Author: Pam

Giving Comfort

Giving Comfort

 

I was 20 when Shambalah was left on the front stoop of my San Francisco apartment. She was only a few months old and funny looking, a tiny head on a big, white body. An ugly duckling, who matured into a dog so beautiful, people often stopped me on the street to ask if they could buy her.

My Shambalah saved me. She was the one constant in my often tumultuous, sometimes frighteningly sad life. We lived together in San Francisco; Albuquerque, NM; Glassboro, NJ; Chicago. She died at 15 and a half, a long life for a big dog. She had been failing for about six months, and I am certain that she stayed as long as she did out of her concern for me. When she left, my guardian angel, my spirit mother was gone. My grief was so thick, I could barely breathe.

I choked on that grief for weeks. It would hit me at the most inopportune times, walking down the street to the store, in the middle of a workout at the gym. I would swallow my anguish, then collapse once I’d made it back home.

Everyone adored Shambalah, and so I imagine my friends, my family shared verbal condolences, but I don’t remember. I only remember being alone and sick with grief.

Some 20 years later, I lost my beloved Nikos, the Thoroughbred who had walked into my life six years earlier and completely turned it upside down. He is the being who led me to my work with animals; he is the being who, day after day after day, taught me how to hear them, taught me how to begin recognizing the Divine all around me, inside of others, two-legged and four-legged, inside of myself.

Nikos had come into my life when he was 18. He’d had a hard life, both as a race horse and then a hunter/jumper. He was terribly thin, his feet hurt, his whole body hurt. He brought me to this work, he showed me how to help him, and he healed. Every time I looked into his beautiful face, my heart swung open. Every time I had to leave him to go home, my heart ached.

Living with him the last year of his life was a blessing I will always cherish. Despite other hardships, other anxieties (all of which, I realize now, were meaningless in the larger scheme of things), that year with him was one of the richest years of my life.

When Nikos fell ill, I cared for him around the clock for three months. When he left, my heart was shattered. I simply could not imagine life without him. I wanted to let go of the things holding me to this earth and follow him wherever it was that he had gone.

I am so very fortunate that this experience was vastly different from the experience of losing my beloved Shambalah. This time, I was not alone. Friends called; friends came with food and movies, with offers to care for the rest of the herd. A student in the Saturday morning writing workshop that I taught drove miles out of her way to come get me, take me to class, and bring me back. Friends spent the night with me, bought me gifts of healing stones. Friends and family sent me cards, flowers. A dear friend who was also a Reiki practitioner shared treatments with me, treatments that calmed my ferocious tears, that helped to soothe my heart.

Several friends helped me to plan a memorial service, and over 20 people filled the barn on a windy February day, to pay their respects and to offer me their support. Then we shared a glorious pot-luck meal in the house and celebrated life.

Throughout my months-long healing journey, no one said:

“Nikos is better off now. He is out of pain. He is with his friends.”

“You will see him again one day.”

“Don’t you think it’s time to get over this?”

My friends acknowledged the tremendous loss I had suffered, held out their arms to  me, helped to create a safe space for me to once again find my feet and choose to walk on this earth again.

Many in our culture fear death so deeply that they are unable to reach out to those who have suffered a loss. They may send a card, with someone else’s words on it, but they cannot find their own words and often just don’t know what to do to help.

And it seems that even those who can offer sincere condolences for the loss of a human find themselves without words when a friend or family member has lost an animal companion.

Acknowledgement of someone’s pain is so important. The words, “I am so sorry for your loss” mean the world to someone in the throes of grief. And if you live close enough, your loving presence can bring exquisite relief —your gift of food, of time, of a kind and patient ear, of a strong shoulder, a comforting touch.

 

I would love to hear your thoughts about ways that we can comfort each other in times of loss. What can you say? What can you do? How have you been comforted and nourished in your time of grief?


I hope you will be moved to share your thoughts.

If you have received this post via email, just click on the title to respond.

 

 

The Elder, the Stool, and Me: A Reiki Story

The Elder, the Stool, and Me: A Reiki Story

 

 

My behind had not yet touched the bench when the gray-haired head of an elderly man hit the wooden side of our booth with a sickening thud. Somehow, the man had been catapulted the 10 feet from his stool at the diner’s counter and now lay nearly at our feet.

I threw off my coat—it was a frigid January afternoon—and knelt beside him. He was terribly upset—hyperventilating, holding his chest and saying over and over, “my heart, my heart.”

I asked him if I could touch him, and he said yes, and so I gently placed my hands on his chest. He was thin, very frail. His face was ashen, his blue eyes wide with fear. His heart pounded wildly.

Where was everyone? Not a waiter or busman or manager stepped forward to see if the man needed help. What was going on here? Ah, there was a woman way behind the counter, standing motionless near the wall, as though willing herself invisible. My hands still on the man’s chest, I yelled for her to call 911.

The other diners continued with their lunches, their conversations. The restaurant and everyone in it felt like props in a play, only there to set the scene.  All that seemed real was the frail, elderly man and the gentle power of my Reiki hands.

A week earlier, I had taken the Level II Reiki class, and since that day opportunities to use is had been presenting themselves almost daily. A barn mouse who had been inadvertently scooped into a horse’s bucket with his grain and been slobbered on had passed out from fear. But a few moments of Reiki had brought him back around. And the barn cats, who had never paid me any mind, snaking through my legs as I sat in a chair doing self-Reiki in the sun.

Quickly, so quickly, the pounding of the elderly man’s heart eased; its rhythm slowed. Then his breathing slowed, the terror left his eyes, and the color returned to his cheeks.

The crisis past, he wanted to sit up, but I asked him to please stay where he was until the paramedics arrived. He agreed, then added that he felt fine now, that I didn’t have to keep my hands on his chest, but I told him I would rather leave them there if that was OK.

Calm now, he told me that he lived in an assisted living facility down the block and was a regular customer at the diner. He said he had a heart condition. He was concerned about his heart medication. If he was going to the hospital, he would need his medication.

When the paramedics arrived a few minutes later, I removed my hands from the man’s chest and stood up. The man introduced me as a nurse and said how much I had helped him. I quietly told the paramedics that I was not a nurse, that I had just done my best to calm the man, to keep him from going into shock.

I explained what had happened. As I pointed to the counter, we all realized what had caused the accident: The metal post of the stool the man had been sitting on had snapped, had broken completely in two.

