Category: Blog

Your Money or Your Life

Your Money or Your Life


This whole debt-ceiling hostage crisis has given me a stomach ache or, more accurately, a heartache. The posturing, the vitriol, the expectation that one take a “side” and hurl insults at those on the other “side.” The insistence, by some, of total commitment to an ideology.

Some years ago, when I was teaching college writing and for a brief moment thought I’d like to teach at the high school level instead, I began taking education classes. One day, in the History of American Education class, the professor asked an ethics question. I don’t remember why he asked it, but I remember the question very well because of the response one of the students gave, an African-American woman in her late forties or early fifties, a straight-laced, serious woman. A, by her own description, devout church goer.


Here’s the question:

Your child is desperately ill and will die without a particular medication. You have a prescription for the medication, but the pharmacist, the only one in your rural area, refuses to sell it to you. He is a bigot, and refuses to sell to (fill in the blank).

Do you steal the medication, or do you let your child die?


Now the answer seems so obvious to me as to render the question ridiculous. I mean, if you want to talk ethics, give me a question that forces me to weigh the options. Who on earth would allow her child to die because a bigoted pharmacist refused to fill a legal prescription?

Well, you guessed it, the straight-laced, devout woman would have.

Stealing is wrong, she said. It’s illegal. She would never steal for any reason, she said. She would never break the law.

“You would let you child die?” I asked, stunned.

She just stared at me with icy eyes.

Let me say this: This woman, and every other individual, has a right to her world view and, yes, even to her ideology.

But I think that our ideologies, when set in stone, can cause great damage. Rigid ideology of any kind can feel comforting because we don’t have to think; we can just react. This is right. This is wrong. End of story. And, too often, we don’t have to feel, either.

What would happen if each of us stepped back from our ideology, our opinions set in stone; looked, really looked, at a situation we may be facing—a personal situation, a local situation, a national situation? What would happen if we not only allowed our minds to open but allowed our hearts to open as well?

What would it mean to our own personal well-being, to the well-being of our families, our communities, our states, our nation, our world? What would it mean to our wild horses, our wolves, our manatees, our tigers? What would it mean to our oceans, our rivers, our lakes?

What would happen if we looked, really looked into the eyes of a hungry child, into the eyes of a woman on the edge of despair, into the eyes of a man so consumed with amassing wealth that he has forgotten how to live? What would happen if we looked into the eyes of the wild creatures, recognized our own wildness in them, and chose to honor that wildness rather than destroy it?

What would happen if we—each of us—stepped back and considered solutions to our most pressing problems not only through the lens of money—how much a solution will cost, who will gain, who will consequently have to lose (because if there is a winner, there has to be a loser) but with regard, instead, to the sacredness of life?



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Two Goodbyes

Two Goodbyes



A Beautiful Morning

A break in the heat and humidity made it a gorgeous summer morning, and I was in great spirits because after 13 and a half miserable hours the day before, the power had finally come back on–and was still on. What a storm that was!

I’d gotten to the farmers’ market early enough to claim some of the luscious organic tomatoes and cucumbers I wait for all year, and I was chatting with the farmer, friendly, rather idle conversation, about the nasty storm (his power still wasn’t on), past nasty storms (the time a power line fell across his driveway), organic gardening, and the beautiful weather we were blessed with that morning, my dog, Elika, sitting calmly at my feet, the guitarist playing in the band shell in the middle of the grassy square, the smell of fresh bread and cut flowers.

The conversation took a sad turn when the farmer told me he’d had to put a horse down over the weekend, his daughter’s horse. He told me how much his daughter loved that horse, how they used to go to shows, what pals they were. She’s a college student now, lives out of state, but had been home for the weekend. Her horse’s intestines had burst into his diaphragm; a genetic weakness, the vet said, something he was most likely born with. I said it was a blessing that the horse had waited for his daughter to come home. He looked at me oddly, maybe wondering if I was joking. I told him I was serious. It was a blessing that they got to say goodbye.



We didn’t have to try to change the subject because a woman a few feet away asked me if it was safe to approach the booth. I wasn’t sure what she meant until she pointed to my dog, my sweet Elika, who was calmly sitting, leashed, at my feet.

I assured the woman that Elika was perfectly safe; still the woman hesitated, then told me she used to have a dog just like mine—an American Eskimo mini. Her dog, though, had been very aggressive.

The woman catapulted into a long, frantically told story about this dog, this Eskie, and her two other dogs, Shelties, and how they sometimes got along and sometimes didn’t get along, and how the Eskie, a male, was very aggressive, would bark and bark and bark like a crazy creature when someone came to the door. (I added that my Elika used to be that way, too, just so the woman wasn’t talking to herself. I didn’t say that the behavior was actually territorial, not aggressive, but that’s what I was thinking.)

