The Importance of Stretching

I’m writing that title knowing that it has (at least) a double meaning. The importance of stretching in life is also related to the importance of stretching out our bodies every day, and to remembering to take breaks to stretch our minds when doing desk work (like I am now).

I am a Certified Yoga Instructor but these days I am enjoying just keeping it simple. The important thing is to be regular and consistent in your stretches. Simple neck stretches, chin tucked, back of the neck lengthened, and feeling my spine stretch up from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet is a good basis to start from. Paying attention to what feels out of whack and listening for what will help. Following your body’s cues for what feels better when you do it. The simple remembering to tune into your body’s wisdom and act on it can make a huge difference. A recent client was so stressed out that it was greatly affecting her relationship with her horse and their ability to compete well together. One aspect we often neglect in looking at why our animal friends are not going well, is our ability and willingness to care for ourselves. This will then affect our ability to relate to our animal partners and color the world in a corresponding way. Our animals are extremely empathetic to our feelings and our physical state, and this affects everyday interactions. If you want the best from your animal friends, start by taking good care of all aspects of your health. Being present is the first step in Animal Communication.

For a start, while your reading this right now, stop and take a moment. Tune into your physical body. Ask, “what do I need, right now”? Wait for the answer, and don’t rush or predict what it will be. It may very well be something as simple as “take a breath” “slow down, sit down and look around to enjoy this place” or “I need a drink of water, I”m really feeling thirsty and didn’t even notice”, or something simple like that. Do it! Don’t wait for your body to have to scream at you. It might also be something for your emotional body. ” I need to write in my journal to get these stuck feelings out” “I need to have a good cry so I can move on” I need to be silly and express how happy I’m feeling inside” or ” I need to mark this good feeling so I will remember it tomorrow” or something else.

The point is, to listen to the still, small voice. It is a peaceful powerful voice that always points you to greater health and contentment. Whatever you do, feel better in the doing of it. And in feeling better yourself, you inadvertently, or directly, help your animal friends feel better and be better able to do their jobs. Whether that’s sitting purring on your lap, walking through the park helping you to get some exercise, or carrying you around a Grand Prix course with finesse and style.

Good luck! And have fun!

Photo by Laila Klinsmann on Pexels.com
Advertisements

May All Beings Have Happiness and the Causes of Happiness

MAY ALL BEINGS HAVE HAPPINESS AND THE CAUSES OF HAPPINESS.

MAY ALL BEINGS BE FREE FROM SUFFERING AND THE CAUSES OF SUFFERING.

MAY ALL BEINGS DWELL IN EQUANIMITY, FREE FROM ATTACHMENT AND AVERSION.

MAY ALL BEINGS NEVER BE PARTED FROM FREEDOM’S TRUE JOY.”

~from David Nichtern’s “In Praise of…”  lyrics based on Metta practice in the Buddhist tradition

These words that form the practice of Metta also known as Lovingkindness practice in the Buddhist tradition are a great comfort to many when focused on as part of a daily practice of training the mind.

I was thinking of how much suffering I put myself through by worrying and stressing about all the ills of my life and in the lives of animals and the environment. While meditation on Metta is a great way to release some of that worry, I think another great thing is when we can turn worrying into action, and then let go of the results.

I recently heard a conversation about one of the more sensational and horrifying news stories here in the US, and the people I was with assuring each other that it was the karma of the people involved to be part of this horrific act of torture and violence. While I trust that the people speaking were well-meaning and kind people, I have to disagree with this outlook, or at least the result it seems to have, which is to then dismiss the entire situation as out of our hands and not our responsibility.  Instead of the tendency to generalize pain out of our awareness, because it hurts too much to think about, we do have a responsibility to look at suffering and see what we each can change in our lives or ways we can help in individual ways to relieve this suffering. This is one reason I went to Thailand and volunteered with the Elephants, why I contribute to environmental and animal rescue groups, why I admire people who walk their talk every day in their work and personal life. I wondered if the only way that people who abuse animals for instance can do so, is to see them not as individuals, but as objects or groups over which people  have control. So would it help to see some individuals in the animal world? I’m going to include a few pictures of individuals at Elephant Nature Park, which I find very beautiful, and I hope you do too. These have been saved from a life of suffering and are some of the lucky ones. Each of us can take small and big actions to help more individuals become free of suffering, especially ourselves. Because would you ever hurt another unless you were suffering yourself? Each time we help heal another, we help heal ourselves. And if you are now in too much pain to help another, hopefully someone will reach out to help you out of your darkness.  This is what we can do to make the world a better place, one step at a time. We help each other, even when we don’t understand why the world is the way it is. In this way we help ourselves out of our own pain and misery.

blueelewater elephanteye DSCN1183Iwalkingele

babyeleNew life, new hopes, new dreams in this little one, baby Dok Mai was born a week before I arrived at Elephant Nature Park, born into a free life.

May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.

May all beings be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.

May all beings dwell in equanimity, free of attachment and aversion.

May all beings never be parted from freedoms true joy.