As I took my seat and ordered my lunch, the restaurant and the people in it slowly re-entered my awareness. I spoke with my friend about what had happened, how blessed I felt to have been at the right place at the right time, how blessed to have the gift of Reiki. The paramedics completed their examination of the elder at the front of the diner and then, finding nothing wrong, took him home.

 

 

I hope you will be moved to share your thoughts.

 If you have received this post via email, just click on the title to respond.

 

 

Goodbye Sweet Ace

Goodbye Sweet Ace

 

Our First Session

I met Ace Flyer last June, when he was just a couple of months shy of 18 years old. Ace had had a stroke and was unable to walk or even to stand. The vet had suggested euthanasia, and his human (I’ll call her Carol), who was in a terrible state of grief at the thought of losing him, wanted me to talk to Ace before he was put down.

October 8, 1993 to January 20, 2011

 

When I spoke to Ace (from a distance), on a Friday afternoon, he was still at the vet’s office, where he had been for several days. Surprised at the message I shared, he told me that he was not ready to pass, that he wanted to go home, that he wanted to spend the weekend with Carol, and that he would want assistance in passing on Monday.

He showed me pictures of himself when he was younger, running up and down the stairs with another dog. He told me how much he loved Carol and how good his life had been. He said that he forgave her for being impatient and a bit rough  with him (which she’d said that she, sick with grief, had been in response to his loss of independence after the stroke). He also said he wished that Carol would work a little less, play a little more, that she was stressed and that he wanted her to find balance in her life.

 

Then he said that he wanted her to buy him some soft, chewy treats.

After Ace and I spoke, I shared a Reiki treatment with him. I could feel his strength increasing while I worked, and I wondered if he might not change his mind about leaving by the time Monday came.

 

 

Carol’s Response

When I shared our conversation with Carol, she said that the dog running on the stairs with Ace was Lucy, another of Carol’s dogs, who had passed a year and a half earlier. She said this had been a favorite activity of theirs, and she wondered if Ace was preparing to meet his friend on the other side.

Carol didn’t like the idea of spending the weekend with Ace. She said, in a grief-stricken voice, that if Ace was going to leave her in a few days anyway, it would be easier for her if the vet just helped him to pass now. Bringing him home would be too painful, and she couldn’t bear the thought of spending the whole weekend with him only to have him leave when it was over.

Although I told her that he might very well change his mind come Monday and, if not, this was his final wish, she simply did not think she had the strength to do what Ace was asking.

But after we’d talked for awhile, she agreed to try. She went to the vet’s office and brought her beloved Ace Flyer home. She bought him the chewy treats he’d asked for, and he ate for the first time in several days. They hung out together, snuggled and talked. Although Carol had to briefly leave Ace several times because of obligations she had to respect, when she came back home he was not distressed, just happy to see her.

They had a beautiful weekend together. And Carol discovered the strength she didn’t know she had.

 

When Monday Came

Carol had made arrangements for Ace to be humanely euthanized on Tuesday morning. So on Monday morning, I spoke with him again.

I explained the arrangements Carol had made. I explained that Carol was no longer frantic and scared, that she wanted him to leave when he was ready, that she would be OK.

Ace said to me, in a sweet, calm voice, “If it’s not too much trouble, I would like to stay a bit longer.”

I told him I didn’t think that would be a problem at all.

We spoke a bit more, and then I shared another Reiki treatment with him and a Neuromuscular Retraining session, in the hope that he would be able to get up without assistance and move around more comfortably.

A few days later, Carol told me that Ace was eating well, that he could get up without assistance, that he could walk by himself and was roaming around the house and yard. He was a bit slower than he’d been before the stroke, but he was mobile and happy, and they were now spending a lot more time in each other’s company.

 

Two Months Later: The New Plan

For the next two months, Carol periodically emailed to let me know that Ace, the miracle dog, was doing well. But near the end of August, she called to say that he was again having a bit of difficulty getting up, that he was losing his sight, and that he sometimes became confused and disoriented.

I suggested that I work with him once or twice a month (a good idea for all geriatric animals) sharing both Reiki (to help alleviate any pain he might be in, help keep his system in balance, and help alleviate the mental confusion) and Neuromuscular Retraining (to help him to move around more easily and comfortably).

For the next four months, I worked with Ace twice a month, always sharing Reiki sessions, sometimes sharing Neuromuscular Retraining sessions, and always getting a sense of how he was feeling about life, which, despite his physical limitations, he relished. Even on days when his energy was a bit low, his spirits were high. Working with him was a joy.

Equally rewarding was the change in Carol. No longer in a state of panic and grief, she was fully enjoying Ace’s company in ways she had found difficult immediately after his stroke. She was now a able to love him fully for who he was at any given moment, cherishing whatever time they might have left together.

 

Ace’s Final Days

Several weeks ago, Carol called me for an additional session with Ace (I was still working with him twice a month) because she felt he was getting ready to leave. He was lying motionless on the couch, and she could not rouse him. She feared he’d had another stroke. She had syringed water into his mouth but could not feed him.

She said she had made an appointment with the vet for the next morning, which I assumed was for an exam.

I shared a Reiki treatment with Ace and asked him what he would like to do.

He said,  “I would like to sleep. Right now, I am not interested in waking up.”

I said, “OK. But if you decide you would like to stay in this life, you will need to drink some water.”

He said OK. When I told him about the vet appointment, he told me he was not in any pain and that he was definitely not ready to leave. It had not occurred to me that the appointment was for euthanasia; Ace was more tuned into that than I was.

That evening when Carol got home from work, Ace was awake, howling on the couch. He was still unable to walk on his own, but when she brought him into the kitchen, he eagerly drank and then ate a large dinner. She said she would cancel the vet appointment, the purpose of which had been, as Ace suspected, euthanasia.

The following day, I shared a Neuromuscular Retraining session with Ace. Afterwards, although he was still tilted a bit to the left, he could sit up on his own and was eager to go into the back yard with a little bit of assistance.

It seemed the miracle dog was back.

I worked with Ace four more times over the next week and a half, his strength slowly returning. One day, he told me that he was very tired, but that he was content. He said he didn’t know how completely he would be able to recover. “I’m an old man,” he said. All he wanted, he said, was to spend time with his beloved Carol.

