Here are some guidelines for how to honorably visit zoos and animal parks.
The next time you go to a zoo, consciously pre-plan your visit. Decide which one or more animal groups to concentrate on, and read about them beforehand. Familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of their lives: where they originate, how their cultures are structured, what they like to eat, what the present situation of their natural habitats is, and so on. Already know a good deal about them before arriving. This is courteous to those who, by our hand, live outside their natural realms.
Before you enter the zoo gates, pause to invoke the entire world of nature into your heart. Then make your way to the first animal group on your list. As you near their enclosure, briefly linger a short distance away, but where they can see you. Once they notice you, proceed to the main viewing area to let them see you openly. After introductions, when you’re ready, find a comfortable place to sit for a few hours and settle there in your “nest”. Without intrusively staring, be observant and attentive, meditate, breathe, read a little, write or sketch. You’re showing them, “I just want to be here with you”, as in being-together-doing-nothing.
Typically, zoo residents experience humans casually wandering by, blandly staring, chatting with each other, being endlessly distracted, and only dimly aware of their surroundings. The daily stream of traffic becomes a dull blur, which the animals now barely notice. Some people also laugh and yell, taunting, and teasing. The average time people stand to view zoo residents is three seconds, a sign of how much interest people generally have. The passing human crowds become life-draining.
When we consciously approach the animals, introduce ourselves humbly and with appreciation, and then stay for a few hours, this is something different for them. After some time passes and the animals register that we’re still there, they become curious and attentive. As this process develops, we start seeing them in new and enriching ways, just as they will also be feeling us. A meaningful relationship is beginning. And these unique relationships can grow to inform our mutual lives in significant ways. We might start dreaming of the animals. We may feel their influence within our days. Their existence and ours will be expanded through a mutual connection developed over time and via ongoing visits.
Spending time with a few animal groups, or individuals, instead of rushing through the zoo, is the better way to engage with the typically contemplative non-human residents. Right within our cities, we can feelingly connect with some of the conscious beings of Earth’s vast zoological-botanical gardens. And through this, they will combine with humans in a whole new way.
If everyone visited in this manner, zoos would begin to serve humanity at the depth necessary to help with transforming human culture. Zoos may even assume the qualities of temples, places set apart where humans and non-humans mutually participate in and share the contemplative depths that are the natural birthright of all beings.
Such connections will change human lives – expanding our awareness to see the world more broadly, and to increasingly live this way, wherever we are. New changes in zoos will not likely come from zoos themselves, but from their visitors – as we begin to see and behave differently.
Zoo developers, designers, and staff might come to envision zoos and animal parks more deeply.
How can the facilities and operations be re-imagined to better support non-humans’ contemplative natures, and the potentially meditative qualities of the humans who work and visit there?
Can areas of meditation and contemplation be integrated by design? Can courses be developed and offered, guiding staff and visitors in meditation approaches for connecting with nature’s most profound qualities? If visitors begin relating to zoos differently, as places for contemplation, combining deeply with the animal and plant residents, this will influence zoos to change and grow.
Visiting National Parks and Natural Places
A similar approach may be applied to national parks. Visit parks with this same intent. And request that they begin educating and providing the visiting public with more thoughtful opportunities for participating with the natural life of such extraordinary places.
Many locations protected by national parks have been sacred places for human beings through millennia.
Indigenous peoples would visit such locations for sacred reasons only, and only when they were prepared. They also actively served these places with careful cultural burning practices and land-care.
How can today’s parks and their staff better prepare people for visiting?
How can we more deeply ready ourselves before spending time in these unique environments?
Humans once revered the natural world, and will again, as we learn the lessons of previous recent mistakes.
As city zoos may become sacred temples honoring the natural contemplation of all beings, national parks and similar places can also be holy precincts – not merely random tourist destinations.
These are realms of profound energies, where con-temple-ation is naturally felt and expressed.
Forests, soils, rivers, mountains, deserts, swamps and beaches are abundant living temples of flourishing mystery and life.
When you are fortunate to be in such places, stroll, sit, wander, meditate, and feel…