Many times when we learn Reiki for animals, we think we’re going to be “doing” the healing for the animals. But the animals know better. They understand that in a true and deep healing space, where hearts connect in compassion, the healing goes both ways. This healing is not about curing, but about becoming whole. Johnnie is one cat who taught me these lessons.
Johnnie (above left) was a beautiful orange tabby who lived at BrightHaven holistic animal sanctuary and hospice. He suffered from a variety of ailments, including renal problems, heart issues, severe dental disease, low potassium and hyperesthesia. Somehow, though, he always thought of others—never himself.
For many years of his life, he would adopt certain cats who came to live at BrightHaven who needed extra love. At first, many of these cats were not convinced that they needed Johnnie’s rapt and loving attention, but his engaging personality always managed to persuade each one that a love affair was needed—and, indeed, each one thrived under his doting care.
- Johnnie with his sister, Sammi
- Johnnie and Fray, who works at BrightHaven.
- Angel kitty
- As always, helping my students learn Reiki
As BrightHaven is a hospice, and the animals there are in the final chapter of their journeys, one by one he had to say goodbye to each cat he loved so much. He sat vigil and supported each one’s death with a pure and open heart. When his last love, Vancouver, passed away, it seemed that finally Johnnie’s own heart was broken. It was only after Vancouver passed that we began to see Johnnie front and center for all Reiki classes. At this time, his physical heart and kidneys were failing, and although he certainly benefited from the Reiki shared, his focus remained, as always, on others.
He would go around the circle, greet everyone and then choose a specific student to settle on. His favorite perching place was in your lap or across your heart, where he would calmly fall asleep purring. The students would feel the energy flowing very strongly, and Johnnie would gaze lovingly into their eyes. For many, it was the first experience of connecting heart-to-heart in the Reiki space. For others, Johnnie’s presence ignited their own inner healing experience. One student had never cried after the recent loss of a parent, and Johnnie’s presence created a safe space for her tears to flow. Another student recently had all three of her cats pass away, and Johnnie was the first cat she had held since these losses. As the tears flowed, she said, “I feel a release of my grief!”
As a witness to many of these heartful interactions with my students, I could see that the healing went both ways; that both Johnnie and each person received exactly what they needed. This is a beautiful quality of healing connection that Reiki creates. In time, I had my own health challenge, and during my first visit back to BrightHaven after my surgery for breast cancer, Johnnie came running to me, jumped into my lap and stretched his entire body over my shoulder and draped across my chest, purring loudly. As I closed my eyes and relaxed into a Reiki meditation, I felt so much gratitude for this wonderful feline Reiki teacher and how he shared himself so unselfishly. He and I could let go of our health issues and just “be” together in that beautiful, peaceful Reiki space. I could feel a lessening in my own post-surgical pain and discomfort and could also sense his breathing become more relaxed and regular.
Johnnie passed away after a long journey with his myriad of health issues, but Reiki helped him to reconnect with his healing purpose even after his beloved cats had crossed. Reiki gave him physical and emotional comfort in his final months of life. He also had a beautifully peaceful passing supported by Reiki and surrounded by loved ones, which was only fitting, as he had sat vigil in hospice for others so many times.
Johnnie taught me that real healing is not about curing this or that problem. We can be truly healed, or made whole, even when we struggle with physical or emotional issues. When we let go of the need to “cure” this or that problem, we are better able to connect to others from the heart with selfless compassion. In doing so, we create a space where all healing potential exists—and we remember what Johnnie always knew: that this is why we are here in the first place—to help each other remember wholeness.
All photos copyright BrightHaven.
I’ve realized something about myself this past week: It’s really, really hard for me to let go of “stuff.” Even if said stuff is crammed into every nook and cranny of my closets, garage and cupboards and I haven’t seen it in ages.
But thanks to the inspirational (and doable) tips from author Marie Kondo in her bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, I’m happy to report that paring down is getting easier by the day. And the benefits really are life-changing: I’m feeling newly inspired in my business. I feel mentally “lighter.” And the serenity of this experience has reminded me, again, how we have much to learn from our animals.
When I first heard about her book and the so-called KonMari method of tidying up and its connection to happiness, I immediately thought: I have to try this. But where to begin? This book is showing me the light. After just 2 days of organizing, I’m already seven large bags (ready for Goodwill) lighter, three closets more organized and two bookshelves cleaner. Awesome!
The basic idea is this: Every item in your home should “spark joy,” and objects need (and even want) to serve a purpose. We imbue the objects around us with our energy, so if they don’t bring us happiness, they weigh us down—and it’s time to say goodbye. It’s as easy as saying a simple, “Thank you,” to those objects for the joy that they brought you (or the use they fulfilled) in the past, and then … let them go. I love the positive focus the book has on the things we keep, rather than the things we get rid of. As I began the process, little did I know I was embarking on a life-altering experience full of raw feelings tangled up with old junk.