Six days later, he said that he was very tired, that he might be ready for assistance with passing. He knew that he would not pass on his own because there was nothing wrong with his organs. But the quality of his life was no longer good.

He asked to spend time with Carol that weekend, that a decision be made in three days, on Monday.

We had come full circle. This was the very message he had given me the first time we’d met.

 

Message from Carol

My sweet Ace passed with assistance this morning.  Oct 8 1993 to Jan 20 2012 – 18 1/4 – what a great run!

When I got home last night he had been bleeding slightly from several spots on his paws.  Looks like he thrashed so much trying to get up that he created sores.  He couldn’t walk at all, couldn’t stand, when I would help him stand then let go, he would fall.

We spent the evening together. He seemed a little agitated and very tired. He woke several times thrashing during the night, nipping at me a few times during the night. This morning he couldn’t stand. I sat him at his food that he picked at.  He kept falling over from the sitting position. He yelped and groaned and howled several times. I sat on the floor with him to hand feed him. I told him that if it was time, to let me know.

I tried to put him on my lap while on the kitchen floor. I must have caught him where he was hurting. He bit my left arm, didn’t let go. As I pried his jaws open he then bit my right hand. He didn’t break my skin, but I have a big bruise and lump on my arm. I know he didn’t mean to do this, but he was in pain. I didn’t let him go, I steadied him and held him. I did tell him that while I’d asked him to let me know, his biting me wasn’t what I meant!  He gave me “the look” – I knew it was time.  So we sat and cried and laughed and remembered until the vet’s office opened at 7:30.  Dr Jon was due in at 8:30.

I carried him around the house and sat with him at various places, reminiscing.  We looked at the patio and the fence line that he so carefully guarded all these years. I warmed up the car, put his travel blanket in the dryer so he would have a warm place to lie while we went to the vet. I fed him chicken pieces on the way, until he didn’t want any more.

The house is so quiet and empty tonight.

Thank you for all you did to help him these last months.  I’m so blessed to have had 6 extra months with him.  I’ll miss him terribly.  But I think he is running with Lucy (she died 2 years ago), having a great time.

Be well, ”Carol”

 

Lessons from Carol and Ace

While I never met either Carol or Ace in person (all of our sessions were from a distance), they both hold a place in my heart. Working with an elder—animal or human—is a sacred gift. I will always remember Ace’s strong spirit, his clear intention, his love of life.

To me, Carol and Ace’s journey beautifully illustrates:

* That while fear can choke our hearts, acceptance can set us free

* That we can move from a state of grief to a state of grace

* That despite our disabilities, life is to be cherished

* That while cure is not always assured, healing is always possible

 

 

Goodbye Sweet Ace

Goodbye Sweet Ace

 

Ace Flyer October 8, 1993 to January 20, 2012

 

 

 

 

Our First Session

I met Ace Flyer last June, when he was just a couple of months shy of 18 years old. Ace had had a stroke and was unable to walk or even to stand. The vet had suggested euthanasia, and his human (I’ll call her Carol), who was in a terrible state of grief at the thought of losing him, wanted me to talk to Ace before he was put down.

When I spoke to Ace (from a distance), on a Friday afternoon, he was still at the vet’s office, where he had been for several days. Surprised at the message I shared, he told me that he was not ready to pass, that he wanted to go home, that he wanted to spend the weekend with Carol, and that he would want assistance in passing on Monday.

He showed me pictures of himself when he was younger, running up and down the stairs with another dog. He told me how much he loved Carol and how good his life had been. He said that he forgave her for being impatient and a bit rough  with him (which she’d said that she, sick with grief, had been in response to his loss of independence after the stroke). He also said he wished that Carol would work a little less, play a little more, that she was stressed and that he wanted her to find balance in her life.

Then he said that he wanted her to buy him some soft, chewy treats.

After Ace and I spoke, I shared a Reiki treatment with him. I could feel his strength increasing while I worked, and I wondered if he might not change his mind about leaving by the time Monday came.

 

Carol’s Response

When I shared our conversation with Carol, she said that the dog running on the stairs with Ace was Lucy, another of Carol’s dogs, who had passed a year and a half earlier. She said this had been a favorite activity of theirs, and she wondered if Ace was preparing to meet his friend on the other side.

Carol didn’t like the idea of spending the weekend with Ace. She said, in a grief-stricken voice, that if Ace was going to leave her in a few days anyway, it would be easier for her if the vet just helped him to pass now. Bringing him home would be too painful, and she couldn’t bear the thought of spending the whole weekend with him only to have him leave when it was over.

Although I told her that he might very well change his mind come Monday and, if not, this was his final wish, she simply did not think she had the strength to do what Ace was asking.

But after we’d talked for awhile, she agreed to try. She went to the vet’s office and brought her beloved Ace Flyer home. She bought him the chewy treats he’d asked for, and he ate for the first time in several days. They hung out together, snuggled and talked. Although Carol had to briefly leave Ace several times because of obligations she had to respect, when she came back home he was not distressed, just happy to see her.

They had a beautiful weekend together. And Carol discovered the strength she didn’t know she had.

 

When Monday Came

Carol had made arrangements for Ace to be humanely euthanized on Tuesday morning. So on Monday morning, I spoke with him again.

I explained the arrangements Carol had made. I explained that Carol was no longer frantic and scared, that she wanted him to leave when he was ready, that she would be OK.

Ace said to me, in a sweet, calm voice, “If it’s not too much trouble, I would like to stay a bit longer.”

I told him I didn’t think that would be a problem at all.

We spoke a bit more, and then I shared another Reiki treatment with him and a Neuromuscular Retraining session, in the hope that he would be able to get up without assistance and move around more comfortably.

A few days later, Carol told me that Ace was eating well, that he could get up without assistance, that he could walk by himself and was roaming around the house and yard,. He was a bit slower than he’d been before the stroke, but he was mobile and happy, and they were now spending a lot more time in each other’s company.

 

Two Months Later: The New Plan

For the next two months, Carol periodically emailed to let me know that Ace, the miracle dog, was doing well. But near the end of August, she called to say that he was again having a bit of difficulty getting up, that he was losing his sight, and that he sometimes became confused and disoriented.