The woman said her Eskie, when he was barking madly at the door, would sometimes nip at the other dogs if they got in the way. I wanted to ask how she responded to this behavior, but I held my tongue. Then one day, she said, when a delivery person came to the door, the Eskie attacked one of the Shelties, grabbed the side of its face. Well, she said, she took the Eskie to the vet that very day. I thought, she took the Eskie to the vet? What for?

She told that vet she just couldn’t have this behavior in her house, couldn’t abide her Shelties getting hurt.

And I, not quite believing what I was hearing, said, “Wait. You had the dog put down?”

Yes, she said, what else could she do?

I turned and thanked the farmer for his gorgeous tomatoes, promising to come back next week. The woman was still talking about how she had to put the dog down, she couldn’t put up with that behavior. I turned to face her and said the first full sentences I’d managed to utter since she’d begun talking: “This was a training issue. It was your job to train your dog. Excuse me. I have to leave now.”

As Elika and I walked away, the woman launched into an even higher gear, her voice shrill and accusatory (accusing me?) explaining (trying to convince herself?) that the situation was just too dangerous, that the dogs had all lived together for four years, and if he was going to attack a dog that he’d known for four years, well, he just couldn’t be trusted, and it was an awful wound, and blah, blah, blah. Elika and I kept walking. I said a silent prayer for the lost dog. I tried not to think dark thoughts about the woman, who clearly had no clue. I thought about the vet who had carried out this death sentence.


Two goodbyes, one said with love and sorrow, one said with ignorance and fear.



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A Tender Heart

A Tender Heart

A perfect day. The rain never came, the sky was clear and blue, the air was warm but not too warm, and the 65 mile drive to the city had been relatively uneventful. I sat in the air-conditioned chill of the theater with my two dear friends, quietly chatting and waiting for the film to begin. I had been waiting for weeks and weeks, ever since I heard about the film, ever since I saw the trailer, which left me quiet and sad and elated and excited, so very excited, like a little girl waiting for her birthday, her party, all of her friends at her house, the fun they would have, the nourishing love embedded in that day.

My two friends are very special friends. I have known them for most of my adult life. But several years ago, a quiet, stealthy rift somehow snuck itself between us.

I invited them to see this film with me to help to heal this rift. My friends know my love of horses, how this love turned my life upside down, drove me out of the city, into what I once considered the edges of civilization, that drove me to a new occupation, a new life. My friends had once visited the barn I lease for my two horses, had learned to groom and lead them; one had even sat on my Fuersti and experienced the thrill of being five feet off the ground atop the warm strength of another being.

Within minutes of the start of the film, I had settled into its world, the world of horse trainer Buck Brannaman and his life on the road, traveling around the country, “help[ing] horses with people problems.” I felt as though I was right there at the clinics watching Buck working with the horses, patiently teaching the participants; I could feel the hot sun on the top of my head, smell the dust in the air, the musky sweat of the horses, feel the camaraderie of the group, the horse lovers hungry for direction, wanting to learn a better way of being with their horses.

As I watched this man, a man who had suffered extreme abuse as a child, who had been mercilessly beaten at the hands of the man who should have offered support and guidance, his father, beatings so severe that Buck and his brother were eventually removed from the home after their mother’s death and placed with foster parents, as I watched this man, listened to his gentle voice, watched his gentle manner, with both horses and humans, gentle but firm, direct, honest, something inside me began to shift.

Years ago, I read a book by psychologist Alice Miller, The Untouched Key, that argued that what kept the abused child from becoming an abuser was a sympathetic witness, someone who acknowledged the child’s pain and helped to heal the heart.

Buck Brannaman was blessed with several such witnesses, both two-legged and four-legged: His loving foster parents, his mentor, horseman Ray Hunt. Buck said in an interview that horses saved his life and that the work he does now—crisscrossing the country, teaching people to relate to horses with patience and fairness and gentleness—is his way of giving back. He made a choice. He chose to transform the brutality, the  terror, the pain, into vulnerability and tenderness, and to use these divine gifts to create healing for himself and for others.

The something inside of me beginning to shift was my heart unfolding.

As we left the theater, my friends and I talked quietly, deeply moved by what we had experienced. We were not the same. I had hoped that our time together would start us on the path to healing. I had not expected that the quiet dignity of a man on a screen would be a force that healed us.

Driving away from the city, back to the edges of civilization, my little white dog dozing in the back seat, driving towards my beloved horses, I felt nourished and tender. My body was relaxed, my hands soft, my heart full. I felt a tender promise in the air, a tender possibility, the glorious promise that each day brings.



Click here to see the trailer for  this beautiful film, Buck.

I would love to hear your thoughts and stories about our power to heal ourselves and others.  I hope you will be moved to share.

