to wander back out into their field.
My grandmother had a saying, “A problem shared is a problem halved.”
We humans think we have to fix everything for another being when they are in pain. It is great if we can, but sometimes deeply-present listening is a precious gift all on its own. It is a kind of grace.