By Heidi Stephenson.
When did you first realize that you could understand and talk to animals?
It was as an adult. (I don’t remember any childhood experiences, although I’ve come to discover that all children can, certainly pre-linguistic children before language comes along and begins to break the world up, and we become obsessed with identification and naming things.) It was in my early thirties. I was living in Silicon Valley, California, working in IT, but I’d always been very passionate about nature and wildlife, so I was spending recreational time outdoors and I decided to do my tracking training – learning to follow footprints and signs.
Because I grew up in South Africa, I had no clue what North American species were, much less what the bottoms of their feet looked like! No matter how clear the tracks were, I just couldn’t figure out with my logical, left brain which animal might have made those footprints – and the tracking instructor had a very odd suggestion. He said, “Close your eyes. Hold your hand over the track and see what happens.” I did as instructed and immediately got a mental image of a dog-like face, quite pointy, not just brown like the jackal in Africa, a little more grey, bigger than a fox, and when I opened my eyes, convinced I was hallucinating, and I described this to the instructor, he said, “Yes, well done. It is a coyote’s tracks.”
So a couple of these things happened, mostly when I was out in nature. I would get information directly from an animal or a track which would later prove to be true, and I couldn’t explain how I’d come to that information. I was really worried. I thought I must be seeing things. And having come from a rigid, Roman Catholic upbringing, there was certainly no place philosophically or belief system-wise to account for this. But I did some research and discovered the whole field of interspecies telepathic communication. Thereafter, I spent all my vacation days over the next couple of years studying this through the Assisi International Animal Institute, named after St Francis.
Can you tell us a bit about how animal communication works? Are animal communicators using our old, right-brained, picture consciousness?
Not only the right brain picture consciousness. But we certainly don’t use the left brain as the primary way of knowing information either. It’s an holistic art and practise. We use both hemispheres of our brain and a whole lot more. Receiving intuitive information is not a mechanistic science. It’s not a mechanical process. It very much happens in the quantum world, in the vibrational world. But the closest approximation we can get to describing it is that the incoming raw data, the energy emissions, thoughts and feelings of the being we’re communicating with, land in our unconscious or intuitive knowing.
The bad news is that we still don’t know about it consciously.
This incoming intuitive information runs against our personal, human, mental database of stored life experiences, mental images, vocabulary, physical sensations, concepts and understandings, and when the closest match is found in our internal library, in our brain, then the flag goes up.
And that’s when a mental image might pop into our awareness or a word, or a smell, or an emotion perhaps.
It doesn’t mean that the animal is choosing to send us a word or mental image – that is purely an internal translation process. The left and the right brain are at play in the interpretation. If three people are sitting in front of the same animal, asking “What is your favourite toy?” one person might get a mental image of a green tennis ball, another might get the smell of a soggy, spit-filled tennis ball, and the third may telepathically receive the words “green tennis ball,” as if written in their mind’s eye.
On a deeper level though, what’s really happening is that the essence of our being is connecting with the essence of that other being. Our brains interpret consciously what we are receiving unconsciously or intuitively.
Is it different from psychism?
It is in the sense that it is a lot more direct. There’s no intermediary, no pendulum, no surrogate. It’s not remote viewing either. If I’m connecting with an animal who is far away, I am not, in some energetic way, astral travelling or remote viewing what’s happening at that location. I am very present where I am, connecting with a being who happens to be far away – and I might ask them, “Show me where you are. Show me your environment.” And they show me that information. It’s very much a two-way sending and receiving of information in a very alive dialogue: a conversation and connection between two beings who are consciously engaging with each other.
For anyone who has had a close relationship with an animal, it is clear that animals have recognition, memory, decision-making abilities, a wide range of complex emotions, intelligence – and so much more that we refuse to credit them with. Can you tell us about your own experience of this?
There is incredible intelligence and consciousness in all of life. Just because nonhumans happen to express in a way that looks different to human intelligence, doesn’t mean that the innate intelligence of a certain species or individual is any less than human intelligence.
Our ideas are very Aristotelian. The modern scientific system is built entirely on this notion of a hierarchy, with humans at the pinnacle of the hierarchy. Ironically, we fail to notice the fundamental design flaw – that we created that hierarchy! So how can it be objective?
Intelligence expresses in many different ways. If you think about the intelligence required of each individual bee in a beehive, the way they execute their mission and purpose on a daily basis for the sake of the collective good, that seems to me to be rather an evolved form of intelligence. If we humans were to individually work for the sake of the collective good, even for the sake of our own kind, we might be in a better situation – and the planet too.
