I did it on a whim. On a zoo visit, I had noticed how people (me included) spoke to or about the animals as if they were other humans—anthropomorphizing them. It struck me that this habit changed our perception of other creatures. So I went to the zoo again, alone, resolved to try not to do that, even in my own thoughts. Instead, I would try to feel my way inside what it might feel like to be the tiger or the giraffe. It was an experiment. Could I even do this?
I went first to the tiger enclosure. It’s a comfortable modern habitat and doesn’t look like a cage. The tiger was lying at the far end, looking around. I focused on it, tried to lay aside all presuppositions, and extend my “antenna” toward it, wondering only “what does a tiger feel like?” I didn’t find it easy, only doable.
Soon, the tiger stretched and came slowly in my direction, eyes on me every step. I tried to keep my question, “what do you feel like?” When it got as close to me as the fence allowed, the tiger sat down and gazed at me! Then it pulled its lips back, away from its teeth. (I learned only later that this gesture means “you are not a threat.”) We didn’t move, only looked, for some minutes. I was a little bemused, but thanked it mentally as I left.
I went to the giraffe. It approached me too, though its face didn’t change. Now I was intrigued. I went to the elephant. It came across its enclosure to stand against the fence in front of me.
The next was the most astounding—the rhinoceros, which I had assumed to be energetically dense (dummy me). But I tried to feel toward it anyway, “What do you feel like?” The rhino did the same thing: ambled across its big enclosure to stand parallel to the low wall, as close to me as it could have gotten.
I didn’t know what to make of all this. The last one was a pacing panther. My experiment seemed to interrupt what he was doing. He came and sat before me and pulled his lips back as the other big cat had done.
It had become, unexpectedly, an experiment in wonder. Afterwards, I also asked myself: what if you try this with people? Ask only inside, “what do you feel like?”