One of the things I like to do with this blog is to take rare and forlorn (and relatively short) books that I’ve enjoyed over the years and condense them down to the heart of the book’s message while retaining the poetry of the author’s language. It’s for my own enjoyment, hopefully for yours as well, and I hope that it will influence at least some to search out the complete books for the home library.
I started with Ernest Callenbach’s Living Cheaply With Style (which I need to continue soon) and followed with Taylor Caldwell’s Dialogues with the Devil (which I will also return to).
When I used to buy record albums, it was rare when I liked every song on the album. Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon comes to mind as one that should never be listened to as singles but always as a whole composition. People nowadays rarely buy a whole CD but instead download their favorite songs.
Books are like that as well. Because I love words, sentences and ideas so much, it’s a fun exercise for me to find the gems of language and ideas within books. Once condensed, when I read them, the words and ideas flow effortlessly like extended poems. Adding memorization of passages to the exercise was once common practice, sadly not so much anymore, but it further instills lessons beyond your mind and into your soul.
In this book, there are incredible closeup photos of animals, taken by Art Wolfe. When you look into the eyes of these animals, it’s hard not to feel that something more is there, behind the eyes. It’s an old adage that “the eyes are the windows of the soul.” I believe that to be true.
[Kowalski, Gary. The Souls of Animals. Walpole, NH: Stillpoint, 1991. pp v-7.] Please note that this book has been newly revised by the author. The version below is from the original, unrevised edition of 1991.
— Gary Kowalski has served as a Unitarian Universalist minister in Memphis TN, Seattle WA, and Burlington VT, since graduating from Harvard Divinity School. He has written on behalf of animals for many years, with the best of his sermons published in 1989 by Harper & Row, Best Sermons. He is also the author of Between Species: A Journal of Ethics.
We should understand well that all things are the
Work of the Great Spirit. We should know the Great
Spirit is within all things: the trees, the grasses, the
Rivers, the mountains, and the four-legged and
Winged peoples; and even more important, we should
Understand that the Great Spirit is also above all
These things and peoples. When we do understand all
This deeply in our hearts, then we will fear, and
Love, and know the Great Spirit, and then we will be
And act and live as the Spirit intends.
— Black Elk
FOREWARD: by John Robbins
— John Robbins is the author of the Pulitzer-Prize-nominated book Diet For A New America published by Stillpoint in 1987.
Have you noticed how often it is that small children are fascinated by and take delight in animals? They seem to experience a kinship, an affectionate bond with other creatures that helps to make them whole and who they are. Can you remember the first time you saw an elephant? Or a giraffe? We’re talking major excitement here, wide-eyed jubilation.
Yet our adult society views animals in quite another way, as commodities or resources, as things, objects, and tools. We use them. We eat them. We experiment on them. They no longer enchant and delight us.
We see them now only as means to our ends. We don’t know what we have lost.
The Souls of Animals is an eloquent and timely book that can help us regain our connection to the mysterious and wonderful creatures who share this planet’s adventure with us. It is a beautiful book, and it is a healing one, for it brings to our consciousness the awareness that we need to regain if we are to learn to live in harmony with the natural world.
This book will open your heart and your mind to the mysterious and wonderful companions who fly, walk, crawl, and otherwise populate this beautiful Earth.
Ann Mortifee once wrote, “You can’t see a bright tomorrow with yesterday’s eyes.” Gary Kowalski has given us a book that brings us new eyes, eyes with which we can again look at the world and ourselves with respect and reverence, eyes that can enable us to participate in the sacred potential of Creation.
. . . The Souls of Animals is about our kinship with life. It is a step away from loneliness and alienation, a step toward finding ourselves welcome and well amongst the Earth community. It is about learning to take our place with reverence and respect in the council of all beings.
What is Spirituality?
Everyone needs a spiritual guide: a minister, rabbi, counselor, wise friend, or therapist. My own wise friend is my dog. He has deep knowledge to impart. He makes friends easily and doesn’t hold a grudge. He enjoys simple pleasures and takes each day as it comes. Like a true Zen master, he eats when he’s hungry and sleeps when he’s tired. He’s not hung up about sex. Best of all, he befriends me with an unconditional love that human beings would do well to imitate.
“I think I could turn and live with the animals, they’re so placed and self-contained,” wrote the poet Walt Whitman. “I stand and look at them long and long.” He goes on:
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
My dog does have his failings, of course. He’s afraid of firecrackers and hides in the clothes closet whenever we run the vacuum cleaner, but unlike me he’s not afraid of what other people think of him or anxious about his public image. He barks at the mail carrier and the newsboy, but in contrast to some people I know he never growls at the children or barks at his wife.
So my dog is a sort of guru. When I become too serious and preoccupied, he reminds me of the importance of frolicking and play. When I get too wrapped up in abstractions and ideas, he reminds me of the importance of exercising and caring for my body. On his own canine level, he shows me that it might be possible to live without inner conflicts or neuroses: uncomplicated, genuine, and glad to be alive.