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Like a Child

Like a Child


I was six, maybe seven years old. My little sister and I were visiting our grandparents in Colorado, and they had taken us to their friends’ farm where we got to ride a horse, a real horse, a big, brown, gorgeous horse. Helen. We were thrilled just by the sight of her. The sweet touch of her velvet nose in my outstretched hand was almost too much, the feel of the saddle on my bare legs, my sister’s arms around my waist, the clop, clop, clop, clop of Helen’s hooves on the hard dirt as our grandfather led us around the farmyard.

Earlier this week, on a cool, luscious summer evening, I was in the company of  another big, brown, gorgeous horse, my Tara. It had been a bear of a day, and I was soothed by her quiet eyes, the musky scent of her skin, her solid, calm presence as she walked next to me. But it was the sound of her hooves on the long asphalt driveway that brought to mind the ecstasy of my first encounter with a horse. Oh yes, I’d had the pleasure of sitting on a kind-hearted pony at Kiddieland, going round and round, but a “real” horse, on a real farm, the smell of cut hay and cattle, the three-legged dog, the old white farmhouse, my grandpa, my sister, Helen, this was food for my soul unlike any I had ever tasted.

When this memory darted into my mind, I grabbed it, turned it over, stepped inside of it, reveled in its sweet healing.

Do you remember the thrilling sound of a puppy lapping water from a bowl; the tickly hum of a kitten purring in your lap; the bobbing head and chirp, chirp of a blue parakeet, it’s head cocked to one side; the squeak, squeak of a hamster running laps on its wheel; the gurgle of the fish tank stocked with zebra fish darting in and out of their porcelain castle? Do you remember these sounds from years ago, the heady joy of being in the presence of one not of your kind?

I thanked Helen for the memory, then looked at my beloved Tara—my friend, my confidant, my teacher—with fresh eyes, the eyes of a thrilled child walking next to a horse for the first time on a beautiful summer evening.



Heart to Heart

Heart to Heart

Elika the Runner

When my mini-American Eskimo dog, Elika, came into my life at seven months old, she was a runner. We were living in the city, and one afternoon she managed to squeeze out of her collar and take off down the street, which nearly gave me heart failure. I called and called, but she was so focused on whatever it was she was so focused on that she didn’t even hear me. I don’t think she was ignoring me. I honestly don’t think she heard me. She was in some other zone.

In desperation, I finally sat on the sidewalk. As soon as she saw me down there, she ran from the end of the block and leaped into my lap.

She’d behave the same way when I took her to run at the beach (which we did in the off season). She’d be fine, playing with the other dogs, lapping at the water, enjoying the heck out of every minute, and then slam, bang, she was gone. I have never seen a little dog move so fast. Ears flat against her head, she was like a bullet through water, only she was on land and headed off the beach and into the park.

So I got the idea to keep her leash attached to her collar at all times. That way, when she got the notion to take off, I had a much better chance of catching her. I know, pathetic. But the dogs of my past had been big, quiet dogs, dogs that followed me around like—well, like big, quiet dogs. I didn’t know what to make of this little jack rabbit.

A few months after Elika and I became city roommates, we moved to the country. We were living on a seven-acre property caring for five horses while their humans were out of the country. When Elika and I went for walks off the property, I used her leash. But for reasons that now escape me, I didn’t use a leash when we were outside together on the property, trusting her to stay close.

The reasons escape me because she had proven herself to not be completely trustworthy. Ninety-percent of the time, she was well behaved. But if she saw a rabbit or a squirrel or a bird that tickled her fancy in a particular way, and by that I mean it moved, or if, heaven forbid, I turned my attention to my hay guy, throwing bales off the back of the truck while he stacked, Elika was gone. Gone so fast you barely had time to register that she was, in fact, gone.

Now this was a dog whose heart was entwined with mine, who loved being around me, loved exploring with me, loved working with me. She slept close to me all night and would often give me glorious wolf face washes in the morning. She assisted me with most healing sessions and all of my Reiki and Animal Communication classes. She was, and is, a dear friend and partner, a complete joy to be around.

Still, from time to time, she continued to simply take off. She would ignore my “Elika, come” command, and when I would go after her (as though there were any way I could possibly catch up with this streak of light), she behaved as though we were playing a game, waiting for me to get almost close enough to grab her and then shooting away, ears flat, wearing that sweet grin that I otherwise loved but that on these occasions felt like a spike in my heart.


The Conversation

This behavior, this joyful running (her perspective), this hurtful lack of respect (my perspective) had been going on, intermittently, for close to a year. One Saturday morning, I’d fed the horses (with Elika’s help, of course), showered and dressed, and was right on schedule to leave for a presentation I was giving. Ten minutes before it was time to leave—my handouts and lunch and water and directions already in the car—I took Elika outside to let her have a few more minutes in the fresh air before spending the next four or five hours in the house.