I suggested that I work with him once or twice a month (a good idea for all geriatric animals) sharing both Reiki (to help alleviate any pain he might be in, help keep his system in balance, and help alleviate the mental confusion) and Neuromuscular Retraining (to help him to move around more easily and comfortably).

For the next four months, I worked with Ace twice a month, always sharing Reiki sessions, sometimes sharing Neuromuscular Retraining sessions, and always getting a sense of how he was feeling about life, which, despite his physical limitations, he relished. Even on days when his energy was a bit low, his spirits were high. Working with him was a joy.

Equally rewarding was the change in Carol. No longer in a state of panic and grief, she was fully enjoying Ace’s company in ways she had found difficult immediately after his stroke,. She was now a able to love him fully for who he was at any given moment, cherishing whatever time they might have left together.

 

Ace’s Final Days

Several weeks ago, Carol called me for an additional session with Ace (I was still working with him twice a month) because she felt he was getting ready to leave. He was lying motionless on the couch, and she could not rouse him. She feared he’d had another stroke. She had syringed water into his mouth but could not feed him.

She said she had made an appointment with the vet for the next morning, which I assumed was for an exam.I shared a Reiki treatment with Ace and asked him what he would like to do.

He said,  “I would like to sleep. Right now, I am not interested in waking up.”

I said, “OK. But if you decide you would like to stay in this life, you will need to drink some water.”

He said OK. When I told him about the vet appointment, he told me he was not in any pain and that he was definitely not ready to leave. It had not occurred to me that the appointment was for euthanasia; Ace was more tuned into that than I was.

That evening when Carol got home from work, Ace was awake, howling on the couch. He was still unable to walk on his own, but when she brought him into the kitchen, he eagerly drank and then ate a large dinner. She said she would cancel the vet appointment, the purpose of which had been, as Ace suspected, euthanasia.

The following day, I shared a Neuromuscular Retraining session with Ace. Afterwards, although he was still tilted a bit to the left, he could sit up on his own and was eager to go into the back yard with a little bit of assistance.

It seemed the miracle dog was back.

I worked with Ace four more times over the next week and a half, his strength slowly returning. One day, he told me that he was very tired, but that he was content. He said he didn’t know how completely he would be able to recover. “I’m an old man,” he said. All he wanted, he said, was to spend time with his beloved Carol.

Six days later, he said that he was very tired, that he might be ready for assistance with passing. He knew that he would not pass on his own because there was nothing wrong with his organs. But the quality of his life was no longer good.

 

He asked to spend time with Carol that weekend, that a decision be made in three days, on Monday.

We had come full circle. This was the very message he had given me the first time we’d met.

 

Message from Carol

My sweet Ace passed with assistance this morning.  Oct 8 1993 to Jan 20 2012 – 18 1/4 – what a great run!

When I got home last night he had been bleeding slightly from several spots on his paws.  Looks like he thrashed so much trying to get up that he created sores.  He couldn’t walk at all, couldn’t stand, when I would help him stand then let go, he would fall.

We spent the evening together. He seemed a little agitated and very tired. He woke several times thrashing during the night, nipping at me a few times during the night. This morning he couldn’t stand. I sat him at his food that he picked at.  He kept falling over from the sitting position. He yelped and groaned and howled several times. I sat on the floor with him to hand feed him. I told him that if it was time, to let me know.

I tried to put him on my lap while on the kitchen floor. I must have caught him where he was hurting. He bit my left arm, didn’t let go. As I pried his jaws open he then bit my right hand. He didn’t break my skin, but I have a big bruise and lump on my arm. I know he didn’t mean to do this, but he was in pain. I didn’t let him go, I steadied him and held him. I did tell him that while I’d asked him to let me know, his biting me wasn’t what I meant!  He gave me “the look” – I knew it was time.  So we sat and cried and laughed and remembered until the vet’s office opened at 7:30.  Dr Jon was due in at 8:30.

I carried him around the house and sat with him at various places, reminiscing.  We looked at the patio and the fence line that he so carefully guarded all these years. I warmed up the car, put his travel blanket in the dryer so he would have a warm place to lie while we went to the vet. I fed him chicken pieces on the way, until he didn’t want any more.

The house is so quiet and empty tonight.

Thank you for all you did to help him these last months.  I’m so blessed to have had 6 extra months with him.  I’ll miss him terribly.  But I think he is running with Lucy (she died 2 years ago), having a great time.

Be well, 
”Carol”

 

Lessons from Carol and Ace

While I never met either Carol or Ace in person (all of our sessions were from a distance), they both hold a place in my heart. Working with an elder—animal or human—is a sacred gift. I will always remember Ace’s strong spirit, his clear intention, his love of life.

To me, Carol and Ace’s journey beautifully illustrates:

* That while fear can choke our hearts, acceptance can set us free

* That we can move from a state of grief to a state of grace

* That despite our disabilities, life is to be cherished

* That while cure is not always assured, healing is always possible

 

I hope you will be moved to share your thoughts about Ace and Carol’s journey–or about your own.

If you have received this post via email, just click on the title to respond.

 


 

 

 

Stress: It Will Get You If You Let It

Stress: It Will Get You If You Let It

 

I rarely get sick. If I do, it’s usually just for a day or even a part of a day. A little extra Reiki and some extra sleep (maybe much of the day) usually sets me straight.

The last time I got a nasty stomach flu, one that had me down for three or four days, was the winter of 2001, a month or so after 9/11. Days before the attack, I had moved from Chicago to the country to care for a house and a small herd of horses. It was a beautiful move, but a huge change, and coupled with the assault on our nation, stressful.

The last time I got a nasty respiratory infection (flu, bronchitis, pneumonia) was over 20 years ago, when I was still smoking. As soon as I quit for good, the lung infections also quit for good. I haven’t had so much as a chest cold since.

So I was both surprised and disheartened when I felt a bug coming on a couple of weeks ago. I was making one of my twice-monthly treks to civilization so I could buy organically grown food for myself and my canine companion, Elika, and my eyes started to burn. Then the pain started behind them. By the time I got home, It felt like a hot knife had been driven through my right temple.

I went to bed early that night, the Tuesday before Christmas, but I did not wake up refreshed. By the next night, Wednesday, my chest was heavy, I had that awful taste in my throat that signals something nasty going on in the lungs (you know that taste), and the muscles of my legs ached so much that the pain woke me up in the middle of the night.

