Category: Blog

Nurturing the Spirit with Play

Nurturing the Spirit with Play

 

 

“The Spirituality of Play” was the title of the sermon given by the Reverend Jennifer Slade at last week’s service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry, Illinois. Spirituality/Play/Sermon? These three words may not seem to quite fit together.

 

But the sermon, mind you, was only partly spoken. The rest was sung—yes, Broadway show tunes, including “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music and a wonderful song from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, with Rev. Slade leaned against the piano in a perfect imitation of the love struck Lucy, singing to the intense and indifferent Schroeder.

 

The message was to fill your life with joy, to step outside the box, to take risks, to not worry about what others may think.

 

Rev. Slade truly walked the walk.

 

Play can take so many forms, from building a sand castle with your daughter on the edge of the beach, packing the wet sand into buckets, to competing in a strenuous sport that pushes your body past what you thought was its limit, to allowing yourself to create something, anything: music, poetry, food, an idea, a class, a community.

 

Much has been written about the healing power of laughter and of music and of art. There are art therapy classes and music therapy classes; there are even laughter workshops because people seem to have forgotten how to laugh!

 

There are therapeutic riding centers where physically, mentally, or emotionally challenged persons can find joy on the back of a horse. Trained dogs (and in some places, miniature horses) visit the elderly in nursing homes, the sick in hospitals, spreading joy, taking one out of oneself for awhile.

 

And this is the essence of play: losing oneself in moments of happiness.

 

But, you may be saying, what does any of this have to do with spirituality?

 

Here is what the 14th century Sufi mystic Hafiz said on the subject:

 

Laughter

What is laughter? What is laughter?
It is God waking up! O it is God waking up!
It is the sun poking its sweet head out
From behind a cloud
You have been carrying too long,
Veiling your eyes and heart.

It is Light breaking ground for a great Structure
That is your Real body – called Truth.

It is happiness applauding itself and then taking flight
To embrace everyone and everything in this world.

Laughter is the polestar
Held in the sky by our Beloved,
Who eternally says,

“Yes, dear ones, come this way,
Come this way towards Me and Love!

Come with your tender mouths moving
And your beautiful tongues conducting songs
And with your movements – your magic movements
Of hands and feet and glands and cells – Dancing!

Know that to God’s Eye,
All movement is a Wondrous Language,
And Music – such exquisite, wild Music!”

O what is laughter, Hafiz?
What is this precious love and laughter
Budding in our hearts?

It is the glorious sound
Of a soul waking up!

 

 

Play indeed nourishes the soul. How will you invite more play, more laughter, more joy into your life?

 

 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.

 

Lucky Two

Lucky Two

 

 

When I walked into the barn that evening, Nancy, who owns the property where I keep my horses, was staring up into the hay loft. I was surprised to see her there, as she’s usually finished feeding and cleaning up after her two goats (Nibbles and Nana) by the time I get there to care for my Tara and Fuersti. I rarely see Nancy. To be honest, this elderly woman hasn’t been very pleasant to me the five months my horses have shared space with her goats. (Oh, and what an event their first meeting was. The goats had been raised with horses and loved their company. When I brought my horses to the property, the goats approached them with what looked like joy, but my Fuersti was so terrified that he stood glued to the spot, trembling. I’d never seen anything like it.)

 

So Nancy was in the barn staring up at the hay loft (which is empty by the way; we both keep our hay on solid ground). When she heard me come in, she turned, shaded her eyes from the early evening sun beaming in through the front door, and mumbled something about her stubborn cat.

 

Nancy has two barn cats, a white one whose name I don’t remember and a black one, Lucky Two. (Why Lucky? Because Nancy rescued him from a bad situation. Why Two? Well, there had been another Lucky, also rescued from unpleasantness. Nancy is very good to critters; it’s people she seems to have a bit of a problem with.) Lucky was the one staring down from the hay loft, meowing his fool head off.

 

“He won’t come down,” she said, not amused. Each evening, Nancy puts the cats in a room on the side of the barn to keep them safe from coyotes. It’s a good-sized room, with food and water, a clean litter box, several cat beds, and a window they can sit in and survey the yard. It’s rarely a problem getting the cats to go into their room; they just follow Nancy to the door and go in, anticipating their dinner.

 

But this silly critter (who’s lucky now?) was apparently stuck in the hay loft. He’d lived at Nancy’s place for a year and a half and had never ventured up there before, but there he was. Beneath the loft were two large bales of hay stacked on top of each other. I threw a small bale on top of them, climbed up, and tried to get Lucky down, but I couldn’t quite reach him. Another bale might have brought me close enough, but I’m not a fan of heights—or of falling onto a concrete floor backwards—so I got down.

