In my last post I wrote about how I wanted to “whisper” my soul, and you may have been left thinking, “That’s all very well and good, Michelle, but how exactly does one go about ‘whispering’ anything – whether it be a horse, a dog, or a human soul?”
I wish I knew the definite answer to that. (I probably wouldn’t be where I am right now if I did.) But from watching animal whisperers at work, here are some educated guesses about where to start.
Work from a place of love and non-judging
One of the things that struck me over and over again while I was watching the documentary Buck, about horse trainer Buck Brannaman, was that no matter how difficult it was to work with a particular, Buck never lost his temper, never blamed the horse, and certainly never lashed out in frustration, or punished a horse for doing what it did. Those of us who perpetually beat up on ourselves could learn a lifetime of lessons from this attitude.
You can’t rush whispering. You can do everything “right,” and the animal may still freeze or react according to its entrenched habits. You have to have the patience to sit and wait with alert attention… and wait… and wait… and wait… until the animal makes the decision trust, and to risk doing something differently.
Observe and learn the animal
I’ve been fascinated by the work of dog whisperer Cesar Millan for a long time, and one of the things that strikes me most is his understanding of the pack behaviors of dogs. He’s spent a lifetime observing dogs, and noticing the small, almost undetectable signs that indicate what’s going on in a dog’s mind, and what the dog may do next. If you have the patience to do the same thing yourself – to closely observe how an animal acts, and to notice the progression of behaviors – it will help you quickly notice when things are moving in a direction that’s not going to make you happy.
Pay attention to the behavioral triggers
One thing you’ll learn from observing is to notice the triggers in the animal’s environment that cause the subtle shifts in behavior – that make the animal defensive, or aggressive, or fearful, or anxious. Sometimes you may just notice the behavior first… but eventually you’ll become sensitive enough to read an animal with lightning speed, and know (without knowing how you know) that they’re calm, or excited, or cross. I love doing this with my cats – just watching them, and knowing from the flare of their nostrils, or the quickening of their breathing, or the twitch of their ears, that they’re suddenly alert and watchful, when a moment earlier they were calm and relaxed.
Intervene with positive redirection before things go wrong
Once you can figure out what’s causing the behavioral change, you can step in at the right moment and de-escalate the behavior before it gets out of hand. This is where most pet owners get frustrated, because it means acting every time that the behavior that you’re trying to correct presents itself. And after the third or fourth time in 10 minutes, you may get tired of being so watchful and so precise. But if you can stick with it, the turning point usually comes pretty quickly on the heels of multiple repetitions of the right correction.
Be both generous and firm with your love
Hatred and anger are not the greatest emotional places to correct from. You want to act from a place of love. But “love” doesn’t mean foolish overindulgence, spoiling, or letting an animal get away with murder. Love includes setting clear boundaries, and being firm when those boundaries are crossed.
You know this. The animal has to learn that you will respond the exact same way, every single time they exhibit a certain behavior. If you’re not consistent, then every time (before they’ve learned the lesson) that you waver, or flip-flop, or give in, they’ll learn that they can’t trust you on this issue. And they’ll continue with the behavior that you don’t want.
What might all of this look like if you were trying to whisper your soul instead of an animal? Maybe something like this:
Start by cultivating your higher qualities – qualities of patience, love, gentleness, wisdom, steadfastness and kindness. Find a model – maybe a guru or teacher, maybe an animal whisperer like Buck or Cesar, maybe a fictional character like Yoda or Dumbledore, maybe a spiritual figure like The Blessed Mother, Devi or Sophia.
Develop your ability to observe without judgement. A meditation practice would be an excellent way to do this.
Hone your skill at discerning the subtle shifts that precede the behaviors – perhaps addiction, or abusive emotions, or depression, or self-harm – that you want to change. Don’t necessarily rush in to fix things right away. Sometimes just noticing the shifts is enough to build the wisdom and strength to eventually step in with a correction.
Once the time is right – and you’ll know when it is – intervene firmly and consistently with positive redirection. Repeat as necessary – perhaps for many weeks, months or years – until the behavior that you want to change loses its charge, and its hold over your life.
Do you feel a calling to whisper anything? A passion to learn something this deeply, this transformationally?