Mark Twain remarked long ago that human beings have a lot to learn from the Higher Animals. Just because they haven’t invented static cling, ICBMs, or television evangelists doesn’t mean they aren’t spiritually evolved.
But what does it mean for an animal (including the human animal) to be spiritually evolved? In my mind, it means many things: the development of a moral sense, the appreciation of beauty, the capacity for creativity, and the awareness of one’s self within a larger universe as well as a sense of mystery and wonder about it all. These are the most precious gifts we possess, yet there is nothing esoteric or other-worldly about such “spiritual” capabilities. Indeed, my contention is that spirituality is quite natural, rooted firmly in the biological order and in the ecology shared by all life.
I am a parish minister by vocation. My work involves the intangible and perhaps undefinable realm of spirit. I pray with the dying and counsel the bereaved. I take part in the joy of parents, christening their newborns and welcoming fresh life into the world. I occasionally help people think through moral quandaries and make ethical decisions, and I also share a responsibility for educating the young, helping them realize their inborn potential for reverence and compassion. Week after week I stand before my congregation and try to talk about the greatest riddles of human existence. In recent years, however, I have become aware that human beings are not the only animals on this planet that participate in affairs of the spirit.
This book is about the spiritual lives of animals. Up to now, much has been written about the intelligence of animals and their ability to solve problems. But spirituality is related less to problem-solving than to the kinds of problems we are even able to consider. We may contemplate death, for instance, without ever really hoping to “solve” the problem of our own demise. In reflecting on the spiritual lives of animals, therefore, I am concerned less with raw brain power, memory, and learning ability than I am with more subtle facets of intelligence such as empathy, artistry, and imagination.
Investigations of interspecies spirituality take us into unmapped territory. Are other animals conscious of themselves, as we are? Do animals grieve or have thoughts and feelings about the end of life? Do animals dream? Do they have a conscience or a sense of right and wrong? Do other species make music or appreciate art?
I am not a zoologist or expert on animal behavior. Probably no one with academic training in the field would ask such audacious questions; doing so would be regarded as unscientific and a sign of naivete. Fortunately, however, the clergy have a professional license to ponder issues that others consider imponderable. As twentieth century shamans, we are allowed to examine enigmas like “What makes us human?” and “What makes life sacred?” The danger here is that we are often in over our heads. But at least we are swimming in deep water and out of the shallows. In searching for answers to such queries, I have found, we not only enrich our understanding of other creatures, we also gain insight into ourselves.
Without anthropomorphizing our nonhuman relations we can acknowledge that animals share many human characteristics. They have emotional lives, experience love and fear, and possess their own integrity, which suffers when not respected. They play and are curious about their world. They develop loyalties and display altruism. They have “animal faith,” a spontaneity and directness that can be most enlightening.
To me, animals have all the traits indicative of soul. For soul is not something we can see or measure. We can only observe its outward manifestations: in tears and laughter, in courage and heroism, in generosity and forgiveness. Soul is what’s behind-the-scenes in the tough and tender moments when we are most intensely and grippingly alive. But what exactly is the soul? Soul is the point at which our lives intersect the timeless, in our love of goodness, our zest for beauty, our passion for truth. Soul is what makes each of our lives a microcosm – not just a meaningless fragment of the universe, but at some level a reflection of the whole.
No one can prove that animals have souls. But if we open our hearts to other creatures and allow ourselves to sympathize with their joys and struggles, we find they have the power to touch and transform us. There is an inwardness in other creatures that awakens what is innermost in ourselves.
For ages people have known that animals have a balance and harmony we can learn from. “Ask the beasts, and they will teach you,” counsels the book of Job. Other creatures have inhabited the earth much longer than we have. Their instincts and adaptations to life are sometimes healthier than our own. In the Letakots-Lesa, “wisdom and knowledge were with the animals; for Tirawa, the One Above, did not speak directly to man. He sent certain animals to tell men that he showed himself through the beasts, and that from them, and from the stars and the sun and the moon, man should learn.” The concept that other living beings can be our spiritual guides is really nothing new.
This book is devoted to exploring the extent to which animals are our soul mates and fellow travelers, sharing in the things that make us most deeply human. Each chapter looks at a different facet of animal experience. Why do animals play? What are their fears and fantasies? What does the world look like through their eyes? How close are their experiences to our own?
A book like this probably raises more questions than it answers. Yet if the questions serve to make us more awe-ful and reflective about the other creatures who walk this planet, swim its oceans, and soar its heights, the book will have served its purpose. For I believe that if we are to keep our family homestead – Earth – safe for coming generations, we must awaken to a new respect for the family of life.
With love and affection, then, I dedicate these pages to the animals of the world, but especially to my own spiritual guide. Other people have their mentors, masters, and teachers. I have a doggone mutt.