(Graphic Credit: EmilysQuotes.com)
I've always been a sensitive person. Ever since I was little, I've been really aware of other people's (and animal's) emotions. Able to feel subtle shifts in their moods and changes in their vibe/energy and whether I liked it or not, I could also sense their suffering.
My mother, who I believe also had this "sensitivity", nurtured and held dear this part of me. I learned rather quickly however, that my step-dad wasn't a big fan of all that touchy-feely shit. A master of "sucking it up and stuffing it down" - I figured he either didn't see or appreciate that sweet part of my nature or he wasn't interested in cultivating it in any way. Point in fact, this guy just didn't allow any room for weakness. So, to survive it all, I learned to put on a pretty good tough act. I never completely shut down that feeling part of me - but I didn't allow myself to show it much either.
I remember when my step-dad used to come home from his Fall weekend hunting trips in VT. He'd proudly pull into our narrow, cracked driveway with a honk, announcing not only his return but the arrival of a dead deer tied to the roof of his Buick. In our small garage, he'd slide the body of this beautiful animal he'd killed down off the top and onto the hood of his car. Then he'd wrap course rope around it's long hind legs and he'd string it up over a rusty metal S hook suspended from the ceiling. It would hang upside down with it's pink tongue protruding from it's mouth and it's front legs stretching limply toward the cold, concrete slab of floor.
Over the course of a few days, when he'd get home from his shift at Wonder Bread, he'd go to work on that deer. First, he'd slice it open from shoulder to groin with a shiny 8" Buck knife that he always kept sharp. He'd gut that gentle, harmless creature, removing it's innards and dumping them into a plastic pail on the floor. I'd hear the slop of intestines and other vital organs fill the bucket and then he'd begin to methodically skin the deer. Slowly cutting and peeling back it's thick coat of fur off it's body, inch by inch, away from the meaty muscle below.
Sometimes, he'd have me hold the body still to keep it from swaying side to side as he cut the deer apart, piece, by piece, by piece. He'd crack jokes and talk about the venison stew we were going to have later for dinner. I hated venison stew. I hated venison anything.
And the truth is, as much as it all scared me, as much as it broke my 8-year old heart, I would still stand by like a good little helper and hand him whatever tool he needed or doing whatever thing he asked me to do, to get the job done.
But after he would leave the garage, to go inside and wash the blood off his hands, I would crouch down and stroke the soft head of the deer and I'd whisper in it's ear, "I'm so sorry". Most times I'd cry, but I'd always make sure to wipe away my tears before going back in the house.
Years later, after my mother's murder, when I discovered Yoga, ACIM (A Course in Miracles), Veganism (Compassionate Eating) and other Love centered practices that expanded not just my mind but also my heart - I gave myself permission to return to and honor my true, empathic nature. This decision to drop the "tough act" - meant that I would now allow myself to feel it all. Which means that a lot of days, I feel way more than I'd like to. Which also means (if I'm being totally blunt) that I sometimes momentarily get truly fucking horrified, outraged and crazed by the insane amount of greed, voluntary ignorance and cruelty that I see happening in the world.
The upside of this kind of spiritual work is that your heart opens up - the difficult side of this kind of spiritual work is that - yep, you got it - your friggen' heart opens up and occasionally it also gets broken. And when you make the choice to move through the world with a sensitive heart and a more aware mind, you start to see, way more clearly, the suffering of others - both humans and animals - and some days the weight of it all can feel like it's almost unbearable.
But here's what I learned, if I choose to focus only on all the bad things that happen, like the murders, rapes, genocides, wars, sexual slavery, mass shootings, bombings, bullying, beheadings, racism, factory farming, animal testing, global warming, endangered species, OMFG - I would not only become totally overwhelmed by despair, but also completely paralyzed by Fear. I would buy into the insane illusion that this world that we have self-created is REAL (and kind of a nightmare) and I would in turn be rendered useless.
So, what do I do instead? First things first, I remind myself, as many times as I need to, what ACIM has taught me to be true: "ONLY LOVE IS REAL". Which means, I try to keep my mind focused on the Light, the Good, the Sacred, the Holy. That doesn't mean I'm not aware of the Dark. Trust me, I get it, I've seen that shit in action. But I just don't buy into it. I don't give it my power. I choose to Forgive My Humanity and Stand In My Divinity. I hold firm to my belief that the way we overcome it all is through LOVE. So that's where I put my attention.
One of the other practical things I do, is follow the advice of one of our beloved childhood pals and teachers, Mr. Fred Rogers, who so brilliantly once told us,"
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in the world."
So when I start to feel like I just can't bear one more negative newscast, whiny FB post, gossipy video or picture of what some horrible human being did to some poor helpless animal - I make sure to turn to the LIGHT. I head as fast as I can in the direction of the helpers. Knowing that there, in the midst of the do-gooders, the peace makers, the compassionate, fierce souls that dedicate themselves to Love - I will find the courage, tenacity and inspiration that I need to keep going. I make sure to spend some time and be in their presence and borrow some of the fire that drives them, to rekindle within myself that bright torch of Love.
As you guys may know, some of my favorite "helpers" are my friends over at PEACE AND PAWS DOG RESCUE in Hillsboro, NH. It's founders, Melissa and Bo Hannon are not only wonderful, funny people, they've also dedicated their lives to helping dogs in need. Their mission and motto is, "To match the world's best dogs, with the world's best people." So far, through their tireless dedication and devotion, they've rescued more than 2,300 dogs that would otherwise have been euthanized. The magazine Modern Dog just did an awesome feature on Peace and Paws called "Love & Rescue" - you can read it by clicking HERE.
We got two of our own furry kids, Scooter and Peanut ("The Littles", aka: The Boondock Saints) from Peace and Paws a couple of years ago and we recently started spending a few hours there on Sundays whenever we can. It's funny, because as "volunteers", it might look on the outside like we're helping them - but the truth is, those hours sitting on the floor, petting and playing with pups, talking with my fellow dog-adoring friends - I' really clear that they're actually helping me!! Those visits are one of the ways that I restore myself to sanity, and remember all the Good/God in the world, and get to honor that sensitive, animal loving kid from my childhood.
If you want to be a helper yourself, consider becoming a volunteer at an organization that calls to your heart, or speak up about something in your community that needs to change, or donate some time or money to a good cause. If you'd like, you can make a donation to support some of the sweet pups in need at Peace and Paws by using this direct link:http://peaceandpaws.org/site/get-involved/donate/
They also have a Wish List of things that are needed at their Ruff House Retreat Adoption Center (like doggie beds, blankets, towels, paper towels, dog toys, etc.) that you can give to me at class and I'll take it with me when I go to visit!
PS - I also have to say that looking back as an adult, I realize that my step-dad was loving me in the only way that he knew how. And maybe he did see that sensitive kid and maybe he wanted to protect me - to prepare me for this difficult life. So he taught me how to be tough. And the truth is, that toughness did serve me. And some days, when it's needed, it still does. So maybe in his own "unique" way - my Dad was trying to be a helper too.
I hope you all know that you've all been such wonderful helpers for me too. I'm blessed and grateful for your presence in my life. Thank you. xo