Communications with Jack the Dog

Jack in the dog park long valley 2008jpgRecently I had the great good fortune to help an old client and friend with the painful grief she was feeling at having to assist her dog Jack in crossing over onto the Rainbow Bridge. I was given permission by both human and canine to write about the essence of what Jack said that day.

Jack had a difficult life. In addition to being a rescue dog who had some trouble finding one forever home (until Kathy decided she was in love and hers would be it no matter where she went) he routinely had a large range of emotions, as he called it, waves, that would wash over and often overwhelm him and everyone around him. He also had a number of physical ailments including a long battle with cancer, which complicated life.

On his last night, as his breathing slowed, and Kathy rushed him once again to the hospital, where they informed her that his lungs were filling with fluid, one more phase of the sarcoma that had attacked him long ago. She made the decision to allow the Vet to put him to sleep, unable to find a better solution, but filled with pain at having to say good bye to an old friend.Jack shaved in Kathys car 2009

As we asked Jack for his perspective, he described what a relief it was to be released,  not only from an old body that wasn’t working properly, but especially from the lifelong waves of emotions that he’d had to ride up, down, sideways, and often just chaotically all over, all his life. What a grand relief. Such a bright happiness and contentment permeated his every word now.

He began to describe, as Kathy and I listened in rapt attention, what the Purpose of Life really is. I’ll try to reproduce it here, and please forgive me if I don’t do complete justice to these deepest of musings.

Jack said “Life is not about getting it right or achieving this status or that job, this or that title or property, these people liking you or not liking you.

It is about the waking up each day, going to bed each night, setting a goal and then living that journey as far as it takes you. It’s that simple. Then doing it again with another goal or focus.  That that is what is important, right there, living the journey to the goal. Not whether it was the “right” goal, not how you performed or if you thought it didn’t turn out the way you had hoped it would, or the way others had predicted or you had prayed it would.

That there is nothing wrong with, and everything right with, picking something, anything, to focus on and seeing what that brings. If that isn’t pleasant or desirable, then picking a new goal to journey toward and immersing yourself in all the highs and lows and in-betweens as all equally valid and good and valuable. You can decide to step back and relax about it all, no problem. There is no badge to be earned for suffering, or conversely for appearing successful to the outside world and living a life seemingly free of angst. Suffering is ok to do if that is what happens. To grieve the existence of suffering as lost opportunities or grave mistakes we think we made is to miss the point. To coin an old phrase “it’s all good”.  However, Jack had more to add to that thought. He was showing that we benefit from all of it that is part of it.  Immerse yourself fully in the experience, as so many dogs (and cats!) are so good at doing. Fully experiencing exactly what they are feeling at the moment. Barking lustily, staring intently at what they don’t know(or what they do know), diving into the same food they’ve eaten every day for years with gusto and enthusiasm, well you know the list is just endless. Just pick something and lean into the experience. Leaning forward into the ride toward the (random?) goals you set. These “goals” are anything that you pick to move toward – there is no right and wrong. And even if you are thinking while you are living it ‘this is so wrong’ or ‘this is so right’ that doesn’t really mean anything. That the greatest fun comes after all the rights and wrongs are over and you are just floating on the biggest wave of all – heaven from a dogs eyes. The failed attempts and faux pas’ are all equally valid with the victories and accolades, neither better or worse, all good to experience and live. Jack on front sidewalk Oct 2012

We may never really know all Jack is saying here, but just to get a taste of it, coming from one who’s life was rarely if ever easy because even when there weren’t outside pressures, he had his inside pressure cooker bubbling, well it makes it that much easier to accept. You don’t have to live a perfect life to live life perfectly. In fact its better if you don’t.

A Visitor in the Night

I don’t have pictures for this blog. You’ll understand why later.

The other day, after a glorious summer’s day of hot, sweaty, herb gathering and chicken tending, followed by a relaxing evening watching a favorite show with hubby, I decided to take a delicious shower before finally settling into a well deserved rest late at night.

As I stepped out, clean and wet with just a towel on, I noticed the bathroom door wide open and my nearby bedroom door was shut. Unusual. We have not closed the bedroom door in 17 years due to roaming German Shepherds who like to sleep with us, and in the past, a kid who might come and go in the night. I figured the door was open because of aforementioned Shepherds who like to check on my safety while I’m showering. However, the closed bedroom door was definitely odd.

“Why is the door closed?” I called out as I toweled off,  to my husband, thinking he was inside.

“There’s a Bat in there.” I heard from downstairs.

“Oh. My pajamas are in there.” I said.

“So is the Bat” he deadpanned.

As most of my friends know, I love bats. For many years while I earned my living as an Environmental Educator, I taught classes on the many benefits of living in harmony with them, and their documented social intelligence, economic and environmental boons.

However, late at night, naked, and half asleep is still not the ideal way to renew acquaintances.