Out with the old …
I started with my master bedroom closet. But my excitement for getting organized soon deflated as I realized the contents before me had transformed into a Pandora’s box of negative emotions. I’m talking really heavy emotions—emotions surprisingly attached to things.
As I dug through a too-high pile of shirts, pants, dresses and the like, the clothes transported me to places in my past. Sometimes, places where I didn’t want to go. A lot of these clothes, I realized—which I wasn’t currently wearing—were from my long months of cancer and radiation treatments. Guess what? Whenever I saw them, which was virtually every day, they sparked bad, negative feelings inside of me. They always reminded me of my cancer—and who wants to think about that?! So I got rid of them. But remembering all of that was painful.
With those dumped into garbage bags, then I noticed: Wow, a lot of my new clothes are Pilates clothes—and let me tell you, these ignite happiness within me! They make me feel strong. I never thought I’d lift weights again—but here I am, able to do just that. I sorted through everything, memories of my past and hopes for the future. Now everything in my closet is something I love (bad memories begone!). I’m so much happier when I look in my drawers now. I feel practically weightless.
It’s amazing to me how such a small thing can resonate deeply the way this has. Perhaps that’s why Kondo’s book has connected with so many people. It gives real tips to help you achieve an emotional positivity that you can’t really put your finger on. But it’s there.
- My new, serene closet
- Happiness in a drawer
- Only books that I absolutely adore
This part amazed me. After cleaning out my closet, I was able to, finally, revamp my Equine Reiki Manual, which I’ve been wanting to do for a few years. I just didn’t know how I wanted to change it so it just sat in the back of my mind. But then it totally came to me in a magical moment of inspiration after going through this process, throwing out tons of stuff, and bringing more Zen into my daily living space. This is not a coincidence, my dear readers.
Again, the animals are our teachers
I’ve said this before, but it’s so true: We have much to learn from animals. My dog Mystic doesn’t need to surround herself in a mountain of material items to find inner peace and happiness. She’s content with a small box of toys, a collar and leash, her brush and food dishes. And on top of that, she gets a lot of love and hugs and special doggy time from her family. This experience reminded me the importance of paring down to be more like Mystic. I cannot wait to tackle the rest of the house.
Have you tried the KonMari method? I’m excited to hear your story here.
Last week, I invited you to join me on my 5-3-1 Happiness Challenge, a simple way to bring more happiness to your life. The idea is a wonderful one: Each day you spend five minutes in meditation, write down three things you’re grateful for, and do one act of kindness. I couldn’t wait to get started! But that was before my week turned upside down …
I started the challenge last Tuesday. I meditate every day anyway, so that part was easy. I thought of some things I was grateful for. I saved a spider as my random act of kindness (though I can’t say I did it without screaming!). And then, the very next day, my horse Kodiak colicked.
Colic is a serious problem in horses and has the potential to be fatal. I was really worried as I raced over to the barn right after my trainer called. I dropped everything I was doing to be with him and help him through this difficult time—in whatever way I could.
I spent the whole day at his side, and then a long night at the barn. I stayed awake all night to watch over him. If his condition worsened, I would have had to take him to a nearby equine hospital. I offered Reiki to him for many hours while waiting and waiting for signs of improvement. I realized I didn’t have the mental resources to “do” the Happiness Challenge I had just promised myself I’d do.
But then a funny thing happened. Although the Happiness Challenge didn’t turn out the way I’d thought, looking back on this week, I realized it actually still helped me in the end. I had gone into this week intending to do acts of kindness … but here I was in a difficult time, and someone did an act of kindness for ME! My trainer, Susan, literally dropped everything she had planned the day Kody colicked. She stayed with me, walking Kodiak, massaging him, staying with us as the vet arrived to treat him. When the tube the vet put through his nose into his stomach caused Kodiak a terrible nose bleed, Susan hugged me as I cried. She even stayed at the barn until the evening, watching over Kodiak, so I could run home to grab dinner before I drove back up for the night. Her selflessness reminded me how powerful kindness is in this world; how it really can help to get us through the tough times. (And it showed me what a wonderful friend she is, too!).
Also, during the darkest part of the first night he colicked, the Happiness Challenge reminded me of the importance of focusing on gratitude instead of giving into fear. It’s at our most difficult moments that it’s most important to remember this! During the extended periods of Reiki meditations in the barn that night, I kept my mind positive by remembering many more than three things about Kody that I was grateful for. I thought of how Kody really helped me so many times in my cancer recovery; how back then, I couldn’t wait to be well enough so I could ride him again. That was one of the goals I focused on during my difficult, painful recovery. And now it was my turn to do everything I could to help him. I kept telling him, “We are going to get you through this. You are going to be ok.” I’m so happy to report the impaction finally resolved without needing further veterinary treatment! It took both Kodiak and me a few days to recover from the emotions and stress of it all. I think the worst part for him was when he started feeling better but had to be on a restricted diet. That horse loves to eat!