She sniffed around for a couple of minutes, rolled in the grass, peed, and when I called her to go back in the house, you guessed it, she took off. She hadn’t done this for quite awhile, and so I was honestly surprised. I remember the oh-no-not-today sense of panic in my stomach. I called again, but she was engrossed in making power laps around the house. She eventually slowed down, but she wouldn’t go into the house, and when I would get close to her, she would lay her ears back, grin, and take off again.

I had reached my limit. I was frustrated, angry, hurt. I could not understand why Elika was doing this. I exercised her daily—long walks, games of chasing sticks and balls in the yard (she still hasn’t learned to bring them back), daily laps around the house. I treated her with love and respect. Why was she treating me this way?

I was overwhelmed. I was utterly defeated. I sat down on the ground and cried.

In a heartbeat, Elika was standing in front of me, gazing into my face, a worried expression on her own. “Elika,” I said, “You can’t do this anymore. You’re breaking my heart.” I went on, quietly explaining how I worried for her safety, how I needed for her to listen.

She moved closer. She wolf-washed my wet eyes and cheeks. She sat down next to me. I kissed her head. When I got up, she followed me into the house.


Years Later

In the nine years since that conversation with Elika, she has only run away once, and that was last year when a very randy boy dog showed up and asked her to take a spin. Who could blame her?

But that was the only time. From the moment I sat on the ground and talked to my sweet Elika, poured out my heart to her, she never broke it again.

Ten and a half years ago, when Elika was seven months old and told me that she was mine, I asked her why she had come to me. I had always been drawn to big dogs; I wasn’t sure what to do with a little white dog.

“What are you here to teach me?” I asked.

“About your wild nature,” she said.

And she’s been true to her word. Her wildness, her sheer, unfettered joy, has cleansed my heart. She’s older now, a little slower, but not much, and her eyes still shine with mischief. She will take off at full speed after a squirrel or chipmunk or rabbit, but will suddenly turn on her heel and trot back to me, that wild proud grin.



We animal lovers know that our animals do understand us. I would love to hear your thoughts and stories.  I hope you will be moved to share.

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And, yes, I know I need to start including photos. I’m going to learn how to do that next week.




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Do Animals Have Emotions?

Do Animals Have Emotions?


I had been away for two weeks, continuing my professional training. Nikos had only been with me for a few months and was still living in the busy commercial barn where we had met. (It took a few more months to find a quieter barn, with more turnout; and another year to find him a home where he could live in the open air, the way Creator intended.)

This was before I had been trained in Reiki or animal communication, and so I hadn’t known how to reach across the country to be with him, and I’d missed him terribly. And so the morning after I returned, I immediately went to see him, my beloved Nikos, the creature who had dropped into my life in a way that made me believe in miracles, who had pierced my heart the moment our eyes had met, the creature who always greeted me with soft eyes and soft knickers, who reveled in my touch. This creature, this handsome, kind, loving being who even after such a short amount of time was unmistakably my partner, as though we had been together since the dawn of time, this creature turned around in his stall and presented me with his big, brown butt.

I spoke to him softly, apologizing for being away for so long, asking him to turn around.

He refused.

He didn’t fully forgive me for nearly a week.


A couple of years ago, I was rushed to the hospital with a health issue I’d been unaware of until that day. I could see my sweet dog Elika’s eyes get big as she watched me being wheeled out of the house by paramedics.

I was in the hospital for five days. Elika, who is the beat of my heart, was in my mother’s care. I knew that Elika would miss me, but she loves my mother, so I felt that all would be well. On the third day, I was well enough to finally ask how Elika was.

My mother’s face changed, darkened. She looked down, avoiding my eyes. “Well,” she said. She lies on your bed and cries.”

Heartbroken and crying myself, I buzzed for my amazing day nurse and asked if my little girl (she’s only 20 pounds) could come visit. The nurse checked for me. The answer was no. When she saw how distraught I was, she asked again.

The verdict was that Elika could not come to the room, but she could come to the lounge. So later that day, my mother brought Elika for a visit. I could see the relief on Elika’s face when she saw me. “There you are!” her sweet face said. “There you are.”

We visited for about half an hour. I was in the hospital for two more days, but now that Elika knew where I was, knew that I hadn’t abandoned her, there was no more crying.


One of the exercises in my animal communication classes is for the students to speak with Elika. Everyone speaks with her at the same time, silently, jotting down notes.

At a class a few years ago, when it was time to share their notes, one of the students spoke with great emotion, his eyes shiny with tears. He said that in connecting with Elika, he has sensed her tremendous love for me. He said that even If he hadn’t learned anything else all day, that one connection, that one experience of intense love, would have made the entire class worthwhile.


For several years, I lived with and cared for a family of five horses—two mares, a stallion, and a yearling colt and filly—while the human family was out of the country.

