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Saying goodbye. December 15, 2014

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“If your heart were sincere and upright, every creature would be unto you a looking-glass of life and a book of holy doctrine.”
—Thomas a Kempis

“All things by immortal power
Near or far,
Hiddenly
To each other linked are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star.”
—Francis Thompson

Pope Francis got in big trouble this past week by daring to suggest that animals went to heaven. He was trying to console a distraught little boy whose dog had just died by saying that his beloved pet was now in heaven and that he, the boy, would meet with him again when he got there. Immediately, an outpouring of outrage from conservatives and spokespeople for organizations like the Pork Producers Association came pouring out like a pile of slaughtered pig guts.

All of us who’ve ever had a pet know that the cost of loving them is losing them, since their lives are so short compared to ours. Every time I get a new dog, cat, bird, or what have you, I know that in the moment of saying hello I’m also starting to say goodbye. But I get them and I love them anyway, because I can’t imagine life without pets to love, without pets to love you, even for a short time.

But how do you explain that to a little boy who’s just lost his first pet, his beloved dog? I suppose that for many of us, the first faces we’d like to see after Saint Peter’s are those of the pets we loved, the pets who loved us, the pets who, possibly, saved us when we were in physical or emotional crisis, watching over us with their endless loving concern. Telling a heartbroken little boy that he’d see his dog in heaven, as Pope Francis did, was an act of charity. It might also have been true.

Having not been there, I can’t tell you if there’s a heaven. But if there is, I want my pets to be in it, or it won’t be worth going to. I want all the plants and animals and water features that make our world an earthly paradise to be in it. And I want those pigs who believe that God gave them the earth and everything on it to despoil for their own enrichment to re-read their Genesis, which they always use to justify barbarous acts of greed and savagery, where God Creator says that He gave His Creation into man’s care, to stand for him as its protector. Not its destroyer.

Just for today, cherish the dog, the flower, and the star. For we are all linked, no matter what we are.

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Nothing stands in the way. March 9, 2014

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“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”

—William Blake

When I read this for the first time, I thought of rainforest destruction, of strip-mining, of clear-cutting logging deforestation, of fracking. When I read it the next time, I thought of the trucks from the electric company that came and cut down my red cedars, not even informing me, much less asking my permission, and not realizing that evergreens are meant to withstand snow and ice by their nature and thus pose no threat to electric wires. Much winter bird habitat and food were lost because of their ignorance.

But when I read it for the third time, this morning, I had just read the most horrific article on the Yahoo news page, complete with photos and graphic descriptions, about animals that were eaten alive. How baby octopi were sliced in bits and consumed with relish by appreciative customers who loved the feel of their still-writhing tentacles and suction cups clinging to their tongues. How fish were filleted and served with their still-gasping heads as decorative elements on the plate. How living frogs were dissected at diners’ tables, their hearts still beating and limbs thrashing, and served as sashimi. How baby shrimp were stripped of their shells, plunged into hot oil, then served still squirming in agony. How rotten cheese riddled with writhing maggots was considered a delicacy.

Worse still, how perhaps the most celebrated restaurant in the world, Copenhagen’s Nomi, will serve you a salad with live ants substituted for croutons if you’re willing to ante (so to speak) up $300 a plate. I cite this as the worst example because at least the other dishes are traditional to their local cuisines, whereas I doubt the cuisine of Copenhagen has traditionally featured ants, live or otherwise. If a foraging culture depends on insects like Australia’s witchitty grubs, rich in fat and protein, to survive, that’s one thing. (And at least they cook them before they eat them.) For a high-end restaurant to charge $300 for any salad when people are starving is an outrage, and to serve up live insects is even worse. Shame, Nomi! Shame on you!!! (The writer noted that the ants were chilled before serving so they couldn’t escape from your plate before you could eat them. Thanks so much.)

What sort of people are we, who could easily subsist on vegetables, fruits, grains, beans and other legumes, and humanely, sustainably raised eggs and dairy, but who are not just content to live off dead animals, many of whose lives have been spent in the confines of a dog kennel or worse, but who choose to eat the poor creatures while they live?

This story certainly moved me to tears, but hardly tears of joy. The poor creatures in their agony, the full-color photos showing them still alive and struggling to understand what was happening to them, while the article claimed that live-food conoisseurs think that the flesh tastes far better while it’s still alive, made me wish I could ship each and every one to Fiji and feed them alive to the cannibals who once inhabited that island. But sadly, even the cannibals had the decency to kill and cook their victims before they ate them, so today’s “live-food conoisseurs” couldn’t experience the delights of being eviscerated, flayed, boiled alive in oil, or shredded for sashimi while still living. What a shame.

Could we please see the beautiful green tree as a step towards enlightenment, a creature with the same rights as ourselves, and not as a “green thing” that stands in our way, our dreadful, greedy, destructive, dehumanizing way. For when we see something as lesser than we are, we stray from our Reiki path and exalt our greed and egos and push toward worldly gain at any price, at the cost of all life and of our world.

Just for today, think about what you’re putting in your mouth.

