Frans De Waal, authored a best-selling book entitled, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2016). He is a Dutch-American ethologist and zoologist who earned his PhD in biology at the University of Utrecht 1977. He completed a six-year study of the chimpanzee colony at Burgers Zoo in Arnhem, Holland before moving to the United States where he has been a professor in the Psychology Department of Emory University and Director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National primate Research Center in Atlanta. I would characterize him as one of the world’s leading academic scholars of primate behavior and psychology. De Waal also very much enjoys the relationships he cultivates with the animals he studies. But as a scientist he disciplines himself not to make speculations about the emotions, feelings and motives that his animals may appear to exhibit.
The following paragraph is taken from the prologue of his book entitled, Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves, (W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 2019):
“I love to follow wild primates around, and over the years I visited a great many field sites in four corners of the earth, but there’s a limit to what I or anyone else can learn from this. One of the most emotional moments I ever witnessed was one while chimpanzees high above me suddenly burst out in bloodcurdling screams and hoots. Chimps are among the noisiest animals in the world, and my heart stood still not knowing the cause of the commotion. As it turns out, they had captured a hapless monkey and were leaving little doubt about how much they prized its meat. While I watched the apes cluster around the possessor of the carcass and feast, I wondered if he shared it with them because he had more than enough to eat and didn’t care or because he wanted to get rid of all those beggars, who wouldn’t stop whining while gingerly touching every morsel he brought to his mouth. Or perhaps, as a third possibility, his sharing was altruistic, based on how much he knew the others wanted a piece. There was no way to know for sure from watching alone. We’d need to change the hunger state of the meat owner or make it harder for the others to beg. Would he still be as generous? Only a controlled experiment would allow us to get at the motives behind his behavior.”
Similarly De Waal exhibited his disciplined restraint against speculation regarding an animal’s motivation in his chapter on the aged chimpanzee alpha female, Mama, who gave him her last hug before she died. This is what he had to say:
“We sometimes assume that other animals have a sense of mortality, such as a cow on her way to the slaughterhouse or a pet who disappears days before her death. Much of this is human projection, though based on what we realize is coming. But do the animals realize it as well? Who says that a cat hiding in the basement during her last few days knows her end is near? Debilitated or in pain, she may simply want to be alone. Similarly, while it was obvious to us that Mama was physically on death’s doorstep, we will never know if she was there in her own mind as well.”
Now if De Waal did not adhere to the strictures of empiricism, as he dutifully does and if instead he were born with a psychic ability to communicate telepathically with animals, he would simply ask his animal friends to telepathically answer his questions. The irony here is that 30 years ago ethology was the new kid on the academic block. Perhaps it could better be called the chopping block. Nearly all other scientifically inclined academics ridiculed ethologists for what they consider to be their total foolishness in seeking to determine whether animals had thoughts, emotions or feelings because the great and domineering academic thought leader in those days was B. F. Skinner, the American behaviorist who promoted a mechanistic view of animals, by dismissing emotions as “excellent examples of the fictional causes to which we commonly attribute behavior.” De Waal states, “True, it is nowadays hard to find a scientist who outright denies animal emotions, but many are uncomfortable talking about them.”
The irony here is that even though De Waal was continually crucified by other academics during the first couple decades of his career for his ethological assertions that animals could reason and had thoughts and feelings, as a scientist and empiricist he would likely not even consider listening to a single word of a horse-whisperer psychic’s description of what her horse had telepathically explained to her.
Now let’s consider what Penelope Smith had to say in her book entitled, Animal Talk: Interspecies Telepathic Communication (Atria Books, New York, 1978, 2008.) Smith has been a pioneer in the field of telepathic communication with animals for over 40 years. How did this remarkable ability come to pass? She tells us that “As a child, I loved animals, as most children do. I love touching them and watching them and being close to them. I was able to feel what they felt and understand what their needs were on a very intuitive basis; I could “be” them. Later on, I would talk to them out loud or by thought, and experience answers from them mentally. It was very natural. I knew that they loved me, as I did them, and that they could talk to me and think for themselves. All beings have the inborn ability to communicate with and understand each other…. Rather than thinking of animals and people as “them” and “us,” I see all of Earth’s lifeforms (including plants, rocks, water, air) and all we experience around us as a symbiotic whole.”