 

Nancy figured Lucky would get down on his own. I wasn’t so sure, as his previous caregivers (and I use the term loosely) had removed his front claws. If he did manage to get down, we’d just have to hope he had the sense to stay in the barn, to not go out prowling and become coyote food.

 

When I got to the barn the next morning, Lucky was still in the hay loft, meowing pitifully. I carried on a conversation with him the whole time I was there. I told him that Nancy would be having someone come over that day to get him down (which she had told me she would do if he didn’t get down himself).

 

But that evening, Lucky was still in the hay loft. I couldn’t believe it. I started stressing that this old woman was just going to leave this poor cat up there!

 

Long story short, it turns out that Lucky had been retrieved from the loft earlier that day and then had gone back up. He was retrieved from the hay loft two additional times over the next few days: once by the woman who delivered my hay and once from some folks from the Conservation District who were tending a native plant garden on Nancy’s property. After each rescue and a  night in the cat room, Lucky climbed back up.

 

After the third rescue followed by “Oh, I think I’ll climb up here again and cry pitifully until someone gets me down,” Nancy had had enough. She called me at home (which she never does; it seems she goes out of her way to avoid me, sometimes leaving me unfriendly notes, like the one telling me to put my baling twine in my own garbage, followed by removing the garbage barrel from the barn). She said, very nicely—as I had initiated two of the rescues—to leave Lucky up there. “He’s a smart cat,” she said. He can get down. If he’s up there for two days, we’ll have to do something, but leave him there for now.”

 

“OK,” I said. “I won’t do anything unless you ask me to.”

 

That evening, when I went to the barn, Lucky was still up in the hay loft, meowing as though he had been abandoned by every living creature on earth. Instead of carrying on a conversation with him, asking him to come down, telling him how sorry I was that he was caught up there, promising to get him some help but asking him to try, I simply said, “No one is going to help you. You have to get down yourself.” Then I turned away and ignored him.

 

Fifteen minutes later, the darned cat was down, standing by the barn door, waiting for me to walk him to the cat room and let him in, which I did.

 

I wrote Nancy a note about what had happened. She responded, “Yippee! Cat smarts and human smarts have saved the day.” Yippee? Who was this woman, this writer of friendly notes?

 

As you might expect, although I have to admit that I did not, Lucky climbed up in the hay loft a couple more times over the next few days, and cried pitifully when I walked into the barn. But when I told him he was on his own, he somehow, miraculously found his way down. The last time, he hit the ground with a bit of a thud. I’m thinking he may find some other way to amuse himself now—at least for awhile.

 

Since the week-long drama of the goofy (but very sweet) barn cat, Nancy has begun to speak to me, even smile at me. Which makes me wonder if Lucky Two isn’t actually even smarter than either of us women thought.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Which Voice is It?

Which Voice is It?

 

 

Re-examine all you have been told.

Dismiss what insults your soul.

    – Walt Whitman

 

In my last post (That Inner Voice), I talked about listening to, trusting, and acting on your inner voice. At the end, I asked this question:

So my question to you—horse people and dog people and cat people, all people—is this: Do you do your own research? Do you weigh alternatives? Do you listen to your inner voice? Or do you follow the crowd, make snap judgments based on emotion, follow the advice of the “experts” even when you know they’re wrong?

This was one response, from Sue:

I ask questions and I do my own research because it’s what I’m driven to do by nature and by training. I question the vet, I question my doctor (and if she’s really unlucky she gets 10-16 pages of research to read for her edification), and I don’t necessarily accept what I read at face value, either. I listen to my inner voice–and I also have to discern whether it’s my authentic inner wisdom speaking or whether it’s fear posing as my inner voice.

 

Ah, fear. The great destroyer.

Of course, fear isn’t always a bad thing. It’s that voice inside of you that says, “STOP! That’s really dangerous; you could seriously hurt yourself if you do it!”

But how many times has fear prevented you from doing something that would introduce you to a new experience or a new idea, something that would help you to stretch and grow, to nourish your mind, your soul?

The woman I talked about in “That Inner Voice” said she knew that barefoot was best for horses but that she couldn’t take her horses barefoot until her vet realized it was best. She said she hoped he’d catch on soon. I was stunned by this and wondered why she would not have acted on her knowledge and conviction.

