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A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. September's Theme: "Release"
Volume 6 Issue 6 ISSN# 1708-3265

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by Jean Hofve, DVM

I just got back from a phenomenal 2-week camping trip in Grand Teton National Park. This is a small diamond of a park just south of Yellowstone. Most people know it only by driving through (which takes less than an hour), or as background in automobile commercials or movies like "Dances with Wolves." True, there's not much to do there aside from hiking and a few boating and rafting opportunities. But Grand Teton, the highest peak, and the Jackson Hole valley, have been considered sacred for centuries by Native American tribes. Just being there brings a deep sense of peace and well-being. It refreshes my soul.

Since getting home, I've been watching the 22 episodes of Big Cat Diary (on Animal Planet) that my DVR recorded in my absence. Having just spent 2 weeks in the woods with deer, elk, bear, moose, eagles, osprey, ground squirrels, tree squirrels, weasels, foxes, coyotes, and other critters (including bugs!), I was really in tune with the wildlife. And that's what got me to thinking about Release.

The African big cats the program follows (lions, leopards and cheetahs) are filmed as they go about their daily business: hunting, feeding, fighting, playing, mating, and raising cubs. There's plenty of drama in their lives, and the fact that in order to keep these beautiful cats going, other animals must die, stands out in stark relief.

Of course, not all hunts are successful. The big cats know, from instinct as well as hard experience, when to quit. They can't afford to get overheated or exhausted, so if the prey is not caught after a certain amount of effort, they let it go. They release it.

Even successful hunts are not always good news. There are plenty of competitors; jackals, hyenas, other big cats… someone's always around to pick up scraps if they can, or to even steal the entire kill outright. Cheetahs are especially susceptible; they're not built to fight, so other predators frequently muscle in. An injured cheetah is a dead cheetah if it can't run, so these spectacular cats know when to back off. They release it.

In one episode, a young zebra was chased and ultimately brought down by a lioness. Three adult zebra stood watching. When the colt was clearly and irrevocably dead, the middle zebra shook its head and walked away; the other two followed. The foal may have been one of their own, but they knew to let it go; to release it.

In each of these cases, there were clearly some regrets. The predators appeared to be thinking about the event; perhaps analyzing what went awry, grieving, or even feeling unjustly wronged. But such thoughts don't last long. Life is for the living, and each animal knew it needed to get over it and move on. Pretty soon, they were hunting some other prey, or grazing along as if nothing had happened.

Life on the African plains is tough. Animals have a tremendous survival instinct, and while a period of grief is normal, hanging on to regrets and grievances is a human trait. (Occasionally pets that are particularly bonded with humans will show some of the same emotionality, though not nearly as often as people assume that attribute.) But it is, from an evolutionary point of view, aberrant behaviour that only wastes energy. People who engage in it constantly, with a "victim" attitude, can hold on to every insult and unfairness for years.

While I was on vacation, I read Deepak Chopra's book about the life of the Buddha. Buddhism's basic philosophy is that life includes suffering, there are specific causes of suffering, and that we can overcome those causes and become enlightened and therefore cease to suffer.

In the simplest terms, attachment is the cause of suffering. We are attached to things, to situations, and to outcomes. We want to keep what we have. We want to get more. We want our team to win. We want to appear smart, or pretty, or strong, or brave. And when our plans don't work out, we suffer. Releasing attachment is the way to avoid suffering. Our animal friends are pretty good at this. They get an undesirable result, they acknowledge it, and they walk away and get on with their lives. This is another lesson we can learn from animals—and our lives will be simpler and far more comfortable if we do!

Dr. Jean Hofve recently retired from holistic veterinary practice, but still writes and consults on holistic health and nutrition. She is a Medicine Woman of the Mountain Wind Lodge Nemenhah Band and Native American Traditional Organization (Oklevueha Native American Church of Sanpete). She founded SpiritEssence in 1995, which remains the only line of essence formulas for animals created by a veterinarian. For more information on pet health, nutrition, and behaviour, please visit the free article library at www.littlebigcat.com.

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