After about 18 months, the couple decided to re-home the stallion, a lovely, gentle creature that I had grown extremely fond of. The morning he was trailered off the property, I went back into the house, crying. A huge empty space had opened in my heart. I missed him terribly.

I wasn’t the only one. The sweet mare Kinsale stood with her head over the fence for two weeks, staring into his empty paddock. For two weeks, her heart broken.


My Nikos came to me when he was 18. I didn’t know anything about him and couldn’t read his racing tattoo, which is under the upper lip of Thoroughbred race horses. The vet couldn’t read it; the hoof trimmer couldn’t read it; a series of other folks, including two barn managers, couldn’t read it.

One day, one of those same managers decided he just had to read the darned thing. He grabbed a flashlight, pulled Nikos’s lip back, and read the tattoo. Why it was suddenly visible is a story for another time (and I promise to tell it), but it was suddenly visible.

I sent for his racing papers and found out all about him. His name had been Winning Cliff. He had been sold as a yearling for a high price. He had run close to 60 races in under three years, a tremendous (and abusive) number. He had won his human “owners” a respectable amount of money.

As I read his story, I saw him as a baby, running in a pasture with his mother. The vision was sharp and strong, like a newsreel in my head. I wept for him, for the life he had been forced to bear. But my heart also swelled with pride for him, for his victories, for his strength.

I went to the barn to tell him what I’d found out. For the year that I had known him, Nikos had always been the at the bottom of the herd hierarchy. He would move to make way for the other geldings and always came into the barn last. This didn’t bother him at all. Everyone has their place in the herd, and he graciously accepted his. If he had ever fought for a higher ranking in a herd, those days were over.

But that day, when I approached the paddock with the 10 or 12 horses, so excited to share my news with him, to tell him that I knew who he was, that I was so achingly proud of him, when I approached the paddock and caught his eye, he locked me in his gaze, arched his neck, expanded his chest, and walked straight through the herd, gorgeous, powerful, proud. When he reached me, our eyes still locked, his whole presence said, “Now you know who I am.”

It was an amazing afternoon. I had not known that an animal could be proud of who he was. That day, Nikos taught me. His whole demeanor changed. Others in the barn noticed and asked what was going on. He was taller, stronger, younger. And he stayed that way until the day he passed from this earth.


From the time that I was eight until I was about 12, my family had a sweet black dog named Prince. His hair was wavy and shiny, and he had a gorgeous white throat. I adored him.

On one of our camping trips, Prince picked up some ticks. They multiplied until my mother was finding them in many of the rooms of the house. Without telling any of us children, she arranged for the Anti-Cruelty Society to come and pick him up.

That evening, after he was gone, she told us that it was for the best, that a nice family who could keep him outdoors would take him. This was, of course, nonsense. He was an adult, male dog. He was not a purebred. He most probably sat in a cage for 10 days before being put to death.

I think about my sweet Prince from time to time. How terrified he must have been, removed from his family, living in a cement-floored cage, the terrible noise.


I think about all of the other creatures—dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, all of them—that suffer this same fate.

I know that animals have emotions. I imagine that you know it as well. What would our world be like if all humans came to understand this?




Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Don’t Shoot the Messenger


At an animal communication class I took years ago, students were working with photos of each other’s animals. A dog told one of the students that he didn’t like his food, that he wanted real meat. The dog’s human laughed when she heard this, completely discounting the dog (and the other student). She said that the dog’s food was fine, that she even chopped up bologna in it—as though bologna could ever be confused with real meat.

I was surprised by the woman’s reaction, surprised that someone in a class to learn how to communicate with animals would be so unwilling to hear what her own animal companion had to say.

I was even more surprised that the instructor, a well-respected professional, joined in the laughter rather than asking the dog’s human why she wasn’t listening.

Recently, a client contacted me to speak with her beloved horse, a horse that I had worked with before. The woman, who was swamped at work, wanted me to convey her apologies to her horse for not getting out to see him for awhile.

She knew that her horse was upset with the break in his routine because the last time she’d made it out to see him, he’d bitten her, something he’d never done before.

“Just tell him that I’m sorry, that I miss him, that I’ll be out as soon as I can,” she said.

During our session, the horse told me that he missed the woman. He also said that he was extremely bored, that he was not getting enough physical or mental stimulation. He suggested that perhaps someone else could work with him when the woman was unable to come out. I saw a picture of a young woman and wondered if this was who he had in mind.

At the end of the session, he quietly and sadly said that he felt “disrespected.”

When I shared the session notes, the woman wasn’t happy. She told me that her horse was her “everything,” that he shouldn’t feel disrespected. She told me that he was in a big pasture with a mare that he loved. She said he couldn’t be bored. As for the suggestion about another rider, she didn’t respond.


