Friday, March 9, 2012
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
There’s probably no need to preach to this choir about the power, the healing, and the grace bestowed by love – we in this virtual room have enough love pouring forth to welcome even other species into our households, sharing our food, our time and even – some of us- our beds- with cats and dogs, birds, mice, lizards, turtles, rats, and so on. We do our level best to keep them from harm, to feed them nutritiously, amuse them, provide medical care and even occasionally clothe them. We love our animals.
We do our very best to love, often going that extra mile for a new toy or the expensive dental cleaning. But in this, the month dedicated to the muddy and transcendent work of love, the Islamic mystic and poet Hafiz challenges us – yes, even us- to “Make a new water-mark on your excitement/ And love.” (from The Subject Tonight is Love - versions of Hafiz by Daniel Landinsky)
In the setting of campfires and mending, a flowers scent and a hillside, he tells us to abandon our sense of Self to the point of flooding ourselves with passionate involvement with life and to let love fill us so that it pours over the banks of our ego. This flood of selflessness carries our egos along with it- it spills out into the world raising high new marks on the walls of our existence.
This is a frightening invitation, but it’s one I believe that our engagement with our fellow animals opens us to. If we can open our hearts to another being, we can welcome, forgive, be merciful and love all beings.
I want to share with you two stories about love that I think illustrate the radical nature of what Hafiz says so beautifully:
The first is a story that we are all probably familiar with: the recent terrible slaughter of 49 exotic animals released by their owner Terry Thompson who, in a fit of revenge that spilled into madness, let them out of their cages - . “Among the animals killed were 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, six black bears, one baboon, two grizzly bears, three mountain lions and two wolves.” Six that were unharmed were taken to zoos.
What we may not have considered is how Thompson and his wife started down this path: they began with what at the time looked and felt like love – a love of wild animals. Perhaps they began with one – interested and committed to caring for it as best they could. They had the space, so they acquired more of them, convinced that they were doing a good job and the animals were better off with them than in the unpredictable and dangerous environments they came from.
And then what may have started off as genuine caring grew into something we now know is a form of hoarding – collecting for the sake of having, stoking an ego that loved the idea of love, not the actual ego-less love that is life giving. The couple’s marriage fell apart; they did not keep up with the feeding and care of the animals. Even one leopard which was saved had to be euthanized the other day because it couldn’t survive an accident with the cage door – an accident it might have lived through is it hadn’t been weakened in bone and body by years of malnourishment.
So what does the love that overflows the narrow banks of ego, raising our engagement with the world to new heights, look and feel like?
Let’s look at the life of Louis J. Camuti (August 30, 1893 – February 24, 1981). According to Wikipedia, he “was a New York City cat veterinarian who made house calls for over sixty years. He was the first veterinarian in the United States to devote his entire practice to cats. His autobiography, ‘All My Patients Are Under the Bed: Memoirs of a Cat Doctor.’
He once told an interviewer that when he was 11 and ill with typhoid, a fire had broken out in his home and his cat hopped on his chest and breathed in his face. Too weak to leave the bed, he interpreted the cat’s behavior as follows: ‘As if to clear away the smoke and protect me from the fire,’ he said, ‘the cat stayed on my chest until my mother rushed into my room.’ "
Here is a life in which passion and love overflowed – he dedicated his life – and we’re talking weekends and nights of leaving the dinner table, leaving the kids’ stories unread, etc. -to the animals he cared so deeply about that his own comfort was secondary. Don’t get me wrong- we’re not talking about martyrdom here, and neither was Hafiz. No, the opposite; we’re talking about a heart so opened by love that commitment and joy became one. How do we know? Because he practiced well into his 80s. He set a high watermark for us all.
May we too be flooded with the All Powerful Mystery which is Love.
Monday, January 23, 2012
Cute, aren’t they? So soft, friendly, and adorable. They, along with three brothers-sisters were left at the surrender desk of our local SPCA recently. Oh, and their mother. Why, you might well ask. Good question...and there are myriad answers to why people get rid of their pets. In my volunteer work at a local shelter I’ve learned there are some vital things to think over about before bringing a fellow animal into our homes.
But the loss, the confusion, and the sadness for all involved can be avoided by our asking some key questions before we buy or adopt a fellow animal.
1.) Everyone in the household should be willing. Everyone, including other animals. When we bring a new being into our homes, we invite new intimacies and compromise – it makes sense that everyone needs to be willing to enter into both.
2.) Falling in love is grand, but true, fair and enduring love includes a practical assessment: can we afford food, medical and dental care, shelter, and the occasional fun date?
3.) Are we just crushing, or are we loving “till death do us part?” Most animal companions will age and die before we will: are we emotionally and financially prepared to do our very best throughout the life of our friend? If we take on an longer-lived animal companion, have we made provisions for its care should something happen to us? I once heard of a person whose provision for a parrot (They can live up to 80 years.) was euthanasia!
