What I learned from animals, I learned from looking into their eyes. Look into the eyes of an animal and someone looks back. If you grew up with animals you might take this for granted. It took me quite awhile before I realised how astonishing this is. It’s not just a dog or a cat or a horse looking at you; it’s this dog or this cat or this horse looking at you.
Just a few hundred years ago scientists and philosophers debated whether animals were sentient beings or merely unfeeling machine- like organisms. If they had stopped to look into the eyes of an animal, I think the debate could have been resolved much more quickly. Look into the eyes of an animal and someone looks back. There is the mutual recognition of the existence, the uniqueness, the individuality of each other.
At the same time, looking into the eyes of an animal is not exactly like looking into the eyes of another human. There is a familiarity in animal eyes and at the same time an otherness. Their experience of the world, in some ways similar to ours, is nevertheless different than ours. My cat and I live together but her world is not my world. We may both eat, sleep and sit in the sun but I cannot assume my experience is identical to hers. Her “catness” shapes her experience just as my “humaness” shapes mine.
When I look into the eyes of an animal, even young ones, I am looking into old, ancient eyes. There is a wisdom within them that is inaccessible to me. Ways of knowing, unknown and unknowable to me.
Years of looking into the eyes of animals has taught me there is more, much more at work in the world than I can comprehend. There is knowledge and there are ways of knowing that I am only dimly aware of. Its a strange and wonderful world we live in. Mystery and wonder all around us, if only we have eyes to see.