In Animal Talk sheasserted, “Some people find it hard to look through the viewpoint of an animal to imagine what it would be like to be a species other than human. They ask me, ‘Why would anyone want to be a dog, cat, or bird?’ They assume that human bodies are the ultimate status, or the most advanced or intelligent forms, and that it is somehow inferior or substandard to ‘be’ a non-human animal. This generalized idea may stem from the reincarnation theory, philosophies, or religions that propose that beings evolve from simple (lower) to more complex (higher) body forms as they spiritually advance, and/or that you can’t attain full spiritual completion until you are human. This includes the idea that humans are the top of the line; we’re the chosen ones, and the rest are relatively unaware or unconscious of their own identity. I have not found this to be the case in my experience counseling thousands of people and other animals. Beings who have had human bodies may now have animal forms or the reverse, for various reasons and with no set pattern that applies to all.”
Smith continues, “The ‘human superiority complex’ prevents full observation and recognition of who animals really are. It inhibits the learning and enrichment that is possible from close association with them…. When you really connect with or get inside the minds of other creatures – animal, plant, or mineral – it is astounding how fascinating life can be from these perspectives. Human life is not the only or ultimate life, it’s part of the web of experience. Spirit flows through all of life, and, stripped of all disguises, we are of the same essence.”
While the authors of the next several books we are about to discuss vary in their empirical rigidity or their near complete lack of such rigidity, they each exhibit a sharpened curiosity about the nature of non-human consciousness experienced by plant or animal and, generally speaking, they tend to possess a heartfelt desire to relate personally to the objects of their study.
What an initial shock it was for me thirty years ago to read a New York Times Bestseller, The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird.An NYT book review of Secret Life characterizes the book as “The cult favorite, which hypothesized that plants may be sentient.” Now that was an understatement. In fact, Tompkins and Bird presumably demonstrated that plants are sentient. This brilliantly researched book (its bibliography contains hundreds of entries) describes scientific research conducted throughout the world on plant consciousness. The authors inform us that Charles Darwin himself in his 19th century botanical studies noted a number of characteristics of plants indicating their various sensitivities indicative of consciousness. And many other researchers like Darwin who succeeded him have confirmed that plants possess a unique intelligence. Here are a few of the titles of the book’s 21 chapters: “Plants and ESP”; “Plants That Open Doors”; “Plants Will Grow to Please You”; “The Mystery of Plant and Human Auras.”
Years ago Ellen Engler, a kindergarden teacher friend of mine, had also read the book during the year it was first published. She was so inspired by it that she conducted an experiment with two freshly picked ripe tomatoes and her classroom full of five-year-olds. She placed the first tomato at one end of the windowsill spanning one side of her classroom and the second tomato at the opposite end of the same windowsill. Each morning she would line up her students up to sequentially and individually converse with each tomato. They were instructed to tell the first tomato that it was ugly and that they hated it while the message to the second tomato was just the opposite. The first was something like this: ‘You are so beautiful and I love you very much.’ As you might have guessed, in a short while the first tomato quickly began to rot and turn black while the second tomato stayed fresh looking and radiant for the entire duration of the several week experiment.