4.) Most of us wouldn’t bring a complete stranger into our homes, but a surprising number of people bring animals we know almost nothing about into our lives and expect magic to happen. Animals are complex beings and they can't speak, so why do we rely on magic to create a relationship? Learn all you can about your prospective roommate (or its breed- genetics count!) before you seal the deal: gender, family, medical history, appetites, habits- good and bad, likes and dislikes, food needs and preferences. If it’s a species you’re not familiar with, talk with experienced others early and often; clubs and on-line chats are great and easily accessible resources. Listen hard and don’t think your experience will be exceptional. “Exceptional” means “very rare.”
5.) Loving another means being responsible to and for that being: be sure to spay/neuter, do all needed training, and commit to providing emotional and intellectual stimulus so that you and your animal can enjoy a rich, full life together.
Like the songs say, lovin' ain't easy, but being abandoned or having to abandon is much, much worse. Enter love with a full and intentional heart, and you’ll be richly rewarded.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
On January 2 I Googled "resolution" trying to figure out if I should make one or not. One of the top definitions was "audio quality." Combined with a wonderful Havel poem I'd just read, talking about being able to hear "the Voice of Being," I woke up, in a Zen kind of way.
How’s your audio quality today, at the turning of the year? Is our direction forward clear and hopeful, or are we receiving only static, distracted by loss and pain?
Are we feeling, “Boy, this could be the beginning of a great adventure of the soul!” or “I despair of ever finding my way, grounding my life in meaning again.”
In a group of soulmates, we may find ourselves in good company for getting better resolution: maybe gather the willpower to listen harder to the soft voice within. It's important because the power to listen more intently means being more responsive and responsible in our relationships. And this can be an especial challenge in inter-species friendships.
Resolutions are a mixed bag: we don’t want or need the guilt, the sense of failure, that comes with failing them. I avoided making resolutions for years thinking I didn't need this kind of baggage, but a few years ago I began to think of resolutions differently: I began to think of them as I do prayer – as putting my own Voice of Being out there as intention. And I noticed others are thinking along these lines – a Twitterer posed it this way: What is your intention for the new year?
Each one of us plays a part in sending and receiving the Voice of Being. It may be the most important thing we do to keep our relationships vital and healthy. Being moral beings means we have a responsibility to listen with all that we have to one another. This isn’t easy- it takes a spiritual practice or moral discipline, or whatever you want to call it.
I know I haven’t been listening with all my being lately, with worrisome effects on my loved ones:
For instance, I recently took my dog to the vet for her annual check-up and learned that I had been lazy: I stopped using her tick repellent too early this fall, so she now has Lyme disease. And because I didn’t pay enough attention to how much I was snacking her as the weather got lousy, she’s gained a bit too much weight. (She's now on amoxycillin and a diet, and doing well.)
Even people of good will and good faith can forget is that not listening all out, our antenna quivering, prevents us from being atuned, one-tuned, singing the same song.
One more story about listening: the author Elisabeth Tova Bailey (fell very ill with a mysterious and severely debilitating virus and could only hear the voice of despondence and despair. She was given a gift – a friend found a snail and brought it, along with a little of its woodland terrain, to her to amuse her as she was incapable of doing much but lie still. She watched this small mollusk day in and day out; she saw a creature whose life and limits were even narrower than hers – and this gave her perspective and hope. Witness to the life of the humblest of beings, to the dignity and integrity with which it went about its days, then becoming involved in caring for it and its family, she gained greater compassion and less self-pity.
So for the year ahead I hope you will join me in a rededication to living with high fidelity, to being more responsive and responsible in our actions- to continue to grow our hearts. I know I’m not the first or only one to become a bit deaf to the symphony that is life– and I’m very grateful for my communities, which help center me in what matters, which help me better hear the laughter and the tears of the cosmos. Happy New Year!
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Two days ago I ran across an actual note to self: “Mother Maya says, “What are your questions?” Intrigued as to why I’d copied this enigmatic remark, I put it in a new pile. But her question wouldn't let me go.
As I talked with lots of people and met lots of other animals, I thought about the questions we were all asking, or repressing: the chestnut mare obsessed with a patch of clover; the greyhound, lamed by being raced; the seven parakeets left homeless along with their owner; and the happy cocker spaniel that greeted us at the park this morning. What questions apply to our shared lives? What questions were we human caretakers asking and which were we avoiding?
I came up with a few. My first caution, dear reader, is that they are not easy ones. The second caution is that my answers are works in progress – as your own might be. But these questions did lead me back to something important, and I hope you’ll be encouraged to ask your own.
First, what does it mean to “own” another being? Increasingly, as Adam Gopnick so beautifully explored in a recent New Yorker article about becoming a dog owner, there’s clearly more than “ownership” in play for many of us who share our lives with other animals. But not for all of us. What’s our moral obligation when we take on this responsibility? Do we adequately prepare, financially and in other ways, for a rich and happy life and for the old age of our pets?
Is there such a thing as a “good death,” and if so, what does it look like?
Few beings, I believe, want to die, so in that sense I’d say no to the first part of the question. But I also know that when a being begins dying he or she starts a journey that only they can take. Death’s essence is aloneness – which is hard and haunting, especially for the survivors. On the other hand, when my father was deep inside a coma, he knew we were present and could hear us because he told us when he recovered. So I believe that even in a dying state, the presence of others is known and can be comforting.