Sigh.  I slipped into the bedroom, speaking softly to the still invisible Little Brown Bat. I knew s/he would probably have found a quiet little nook to re-evaluate this unfortunate turn of events. He didn’t want to be there any more than I wanted him to be there. I also knew it was likely a juvenile who was confused and most certainly this bat was more worried about me than i was about it. Important to remember when having to interact with another species is how dangerous that other species thinks you are. Hence, the quiet talk. The slow easy breathing and thoughts of how my only wish was to gather him up and gently escort him outside to the night.

Bats are vital – economically  and environmentally world-wide.  In 1994 (publication of the nearest book on Bats that I reached for off my bookshelf) more than 300 economically important plant species, producing over 450 commercial  products, were known to depend on bats for pollination in the Old World alone. For example, the Durian fruit contributes $120 million each year to the economy of Southeast Asia. (1994 data from my Golden Guide to Bats of the World).  This estimate has surely gone up since then. I invite you to look up current facts on Bats and all they do for us, and the current challenge they are facing. In our part of the world, bats are insectivorous and indispensable to maintaining insect balance for our crops and comfort.  Even the Vampire Bat (who only lives in South America) benefits humans by  having a component of their saliva that prevents blood clotting that may be used to prevent heart attacks in humans. Guano is not only a valued fertilizer but has bacteria in it that is used to treat  chemical wastes and in the production of gasahol and detergents.

I remembered that the Little Brown Bat doesn’t have a mouth big enough to bite me very easily with. Still, I don’t take chances, and I use common sense when forced into a situation of interaction. Having handled many of these while assisting Bat Conservation International with an Autumn Species Count many years ago, I still vividly remember late one dark cool night, being surrounded by hundreds or thousands of various species of bats as they darkened the stars behind them with their sheer numbers. They were having their last night or two of “partying” before hibernating. Swarming in a dense cloud, feeding on bugs to store up fat reserves for hibernation, making love, being social, and doing as yet not understood activities as they prepared for the long winter ahead, I was in complete awe of them. This time is important as the prepare themselves to make it all the way to Springtime without eating again or moving much.

We stretched a net nearby to interrupt the flight of what we hoped would be a representative count. All of us Naturalists then set to work gently extricating tiny bat feet and claws from the net, then sexing and identifying the species in our hands before setting them free. I started out with big leather gloves because I was a newbie then, and was a bit nervous. It soon became apparent that gloves were extremely awkward and just frightened the bats, as you really had to manhandle them to extradite them. So, off came the gloves. What I soon realized was that if I was calm and moved slowly and gently, the bats of whatever species would be placid and almost appeared tame. If I appeared nervous or hurrying, they would also often become agitated and sometimes even try to defend themselves from the giantess who was interrupting the party/shopping trip.  In a cloud that darkened  the moonlit sky considerably, as I stood among them, I marveled at how not even one ever bumped into me, though they swooped all around and close to me, catching bugs and doing who-knew-what.

Back to the present. Once I  had on some clothing, I evaluated my options. Having 35 years as a trained Naturalist and Wildlife Rehabilitator, a deep appreciation for the scientific order of Chiroptera, and being inoculated against Rabies, gives me a real advantage in such situations. I still do not handle bats (or any wild animal) with my bare hands. This is called common sense. My most used options are a box and stiff cardboard to sidle him into and carry her outside, or a towel to place over her and gently pick him up with wings pinned while carrying to the open window.

Once I found the little guy, at one point  he dropped down and landed on the back of my calves, as I was kneeling on a wooden chest. The  furry little microchiroptera looked very uncomfortable and as I twisted to try to pick her up, she crawled over to my other calf. It tickled.  Bats can’t take off from the ground like birds can. Totally different wing, bone and body structure make it so they need to drop down and take off from a height. The resulting swooping around a room that happened when my first pick up attempt failed, is the result of how awkward it is to fly in a tight space where you have to land up high enough to drop down for your next take off. The myth about bats becoming entangled in your hair is just that – a myth. When I was surrounded in the darkest night at the bat hibernaculum, while they swooped around and above me, not one ever touched me in any way. I was the only one who broke the polite and real distance bats prefer between us. If you’ve ever tried to swoop around a 15 foot square room with webbed wings, well then you’ll know why it appears that bats are coming at you  – it’s almost impossible to navigate gracefully that small a space while flying, even if you do have better radio radar capabilities than our military’s best.

Finally, I was able to very gently pry him from the stone wall where he was clinging, and quickly open the towel outside the previously opened window and watch him fly into the night. A healthy, grateful bat was gone, relieved to be far away from me, and most likely wiser for the experience.

FOOT NOTE
Most bats are clean, healthy and non-aggressive to humans. Precautions should be taken as with any wild animal, and people must avoid handling or unnecessary interactions (which most are). Rabies is present in less than 0.5 % of the population, a percentage no higher than what is observed in most other mammals. Like other mammals, bats cannot carry the virus without becoming sick and dying. Rabies does not spread extensively among bats and is only extremely rarely transmitted to humans. Fewer people have died from bat rabies in the last 50 years than have died from dog bites and bee stings in one year alone. That being said, if a bat appears sick, common sense must be used and greater care taken. Anyone being bitten by any wild animal should wash the wound well with soap and water and seek medical care immediately.