The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben, Greystone Books, 2015; The Inner Life of Animals, Greystone Books, 2017
Peter Wohlleben is a German writer who focuses on ecological themes. He manages a municipally owned, environmentally friendly forest in Germany. In fact, he lives in the middle of that forest with his wife, family dog and his small collection of animals, including tamed feral creatures. Wohlleben’s book on trees has been an international bestseller. But ‘tree-huggers’ might not like it because Wohlleben doesn’t anthropomorphize trees the way Tompkins and Bird seemed to. The closest Wohlleben comes to humanizing trees is in this passage: “When a root feels its way forward in the ground, it is aware of stimuli. The researchers measured electrical signals that lead to changes in behavior after they were processed in a ‘transition zone.’ If the root encounters toxic substances, impenetrable stones or saturated soil, it analyzes the situation and transmits the necessary adjustments to the growing tip. The root tip changes direction as a result of this communication and steers the growing root around the critical areas.” Otherwise, he often discusses ways in which an individual tree species collectively acts to preserve and sustain itself within a forest’s overall ecological environment.
If you are looking for more touchy-feely stories, his book The Inner Life of Animals (Greystone Books, Vancouver, 2018) is far more satisfying. It is full of stories of animals – particularly mammals – experiencing love, grief and compassion. The most human and emotionally sensitive of all animals Wohlleben asserts is the pig which he says is also surprisingly one of the cleanest species. In his 41st chapter the author tells us, “I would like to argue for the existence of an animal soul in the religious sense of the word…. which I am happy to attribute to all animals.”
Peter Wohlleben split his attention between animals and plants while our next author is devoted nearly all of her explorations toward better understanding the consciousness of plants.
Thus Spoke the Plant: A Remarkable Journey of Groundbreaking Scientific Discoveries & Personal Encounters With Plants, (by Monica Gagliano, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California 2018) In her prelude she tells us that her book is “a real and sober first-hand account of my scientific research probing into the vegetal kingdom over the last decade. By taking a behind-the-scenes of academic science and describing the inner workings of the research journey that reveals the dynamic role plants played in instigating a new formulation of contemporary science, this is a powerful story about the unexpected and remarkable encounter between scientific insight and plant wisdom…This book endeavors to take you to that world…” That world included Australian shamans who connected professor Gagliano with plant spirits who explained to her the nature of plant consciousness. One of the lessons she learned was that “Chance is the untamed spirit of all-inclusive creativity, defiant of the safe rigidities imposed by control, which finds definition of itself by exclusion demarcating the boundaries of what is not. Chance is the dynamic continuity of existence that takes the exciting risk of inspiring the brilliance of this enchanted world. Chance is our antidote to the collective dementia we are entangled in – a medicinal nectar that flows to allow a different ending to our story.” Needless to say, that by more rigid academic standards Thus Spoke the Plant is a rather far-out read.
No doubt about it, Monica Gagliano, an academic seeking with some difficulty respectability within that community, she consulted with shamans in the Amazon River basin and elsewhere, but her identity remained that of a scholar. On the other hand our next author was trained by aboriginal peoples to learn to think, believe and act as if he were himself a Shaman.
Becoming Nature: Learning the Language of Wild Animals and Plants, byTamarack Song, Bear & Company, Rochester, VT, 2016.
Tamarack Song has spent his life studying the world’s aboriginal peoples, apprenticing to Elders, and learning traditional hunter-gatherer survivor skills. He has lived for years alone in the woods as well as living with a pack of wolves. Song explains, “Sometimes when I melt into the woods I Become a Deer. At other times I Become a Bird or a Frog. All the time I Become Nature; for if I don’t, I remain only an observer. An outsider….Here we will discover that there is nothing magical or clairvoyant about being able to understand what animals say. We will find that touching an animal is just as possible – and maybe as amazing – as reaching out to touch our lover. Each of us is a child of Nature, the same as any Native with the same intrinsic skills and abilities, and we are every bit as capable of Becoming Nature as they are.” His book contains an elaborate 12 step program for attuning oneself to nature and acquiring animal consciousness.
It doesn’t take an excess of sensitivity to understand the enormous sacrifices Tamarack Song made in abandoning the enculturation he acquired growing up under the tutelage of his parents. He chose instead to adopt a shamanic identity following on the heels of many millennia in which the Shaman was considered to be the wisest and most competent person in the community. Our next author is a professional writer who was authored a number of books of a rather diverse collection of topics.