Sue’s post got me thinking about fear and the part it may have played in this woman’s failure to act on her inner wisdom. I came up with a few possible reasons she succumbed to fear, reasons that I have at one time or another experienced myself:

 

Fear of being wrong and of either hurting your animal or—the more likely fear—of looking foolish

Fear of being different and, consequently, scorned or ridiculed by your peers

Fear of being abandoned by those in authority, such as the vet,  whose approval, and services, you don’t want to lose

 

So how can you determine whether what you are hearing is your “authentic inner wisdom speaking or whether it’s fear posing as [your] inner voice”?

The animals have taught me a great deal about this. Coupled with my Reiki training, the animals have taught me how to maintain my inner balance, to keep my center still, so that I can think not only with my mind, but with mind and heart together.

I have learned to recognize the first, tiny pricks of fear, which start deep in my belly. Recognizing the fear, I take steps to address it: by breathing, centering, and asking myself what it is that I am truly afraid of—the big fear, the one underneath the little fear. Writing about it can often help or talking to a friend or taking a walk in the woods or sitting on the shore of a lake.

When I am hearing my true inner voice, I sometimes get chills down my neck or an expansive feeling in my chest, as though it is filling with fresh, sweet air. My mind, having done its job of research and inquiry, lets go of the information, and I experience a quiet, solid knowing.

My horses have helped me to more clearly hear my inner voice. I am forced to be calm around them. Prey animals, horses are acutely aware of their surroundings. If I am stressed, they will become stressed. If I am anxious, they will become anxious. If I am fearful, they will become fearful.

The same is true of my Elika, a high-energy little dog. If I become stressed, she mirrors that stress. If I become anxious, she becomes concerned that she should be anxious, too.

And so the animals that share my life have taught me to slow down, to center, to be aware of my thoughts and my emotions. Doing so has helped me to calm the static, to acknowledge and confront fear, the noise that can keep me from hearing my inner voice.

My animal clients have taught me that if I am to hear them accurately, I have to calm my mind, have to listen with my heart. This exercise in calm, quiet, non-judgmental listening has helped me to more clearly hear my own inner voice as well.

 

How about you? Are you aware when fear may be clouding your judgment? Do you know when you are listening to your authentic inner voice?

 

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.

 

 

 

 

That Inner Voice

That Inner Voice

 

The “Huge” Tack Sale

 

A few years ago, forgetting that I’m not a shopper, I drove for 40 minutes to get to a “huge” tack shop sale in a wealthy suburb of Chicago.

 

I tend to get overwhelmed by large amounts of stuff, and so I avoid department stores, big box stores, and huge sales. But I convinced myself that being surrounded by horsey stuff would be different.

 

It wasn’t.

 

And because this was a “huge” sale, the store, which was ordinarily pretty upscale (which is why I wanted to take advantage of the sale), had shipped in tables and racks and more tables full of cheap t-shirts and baseball caps and socks—all with some kind of horsey image, of course—stuff they didn’t ordinarily stock.

 

I quickly made the rounds, realized that, even with the sale, I still couldn’t afford most of what was in the store and that I didn’t really need anything anyway, picked out a t-shirt that I kind of liked—so that I wouldn’t have driven nearly an hour and a half with nothing to show for it—and got into the humongous, slow-moving line.

 

While I was musing about whether I should just chalk up the wasted time to a lesson learned and not waste any more, the woman ahead of me mumbled something about the line, and we struck up a conversation. About horses, of course.

 

If you’re a horse person, you know that horse lovers who are complete strangers can talk for hours about horses, can talk as though they’ve been friends for years even when they don’t know each other’s names. Dog people and cat people can strike up conversations about their four-legged companions, too, of course.

 

But with horse people, it’s different. We tend to get down to the nitty-gritty of care and training pretty quickly, almost as though we have to convince each other that our way is best. Maybe this is because we all have a dark suspicion that we have no idea what we are doing.

 

I’m a firm believer in listening to your inner voice, trusting your instincts. Education is very important, too, of course. Lots of fabulous folks over the centuries have worked with horses; there is no need to reinvent the wheel. But sometimes the advice of the experts isn’t always right.

 

At the Barn

 

That fact came to mind today when my horses’ hoof trimmer came to take care of their feet. Fuersti, my gelding, and Tara, his half sister, live outside with a shelter. I only bring them into the barn and put them in stalls to feed them and so they can wait for their hoof trimmer. (Whether or not horses should be caged in barns is one of the issues horse people argue about. My inner voice says that horses, who we love for the beauty of their movement and who need to move to stay healthy and sane, should not be confined any more than they are already confined with fences.)