Work hard. July 10, 2013

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I have a parrot. Well, actually, I have a parrot, two parakeets, a huge black German shepherd, and two enormous Maine coon-mix cats, an aquarium, and two small water gardens with goldfish, not to mention dozens upon dozens of container plants that make an annual trek to our deck from the greenhouse and house, then return to their cold-weather homes. Oh, and raised-bed vegetable and herb gardens.

All of these, as you can imagine, require a significant amount of daily care and quality time. And none more so than my 30-year-old yellow-naped Amazon, Plutarch the Pirate Parrot. Yellow napes are considered, with African greys, to be the brightest of all parrots, with their intelligence now estimated to equal that of a 5-year-old child. Plu is a handful. And he could live for a hundred years.

Plutarch talks, and he’s always grammatically correct. (Me: “You’re a big green bird.” Plu: “I’m a big green bird.”) He squawks (setting the dog off in a barking frenzy, ow, ow, just for today, don’t get angry). He laughs (like me, unfortunately for my sense of self-respect). He sings, whistles, and hums his favorite tunes (such as the James Bond theme song). He has favorite bands (like Jethro Tull) and movies (especially the adventure films with lots of gunfire and explosions). He is extremely perceptive and emotionally responsive.

The reason I’m writing about this on my Reiki blog is that I was at the pet store last night and picked up the 30th anniversary edition of Bird Talk magazine. And a number of people who were featured in the issue cared for five, seven, or more of these big birds, many of them rescues.

Because of their longevity, sometimes parrot owners predecease their birds. Often, the flashy, expensive birds are bought as status symbols, and when they prove more high-maintenance than, say, a Tesla or Bentley, their owners throw them out. Sometimes people with young families buy parrots as colorful pets for the kids, then are overwhelmed by their time-consuming needs. (Note to families: Parakeets, aka budgies, have huge parrot personalities in small, easy-care, colorful bodies. They’re great pets for busy families, or anyone else, for that matter.) And sometimes, busy people with hectic work and travel schedules buy parrots for companionship.

In all these cases, parrots often end up in foster care when they prove too demanding for their original owners. And, even more tragically, parrots, because of their high intelligence, can actually go insane if neglected. A sensitive, companion-loving bird like a cockatoo, shut away in a small, featureless cage away from his human family, can and often does lose his mind. There’s even a facility for insane parrots in Florida; I’ve seen a documentary of it, and trust me, it’s not something you would want to show your kids.

We all know the patience, love, and understanding a rescue/adopted dog, cat, bunny, or the like needs to accept and trust, and eventually come to love, his or her new family. Imagine what it takes to win the trust of a parrot, to overcome his feelings of betrayal and abandonment, to form strong, solid bonds. Imagine what it takes to win the trust of a dozen parrots, as some of these people have.

I was so struck by the Reiki spirit of those who chose to accept that challenge, to endure the screaming, the biting, the feather-plucking, the manic and repetitive behaviors, the mess and destruction. Would you adopt a dozen severely autistic children? This is what people who adopt or foster abused, abandoned parrots often face.

I wouldn’t have the nerve. I’ve had a number of exotic birds over the years, from rosellas and grass parakeets to lilac-crowned Amazons and, ultimately, Plutarch. But none of them had been abused, ignored, or abandoned.

When I first met Plu, I’d gone into a pet store that specialized in birds. The store allowed its parrots free playtime on open-air playgyms. There were many beautiful birds on the playgyms, and I’m an aesthete who’s always drawn to beauty. There was also one big, homely green bird. It followed me everywhere as I enjoyed the play of the pretty birds. It had chosen me; eventually, I noticed.

I have always chosen the pets who have also chosen me. When choosing cats or parakeets, for example, I’ll come close to them and see who responds. So when I realized that this big, homely green bird had chosen me, I figured, “Oh, what the heck,” and asked the store clerk how much he cost. You can imagine how stunned I was when I learned that the homeliest bird in the store was also the most expensive!

Yowie kazowie. I left without Plutarch, but he stayed on my mind. I started putting money aside, hardly even realizing what I was doing. Eventually, I had managed to scrape together enough. I went back to the store, and yes, Plutarch was still there. And not only there. He recognized me at once, ecstatically displaying and calling to me, in effect, “Thank God, I knew you’d come back!”

I have been so blessed to have Plutarch with me through the many life changes since then, faithful friend, loyal companion, trusting family member. I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy! I try to love all my companions, from my partner Rob down to the goldfish and plants, with as much fervor as I can. I try to focus the Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals) on them first, for if you can’t show your own that you love them unconditionally, what hope is there?

God bless those who try to save our animal friends. Believe me, it isn’t easy.

Just for today, be kind.

Animal heroism. March 4, 2013

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In my previous post, “What’s in a name?”, I related the story of my heroic and steadfast golden retriever, Molly. But I’ll bet that every one of us could tell several stories about how animals came to our rescue in our time of need.