Last year, I worked with a horse who had been struggling with lameness issues. The human who had taken him in was a professional barefoot trimmer; she’d rehabbed many foundered horses. The woman said that she had known about me and my work for several years. She felt confident in my abilities. She hired me because she wanted to know if there was anything else she could do to help this horse.

The horse told me that he needed the bar on one of his feet (and he showed me which one) taken down just a little bit. When I conveyed this information to the woman, she responded with an angry email explaining the dangers of digging out the bar.

Now, her horse hadn’t said anything about digging out the bar. He had asked for an extremely small adjustment. I had no opinion about it myself, as I’d never seen his feet. I was just passing along the information—even though I knew in my heart there was a good chance the woman would get angry.


A few months ago, a woman called me to talk to her off-the-track thoroughbred. She had recently adopted him and wanted me to ask him how he was doing and if he needed anything.

This sweet, young guy told me that he liked his new home but hated being confined (stalled). He said that he was bored, that he needed more exercise and more stimulation. He said that he wanted to go on long rides out of doors.

He also brought my attention to some tense areas of his body and, having gotten prior permission from his human, I did a little bit of neuromuscular retraining work to help him to move more freely and comfortably. He thanked me.

When I shared the transcript of the session with the woman, she told me that her horse couldn’t be bored. She said he was turned out for six hours a day. I pointed out that this meant he was confined for 18 hours a day. She paused for a moment but then insisted he was fine.

She told me that his body couldn’t be tense, that he was regularly seen by a chiropractor.

She told me that she couldn’t take him on trail rides because he was too much for her to handle.

Then, although she hadn’t mentioned this before, she told me she’d really just wanted to know about his life on the track, that that was the main purpose of the session.


Now the vast majority of the humans I work with are eager to hear what their animal companions have to say, and they make the changes necessary to improve the situation. But whenever I find myself up against rock-solid denial, I have to ask, what are these humans so afraid of?

Years ago, before I was even sure I believed humans could telepathically communicate with animals, my riding instructor said she was having a session done with her horse. My instructor was very nervous and said she’d almost cancelled the appointment. Why? Because she was afraid she would learn, in her words, “that my horse hates me.”

I remember wondering, why would your horse hate you? And if she did say she hated you, wouldn’t you want to know why? Wouldn’t you want to know what you could do to improve your relationship?


Change is incredibly tough for some humans. They seem to get stuck on the notion that change means admitting you’ve done something wrong. It’s as though they believe that if they refuse to acknowledge a problem, it doesn’t exist.

But fear is a mighty thief. It robs you of the opportunity to learn, to grow, to form closer bonds—both with the four-leggeds and the two-leggeds in your life.


My view is that it makes more sense to look forward, not back. You did what you did because you thought it was the best thing to do. Now you have new information. Life is short. Get on with it.

The woman with the bored, “disrespected” horse? She called a few weeks after the session to say she was looking for a new barn for her guy, a place with more activity, with more horses and people for him to engage with.

I love happy endings.



Set Yourself Free

Set Yourself Free

The Cloud

The woman in the ad is depressed. A gray cloud hangs, cartoon-like, over her head.

The announcer talks about a drug the woman can take for her depression. He speaks in a soothing voice. He clearly wants you to take the drug as well—for your depression. Now the cloud moves a few feet away from the woman. Is she free of it? No. It’s not gone; it’s just been pushed to the side. But the announcer acts as though great progress has been made.

Now we see the woman laughing, enjoying a beautiful summer day in the park; she smiles at her friends, her family. The little gray cloud follows along behind her, like a satanic pet. The woman has done the right thing, taken her medicine. She feels so much better. But, make no mistake, she has not actually been healed. She will need to keep taking her pills, perhaps for the rest of her life, to keep her depression, her gray cloud, from once again hanging over her head.

While the horrifying list of possible side effects, delivered in a slow, calming, reassuring voice, is reason enough to be repulsed by this ad (the drug may kill you but, hey, at least you won’t be depressed), It makes me cringe for another reason entirely: its insistence that a disease or condition belongs to the person suffering from it. The announcer was clear that the woman would always have a connection to “her depression.”

Got Disease?

A couple of years ago, a woman who was then a Reiki student of mine, and who was struggling with an autoimmune disease, once referred to the disease as “my Lupus.”

“Yuck,” I said. “Why would you refer to a disease this way?” I told her she made it sound like a friend of hers or, worse, a permanent part of herself, something she accepted, nurtured.

She explained that she’d been a member of a Lupus support group. The therapist had counseled the members that it was important to “own” their disease, to speak to it (speak to it?), to recognize it as an important part of their lives.

If the therapist meant that you shouldn’t be in denial, well, OK. But facing reality, recognizing that your body is ill and taking action in an effort to reclaim your health, is a far cry from owning a disease, making it your friend and companion—a cloud forever floating along behind you.