There are many more ways for intelligence to express than cognitively. And communication happens in a milieu of the inherent, equal value of all life.
Nonhumans are very aware that we think of ourselves as superior. Even the most well-intentioned communications or attempts at solutions with animals often come from a place of assumed dominance. Animal behaviourists trying to tell an animal what to do, or advising other humans to pretend that they’re the dominant member of a pack – as if a dog’s going to confuse us with another dog – all of these very simplistic approaches to communicating with other beings…Luckily, most nonhumans are very tolerant of our foibles and our arrogance. They just continue being themselves anyway, hoping that one day we might connect with them being to being, instead of in that patriarchal or ownership way. The idea of pet owners or even land owners is a very strange concept.
They’re self-serving ideas…
So is there a difference between animal consciousness and human consciousness? And if so, what are the differences?
In my experience, there’s no difference between animal and human consciousness. There’s no difference in degree or magnitude or value or complexity. There is a slight difference in the personality of different consciousnesses – just by virtue of the archetypal, collective conscience being different. There’s certainly no relative difference when it comes to complexity, or intelligence of consciousness.
What went wrong in the human-animal relationship, and when and why did that occur?
Things began to go awry approximately 12,000 years ago, when we stopped being hunter-gatherers and decided to keep animals and plants. It might have seemed like a good idea to keep animals behind fences for a future day when we might get hungry, instead of going to all the effort of tracking and hunting, and it certainly served our human needs to keep the plant species that we ate and to start growing them in very controlled, high density environments – but these actions towards other beings shifted humans into a relationship of ownership. We started to view these other beings as resources, purely for human consumption, under human control. We lost our dynamic relationship with them. We stopped allowing them to live in their natural habitats, to proliferate as they chose. We denied them freedom of movement, and choice about where to live their natural lives.
The creation stories of most of the indigenous cultures around the world reflect this journey of humans away from connection. And some of them are quite dramatic in describing how we humans were tempted. Of course, this occurs in the Garden of Eden story too: how we humans were collectively tempted by the idea of some kind of supremacy, or a certain flavour of knowledge. When we bit at that apple, we made ourselves greater than the others. We lost our humility. Some of the stories have it that we then entirely lost our ability to telepathically connect with the others too. Because we were no longer equal and we were no longer seeing them as brothers and sisters.
In my view, and in my direct experience of this work, we didn’t actually lose it, we just suppressed it. But we’re not that far, 12,000 years later, from the original brain structure and blue print of our own human brains. It’s an inherent part of our nature, our cognitive functioning and our ability, for us to still be able to connect in these ways.
We know about intuition in our daily lives. It arises under conditions of emotional closeness with another person, knowing what someone is going to say before they open their mouth, or in times of extremity when our lives are in danger and intuition takes over and saves our skin – in a much more effective way than our brains could have thought to do. It just tends to arise only when it really, really matters. But with telepathic communication we can choose to engage meaningfully again with our brothers and sisters, the other nonhumans, when we pay attention to these ways of knowing.
Was there a primordial time, do you believe, when there was complete unity and no predation?
Yes, I really do. There was harmonious co-existence…a very different ethical space, and a very different heart space from the way we humans are running the planet now.
What do the animals feel about humans, and the way that most humans treat them? Do they wrongly blame themselves for our persecution of them?
To answer the last part first. No they don’t blame themselves at all. There’s no sense of responsibility for it or accountability – and neither should there be.
Of course, they are very aware – with a high form of intelligence and insight – of the state of things. They really are. And different species and individuals do comment on it. Depending on their circumstances, they’ll have different things to say. But what I can distil and summarize from those expressions from the animal kingdoms, is that they really wish we would wake up.
I work a lot with factory-farming, both as an activist and in what one might call a sacred activism way, where you work behind the scenes energetically to shift things. Mostly my role has been to be a voice for the animals though, which includes relaying to humans what the battery hens and the pigs in the sow crates are saying.
What amazes me, again and again, is the compassion that all the animals under our subjugation have for humankind. Whether it’s wild animals in distress, having their habitats destroyed under their very feet, or the factory-farmed animals whom we subject to lives of torture, or domestic pets who are unseen, abused and neglected, right across the board, nonhumans hold incredible compassion for the degree to which we humans have lost our way.