Our Wild Calling: How connecting with animals can transform our lives – and save theirs by Richard Louv (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2019)
The style of this book is journalistically reportorial and concerns projects being undertaken in the United States and several other countries which are directed towards increasing opportunities for people to communicate with animals. Many of his accounts involved organizations which use animals for therapeutic purposes which range from guide dogs for the blind to projects involving persons with attention deficits obtaining relief from their symptoms through developing one-on-one relationships with various kinds of animals. The breadth or scope of his book is extensive while his description of many of the animal communication projects he reports on is less detailed.
Although I have never met Richard Louv, I imagine him to be a conventional writer – if there is such a thing – but our next author, whom I have never personally met, appears to me to be highly eccentric, possessing an insatiable curiosity and by no means can be considered merely an average professional.
Being a Beast: Adventures Across The Species Divide (byCharles Foster, Picador, New York, 2016).
Charles Foster is a brilliant and highly eccentric English veterinarian and proud father of six children. His book is as ingeniously conceived as it is composed. In addition to scouring relevant zoological studies pertaining to the animals which interested him, he often spent several weeks at a time unwashed on site observing the animals he wrote about. Foster became fiercely curious about the existential essence of being an animal – in particular a Badger, Otter, Fox, Red Deer and Swift. His epistemological intent was to answer the following question: If I were this particular species how would I view the world?
Regarding each of the five animals he writes about in his book he decided he would do everything within his power to live among each such animal species and copy their behavior as closely as he could. He crawled hands and knees upon a forest floor in pursuit of badgers, dug and ate worms as his sole source of food for several days, as they do. He disliked otters the most, but crawled around riverbanks sniffing the malodorous fecal deposits, known as spraints, which otters leave to mark their territory. Foster slept overnight under shacks in East London in the area where Fox come to feed and breed. He worshipfully admired them with an even greater intensity than Hindu Indians kowtow to cattle. His minutely detailed descriptions of how foxes triangulate with their ears subterranean voles then pounce upon them as a hunting technique was an absolute treasure to read.
In his chapter on red deer he provides stunning descriptions of what it was like for him to crawl slowly, inch by inch, several hundred yards on his belly, dragging his hunting rifle along with him in hopes of shooting a stag surrounded by hinds without sabotaging his effort by moving too quickly, making any sounds or giving off any scent which would quickly shoo them away.
The common Apus apus, called simply “swift” in Great Britain, is a soft-tailed, black bird that breeds across Eurasia and winters in southern Africa, nesting in buildings and hollow trees. Scientists have long suspected that the common swift remains airborne for extraordinary amounts of time during its annual migration. Foster tracked the migratory flight of swifts from England to South Africa and back again. Foster noted in his Epilogue, “If I can establish a real relationship with the nonhuman animal, there are grounds for optimism with regard to relationships with humans. If I can bond with the swift, I may well be able to bond with my children. True, I won’t be able to prove in a Euclidean sort of way that I’m really relating to the swift. But the human-animal relationship will be simpler than the human-human one, and it won’t be obscured by so much tangleds emotion. That means it might be easier to be reassured that a human-animal relationship is real. ”
Another English author, in fact a brilliant British biologist wrote a classic bestseller which incontrovertibly demonstrated that human-animal, mind to mind relationships are absolutely real. Its focus is on the reality that a man’s best friend is his dog and how closely connected his dog is to him.
When it comes to veterinarians Charles Foster could hardly be considered conventional. Likewise the term highly unconventional aptly fits our next author as well.
Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals (by Rupert Sheldrake, Three Rivers Press, New York, 1999, 2011).
Rupert Sheldrake earned his PhD in biology but prior to undertaking his graduate studies he spent a good period of time learning to meditate and expand his consciousness in an ashram in India.
