Even if our pet is a valued member of the family, we still tend to think of it as having a life independent from our own, unsullied by human foibles and driven by simple motivations such as food, good napping spots, and a friendly slap on the ass. However, largely unbeknownst to us our pets are enmeshed in our lives in an intimate and codependent manner apart from our affectionate attachment toward them.
Before we go any further, we need to trot out the well-worn yet frequently ignored principle that we are both individual articulations of consciousness as well as inseparable elements of a unified field. Hence, we are simultaneously having an experience that we describe as my life as well as one in which we are unknowingly influencing the lives of others simply by being in their presence.
Our lack of awareness regarding this latter, hidden dynamic reflects our resistance to seeing ourselves in an honest light. Because of our frequent collective inability to stay grounded and vulnerable, most human interactions end up being exercises in avoidance, suppression, compensation, sidestepping, projection, sleepwalking, and any other euphemism we can muster for checking out. Deep down we desire wholeness, but are so relentlessly programmed to fear it that separation is our default mode.
By “separation,” I’m referring to the fragmentation of a fundamentally whole event—a human being—into a collection of components that rarely communicate with each other, if at all. And so we move through out lives as a motley assembly of selves: emotional, psychological, spiritual, intellectual, body, heart, soul, psyche, etc. Because this model is drilled into us right out of the birth canal, it occurs to us as the baseline condition of a human being, but is actually a form of brainwashing. Separation results in repressed feelings and emotions, accepting fear as a way of life, and physical symptoms. In short, it is the ultimate source of our pain and suffering.
If it occurs to us at some point in our lives that operating within this framework dramatically limits our creativity, capacity to feel, ability to love and empathize, then our life may take a turn to recover some of our lost wholeness.
Enter the pet, the unwitting arbiter of wholeness and barometer for the level of suppression/repression in a given situation. The animal’s natural state of wholeness magnetizes to it the destabilizing element of separation created by the ungrounded humans in the vicinity.
The pet takes on these disowned parts of ourselves and mirrors them back to us. At the individual level we are hiding from ourselves, and at the unified field level we are attempting to reveal our inner state to ourselves through an agent that we regard as separate from us (our pet). We could not make this more convoluted if we tried.
The pet’s role is analogous to the way a lightning rod stabilizes the erratic and chaotic nature of lightning. Unacknowledged feelings and emotions can easily be described as chaotic and erratic in their own right, as they have a sabotaging effect on our lives.
Another way to frame this phenomenon is through the conservation of energy within a system: If one element is not openly demonstrating its entirety then whatever is suppressed will find a way to express through another element in the system. The energy of suppressed emotion is not destroyed through its suppression; it simply finds another avenue by which to surface.
This is by no means a tidy or seamless means of achieving homeostatis, as it requires a sacrifice to cobble together the best possible representation of wholeness as the setting will allow. The animal’s presence provides the opportunity for some semblance of wholeness to be demonstrated in the midst of the separation inherent in human interaction, an attempt at psychic damage control via self-sacrifice.
The sacrifices of a present-day pet are subtler than back in the day when people sacrificed animals to appease or please the gods because they instinctively knew that animals were naturally grounded and a more stable connection to a higher source. However, short of its death, the toll on the pet can be enormous in terms of physical ailments, baseline stress level, and emotional suffering. (And, I’ve seen the price be death as well.)
This is why the notion of a service animal to assist in emotional and psychological rehabilitation is a lethal redundancy, because the animal is already performing this role by its very nature and we just aren’t aware of it. When we apply the label of service animal we are asking it to perform double duty, adding a level of conscripted empathy to its already formidable task of navigating typical human behavior.
In addition, if the owner who is recovering from trauma does not take responsibility for his/her own healing process, then the trauma will likely be transferred to the animal, resulting in a cycle of displaced repressed emotion by the owner and acceptance of abuse on the part of the animal.
No one is really innocent or guilty: this is a production that runs itself by virtue of our resistance to consciously participating with it, which would require a level of personal responsibility that we are rarely willing to approach. Besides, there are no random events, so the fact that the animals have found themselves in their situation is part of their karmic blueprint.
We could easily substitute “pet” with “child,” “stomach (or any other organ),” because in the absence of an animal these will assume the same function of being a sacrifice to separation in the name of wholeness.
Here are a few recent examples I’ve encountered in my work:
1. A family gathering (always an emotional avoidance extravaganza) where two dogs were present. The dogs both became ill, one violently so, after they took on the anxiety, fears, and chronic digestive problems of a couple of family members.
2. A cat who took on her owner’s fear of aging, mortality, and menopause and manifested changes to her own reproductive organs to approximate her owner’s menopause as closely as possible.
3. A cat who became a conduit to express painful memories from Native American trauma embedded in the property, resulting in his becoming immbile and depressed.
4. A man who micromanaged his dog’s health regimen because of his fear that the dog would die and leave him alone, reflecting back to his mother’s death when he was a child. The dog, wanting to please and taking on his owner’s hidden fear of abandonment, manifested a chronic illness so that his owner could periodically “heal” him and feel that he was healing the loss of his mother.
The best thing we can do for our animals (or ourselves, children, or partner for that matter) is to maintain as honest a connection to our inner state as possible. This will relieve the pet, child, spouse, or organ system from shouldering the entire load of whole-making, in the event that we ourselves are the main source of separation in the environment. It requires venturing outside of separation, which is the mother of all comfort zones.
To do so, we have to overcome our resistance to being “the only one in the room” who is holding a grounded state. It requires vulnerability to feel our conflicting inner states and transcending our conditioning that regards vulnerability as presenting ourselves as fresh for the slaughter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Add to that our ingrained belief that we are incapable of acknowledging multiple contradictory mental and emotional perspectives without being a hypocrite, an insult of the highest order to our egos.
The more we are able to be present to the disordered, irrational nature of our inner life, the more we will be able to look our pets in the eyes and see ourselves, for better or worse.