 

I walked into Fuersti’s stall and asked him to lower his head so that I could put the rope halter on, attached to a lead rope. Ordinarily, this is a non-event. He lowers his head, I put the halter on, and we walk out of the stall.

 

But today, for reasons only Fuersti knows, he wanted to dance around, bob his head up and down, and just generally act like a clown. I asked again, he danced and bobbed more. I backed him up a few steps and was going to ask again, when I changed my mind and said, “OK, then forget it, Fuersti.”

 

To his total surprise, I walked out of the stall, closed the door, and went to get his sister out of her stall. Fuersti’s eyes got wide. He stood completely still. But it was too late. I was gone. He called after me. Too bad, buddy.

 

I said to my trimmer, You know, I’ve heard so many trainers say that you can’t train horses this way, that they aren’t like dogs. (Which is true, of course; they are nothing like dogs.) When a horse acts up, many will say that you need to reestablish your leadership role. But with Fuersti, if you ignore him, he immediately gets the message and straightens up his act.

 

Fuersti stood quietly in his stall while his sister was trimmed. When it was his turn, he lowered his head, allowed me to put on his halter, and quietly walked out of the stall.

 

He had to clown around a little bit while he was being trimmed—because he is, at heart, a clown and because he adores his trimmer and simply has to flirt and show off—but for the most part, he behaved well.

 

My horses don’t wear shoes. Their feet are trimmed by a highly trained barefoot trimmer, who understands how the equine foot is put together and how it works. Whether or not horses should have metal nailed to their hooves is, unbelievably, another issue that horse people argue about (although not as much in recent years, as more and more horse people are learning about hoof mechanics). This brings us back to woman in line at the huge tack sale, which you probably thought I’d forgotten about.

 

Back at the Sale

 

So I’m chatting about horses with the woman in front of me in line, and somehow we get on the topic of feet; I don’t remember why or how. But here’s the amazing part: I told her that my horses go barefoot, and she said she knew that was best, had no doubt about it at all, but that her vet still thought that horses needed shoes. She said she wished her vet would come to understand that barefoot was best so that she could take her horse barefoot!

 

The rest of the wait in line was no problem for me because, stupefied, I had fallen down, cracked my head, knocked myself out, and not come to until it was my turn at the register.

 

No, not really.

 

What really happened is that I asked the woman why her vet had to say it was OK to do something that she knew was best for her horse. She looked at me in utter disbelief.

 

 

My Question

 

So my question to you—horse people and dog people and cat people, all people—is this: Do you do your own research? Do you weigh alternatives? Do you listen to your inner voice? Or do you follow the crowd, make snap judgments based on emotion, follow the advice of the “experts” even when you know they’re wrong?

 

This is a sincere question. Really.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

What Reiki is Not

What Reiki is Not

 

 

Last week, a woman “Liked” my Winged Horse Healing Facebook page and promptly posted a spam message advertising retreats that she offers where, according to her, the horses are the Reiki masters.

After I got over my brief flash of annoyance that a so-called Reiki master (which she claimed to be as well) would spam another professional’s page, I got to thinking about this notion that horses, any animals, can be Reiki masters.

Eleven years ago, my sweet dog Elika came into my life. I was told that she was mine (although, at the time, I didn’t want a little, white dog) and that she would assist me with healings and with my Reiki classes. She came to me two weeks before I taught my first class and has taught every class with me since then. She is an amazing teacher. I cannot imagine teaching without her.

My Nikos, the bay Thoroughbred who was my equine partner for six years, the being who led me to this work and who told me that Elika was mine, was a masterful teacher. With the most subtle movements of his body, barely noticeable, he could redirect a student’s focus.

Nikos also assisted me with healings when he was alive and continues to do so although he passed from this earth six years ago. Elika assists me with healings every day. My horses, Tara and Fuersti, assist me with healings and classes as well.

But my beloved animal companions are not Reiki masters.

Some years ago, a friend came to my house for an overnight retreat. She was going through a rough time and just needed to get away to the country to catch her breath. She was anxious and ill at ease when she arrived, and so I suggested she go upstairs to the guest room and take my Elika with her, that she spend a little peaceful time while I began preparing dinner.

