What a maligned word is "animal"!

When we think of an animal, what's often brought to mind is a crude creature, subordinate to humans and their intellect, capable of only instinctive, pre-programmed responses.

Of course, anyone who's ever spent time around (nonhuman) animals knows that's not true. Animals are sensitive; animals are complex. And the human, though some faiths may deny it, is an animal: fleshy, breathing, alive. I don't deny faith, but if we are animal, made in the image of the Divine, then that Divine must surely have traits of the animal. After all, They made an awful lot of them.

Animal feels like such a crude word. It's been used to batter, break, brutalise. But follow it to its root, and we find beauty, not crudity. Just take away one letter.

The Latin anima means "breath, soul; a current of air", from a Proto-Indo-European prefix, ane-, meaning to breathe. From this we get animalis, "animate, living; of the air"; and from this, animale, "living being, being which breathes".

Simply, to be animal means to breathe, and to have the imbued life force that awakens consciousness. An animal may have a complicated self-awareness, or they may not, but there is no doubt that they Are: that they are alive, with some watcher behind those eyes.

You too are Animal, imbued with anima, life force. It is not a curse; it is not a sin. Whenever you feel the soft grass beneath you, the warm sun on your skin, and you experience a measure of comfort, or joy-- that is profoundly Animal. Those sensations, those experiences of the world, connect us all in the great web of life.

I'd argue we could even call plants and fungi animals. They are aware of their environment, and react to it, if on a timescale that feels very slow to us hurried creatures. They have no eyes, no nostrils, yet surely they sense the sun for they turn towards it. Surely they feel gratified, on some level, for turning towards it. Their metabolism, the movement of the cells within their body, kicks into high gear as they seek their source of nourishment.

But regardless, animality is not the same as brutality. It is not the same as cruelty. Rather, it contains cruelty, and brutality, but also compassion; also kindness; also love. It contains the totality of what we are and what we know. We are shaped by it, and we may honour that or hate it or try to transcend it, but we cannot deny it. In "transcending" the animal, we only increase the scope of things that "animal" can include.

You are an animal, terrible and wonderful. What does that mean to you? What will you do, as Mary Oliver once said, with your wild and precious life?†

†The quote is properly "your one wild and precious life": but as a (horribly sloppy) Buddhist I do believe in reincarnation. Still, every moment you have is unique, and precious because of it. You may do anything you like with these moments. Do not be afraid to do animal things.