By the following day, Thursday, I was running a fever. My face was hot and flushed, and I alternated between feeling feverish and feeling chilled.

I could not believe this was happening to me.

 

Many people become ill around the holidays: too much alcohol, too much rich food, not enough sleep. And the biggest contributor, in my opinion, family stress: the critical in-laws or the mother who just won’t cut you a break even though you’ve been away from home for 30 years or the gossip about family members not in attendance. Some folks deal with the drama much better than others. I think it’s an art—one I never really learned.

And so, two years ago I decided to kindly, with no malice at all, decline to participate in family holiday celebrations. Of course, the folks who had done the most battering when I was present were the ones who decried my decision the loudest, but I have thoroughly enjoyed my holidays since making this change.

So my illness was not a result of family stress, and it was not the result of poor food choices or excesses. My illness, I believe, was the result of the stress caused by an ugly situation that I somehow allowed to take hold of me. As a healer, I work for myself, but I’m guessing that the situation I found myself in is similar to what many people experience in the workplace.

 

In mid-September, I moved my horses from a fabulous self-care arrangement to a commercial barn. The elderly couple whose property I had been sharing sold the place, and so my horses and I had to move along.

The commercial barn was by no means ideal, but it was close to home and had an indoor arena, and the people I’d met who kept their horses there seemed nice. Best of all, the manager, an older gentleman with lots of horse experience, was a real sweetie. I visited the barn twice, then made the decision to move my horses in. My plan was to stay for the winter, restart my horses in the indoor arena when other folks were on the property (I’d quit riding after a catastrophic accident two years earlier and hadn’t started up again because I was alone on the property), get them used to riding on the trails (a gorgeous wooded trail ringed the property), and then move on.

Two weeks after my horses moved in, the manager was fired. The way it happened was ugly and, in my opinion, grossly unfair. The manager had only been there for about six weeks. It seems to me that if he wasn’t doing some aspect of his job correctly, he should have been given a warning and coached. But, instead, he was told to get out.

That didn’t sit well with me, and so I started looking for another place for my horses. I know all of the commercial barns in the area, and none of them care for horses in a way that best suits the horse (instead, the routine is for the convenience of the human), so I was looking for another self-care situation. I’d been looking for a year, so I wasn’t too hopeful, but I was looking all the same.

When the day came for a meeting with the new managers, a couple, my heart sank. Everything in me told me I’d have to move along, and soon. I kept looking.

The new managers took over in October. Things started out OK, but the care  slowly deteriorated. By the end of November, I was getting a stomach ache every time I went to the barn (twice a day, to feed my horses who were in outdoor board). They were being fed large square bales of grass hay (about 200 pounds each) in a round feeder. I wasn’t crazy about this way of feeding, but it beat the heck out of the way the rest of the horses were being fed—small amounts of alfalfa-laden hay twice a day. Sometimes the horses were fed at five or six at night and then not fed again until 10 the next morning—a recipe for ulcers.

So, while mine were overeating, at least they had hay in front of them, except that when the bale ran out every three or four days, the managers wouldn’t set a new one out for 12 or 15 hours. They wanted the horses (my two and one other) to eat every single morsel of hay first, even if it was full of sticks or dirt or mold. And they didn’t move the feeder (which doesn’t have a bottom) to a new spot; they’d just dump a new bale on top of the packed down stuff at the bottom, which eventually grew to four or five inches of composting garbage. Mold, for all of you non-horsey people, can make a horse extremely ill. In some cases, it can even kill a horse.

Of course, I brought this problem to their attention, but they didn’t see it as a problem. So I bought my own hay and, with their permission, fed the horses myself in that interim period between the bale running out and their refilling the feeder. And I kept looking.

But then one of the managers started complaining about how I was putting the hay out—I was spreading it around the paddock; she wanted it all in one place against the fence (where my two would stand in it and the other horse couldn’t get to it). And she didn’t want me cleaning the shed (which they never cleaned), and so she hid the muck rake. And on and on.

By the Tuesday before Christmas, the stomach aches I suffered each time I went to the barn, and which had been getting steadily more painful, had developed into full-blown respiratory flu.

I should have known better. Since I was a little girl, my stomach has always thrown up a red flag when things need to change. While I wasn’t able to leave the situation (although I did finally leave the day after Christmas), and I wasn’t able to change the behavior of the managers, I should have found a way to protect myself.

Each morning, I spend 20 to 40 minutes in Reiki self-healing, which helps to keep the body, mind, and spirit in balance. The practice includes repeating and sometimes meditating on one or more of the Reiki precepts (Just for today I will not anger; just for today I will not worry; and so on). I am sure that this daily practice is what prevented the flu from becoming more serious. It did not develop into pneumonia or bronchitis, and the fever broke after a few days, although my chest is still heavy and my energy has not fully returned.

Once I’d left that place, I got to thinking about how I could have protected myself from the effects of that awful stress. I know that if my beloved animals had not been involved, this would have been much easier. But what could I have done to prevent the stress from getting inside my body and wreaking havoc on my health?

 

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Reiki self-healing two or three times a day instead of once
  • Remembrance—the Sufi practice of quietly repeating the name of the Divine for several minutes so as to remember one’s complete connection to this loving, peaceful Source of life
  • Before driving to the barn, visualizing myself in a safe, peaceful bubble that the ugliness of the situation could not penetrate
  • Laughter—not in the faces of the people causing me pain, but throughout the rest of the day. Laughter has a cleansing, healing quality that it is easy to forget about when in the thick of very unfunny situations.

 

I am interested in learning other approaches from you. How do you protect yourself from the ravages of stress when in a situation that you cannot immediately change?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

 

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Gifts

Gifts

 

I first published this article December 2007 in From the Horse’s Mouth magazine and have been sharing it yearly ever since. I hope you enjoy it.

 

The season of gift-giving is upon us. Some of us will frantically search for just the right gift, the gift that says just the right thing, expresses just the right emotion, the gift that shows us off in just the right light. We will plan and shop and prepare. We will spend far too much money and far too much energy and will end up feeling depleted and sad.

Others of us will give as little thought as possible to the chore of gift-buying and will speed down department store aisles mere days before our family gathering or our office gathering or the gathering at our place of worship, grabbing at whatever—they can always return it if they don’t like it—and paying extra for gift-wrapping. We will spend far too much money and far too much energy and will end up feeling depleted and sad.