For me, as for many beings, a good death is a natural and peaceful one, with little or no pain, in the presence of those I love. A good death also means making time to express your love, to remember, and to hold on to one another.
Another aspect of a good death is the opportunity to come in our wholeness to this new experience. Asking for forgiveness, speaking our love and our care, sharing happy memories, sacred times, and letting go of regret – these acts bring wholeness to any relationship. I want to come to death, mine or a beloved’s, filled with loving-kindness: scars, warts and all, but one.
It turns out that Mother Maya is an extraordinary woman who recovered from ovarian cancer to become a healer of body, mind and spirit. She speaks all over the world about the need for spiritually grounded healing practices in order to remove pain and suffering from the world – the earth and all beings. What does she say about healing ? “It's about knowing that each and every being must be helped into wholeness. Only then can we become whole in ourselves.”
Our purpose in life is to bring about wholeness of all beings. That’s a purpose to ponder – to enable the full “beingness” of others. And that is how I answer my last question, which is, “Why are we here?”
Mother Maya’s question about questions is important when we think about the other beings we bring into our lives. We bring wholeness to them through our bringing non-violent, life-affirming intentions to our treatment of all beings, and we live into our own wholeness this way.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
I’m having trouble settling into writing because I miss my pal – Maisie’s usually curled up next to me as I write. She’s fine, just elsewhere at the moment, leaving me surprised at my sense of loss.
Which is ironic, because I’ve spent this past week sharing stories of actual loss of animal companions with people. People who’ve lost pets, of course, but also dog walkers, kennel owners, and vet techs – people who treat and care for animals and come to know them – they mourn, too, and can mourn hard. When we get to know another being, bonds form, bonds beyond language and our ordinary understanding.
There’s another, darker side to the story, too. At the SPCA last week, the surprise animal for the toddlers we host for “Little Bookworms” each week was an eight week puppy named Bounce: this beautiful, affectionate female had fallen from a balcony, and been left on the pavement until neighbors found her and brought her to the rescue center. It’s hard to imagine someone allowing such a thing to happen, but, sadly, the folks at the SPCA see this kind of thing all too often.
So today I’m in a prayerful mood, prayer as a way to witness and to center my spirit on what is good and true so these realities can light the way when lost or in despair.
Spirit of Life, hear my deepest wish: may I care for the well-being of others, may my mistakes and thoughtlessness be forgiven, may my life be a blessing to others, and may I give thanks each day for all the blessings others give to me.
Spirit of love, may my heart lead, my mind prevail and my hands reach out to bring about a more beautiful and just world for all who share it.
Give me the strength to know what I may change, the courage to face what can’t be altered, and the wisdom to know which is which.
Thank you for the companionship of all who dwell beside me. May I be a worthy companion to them.
Blessed be. May it be so.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Ah, summer fun out doors – carefree and easy times. Maybe our iguana gets to rule the screened in porch, or the cockatiel or conure perches there in the sun. These are the days we remember when the cold and wild winds blow, or the rough times shadow us. My dog and I just enjoyed an evening soccer scrum with her favorite big blue ball. I curd an evening romping romp with her favorite big blue rough times shadow us. t our time outside short, though, because it’s hot and she’d eaten just an hour ago and I recently learned about bloat.
Bloat’s not good, not at all, and if you don’t know about it, please look it up now – there’s lots of helpful and practical material out there that may save your animal’s life.
We can avoid or prevent many things from happening to those we love, but not everything, by any means. Sometimes, when bad things happen, we have no choices – we have to accept events as they’ve unfolded. There are also times when knowing your pet and having some resources can offer you options. Friends of mine have a small dog who, as a puppy, raced out an open door and onto the street. He was hit by a car and badly hurt. My friends took a chance, had some resources, and today their beloved dog races around on three legs, loving life.
Sometimes, even when it comes to the end of a life, we may have choices. I value hospice care because it’s one such choice for some people and their loved one when faced with a terminal illness. Recognizing that we can establish deep bonds with other animals, today hospice care is increasingly available for them as well as well as humans.
Hospice care modeled on the best of human hospice offers pain relief above all else- but doesn’t stop at the physical pain. Hospice care includes emotional support and spiritual care. For animal caregivers, spiritual care acknowledges the great rewards in walking the whole journey of life with your companion, and also that there are challenges on such a path.
As your companion’s primary caregiver, you’ll make vital decisions while tending to the physical and emotional needs of your pet. In addition, you may have to manage the needs and concerns of other loved ones – family and friends. Renewing your own spirit will enhance this precious time and insure that you are able to give the best care possible.
Finding a sustainable spiritual practice now will help you feel more confident that you are making the best choices, when you have them, and accepting life in all its fullness, sadness alongside joy, when you do not.
For my practice, I just started a gratitude journal. I decided I could make time to write - at the start or end of every day- at least three things I’m thankful for. It’s been a surprise to find the list grow longer at every session, and in the process to let go of the inconsequential parts of my day. It’s like a shower for the soul.
Anyone have a practice that helps you stay centered and renew your sense of purpose? Dancing, meditating, prayer beads, or a special piece of music? Please feel free to share what works for you in the comment box below.