I remember reading this book when it first came out and found it then to be not only profound but deeply insightful. It is full of dozens of stories of dogs who showed persuasive evidence that they knew exactly when their master was coming home. My favorite story in that book involved an English marketer who made several business trips a year to South Africa. From the southern tip of the Dark Continent he would frequently call his wife who was home in England with their dog. What was most amazing was that when he called his wife the second the phone rang in the marketer’s home the dog would immediately start barking. His dog knew that it was his master who had placed the call. The dog would never bark when the phone would otherwise be ringing when someone else had placed the call.
What is most profound about this book is that Rupert’s Sheldrake had an explanation for how the dog knew that it was his master who was calling and how dogs knew exactly when their master would be coming home. The two main terms Sheldrake used to explain such phenomena are Morphic Fields and Morphic Resonance. Here he is not talking about fields of grass, but with something more like magnetic fields. Sheldrake seemed to suggest that dog owners and their pet dogs are deeply connected to one another through Morphic Fields. In his other writings he showed that Morphic Fields also connect human beings to one another as well as to their pets and that in a sense all sentient beings, regardless of species, are connected to one another through Morphic Fields. See his
The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Memory of Nature, (Park
Street Press, Rochester, 1988, 2012)
No doubt about it, Rupert Sheldrake was an outlier compared to most other academics in
his field. Brian Woods, our next author, along with his co-author wife have also followed
an almost wildly unconventional approach to the pursuit of his exploration of the
consciousness of canines and other mammals.
The Genius of Dogs (by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, Penguin, New York, 2013).
Brian Hare and his wife Vanessa Woods wrote this amazing treatise on the brilliance of dogs. Hare is an anthropologist and ethologist who teaches at Duke University and runs a dog clinic there. As a boy Hare believed his pet dog could think, but under the oppressive influence of Skinnerian behaviorists any theories about dogs being able to think was regarded as heresy because the behaviorists believed that the highest level of mental attainment dogs were capable of was a conditioned reflex. One day Hare was having a debate regarding his dog’s critical thinking ability with a college professor, and the professor initially concluded that Hare didn’t know what he is talking about. But over time Hare, demonstrated that his dog could think rational thoughts which were far more sophisticated than a conditioned reflex. This triumph led Hare to earn his PhD and in his thesis he scientifically demonstrated that dogs and even wolves were able to think, although dogs were smarter of the two. Here also discovered that the Russian white fox could think. Reading The Genius of Dogs will most likely turn most skeptics into believers.
Another dog lover, but also a lifelong spiritual questor, Ptolemy Tompkins himself as a professional writer and journalist also became quite fond of the consciousness of dogs as well as other animals.
The Divine Life of Animals: One Man’s Quest to Discover Whether the Souls of Animals Live On (Ptolemy Tompkins, Three Rivers Press, New York 2010).
This too is an amazing book written by Tompkins, whose father Peter authored the best-selling Secret Life of Plants. Under his dad’s influence Ptolemy became totally fascinated by the whole field of consciousness studies. The range of his detailed investigations included altered states of consciousness, extrasensory perception and telepathic communications between human beings and animals in addition to related subject matter. Like Hare, Ptolemy’s curiosity about such topics began with his close observations of his own pets. It is no coincidence that the most important word in the title of his book was Divine. Researching this book was clearly a major spiritual journey for Tompkins and reading it will leave you with a sense of awe about how we are connected to animals at a deeply spiritual level common to both humans and most other animals.
While still on the topic of canines another book which ranks in perceptivity with Penelope Smith’s Animal Talk: Interspecies Telepathic Communication is Tim Link’s
Talking with Dogs and Cats: Joining the Conversation to Improve Behavior and Bond with Your Animals, (New World Library, Novato, California, 2015).
Tim Link and his wife operate an animal hospital just outside of Atlanta, Georgia where they offer training courses for dogs and their masters and teach pet owners how to communicate telepathically with their dogs and cats. A fascinating thing about Tim Link is that he is as psychic as Penelope Smith. The wonderful feature of this unusual book is that Link not only teaches his readers about animals, how they think and what they expect, but he also gives them step-by-step directions in how to increase their ability to detect telepathically what their pets are telling them.