Several years ago, a woman in one of my Reiki classes shared this story. The year before, she had been on vacation in Costa Rica and had been swept off the beach by a riptide. Her neck was broken in two places. She was told she might never walk again.

The woman, a successful groomer and dog sitter, always had a house full of dogs. She told of coming home from the hospital and being immobilized for weeks, her bed surrounded by dogs, both hers and other people’s. When her husband would come to check on her, he had to pick his way over and between the pack because they refused to move. She told us, her voice heavy with emotion, that she was certain it was the energy and love of these creatures that made it possible for her to walk again.

Later, with the aid of a walker, she was able to take daily walks to the corner. She would take several dogs with her. “They only needed one walk,” she said, laughing. “It took all day.” She took four at a time, two leashes in each hand, inching her way down the sidewalk. She said, “I would take a step, and they would take a step. I would stop to rest, and they would sit and wait. I would take another step, and they would take another step. I would stop, and they would sit.” The woman who was told she might never walk again told us she was soon able to walk on her own. What greater gift than this?

Giving is second nature to the creatures in our lives: the dog who teaches us about loyalty and unconditional love, the cat who teaches us about independence. Giving is second nature to the horse who hears our confessions and our prayers, who lets us bury our face in his strong, sweet neck, who nibbles our hair, who carries us on her strong back down a snowy trail, who looks us in the eye with fierce pride.

I think the animals have much to teach us about giving.

Perhaps this gift-giving season some of us will strike a better balance than we have in the past, taking our cue from the creatures in our lives. Perhaps we will fret less, enjoy each other more, give freely from our hearts.

 

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Cruelty Free

Cruelty Free

I know that everyone reading this blog is a lover of animals; none of us would knowingly do anything to harm them, and most of us weep at the thought of them being mistreated.

For the past couple of days, a short video has been making the rounds among my Facebook friends. It shows young beagles, creatures who have lived their entire lives in metal cages in an unidentified laboratory, stepping onto grass for the first time.

While the video is upbeat, reporting how happy the animals are since their rescue, some of them placed in forever homes, one need only look into their eyes to see that all is not well. Each of them has a haunted expression, like something inside has been deeply wounded.

Here is the link to the video of these gorgeous creatures and their rescuers:

http://www.godvine.com/Beagles-See-Sun-and-Grass-for-the-First-Time-After-a-Life-in-a-Laboratory-861.html

 

The Power of the Pen

The response of most of my Facebook friends (and their friends) was disgust at the imagined mistreatment of these creatures (which wasn’t detailed) and joy at their release. And while witnessing and celebrating this event is important, we can, we must, do more.

In the spirit of changing the world for the better, I invite you to visit the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website (PCRM.org). This outstanding site explains the types of research that animals are still being used for, who is doing it, why most of this research is entirely unnecessary, who is violating the Animal Welfare Act, and what we can do about it.

If you sign up for their newsletter, you will receive updates on current violators and be invited to sign petitions and letters. And—this is the great part—the petitions and letters work. In the few months that I have been on the mailing list, the US Army has stopped chemical casualty training on monkeys, and several university medical schools have stopped dissecting live animals in classes.

I know you are busy, perhaps overwhelmed. You may be thinking you will get to this later. But I implore you to think about these gorgeous beagles, their haunted eyes.

 

The Power of the Pocketbook

We don’t know what kind of laboratory these sweethearts were in. While the PCRM site talks about medical research, it’s possible that these creatures were being used to test the safety of chemicals for personal care or cleaning products.

I’m guessing that most of you already make a point of purchasing personal care and cleaning products that are cruelty free. You look on the package for the words “not tested on animals.”

But did you know that “not tested on animals” can just refer to the product itself? In other words, while the shampoo you purchased may not have been rubbed into an animal’s eyes, the individual ingredients may have been. This “testing” would have been done by the manufacturer of the ingredients, not the shampoo maker.

But, again, we have the power to create change. We can sign petitions and letters, and we can make phone calls. But we can also use the power of our pocketbooks (or wallets) and look for words such as these, which appear on Desert Essence Organics hand and body lotion, “no animal testing of raw materials or finished product.”

Now that’s more like it.

We can also contact manufacturers through their websites. Following my own advice, I just contacted Aubrey Organics about their shampoo. I wrote, “Your wonderful shampoos say ‘No Animal Testing’ on the label. Does that statement refer only to the finished product or to the ingredients as well?”

I’ll let you know how they respond.

 

Can You Help?

If each of us makes a commitment to speak up, both in words and purchasing power, we can put an end to the barbaric treatment of laboratory animals in this country. It’s not enough to feel badly about it, my friends. We have to take action.

I’d like to compile a list of personal care and cleaning products that are not tested on animals anywhere in the production process, but I need your help to do that.

What truly cruelty-free products do you use?

 

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When a Mineral Block is More than a Mineral Block

When a Mineral Block is More than a Mineral Block

 

 

The mineral block was sitting in a feed pan in the three-sided shelter. The manager and I had just finished walking my two horses along the fence line of the paddock, introducing them to the space they’d be in at night. We were removing their halters in front of the shelter, when I caught sight of the big, red block out of the corner of my eye. I just about had a coronary.

“Holy cow!” I said. “That’s gotta’ go.”

Not terribly tactful, I admit.

But I was so surprised to see the dreadful thing—there weren’t any others on the property—that it just slipped out.

I cringed at the thought of my mouthy gelding licking the nasty thing, explained to the manager about the feed grade minerals tainted with heavy metals and who knows what else, explained that, no, it wasn’t true that only animals who needed minerals would eat it, that the molasses and other flavor enhancers the manufacturer added ensured that every critter would want to spend time with it. I explained that those big red blocks had nothing to do with nutrition, everything to do with profits. Then, having regained my balance, I calmly asked that it be removed.

She said she needed to talk to the woman it belonged to first, which surprised the heck out of me. I mean, I’d explained that the darned thing was poison. Remove it now; talk later, right?

Three days later, and the thing was still there in all of its rusty glory. I’d already chased my gelding off it twice, and who knows how much he was eating when I wasn’t around. Fearing the manager was never going to speak to the keeper of the block, I came up with a compromise: We’d take the block out of the paddock when my horses were in it, and put the block back in when my horses were out with the larger herd during the afternoon. The barn manager approved. Yay, success! And after only three sleep-deprived nights.