In my case, another example was when I was a child. Every summer, I was sent to “horse camp” to care for and ride horses and learn sports like tennis and archery, as well as skills like acting. I loved the camp, loved the horses, and loved riding. (I also loved archery and all games of aim.) But our camp counselors tended to be 17- and 18-year-olds, who of course seemed ancient and wise to us, but still needed to learn a lot about life.

Such was the case with an 18-year-old counselor one day when I was riding Beauty, a gentle, older horse, in the ring. The counselor felt that Beauty wasn’t moving as fast as she should be, so she snuck up behind her and struck her with a whip. The horse reared, knocking me off (after all, neither of us was aware of or expecting this), and I passed out on the ground under her hooves.

When I came to, I saw that Beauty, far from trampling me underfoot, was still rearing over me so as not to harm me, to in fact guard me from harm from what she must have perceived as an irrational, evil being who had struck her without warning and might strike me next. Heaven knows how long she must have maintained that uncomfortable posture to protect me. I rolled out from under her, thanked her, and remounted. No one attacked us again when we resumed our circuit. The counselor’s white face told me that she had learned a valuable life lesson. And so had I.

I’ve loved animals unconditionally all my life, and have been rewarded with their unconditional love all my life. Whether petting a purring cat or a porcupine, rubbing a dog’s belly or a parrot’s nape, I think the lesson they teach us is twofold. First, to accept and love them for what they are and not try to transform them into us. And second, to understand that what allows them to teach us is that they have no egos to get between them and us. There is no self-important “I” separating them from all creation, separating them from what they love.

Usui Founder’s Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals) also help set our feet on the path of overcoming ego. Those of us who follow the Reiki Way should open our eyes, hearts and minds and set ego aside. Let us learn from our animal companions to love all creation instead of ourselves.

Just for today, revere our partners in the creation rather than setting ourselves above them.

All content © copyright Red Dog Reiki. All rights reserved.

Crow’s feet. September 21, 2011

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“We don’t often believe in coincidences, do we, Watson?”—Sherlock Holmes

Like the Great Detective, those of us who walk the Reiki path are sensitized to the world around us. We’re more apt to notice when “coincidences” start building up, and to seek the meaning behind them. 

I was at a Reiki retreat in the beautiful area around Bushkill Falls, Pennsylvania, this past weekend. The place I was staying was surrounded by woods and a stream, serene and quiet. Fall was just beginning to make its presence known, with a few trees turning red or yellow; most were still green. And every morning, a pair of crows would sail over the trees and past my windows.

Crows aren’t something I think about too often. My totem animal, the red-tailed hawk, was also active in the sky at Bushkill, and I was naturally focused on that. But the entire week before the retreat, I’d been listening to Robbie Robertson and the Red Road Ensemble’s marvelous CD, “Music for The Native Americans.” My favorite song on the CD is “Ghost Dance,” which begins “Crow has brought the message/To the children of the Sun.”

Then our Reiki group took an afternoon to explore Bushkill Falls, including its trading post, which happened to have some marvelous Native American incense. I love incense, and it all looked amazing, but I had to exercise restraint. I finally settled on packets of sage and sweetgrass incense, and one more, a “Chief’s Blend,” which happened to be Crow, wisdom.

When our Reiki retreat concluded and we headed for home, I stopped at a Native American museum I saw along the way. Turns out, it had an amazing collection of Native American-themed books, and of course I was enthralled and came away with a couple, wishing I could afford many more. As I waited to check out, I saw a poster hanging at the checkout counter showing the Native American equivalent of the typical horoscope. September 22-October 22 was the sign of the crow. Not only are we entering this month now, but my birthday falls on October 11, during the crow time.

Ted Andrews, in his seminal book, Animal-Speak, has this to say about crows: “Wherever crows are, there is magic. They are symbols of creation and spiritual strength. They remind us to look for opportunities to create and manifest the magic of life. They are messengers calling to us about the creation and magic that is alive within our world and available to us.”

So be it. I have taken notice; I will never look at crows the same way again. I will learn their lessons, beyond the love of glitter that already unites us. I will take them into the totem realm where the red-tailed hawk, the horned toad, the owl, and the turtle reside. Welcome, crow! There are no coincidences for those who truly see.

Just for today, be open.

Excerpted from Living Reiki. All content © copyright Red Dog Reiki. All rights reserved.

Reiki Tips: Pets love Reiki, too. June 27, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Reiki, Reiki Tips, Reiki wisdom.
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Dogs love Reiki. So do cats. And birds. And bunnies. Don’t forget your pets when you’re sharing Reiki energy. Each time you hold or pet an animal, put your hands on them and give them Reiki.

If you’ve reached Reiki Level II or beyond, draw the First Symbol over them, tapping it in, before giving them some hands-on Reiki. Make Reiki a regular part of your interactions with your pets and you’ll be amazed at how calm and happy they become under your hands.

And guess what? You’ll discover that you’ve become calm and happy, too! It’s a great way to strengthen the human-animal bond. You can even share Reiki with your fish by putting your healing hands on the aquarium walls.

All content © copyright Red Dog Reiki. All rights reserved.