Then in a most practical way he advises his readers on how they should care for their pets. His two-part book includes Part I: “Understanding and Communicating with Your Animals” followed by Part II: Addressing Animals’ Needs and Behavioral Challenges. One of my favorite chapters in his book is entitled “Keeping Animals Informed.” This is an excerpt from that chapter: “Would you ever go to work without telling your kids that you were leaving for work and when you’d return home? Then doesn’t it stand to reason that you should communicate in the same manner with your dogs and cats? When they see you exiting your house, they, too, want to know where you’re going, when you will return, and what they should do in your absence….
“Explain to your dogs and cats what is happening now (or is about to happen) and what they need to do about it. Provide a positive reason why they should do as you ask, or tell them why it will be a goodthing for them. If you communicate with them in this manner, they’ll handle the situation much better, and you both will be less stressed about it….
“When I’m leaving the house to go to the grocery store I tell my dogs… where I’m going, that I’ll be back in one hour, and that they should take a long nap until I get back. They listen intently to what I have to say and then lie down and go into a deep slumber while I’m away. When I return an hour later, they get up from their dog beds, stretch and come to the door to greet me. If, on the other hand, I’ve told them that I will be back in an hour and I’m delayed, they will start to wonder why am not back home when I said I would be. They usually bark continuously when I get home to let me know that they are not pleased by my tardiness, until I explain why I was late.”
We depart now from Tim Link’s mesmerizing book to the writings of an academic scholar and ethologist named Mark Bekoff.
The Emotional Lives Of Animals (by Marc Bekoff, New World Library, Novato, California, 2007).
Marc Bekoff is a professor emeritus of biology at the University of Colorado – Boulder. He is also a cognitive ethologist. Cognitive ethology is the comparative, evolutionary, and ecological study of animal minds. Bekoff tells us, Ethology “focuses on how animals think and what they feel, and this includes their emotions, beliefs, reasoning, information processing, consciousness, and self-awareness.” The main objects of the research, he noted, entail tracing mental continuity among different species; discovering how and why intellectual skills and emotions evolve; and unlocking the worlds of the animals themselves. Cognitive ethologists prefer to study animals in their natural environment.
Yet Bekoff acknowledged that “Whenever I observe or work with animals, I get to contribute to science and develop social relationships at the same time, and to me, there’s no conflict between these two activities.” He informed us that animals feel a wide range of emotions, including each of Darwin’s six universal emotions: “anger, happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, and surprise.” And they tend to feel these emotions strongly. Thus, when they are happy they seem euphoric and when they are sad they often appear seriously depressed. He also noted that animals tend to adhere to a strong moral code and he rhetorically asks, “… If animals can be shown to display a sense of justice along with a wide range of cognitive and emotional capacities, including empathy and reciprocity, does that make the differences between humans and all other animals a matter of degree rather than kind?”
It is no coincidence that Bekoff emphasizes animals’ sentience, the initial issue posed in this essay. Here is what he had to say on the nature of the mammalian mind: “Sentience is the central reason to better care for animals. Questions regarding sentience are important and extremely challenging, but we also need to distinguish between feeling and knowing. Well-being centers on what animals feel, not what they know. … We know that ‘objective, value-free science’ itself reflects a particular set of values. We know that the results of scientific research (all those facts) should influence how we act in the world; otherwise science becomes a meaningless exercise. And we also know animals feel emotions and suffer at our hands, and they do so globally. Ethics, with a capital ‘E’ needs to have a place in our ongoing deliberations about how we interact with other animals…. Animals are subjective beings who have feelings and thoughts, and they deserve respect and consideration.”
Indisputably, Marc Bekoff feels a deep connection to the animals he has studied. He relates to them and he loves them. Another source of information about animal consciousness comes from a book channeled by an English medium by the name of Jane Sherwood.
The Country Beyond, (Saffron Walden: The C. W. Daniel Company Limited, Somerset, England, 1944.)