She didn’t come back down for nearly an hour. When she did, she said that Elika had followed her into the room and insisted on sitting in her lap, and then lying on her chest. (Elika is not, by the way, a lap dog.) When my friend, who is a Reiki master, came downstairs for dinner, her mood was lighter; she was smiling; she was less anxious; she was hungry. She marveled aloud at Elika’s healing power.

 

My Co-Teacher & Healer, Elika

 

Animals have a tremendous capacity to heal. An animal lover yourself, you already know this. Our beloved animals are especially gifted at healing emotional wounds. And, if we listen, they are powerful teachers as well.

But they are not Reiki masters.

A few years ago, I met a man who owned a martial arts school. He was well respected in the community. Several of my Reiki students had been taking classes from him for years. He told me that he, like me, did Reiki. I asked him what level he had studied to. He said he’d never taken a class, that he’d taught himself. I told him he wasn’t doing Reiki. He—the person who had never taken a class and who could not explain to me what Reiki is—disagreed. Oy.

My point here is not to be grouchy—really. My point is that there are many, many paths to healing. Each of us has the capacity not only for self-healing but to assist others in their healing process. Each of us can lay our hands, or our heads, on the body of another being and bring peace.

Too often, Reiki is used as a generic term for “energy healing.” But Reiki is a specific spiritual practice. It is not a religion; people of many faiths are Reiki practitioners. But it is a practice that involves an attunement by a Reiki master for each of the three levels, that involves an understanding of the Reiki precepts (or principles), and that—most importantly—involves a commitment to daily self-healing. It is through this daily practice that the practitioner truly comes to understand the beauty and power of Reiki.

If everything is Reiki, then nothing is Reiki. True Reiki practice is then both misunderstood and cheapened.

And so, while the animals are powerful teachers, powerful healers, and while I cannot imagine conducting a class without them—one can see that they are not Reiki masters. They have their own path, their own method of healing, one that I would dearly love to understand but that I will, for now, have to be satisfied with having experienced.

 

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.

 

If you would like to learn more about Reiki, this page on my website is one place you could begin: http://wingedhorsehealing.com/wordpress/?page_id=828

 

 

 

 

Look into My Eyes

Look into My Eyes

 

 

In the photo, the matador is decked out in white and gold, pink socks, red cape. He is sitting on a ledge in the arena, his head and eyes downcast.

The bull, his flesh pierced with multiple, brightly colored spikes, stands several feet away from his torturer, his nose extended towards the man. The animal’s eyes and posture look soft. I am struck by his apparent concern for the man.

The caption reads:

“And suddenly, I looked at the bull. He had this innocence that all animals have in their eyes, and he looked at me with this pleading. It was like a cry for justice, deep down inside of me. I describe it as being like a prayer – because if one confesses, it is hoped, that one is forgiven. I felt like the worst shit on earth.”

This photo shows the collapse of Torrero Alvaro Munera, as he realized in the middle of the his last fight… the injustice to the animal. From that day forward he became an opponent of bullfights.

 

This photo traveled like lightening on the Internet. I myself, deeply moved by both the photo and the message, posted it on my  Winged Horse Healing Facebook page.

Those of you reading this are already animal lovers; you would not think of torturing and slaying an animal for sport. Because you are humans, however, you have probably at one time or another become angry with an animal companion, raised your voice or said something unkind. Then, seeing the confusion in your animal’s eyes, you have apologized.

But what of the animals whose confused or painful gaze we don’t see? What of the animals confined to factory farms, who never see the light of day, many of whom who cannot turn around in their tiny cages or who cannot lie down in comfort? And what of the animals in the wild whose territory we humans continue to encroach on? We take over the land of the coyote, build along the habitat of the alligator, and then shoot them when they come into our yards. We round up our wild horses, shoot our wolves from the air because they, quite simply, are in the way of our human business.

What would happen if each of us looked into the eyes of an animal, literally or in our minds, and saw into his soul?

What if we walked around in the body of an animal for awhile, looked at the world from her eyes?

What would happen if each of us looked into the eyes of other humans, especially humans we disagree with or feel threatened by, looked deeply into their eyes and recognized our shared humanity, recognized the light of the Divine?

 

Today, wanting to learn more about the torrero (not yet a matador) who changed from torturer to animal rights advocate, I did a Google search on Alvaro Munera. I learned that Munera quit bullfighting because he was gravely injured by a bull who tossed him across the bull ring, severing several of his vertebrae and putting him into a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He was only 18 at the time. The photo, it seems is not even a photo of Munera. The article and the photo are here:

http://fiskeharrison.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/this-photo-is-not-what-it-seems/

 

On another site, in an interview, Munera says he wanted to quit the ring twice as a young teen, but was discouraged from doing so. The interviewer did not ask him about the photo, so I can only surmise that it had not surfaced yet.

