Communications with Jack the Dog

In my work, I am sometimes called on to help during a transition time for an animal.  Upcoming, we have Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, which is a time for remembering and honoring our loved ones who have crossed over. I’m going to recount one of the times I had an opportunity to help an old client 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. There, the vets informed her that his lungs were filling with fluid, one more phase of the sarcoma that had attacked him long ago. They made the decision 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. Kathy called me to help her make sense of everything that had just happened.

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 those 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 even  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 a 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 (whatever) 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 dog’s 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. 🙂

Kindnesses

I spent last month in Thailand, fulfilling a lifelong dream of being close to elephants. ImageThe trip was about re-finding what is really important in life, and about new beginnings. It came at the heels of a number of job experiences that left me completely wondering where the sanity of this world is – because it certainly wasn’t in my recent work situation. My whole life I have felt it was important to do work that improved the world, helped to protect the environment, or helped animals in some way. How to do that exactly is open to interpretation. But given recent experiences, I have to admit that I had become disillusioned about my ability to make a difference in the world today.  Recently It all seemed futile and pointless, and I wondered if it was even worth trying anymore.

So I decided to take a trip to the other side of this great planet we live on, and see other ways of living. My major goal was to go volunteer with and be close to elephants, and so I ended up at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There  I met Lek Chailert, the founder of ENP. She was generous enough to let me tag along as she spent time with her elephant friends. What a thrill!Image Watching Lek know just how to delight a first time visitor,  to care for her elephant friends in any number of ways – nuzzling with an uncertain baby elephant, singing to a grown one who’s trust she had gained,Image

or watching her speak to a crowd of people with just the right blend of humility, knowledge and integrity in order to educate and help people remember why we were put on this earth – to live in cooperation with the natural world that nourishes us every day,  to be kind to those weaker than us, to heal those who are broken of spirit and body, these are just a few ideas worth emulating.Image

I heard it said while I was there, and later noticed a saying inscribed over one of the lecture rooms that read “The Power of One”. This was a powerful idea and I thought about it while I was there.  I was familiar with the thought that a few concerned people gathered together can change the world (via Margaret Mead) or the Bible’s “when two or more are gathered in my name” but really in my experience it is sometimes impossible to find even one more person who is committed to the uplifting and healing of the planet and to our true role as human beings and caretakers of the planet. But as I watch Lek in action,  and her handling of everyday people and elephants, I think of how we really all are in need of healing, whether we are animals or humans. Isn’t the pain we as a species wreak upon other species and the earth herself often a reflection of the wounds and unhealed places inside each person or  their race or species as a whole? I believe part of helping animals is helping people find a place of peace inside themselves, however that is often much harder to do with a person than with animals, who will return to that centered place just by removing the basic needs’ barriers like pain and hunger.

The park is home to about 35 elephants. It is maxed out right  now until they can afford to purchase more land next door, which has doubled in price once the owner found out that Lek wanted it for her elephant friends. It also houses a joyous raucous 400+ dogs which have been rescued over the last few years from places like the flooded streets of Bangkok and the illegal dog meat trade – ugh! These dogs have spacious quarters and all their food and medical needs taken care of by the Park and its volunteers. Most of these dogs are ready for adoption and if you are ever in Thailand and want a companion dog – check out Elephant Nature Park!

There is so much to say about my time there that I can’t possibly fit it all in one blog post. But what I will start with is that the theme of traveling for me was Kindness. The one thing that got me through each rough patch I was in (like getting lost – twice! on the streets of Bangkok – scary!) and the one thing I saw in Lek that impressed me the most – was the power of  certain kindnesses, often from total strangers, sometimes from old friends.
During one of the rare moments I was lucky enough to be alone with Lek and the elephants, I asked her – what is the one most important thing you’d want me to write about in my blog when I get back home? She talked about (and I couldn’t record an exact quote because we were standing in a river throwing water on elephant’s backs to help them bathe at the time) Image

that all animals, not even just elephants, deserve a life free of cruelty and full of kindness. She described what I would call a Basic Bill of Rights for All Animals. All animals need to be treated with kindness and decency, to have good living conditions including things like clean water, nourishing food, room to exercise and to express yourself naturally. This seems like such a simple truth but one that obviously still needs to be stated and promoted until there really exists a Basic Bill of Rights for All Living Beings. I believe it can be so, especially as more people become aware of what goes into that chicken in your Buffalo Wings.

I would imagine that this is why all the delicious food at the ENP is vegetarian. Because supporting the meat industry today by buying meat or chicken or pork in a supermarket or restaurant automatically means you are supporting extreme animal cruelty. And is that really where you want to put your dollars, your vote for the industry to keep doing what they‘ve been doing? Every purchase you make supports what you are buying. Why not support kindness instead of extreme cruelty? There are many videos out there that will show you exactly the inhumane conditions in meat factories and poultry farms, watch them if you need proof. But if you don’t need proof, start voting now with your $’s for what you believe in.

The entire Elephant Nature Park and Save Elephants Foundation was built on one person’s idea of the power of kindness. That these elephants whom no one cared about are now living lives free of abuse, able to socialize as they wish, where they get to be, well, elephants, and it all came about because one person had the kind thought that every species whether they be human or animal, each deserved a decent life free of abuse where they are able to live out their lives in peaceful existence – and isn’t that what we all want?

Check out ENP at http://www.saveelephant.orgImage