And that’s probably the single biggest reason they have not risen up against us! Many of them could have. I live in Africa. An horrendous number of elephants are in captivity, in elephant parks, in poor excuses for ‘sanctuaries’ and so on. The fact that even large animals, (the horses whom people ride and mistreat, for example,) haven’t just stomped us to death, or trampled us, or had a major uprising, (with the exception of a few cases in villages,) is just amazing to me. Again and again, I am humbled by the extent of their wisdom and their unconditional love for us.
To answer the first part, the messages they have are usually circumstantially related to their particular environments. They tell me very specifically what they would like changed.
It sounds obvious to say that battery hens would like freedom to roam. They would like to have some muscle strength left to even be able to walk! They would like to have their beaks left whole, instead of having them snipped off at the ends! So these are some very practical things that the animals tell me.
Unfortunately, when I relay their messages to the people who are in control of their environments, very often those people are not willing to hear their messages, or even to believe that it’s possible to hear what the animals are saying.
There’s a deeper reason for humans not wanting to hear it though. And that is because individually and collectively we are hugely afraid of the implications of acknowledging our disconnection. We would open such a deep well of grief, if we were to acknowledge just how separate we have become. We can’t face that. So we’d rather stick our heads in the sand and go on hiding these things behind doors, out of sight of the common person, and using rather convenient ‘scientific’ and hierarchical arguments to explain why animals surely don’t have the same levels of intelligence, emotions, or even physical feelings, and pain responses that we do.
So yes, the animals collectively want us humans to wake up and to reconnect with life. It seems to be a secondary request on their part that we reconnect to them and notice what they need. Their primary wish is for us to know ourselves again; for us to know connection again. If we achieve that, then things will improve. Because once we have reconnected we will know what is needed in any particular circumstance or situation, because we will be hearing and knowing the truths, wishes and needs of the nonhumans in our lives.
So it won’t be possible to ‘factory-farm’ and kill animals to eat anymore.
It really won’t be possible to do that, to objectify or turn animals, these other beings into just another resource for human beings.
Have you communicated with animals who are about to be killed? In slaughterhouses and at sacrificial ‘festivals’ for example? What is that like? It must be terrible.
It really is terrible. Even now in the re-telling of it, in the remembering, it triggers emotions in me. It’s been an important part of my personal journey to prevent myself going into a downward spiral emotionally, when witnessing the direct distress of those animals…You see, to be true to the communication, I have to know it. I have to have that experience. To know their truth I have to experience their truth. It’s pointless me being in some sort of resistance and saying “oh only show me a little piece of it”. It’s deeply distressing for them and I have to know their distress.
What I’ve learned along the way is that it’s not helpful to the animal for me to stay in those unpleasant or reactive emotions though, that I may have in response to their distress: my anger, my emotional distress. And it’s not helpful to them for me to feel pity or even sympathy.
Empathy is very different to sympathy. We can directly know and understand their experience as empathy. Being sympathetic pours pity into the situation which is actually very disempowering, and certainly emotionally, it just makes things a whole lot worse for them. Their situation’s already terrible and now they’re getting pity dumped on them!
Empathy says, “Your circumstance is really awful. I wish it were different. I know it can’t be changed. I see you, I hear you, I feel you, and I acknowledge the strong, loving being that you are, despite your circumstances, in the face of your circumstances. I acknowledge the life and the intelligence that you are, and I thank you for your life and your intelligence.” Even having those thoughts and directing them towards slaughterhouse animals – whether they are about to be killed, or in the face of the dreadful lives they are living along the way to their deaths, holding those thoughts in meditation, allows us to be armchair activists.
If I’m driving behind a truck on the way to the slaughterhouse, I project those thoughts of gratitude. I have to engender in myself feelings of loving kindness to project to them, feelings of peace and calmness, to help their emotional experience for the next hour or two, for the end of their lives. I’m sending these energy packets of more helpful feelings, of calm, of peace, of unconditional love. It is useful to them. It helps their emotional experience, despite their circumstances and it can ease their distress levels, even if what they’re going through is insurmountable and their circumstances are not going to change. They feel seen. They feel heard. And they feel just a little bit better emotionally. That’s something we humans can do.
Our indifference must be the most crushing thing to them.
Our indifference is what makes them turn their gaze away from humans, or even worse, what makes their eyes go dull – because they sense our disconnection, our indifference and they sense that we see them as ‘lesser.’ That is very emotionally painful for them, very disheartening.
