I like to compare animal communication to (human) cross-cultural communication. When we visit a new culture, we encounter beliefs and interactions that are foreign to us. The same is true as we get to know the nonhuman cultures of the world (including those found in our backyards). There’s a tendency to either overly-anthropomorphize nonhuman animals or to consider them to be overly-other. It’s tricky to find the right balance between similarities and differences (as it is with human cultures as well). Some of the parallels between nonhuman animal communication and human cross-cultural communication are:
- new worldviews
- different priorities
- various forms of social organization
- alternate norms
- distinct languages/concepts
However, animal communication goes a step further than cross-cultural communication because nonhuman animals have different physical and perceptual capabilities. For instance, most people are familiar with dogs’ acute senses of smell and hearing. Additionally, it is easy to know why cats have been associated with various mystical traditions for eons— their keen psychic awareness is evident! However, other species possess less well-known abilities.
If we limit our exploration to the sensitivities of the feet of nonhuman animals, we find remarkable feats. For instance, elephants to “hear” with their feet by picking up the seismic sound waves that travel across the surface of the earth (rather than through the air); this ability allows elephants to communicate with each other across large distances of at least 20 miles. Meanwhile, butterflies use the taste sensors on their feet to determine which leaves will be edible for their caterpillar offspring in order to know where to lay their eggs. And, although it is common knowledge that geckos can run up the walls of homes, few of us stop to appreciate the tiny hairs on their feet that enable them to stick to surfaces. We could discuss the remarkable abilities of nonhuman animals all day (and only just begin)!
The larger point, though, is that, while animal communication allows us to see similarities, it also encourages us to be both present with and learn from that which is unfamiliar. Some say that communication and understanding are only possible among those with relevantly similar experiences. However, through clairvoyance and compassion, we can cultivate an ability to recognize new experiences, as well as to appreciate their impacts— which stretches our awareness beyond our limited physical, sensory bounds.
For instance, I have lived with many companion rabbits. One easy difference between rabbits and dogs and cats is that rabbits are prey animals, while dogs and cats (and humans) are predators. Rabbits require a great deal of reassurance. It is not uncommon for rabbits who harbor many fears to have an aggressive demeanor— which can be part of their cuteness, although they do not intend it that way, and are upset by that interpretation. However, as we begin to see the world from a rabbit perspective, it is not surprising that my rabbits did not enjoy going to the park (which is so open that it leaves them feeling vulnerable).
Talking with animals— and simply being present with them— is one gateway to the wonders of the world.
Written by Heidi Szycher, a staff member at the Boulder Psychic Institute. Check out her personal site at healings.biz.