The next morning, when I went to feed my horses breakfast, I saw the block outside the paddock. Yay again! A few minutes later, I ran into the young woman who had placed the red monster in the horse shed to begin with. I hadn’t seen her since my horses had been moved in with hers. I said I figured she was probably upset with me about the mineral block being removed, but . . .

She didn’t know what I was talking about.

“Oh, I, uh, thought Heather had talked to you about it. We’re taking it out of the paddock when my horses are in there and putting it back in when they’re out with the herd.” She glared at me. (She’s a little wisp of a thing, by the way, and very young.

“Um, I think that when you learn about what’s in those blocks, you’re not going to want it in there either,” I said, as kindly as I could. “They’re full of toxins. The red coating is iron oxide, rust.”

“I know that,” she said, leaning towards me. And I’m thinking, leaning back a bit, If you know that the block is coated in rust, why are you feeding it? But I kept that thought to myself.

See, the thing is, the young woman’s horses had been alone in that paddock for close to a year, when the previous manager had gotten fired and taken half the place with him. So she’d been doing her own thing, had claimed the space as her own, and here I was cramping her style—and, in her mind, questioning her judgment.

I understood the wanting-her-own-space part. I’d moved to this barn because the property I’d been leasing a piece of for over four years had been sold. It was a difficult transition. But you do what you have to do.

But the defensiveness about choices—choices you thought were good but that turned out to be not so good—I’ve come up against that attitude many, many times over the years, and that part I’ve never understood.

Unable to find the article I’d once had a folder full of copies of, an article about the dangers of mineral blocks that I used to hand out to my clients, I’d emailed biochemist Linsey McLean, whose life’s work is helping people understand the effects of environmental toxins on the bodies of horses and humans. “Please,” I begged. “Send me an explanation I can share with these people.”

The day before my conversation with the young woman, I’d gotten what I was looking for:

 

Hello Pam,

Here’s the scoop:

1. The minerals are not bioavailable; they are all inorganic and not in correct ratios either. There are minimums and maxes but they don’t tell you what is in them.

2. Colored with iron oxide—rusty nails—bad for the liver.

3. Flavor enhancers added to get them to eat that crap, as in all crap-loaded feeds.

4. They would have to eat nearly a pound to get any substantial minerals at all.

5. Loaded with arsenic from hazardous waste that’s recycled in them.

Linsey

To your good health!

Vita Royal Products, Inc.

Biochemist  | CEO

vitaroyalproducts.com

 

I’m guessing you didn’t know that it’s legal to recycle hazardous waste in animal feed. That shocked the heck out of me the first time I heard it, too. And I spread the word to anyone who will listen.

I’d already left a copy of this email in the office for the manager; now I handed one to the young woman. “Here,” I said. “This is from a biochemist who knows all there is to know about the toxins in feeds. I’m pretty sure you won’t want to use the block anymore when you read this.” She glared at me.

I told her that I used to think they were OK, too. I said that when I found out they were dangerous (and that most processed feeds were unhealthy as well), I got really angry. “I mean, you trust that companies selling you food for your animals care about their health. I was really glad to find out the truth.”

She was still glaring at me. I hadn’t expected a huge “Thank you!” and a hug, but still . . . She said to just make sure the block was in the shed for part of every day.

For close to a week, every afternoon when she turned my horses out into the pasture, the manager put the block, which weighs about 25 pounds, into the shed; and then every night when I brought my horses back in, I moved the block back out. What a pain, I thought each time I had to lift the darned thing. I wished the young woman would get over herself and just get rid of it already.

Today, the young woman moved her horses to a friend’s property. It wasn’t because of the mineral block although that may have been the last straw. She was really unhappy with the changes happening at the barn. She felt displaced. I know that feeling.

Sad.

I’d known the move was coming because the day before she left, she’d gathered her things together in a corner of the feed room, and a couple of her saddles and bridles were already gone. In the midst of her belongings was the 25-pound red monster.

This evening, when I went to feed my horses dinner, her horses and all of her things were gone.  Well, just about all of them. She’d only left two items behind in the feed room: the copy of the email I’d given her and . . . the big, red mineral block.

I assumed she’d decided not to poison her horses with arsenic. “Good for her,” I said to myself. I’d opened the door, and she’d walked through much more quickly than lots of folks do. But the manager thought she just hadn’t wanted to heft the darned thing into the truck. Guess we’ll never know for sure.

 

 

What about you? How good are you at opening your mind and heart to new information? Do you find you get defensive or angry? How long do you stay that way?

Conversely, how good are you at sharing information?

Wondering what these questions have to do with the title of my blog: Healing is Possible?

Everything?

 

 

Learning to Listen

Learning to Listen

 

True benevolence, or compassion, extends itself through the whole of existence and sympathizes with the distress of every creature capable of sensation.

–  Joseph Addison

 

I’ve joined a wonderful group of people who for the next year are going to be discussing, and working through, Karen Armstrong’s book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. Armstrong is a religious historian who argues that, while all of the world’s religions share one central tenet—Treat others as you would like others to treat you—we humans are in great need of learning how to actually do that.

In our first meeting, we learned that before we can embark on this journey of learning the art of compassion, we need to learn to listen to each other, to truly listen. And so our first exercise was to get into pairs and share a story of a time when we needed to be heard but were not or a time when someone else needed to be heard and we did not listen.

These were our group leader’s beautiful directions for how to listen:


You are the well.


Imagine yourself to be a receptive, dark, silent, cool place

deep in the ground.


Someone speaks, and their words float down softly

into the dark, receptive quality of your heart.


Ah, this was familiar to me, listening with the heart. It is how I listen to the animals because, after all, how else can one hear them?

But I acknowledged to myself fairly quickly that this is not how I most often listen to humans. I tend, instead, to listen with my head. This is not to say that I have no feelings for the pain of others because I do, sometimes to excess. But listening with my heart is not something I routinely do.

As my partner told her story, a painful story that brought her to tears, the image of myself as a well, her words floating down into its receptive depths, gave me a powerful sense of grounding, of quiet strength. I felt no need to assure her that all was well, to fill the space carved out by her pain with my idle words. My job was to listen, to recognize and acknowledge her. Listening with my whole being, with my heart, created a peaceful, strong presence that she could lean into.