And I use the word “disheartening” intentionally, because this form of communication, as with all connection, is coming from a heart place. It’s about showing unconditional love. Not an attachment-based, conditional love, but the real unconditional love that resides in a state of being.
Scientists always want ‘scientific’ proof of animal consciousness, of animal sapiency, but laboratory animals who are treated as nothing more than numbers, specimens and experimental subjects, have surely withdrawn from and shut down to their human torturers? So how do we get them to supply the ‘proof’ that would make society treat them with the dignity, compassion and respect they deserve, in these bleak, oppressive conditions?
A lot of animals in those situations have shut down to their human oppressors. But if one of their human oppressors were to have a change of mind or heart and actually connect with that one guinea pig in that one laboratory cage, that guinea pig would come alive in that moment and appreciate the connection, and meet them half way.
Politically speaking, animals are not going to provide us with proof. They refuse to buy into the human paradigm that requires that kind of proof. They’re not going to entertain our cognitive dominance. They’re not going to indulge our cognitive predilection.
That arrogant way in which we judge them in the first place…
Exactly. They’re not going to indulge the priority we place upon cognition or measurement-based intelligence. They’re not going to indulge the ways in which we humans think; much less prove their worth by pacifying and mollifying our left-brained minds, and our obsession with data.
Connection is about unconditional love. Connection is a heart space, and a being to being level of relating. And all animals, whether domesticated or wild, are ready for us to connect with them at that level. So they’re not going to agree to prove why they should be treated differently, because that’s still very head-based stuff. They want people to experience connection – because that’s the shift that has to happen. Humans need to move into feeling and experiencing connection; not understanding that it’s possible, or having science prove that it is. And it’s an open invitation, ever present, for us humans to experience that connection.
Then the data won’t be needed.
The animal exploitation industry relies on everything being kept behind closed doors, because if we were to see, we might want to change what’s going on. It makes it very difficult to help those poor, enslaved beings who are out of sight and thus also, unfortunately, out of mind. How do we get round that? And the resistance that says “I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know.” Do you have hope that things will change?
Yes, how do we get around that?
They’re not going to collectively agree to prove anything on our terms. However, some individuals have agreed, with me certainly, to show who they really are, or to show their intelligence. For example, in doing some documentary film-making, where a particular group of individual baboons, or chickens have agreed to really show something, to reveal something of themselves and to help – through me and with me to convey that – so that more humans can understand.
But that understanding that those animals are helping me to convey is still an experiential understanding. They’re trying to help people have a heart connection and feel something, as opposed to think or know something. When people see the documentary, they are moved emotionally by the messages from the animals, and the transformation. They are not moved cognitively.
Do I have hope that things will change? Yes, I do.
I don’t extrapolate into scenarios on the larger, global scale: are we really going to cause the 6th great mass extinction, or are we going to manage a big enough global shift to prevent that? For me, it’s more of a present question and exercise. Things can change, and it starts right here, today, without any predicting of any future outcome; because it’s about the quality of life of every single animal in this moment. And whatever we can do to improve the quality of life of just one animal today, is what matters.
When I was very active in conservation, I worked a lot with cheetahs. Cheetahs have been around on the planet for 6000 years in their current form – and they will be extinct in the wild within the next 10-15 years. That’s the hard, scientific fact. So I faced a bit of a dilemma. Here I was standing in front of audiences, children and adults, touting the idea of cheetahs surviving in the wild for a lot longer than 15 years, roaming free and having a good lifestyle, knowing full well that the numbers show that that’s highly unlikely. But I realized that me holding the vision of that best outcome is what might be inspiring some humans in the present moment, right now, to treat a cheetah who might cross their farmland, differently. Or they might be more aware of how they can help an animal in distress whom they see on the road as they’re passing.
So the vision we hold of a more positive future, where there is harmonious living again, can inform our present and can shift us into right being, right now. And if we can improve the quality of life of just one nonhuman, then we are being the change we want to see.
So we can’t wait for the mass changes; everybody has a responsibility for every single being they encounter?
Exactly. And paradoxically, just by doing what we can right now, today, we are contributing to the mass change which might come about as a result.
It’s a good note to end on. Thank you.
Anna Breytenbach has worked as an animal communicator with domesticated and wild animals, for the past 14 years. She has served on committees for wolf, snow leopard, cheetah and mountain lion conservation, and is based in South Africa. She is the subject of the 2013 documentary feature The Animal Communicator. http://www.animalspirit.org
Heidi Stephenson is a British writer and animal campaigner.