So while I may not have followed the Happiness Challenge to a T, because it was at the top of my mind and intention, I had a deeper realization of the importance that meditation, gratitude and kindness have in our everyday lives. I think it’s important to remember that when things are running smoothly for us—someone else out there is having a horrible, terrible day, and maybe one small act of kindness on our part can help them find hope and strength where they couldn’t see it before. And maybe all of us can become just a little bit happier.
I still love the idea of 5-3-1, and I want to keep incorporating this idea into my daily life. For those of you who followed the challenge with me, thank you. Now tell me: How did your week go?
It’s no secret I’m a dog person—I’ve lived with a dog by my side since I was 4 years old. And as any dog caregiver knows, dogs are smart, fun, complex, interesting and generally awesome creatures. Here are 13 of the coolest (and some super surprising!) scientifically backed characteristics about dogs:
1. They can read our emotions—if we’re happy, sad or angry. A recent study found that dogs’ emotional centers in the brain light up in response to happy barks or joyful laughs. Over the years, having had three dogs, I can tell you all three of them were cued into my emotions. And if I needed extra love, they were there, ready to lend a paw, share a hug or rest a chin on my leg.
2. They prefer new toys to old toys. This ties into the fact that dogs are intelligent creatures. And they are interested in new things (called “neophilia”)—new smells, new tastes, new shapes, new textures and the like. That’s why they play with new toys and get bored of old ones: A recent study found that dogs definitely respond more positively to novel toys over familiar ones.
3. For dogs, yawns are contagious. Just like us! So next time you open wide and yawn, take a sneak peek at your dog to see if he copies you. Hilariously, he probably can’t help but yawn, too! This study also found that dogs, like us, can tell the difference between a real yawn and a fake yawn.
4. Oxytocin spikes in both species when dogs and humans share a mutual gaze. This explains why when we meet eyes, I feel like we really are bonding and connected. The scientists even compared it to “human mother-infant relations.”
5. Dogs feel jealousy. Jealousy is a very humanlike emotion—and it amazes me that dogs really can and do feel it. Of course, any dog owner could have told the researchers this (including me), but it’s nice to know it’s backed by science. It’s something to be mindful of if you have multiple pets, a new member of the family, or any other situation that may upset your pup.
6. Dogs know when people are lying. And, as a result, they stop listening to the person they deem untrustworthy. Again, anyone who has a dog knows this one, but the study reveals just how sophisticated dogs are when it comes to social cues.
7. Dogs can “smell” cancer. I know my dog Mystic alerted me to my cancer when she was just three months old! Dogs have such an amazing sense of smell. And after a decade or so of research, the evidence is piling up to suggest that dogs can smell the chemical differences in healthy tissue vs. that which is cancerous. The Penn Vet Working Dog Center works with four trained canines in its nanotechnology research for cancer detection; and in this study, dogs detected prostate cancer correctly 90 percent of the time. Amazing!
8. Dogs align with magnetic fields when going to the bathroom. Hilarious, but true! Since my dog only goes in one tiny place in my yard, I must have lucked out and randomly placed it perfectly according to the earth’s magnetic fields. (They relieve themselves in a “north-south axis,” in case you were wondering.)
9. Dogs are awesome stress-busters in the workplace. Many offices today still don’t allow dogs at work (though they should). Employees lucky enough to have dogs by their side are happier, less stressed out and communicate better with co-workers, which leads to higher productivity.
10. Dogs avoid people who are mean to their people. I love that my dog always has my back! And those with “guard dogs” experience amazing levels of loyalty as well. And this interesting study shows that when dogs observed another human not helping their human caregiver, they then snubbed the “mean” person offering them a treat (and took a treat from a stranger instead).
11. Dogs are calmed by classical music. I love using animal Reiki to calm stressed out and anxious dogs (and all animals, really). But this study shows that they are sensitive to music as well. If your dog gets lonely while you’re at work all day, it wouldn’t hurt to play a little Mozart in your absence. Imagine, too, how playing classical music could improve a chaotic shelter environment.
12. Dogs prefer to earn their treats. Just like how we humans feel good after figuring out a complicated task, dogs, too, get excited when they have the opportunity to solve a challenging problem in exchange for a treat. Smart puppies!
13. Dogs would rather you pet them instead of praise them. Sure, it’s nice of you to say, “Good dog!” But as these scientists discovered, dogs really do love their pets, even more than vocal praise, so if you want to make them feel really special, give them a bunch of cuddles instead.
What are your favorite characteristics about dogs?
I never, ever thought I’d get a tattoo. Not that I had anything against tattoos, but in my world, having a tattoo never even crossed my mind. Maybe because I was kind of a nerd in school. My best friend was a dog. I played on the badminton team in high school (go Saints!). I got straight As and went to a top-tier university. I worked and got married and had a kid.
In 2011, I received the shocking diagnosis that I had breast cancer. Everything started happening so fast. The pills, the doctor visits, the bloodwork, the tests, the surgery. The scars.