Many in the group, including my partner, admitted to having difficulty with this exercise, admitted to having rushed in to offer advice to their partners or to share a similar experience of their own.

The facilitator, who is a friend, later thanked me for “actually listening to the instructions.” She said this with a smile, somewhat incredulous that so many others had seemingly not heard them. I think, though, that they did hear them but that the instructions were so alien to their normal way of being that the participants quickly forgot them, brushed them aside in their rush to assist.


When prospective students inquire about my animal communication classes, I send them a letter, which includes an explanation of the value of strengthening our telepathic ability (an ability I believe we are all born with):

Hearing an animal requires that you go to a place of stillness inside of yourself and listen with your heart. It requires that you lay aside preconceived notions and biases. It requires respect and compassion. These skills will not only allow you to hear the animals, they will enrich many other areas of your life.

 

I have been teaching and living this for many years. How blessed I am to now have the opportunity to take my understanding to a much deeper level, to practice making heart-centered listening a guiding principle in my daily interaction with two-legged creatures.


What do you think of the well exercise? Can you listen, truly listen to someone who annoys you, who angers you, who you envy or feel judgmental about? What have animals taught you about listening?

 

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This is your body talking. Hello? Hello?

This is your body talking. Hello? Hello?

 

Last week, when I stopped in to get a book at my l local independent book store, the owner was there. We talked for a minute about the book (Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life—a wonderful book!) and the discussion group I was joining; we talked about my horses (as I brushed hay off my sweatshirt). At one point, she mentioned she’d been under the weather for a couple of weeks. Her sinuses has really been giving her fits. She’d recently been to the doctor, who admitted to having no idea what was causing the problem; nevertheless, he’d suggested surgery.

The surgery involved scraping the sinus cavities. It might give her some relief, but then again it might not. And even if it did, there was no guarantee that the problem wouldn’t return.

She had initially been very skeptical about the surgery, had passed on the suggestion, but now she was having second thoughts. She was going back to the doctor that afternoon.

I found it interesting that she was sharing this with me. Although I have taught a couple of workshops in her store, we don’t know each other well. And this was pretty personal stuff. I could have just said I was sorry she was in pain and wished her well, but anyone who knows me knows that’s not my way. And I was especially concerned because she was in such discomfort that it seemed she might be seriously reconsidering the surgery.

So I asked if she had considered removing dairy products from her diet. She seemed puzzled by the question. I told her that I, too, used to suffer from debilitating sinus pain, but that a friend of my sister’s had suggested I cut out dairy just for a couple of weeks, to see what happened. Voila! No more sinus problems. That was 15 years ago.

I told her that if removing dairy solved the problem, she could add it back into her diet once a week in small amounts if giving up dairy made her feel deprived.

“Give up dairy?” she said. “I don’t know . . . .”

I told her that we crave those foods we’re allergic to. I don’t understand the science, but that’s the claim. And I told her that a huge number of people are allergic to cow’s milk. It’s not at all uncommon. (And I’m talking about allergy, not lactose intolerance.)

I told her about almond cheese and rice cheese (and to stay away from soy cheese). She was happy to hear that almond cheese melts well. For a minute, she seemed to be coming around.

But she still wasn’t sure.

OK, now here’s the kicker: She told me that when she eats real cheese, dairy cheese, her stomach always blows up like a balloon. She held her hands three or four inches away from her stomach to make her point.

Well, there you have it, I thought. But, no, she still wasn’t sure.

And then, because other customers were coming up to the counter, I said goodbye and left with my new book.  My parting words to her were these:

Your body knows. Listen to your body.

A few days later, I saw her in the grocery store. (Interesting because in the five years that I have known her we have never run into each other in the grocery store.) I said hi. She said hi. She didn’t mention the doctor’s visit. She didn’t say anything about giving up dairy for a little while. It was as though our previous conversation had never happened. I wondered when she’d scheduled the surgery.

 

***

My mom had a malignant tumor removed from one of her breasts this spring.

She used to be very health conscious. She and her husband and my brother moved to the country when the other children had left home. My mom had a gigantic organic garden; goats, whose milk she made cheese and yogurt from; chickens, who were fed vegetable scraps in addition to chicken feed and were allowed freedom to scratch for bugs during the day; and one steer at a time that they raised for meat. She also baked her own bread (whole grain) and canned many of her vegetables.

But when my stepfather and brother were killed in a fire one Sunday morning 20- some years ago, she gave all of that up. She started eating processed foods, commercial baked goods, lots of trans fats, lots of sugar. She didn’t gain weight; maybe that’s how she convinced herself she was healthy.

But she had to have knee surgery and then a quadruple bypass. She started having a lot of pain in her lower back and legs. Her balance isn’t very good, so she can’t take the long walks she used to take. She’s 84 now, so she likes to blame age for the problems. But the bypass surgery was 10 years ago; the knee surgery was well before that. And her diet just keeps getting worse.

A few years ago, she developed a persistent cough. And she was forever clearing her throat. She blamed this on a tube that was put down her throat during the bypass although no damage was ever confirmed.

When I learned about proper food combining (GreatTasteNoPain.com), I shared the information with her. The plan is based on the fact that certain foods can’t be eaten together because they won’t digest efficiently. The result is an acidic pH, which can contribute to a lengthy list of health issues, including cancer.

I had been following the plan for about a year (it’s not a diet; you can eat what you want and as much as you want), and I had experienced the positive results. I explained to my mom that the coughing was a result of the mucous being created from all of the acid in her system. The doctor gave her a prescription for drugs, which she didn’t want to take. So she tried the plan.

The cough disappeared in one day. One day.

But after a week, she started drinking coffee again and having a glass of wine in the evening, and then she added a muffin in the morning, a cookie in the afternoon (all acid producing), and she combined her foods in such a way that created even more acid.

And the cough came back.

I reminded her that the cough was the result of excess acid in her system.

I reminded her that tumors cannot live in an alkaline environment; they can only live and thrive in an acidic environment.

I assured her that after a couple of weeks on the eating plan she would no longer crave the processed foods that were making her ill.

I reminded her that she had asked for my help.

But she refused to listen me. Worse, she refused to listen to her body.

I don’t understand this.

 

Our bodies are stunningly intelligent. Are you listening?

 

 

 

 

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