A disincarnate entity who goes by the initials E. K. stated that consciousness for animals “is an undivided whole. They are part of their environment without a break. To an animal feeding in a field, the wet grass, the motion of his tongue, the taste of the food and his movements in search of more grass are all one experience centered in himself. He is not in the field, but the field is in him.” Only humans know themselves as “entities separated from our environment and can even get outside of their own sensations in regard our own thoughts as objects of knowledge.”
Having paid due deference to the above named highly competent investigators of animal consciousness I switch now to some additional personal experience which noticeably increased my learning level regarding telepathic communications between animals and humans. In this case, between three horses and myself. I have had the distinct privilege of knowing quite a few people, including Dan Dreyfus, my late wife Sarah among others, who have been able to communicate telepathically and emotionally bond with animals. I have longed for many years to be able to participate in that kind of a relationship with animals myself.
In 2015 I personally enjoyed that experience at my summer home in Ireland. There I take great delight in walking from my house down to the shoreline where I sit on my 300 million-year-old red sandstone seat and watch the sun set over the huge mountainous McGillicutty Reeks running along the Iveragh Peninsula across the Kenmare Bay. On that seat I notice Otters swimming nearby and Cormorants diving down from the sky to spear a fish, then surface with a fish in their mouth and fly off with their dinner. I like to listen to the gentle lapping of the waves against rocky shore, punctuated by the Cormorants’ screechy screams.
On the walk back to the house I usually reach into my pants pocket and pull out a carrot and feed it one bite at a time to a beautiful white Kerry Bog Pony mare named Fairy, grazing on my land, who whinnies when she sees me. I whinny back to her so she knows I understand her and accept her as she is.
It was my good fortune some years ago to have been taught by a long-term healer friend named Kerrith McKechnie, who was trained by an American Indian medicine woman how to communicate ideas to animals. In essence, this technique entails sending mind pictures to the animal such as a picture of oneself petting or feeding it. Thus, after grabbing a carrot or two, I’ll walk outside and when I see Fairy grazing at the other end of the pasture I will whinny then whistle at her and simultaneously send her a picture of me feeding her a carrot. Almost immediately she will look up at me and begin walking toward where I am standing, expecting to be fed. She responds the same way when all I do is send her the mind pictures without any whinny or whistle.
One day I fed her a turnip hoping that you would like it, but she spit it out. OK, I said, I won’t do that again. Then I fed her the carrot she was expecting. Sometimes when we meet, she and I engage in a bonding ritual of smelling each other’s breath from about a two-inch distance between our nostrils. If I linger too long doing this before feeding her she gently head butts me to alert me that it’s time to get down to brass tacks.
On a warm afternoon as I was coming out of a meditation while sitting on my stone seat and not yet fully present or focused, I began to ruminate about what to do next. Recalling that I had one carrot left in my pocket I thought what fun it would be to feed it to Fairy. Next I slowly stood up, turned around and what did I see? It was Fairy. She had walked down two steps leading toward the stone seat expecting to be fed.
Oh my God, how did that happen? How did Fairy know I was thinking about feeding her a carrot? I had no conscious intent to send her a mind picture. Then it came to me: Fairy and I are connected. There is a strong enough bond between us apparently for her to be able to tune me in just as I tune her in when I’m sending her a mind picture.
In subsequent years I’ve had similar experiences with two other mares, Calypso, a paint and Passion, a roan horse who also grazed on my land. Reflecting on Rupert Sheldrake’s writings I came to suspect that horses could read each other’s field and quickly identify whether they were facing a friendly or hostile and predatory being. I was literally amazed by how well, like Fairy, they could read my field and seem to know what kind of a mood I was in without my saying a word.