When you own a disease, you settle; you accept that the situation can never change, you cast yourself in the role of victim. You spend the rest of your life “managing” your illness, being its slave—heck, maybe even its lover. It embeds itself in your personality, and you begin to define yourself in terms of “your” illness, “your” disability, “your” addiction.


Do you Secretly Like Your Illness?

A client, once told me, “Some people don’t want to get better.” I found this statement shocking. How could anyone not want to get better?

What was interesting was that I had been working with the woman’s cat over the previous few months. The cat had been very ill when I began working with her, but our monthly sessions were keeping her happy, active, and (as far as we could tell) relatively free of pain.

The woman also had physical challenges, but although she had been thrilled by the dramatic improvement in her cat, she had nevertheless refused the offer of assistance for her own painful challenges.

Now, in a completely unrelated conversation, she was telling me, “Some people don’t want to get better.” Once I sorted the meaning out, I realized what a gift these words were, how deeply true and instructive.

People become attached to their illnesses, so attached that they cannot imagine their lives without them. They cannot imagine who they would be, what would fill the hole that the illness or condition had once filled.

What would you think about instead? What would you be able to do—be expected to do—if you were fully well?

Does your illness, your condition, your addiction hold you back in ways that you actually, deep down, appreciate?


Be Like the Animals

A wise healer once told me I didn’t have to own a condition I was suffering from, had been suffering from for several years. She told me to “give it to Spirit.” I did. It changed my life.

What is so difficult for many humans is so easy for the animals. I have never worked with an animal who did not quickly and completely give up any attachment to pain or sadness when offered healing. Even when they are terminally ill, when the end of their time on this sweet earth is near, they are always eager to embrace healing and to live their lives, not their conditions.


Thank You, Sydney

Thank You, Sydney

[Repost with repaired link. Sorry everyone!]


A few days ago, I watched a video from Earthfire Institute of a woman doing a healing on a wolf, Apricot, who was suffering from inflammation of the spinal cord. The video is deeply moving. You can view it here.

Watching the video got me to thinking about a wild creature I had the honor of assisting many years ago, a seagull that I now call Sydney.


In the Water

It was a hot summer day in Chicago. I had been struggling with a piece of writing for several hours and needed to give my brain a rest, and so I headed out for a walk to the lake, a few miles away.

Sitting on the rocks, I looked out over my gorgeous lake. The water was clear and calm, gently lapping against the shore. The sky was pale blue and dotted with those fluffy white summer clouds that fill your heart with the ache of a peaceful summer afternoon.

After a few minutes of this luscious peace, I noticed something moving on the water, making small circles just to the left of my line of sight. I remember briefly thinking that it must be a duck. But a moment later, I snapped out of my trance, remembering that ducks don’t swim on Lake Michigan.

I turned to look more closely and saw a seagull, not an uncommon sight near the shore; one end of the beach a half-mile away was always filled with them. But this creature was alone. And he was swimming in an endless, tight circle. Looking more closely, I saw that his left wing was dragging behind him, skimming the surface of the water.

I couldn’t bear the thought of what was bound to happen to this creature: succumbing to exhaustion, dying alone. My heart ached for him.

I had only been practicing Reiki for about a year, but already it was a powerful force in my life. I thought, “When in doubt, try Reiki.” And so I stood up, drew the three primary Reiki symbols in the space in front of me, looked at the struggling seagull, and invited him to follow me to the beach, where he could come to shore amid others of his kind.

He turned to face me, treading water, and then began to swim parallel to the rocky shore, following me as I led the way. He couldn’t swim as quickly as I could walk, so from time to time, I would stop in a shady spot, it was so very hot that day, and wait for him to catch up. When he pulled up even to me, he would stop, turn and face me, waiting. I drew the Reiki symbols anew and once again set off towards the beach.

We were about a third of the way to our destination, when he came upon a pier of sorts, blocking his path. It was only about 15 feet long, made of rock and concrete and wood, protruding maybe three feet above the water. I’d seen it hundreds of times before, but never really noticed it. Now I wondered how it had come to be there, what its purpose was.

My seagull (my heart had already claimed him), swam right up to this blockade. I held my breath as he tried to flap his wings and jump onto it, but he only had one useful wing, and so his effort to gain dry land couldn’t work, and he fell back into the water.

He looked as though he was going to try again, but I was so fearful for his safety that I asked him to please go around the pier. I said the words silently. “Please, go around. Swim around. It’s not that far.”

He hesitated for a moment, treading water, still looking at the pile of rock and concrete and wood, but then did as I asked. He swam the 15 feet to the end of the pier, swam around it, and then returned to his spot parallel to the shore. Treading water, he looked at me. I refreshed the Reiki symbols and we set off once again.


On the Beach


Our journey of half a mile took us close to an hour to complete.