Facts matter. Journalistic integrity matters. Hoaxes spreading like wildfire on the Internet are a problem.

Yet, the meaningful message is that Alvaro Munera no longer tortures animals. He now advocates for them. For whatever reason, something in him shifted. He was able to see the world from the perspective of a living being whose perspective had once meant nothing to him. Surely, this shift in him has made the world a better place.

And so I ask again, what would happen if we made the effort to look into the eyes of other beings—two-legged, four-legged, eight-legged, winged, finned—and recognized each being’s simple wish for peace?

 

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 Picture of Health

The Picture of Health

 

My skull hurts.

It’s March 15 in Northern Illinois, it’s nearly 80 outside, and I have the worst case of the flu that I can ever remember having.

I’ve been flat on my back for two days, except when I drag myself into my car, drive the six minutes to the barn, and feed my horses. We only recently moved there, so I don’t have anyone to fill in for me. The elder woman whos property it is is too unsteady on her feet to help, and I don’t think she’d want to even if she could. Sad.

But a beautiful neighbor, 15-year-old Ashley, walked my Elika this afternoon. She’d walked her for three days last summer when I was tied up at a horse fair, talking about Reiki, about Animal Communicatio. I’d wished Elika could come with me, but of course she couldn’t. Ashley was a godsend. A lovely girl, home schooled, who smashed all of my bigoted perceptions about the home-schooled. It’s good to be reminded that we can be wrong. I relish that.

Today is Thursday. This bug hit me on Monday night. I was working on my taxes, getting the numbers together so I could hand them off to my accountant, and I felt a tickle in my chest. Uh-oh, I thought. What the heck is that?

By morning, I knew. I was drenched in sweat, every muscle in my body ached, and I had a wracking cough. On the front page of the Chicago Tribune, a story warned of a nasty flu bug that had hit the area: fever, chills, muscle spasms (muscle spasms?), wracking cough. They said it could last up to a week.

I never pay attention to stories like that, with their drama. I figured I’d be fine in a day or two. I was a perplexed that I’d even gotten sick to begin with, though. I rarely get sick. And when I do, when I feel something coming on, like a tickle in the chest, I go to bed and sleep it off. Not this time.

Then I remembered. Two years ago, as the result of an accident with one of my horses, a freak accident—it absolutely was not his fault—I ended up with five broken ribs and a fractured spleen. The ribs healed. The spleen had to go.

The surgeon assured me that adults don’t need their spleens. He was a nice guy, and he’d saved my life (if my spleen had ruptured, I could have bled to death in a matter of minutes), but I wasn’t buying this. I didn’t imagine  that the Divine just inserted extra body parts into us for the heck of it. Then he said that if I ever got a sore throat, I should immediately go to the doctor for a throat culture because when you didn’t have a spleen, sore throats could quickly turn into Strep.

This didn’t make sense to me either. What was so special about sore throats? You either needed your spleen or you didn’t. And how could a simple sore throat turn into Strep? Wasn’t that a specific bacteria? I may not have heard him correctly, of course. I was drugged to the nines after begin sliced open—30 staples—and I already told you about the broken ribs.

The acupuncturist I went to for help reducing the swelling in my optic nerves (my head hit a wall hard enough to knock me out; I hadn’t been wearing a helmet because I wasn’t riding) told me the spleen is part of the immune system.

So yesterday, lying in sweat—and yes, I got those muscle spasms; as I lay on the couch, my legs were jumping four or five inches in the air; I kid you not—not even able to open the window and get a cool March breeze because we’ve messed up the weather so much it’s July in March, I figured that, while I’d been able to continue fighting off infections even after I’d lost my spleen, when exposed to a super bug, I didn’t really have a fighting chance.

I’d gotten sick in December, too, upper respiratory. I thought it was due to stress, and breathing a huge amount of sand dust in a cruddy riding arena. But now I realized that I’d been exposed to hacking, sneezing, nose-blowing people both in December and for the past couple of weeks. What had happened? I’d joined a church!  A church!

So what’s the moral of this story? I’m too sick to know for sure. Here are a couple:

Please, when you’re sick, STAY HOME. Don’t spread your viruses around, some of us have compromised immune systems, and even if we didn’t for heaven’s sake use some common sense.

And when you’re well, give thanks, every single day for your good health.

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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