This perception led me to reflect upon the potpourri of books I selected to include in this review. One yet not mentioned was authored by one of my historical professorial heroes, William James, who authored The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1902, 2012). In examining different types of awareness, including spiritual consciousness, he would look at the data and ask himself “What is transacting here?” Largely because of his father’s total commitment to his Swedenborgian religion James became quite interested in spiritual behavior and he sought in that classic text, in addition to honoring his deceased father, to describe what religious experience was all about. To James the investigation of spiritual experience was far more interesting and fruitful than analyzing dogma and liturgy. Most impressively his emphasis was on discovering the subjective essence of what the people he wrote about had been experiencing. He believed that they felt a deep and abiding connection to what he chose to call a “Higher Power.”
Hence, seeking to follow the scholarly example of William James I learned to habitually ask the question “What is transacting here?” I went over in my mind what the authors of the books reviewed in this essay were trying to achieve I sensed a spectrum of interest which initially began as an compelling curiosity about the nature of animal or plant consciousness or behavior. The authors were looking for evidence and seeking to comprehend patterns in the behaviors of animals and plants. This constituted the objectivity thrust of their investigation. But in the process of the ethologists’ observations many noticed there was a strong subjective element extant as well. They were relating to their subject of study and felt that their subject of study was relating to them. Taken a step further, several authors noticed that they felt connected to their subject of study and that exchanges of feelings of a bonded togetherness were occurring between them.
Some of the authors seemed to direct the preponderance of their attention to comprehending and describing animal or plant behavior while others – at the opposite extreme – took delight in relating to and being connected with their animal or plant subject of investigation. But in most cases, their writings revealed, an interest in both the objective and subjective dimensions of their investigative undertaking. As William James so vociferously emphasized, the full spectrum of consciousness entails both the objective and subjective dimensions, therefore both aspects deserve careful study.
In reflecting on this notion of relationship to, and connection with, animals and plants I was taken back to the amazing telepathic communication and bonding I experienced with those three horses grazing in the fields surrounding my Irish home. I asked myself was it possible that those mares were not only aware that they were connected to one another, other animals and humans, but also I asked myself if they could also experience a connection to spirit beings, including angels, and perhaps might also be capable of some kind of a transcendental awareness.
I found a possible answer to that question in a manuscript discovered roughly 150 years BC entitled
The Additions to the Book of Daniel (author unknown, printed in most Bibles)
The Additions firstappeared in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament during approximately the first century BC. This Apocryphal text seems to echo and expand upon Psalm 148. Why this material is included here is because it attributes consciousness not only to human beings, animals and plants but also to inanimate things, such as was asserted by Penelope Smith in her Animal Talk. Both Psalm 148. The Additions invoke praise of Yahweh by all elements of Creation imploring each named element, (whether animate or inanimate) to: “… praise Yahweh from the Earth, sea-monsters and all the depths, fire and hail, snow and mist, storm-winds that obey his word, mountains and every hill, orchards and every cedar, wild animals and all cattle, reptiles and winged birds, kings of the earth and all nations, princes and all judges on earth, young men and girls, old people and children together…” Each of these elements of Creation is called to express praise. As portrayed in The Additions three young men while engulfed in flames and sentenced by King Nebuchadnezzar to die in the flaming furnace, chant in unison this invocation to praise.
This remarkable story has, for the past twenty centuries, been incorporated into the Christian monastic Liturgy as the Benedicite and daily chanted around the world at Matins and sometimes other services.
Many years ago while during my first reading of these invocations of praise I thought to myself what an absolute absurdity! Under the influence of Skinnerian skepticism I then believed that plants and inanimate things absolutely lacked any form of consciousness.
We have been reflecting throughout this essay on the nature of animal (including human) and plant consciousness. In particular we have been focusing not only on an objective understanding of the nature of awareness exhibited by animals and plants, but also our relationship and interconnectedness with them. Based upon the research and perceptions of the authors of nearly every book discussed in this essay it appears as if as a society we are on the verge of collectively acquiring major transformational insights regarding human, animal and plant consciousness. Furthermore, also will Richard not available this is available Dave calling you in response to your email and request that we speak on the telephone is now 6:45 PM how that spectrum of consciousness may possess an individual and collective capacity for a nearly infinite span of awareness and interconnectedness.