As we approached the edge of the beach, thick with seagulls, my friend, my teacher, swam around another, smaller pier, this time needing no instruction. He did not return to his place by my side but, seeing the flock, positioned himself to join them. When he walked up on the beach, I instinctively moved towards him, but he flapped his one wing in warning (the other wing dragged uselessly in the sand) and ran backwards, away from me.

I understood that it was time for me to leave.

A lifeguard was walking the beach not far from us. I stopped him, told him our story, asked if he knew of a wildlife refuge in the city, someone who could help my seagull. He looked at me as though he couldn’t quite comprehend what I was saying. “He followed you all the way from there?” he said, pointing to the place, so far away now, where our journey had begun.

“Yes,” I said, not yet realizing how sacred this journey had been, how utterly amazing.

He instructed me to go to the boathouse at the other end of the beach and look for the lifeguard supervisor. He said the supervisor would be able to help me. Then he said, “I get off in a little while. I’ll make sure he takes care of this.”

“Do you promise?” I said.

He said that he did.

I walked to the end of the beach. I looked, but couldn’t find the supervisor or anyone who could tell me where he might be. But I trusted the young man to keep his word, and so I went home with a peaceful heart, believing I had done all that I could do.


Back  Home


That night, I finally returned to my desk, to the writing I had needed a break from that afternoon. After an hour or so, at about 10 pm, I felt a presence in the room. At first, I wasn’t sure what it was, but I quickly realized it was my seagull. He insisted I leave my desk and tend to him.

I sat on the couch in the living room, lit a candle, and took him (not literally, of course) into my lap. I drew the Reiki symbols in the space in front of me, said a prayer for healing, and held his body, the idea of his body, in my hands. About twenty minutes later, he was gone. I wished him well and returned to my desk.

The next night, again at about 10 pm, I felt my seagull’s presence, urging me to leave my desk and tend to him. I again sat on the couch with his beautiful self in my lap and shared a Reiki healing with him.

The following night, at the same time, my beautiful friend called me away from my desk once again and directed me to assist him. But this time was different. At the end of this third session, just before he vanished, he stood tall on my lap, fully extended his wings, and slowly flapped them with tremendous power and grace.


I did not know, and probably will never know, if Sydney’s wing had mended, whether he was alive or had left this earth. I did not know if he had been accepted by the flock or had been pecked to death, if he had managed to feed himself or had died of starvation. I did not know if he had been rescued and cared for by humans, if he had been returned to the wild.

All I knew, and the knowledge broke over me in a warm wave, was that Sydney had been healed.

Thank you for teaching me the meaning of healing, dear Sydney, for your courage and persistence, your wisdom and grace.  Blessings to you, my friend.



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You Have the Power

You Have the Power

We’d only been Facebook friends for a couple of weeks when my dear lost-and then-found-again friend (high school, college; you know, a really precious friend) posted that her sweet little dog was ill, refusing to eat. I contacted her privately and asked what was going on. Her dog had been diagnosed with a terminal illness but had been doing well. And then suddenly she wasn’t. My friend wrote, “She was suddenly totally lethargic and coughing, I thought it was the end. I even tried to do an amateur Reiki intervention with her, something I will admit I know nothing about! But in desperation, I laid my palms on her and told her to heal! She put up with it for a few minutes and then got up and moved away. But I swear her eyes were telling me ‘take me to a vet, you fool.’” The little dog pulled through this episode, began eating, regained some of her energy, and my friend rejoiced in the promise of more time. But, sadly, the little one passed several week later. My friend had known she wasn’t doing Reiki but had instinctively laid her hands on her suffering dog in an effort to bring her beloved friend healing, to bring her peace. She said she did this out of desperation, but the truth is that each and every one of us is born with the ability to heal ourselves and to assist others in the healing process as well. If you had the experience as a child of your mother or grandmother or aunt kissing your forehead when you were sick and feverish, and feeling better because of it, you know what I mean. If you’ve held a trembling animal in your arms and soothed it into calmness, if you’ve gently stroked the neck of an anxious horse or the forehead of a troubled human, and watched the fear and stress melt away, you know what I mean. While we often confuse the two, healing does not necessarily mean cure. A being may experience healing, even though her illness progresses, even though her life ends. Healing creates a sense of peace, of acceptance, of love. Healing allows us to move forward without bitterness, without anger, without fear. I love Reiki. When I began my study, I felt as though I had come home. It is a central, nourishing part of my life. But Reiki is not the only path to healing. Each of us has the innate capacity to lay hands on another and encourage peace and healing. Each of us has the innate capacity for compassion, for unconditional love and acceptance, for supporting ourselves and others in the journey towards healing. ________ If you have received this post in your inbox, click on the title (“You Have the Power”) to post a comment. Thanks!