Animals sure can have a sneaky way of becoming a spiritual practice.
In 12 years, my dog Java has never missed a meal — not until the first weekend in November. A barrage of questions raced through my mind and heart. Why now? What’s wrong? What did I miss? Is she dying? What next?
I readied myself for anything when I made that first of what would be many vet appointments. Taking a deep breath, I convinced myself to be open and prepared for whatever news would come. And as I dug into my spiritual practice, I reminded myself to stay present, keep my heart open, and not be attached to outcome. Oh yeah, and breathe.
They say that “No news is good news,” but is that really true?
What if the only news that keeps coming in is all good news, yet my dog still isn’t eating very much, is losing weight rapidly, and is having “episodes” of some sort that take her to a far away place for moments and minutes at a time? It became clear to me that I needed to expand my resources, expand my heart, and continue reminding myself of the Dalai Lama’s quote that hangs in my living room, “Never Give Up.”
There’s a fine line between giving up, letting go and surrendering. Spirit has a way of bringing all sorts of lessons into our lives to teach us the difference between love and fear. For me, I chose the place of sweet sacrifice — to put my energies into supporting Java through whatever it was that she was going through, while continuing to keep my eyes and heart open to the rest of my life at the same time. I chose love.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the mystery that would span for many weeks, and the outpouring of love and community that would gather to help troubleshoot Java’s shift into whatever her next phase would be for all of us. When we’re willing to think outside the box, the box disappears.
I’ve been working with animals in a variety of ways for over 12 years, so I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what’s available. However, when it came down to my own dog having health issues that kept showing up as inexplicable, I reached out to colleagues who practiced traditional, holistic and alternative methods of working with animals. So far we’ve utilized holistic veterinary medicine, essential oils, homeopathy, osteopathy, animal communication, energy healing, shamanic healing, Tellington TTouchÂ®, chiropractic and prayer.
Throughout this process, I’ve expanded my belief system of what it means to heal physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Sometimes healing is about accepting what is rather than wanting something different.
Enter a deepening of my spiritual practice.
In the past two months I’ve found the beauty of noticing each breath, celebrating each wag, rejoicing each time a favorite toy gets picked up, and recognizing a familiar glimmer. I’ve also found the peace of reaching out and letting go, and the joy of what is rather than the grief of what’s not.
We can run in circles and chase our tail, or hold still and the tail will eventually come to us. That’s where we are right now — in a wondrous place of allowing the mystery to unfold.
Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
While I write, Java’s peacefully asleep on the couch with her favorite owl toy tucked under her arm — her white muzzle flopped over a pillow — dreaming of nothing more than being in this moment.
Sometimes the teacher appears when the student is ready.
Photographs by Gina Kelly for a photo project called Kindred Spirits (ginakelly.com/photo-gallery/kindred-spirits/).