It’s a new year—which means an opportunity for new beginnings. You may have put a lot of thought into your own personal resolutions this year, like exercise more or eat less chocolate (that is definitely not one of mine!). But there are also so many ways we can all make small changes to help the world’s animals. Looking for some ideas? Here are 10 smart resolutions sure to help the animals of this world throughout 2016:
1. Support a new animal charity. You probably volunteer and send money to the same charities year after year. But new ones pop up all the time, and plenty exist out there that you’ve never even heard of—and even small individual donations can be a huge help. Spend a morning researching options and see what you find. Perhaps there’s a nonprofit in your community or a neighboring one you didn’t know about before. Or perhaps it’s a national or international charity that works hard on the causes close to your heart. So in addition to the ones you already support, choose one new favorite and map out easy and simple ways you can help out this year. By the way, do you know about my favorite charity, nearest and dearest to my heart, the Shelter Animal Reiki Association?
Do you use affirmations in your life? I didn’t used to, but I swear by them now. In my life, I have seen that affirmations really open doors. When I am stuck in a place, I just start with affirmations, and it may take some time, but I always see that as soon as I begin to work with the affirmations, I start to visualize and see what the affirmations are saying, and as soon as I can visualize and see a potential for something, then I can start to feel it emotionally. Then it becomes easier for it to actually manifest on a physical plane.
Animals are sensitive to our energies, so that’s another reason to practice daily affirmations. When we are in a bad place, they naturally want to come to us and offer comfort. But if they are the ones sick or hurt, they need us to be the strong support they deserve. But that’s not so easy when negative emotions often get in the way. Here are four steps to making affirmations work for you and your animals. Keep in mind, these steps work for shelter situations or even the family dog or cat:
Step 1: Be present and mindful.
Any time you are working with or spending time with an animal, remember to be present in the moment and mindful of your thoughts. If your thoughts are negative, how can you possibly create a positive space for the animals?
The answer is: You can’t. Animals are sensitive to our thoughts, feelings and energy—whether positive or negative. That’s why it’s so important to think positive when working with animals. If you’re actively doing affirmations, you’re going to see a shift in the animals that come to you. More animals will come. More animals will be drawn.
Step 2: Take notice whenever negative thoughts pop up.
When sitting and meditating with an animal, whether your own cat or dog or at a shelter, watch out for unhelpful thoughts that focus solely on the bad side, such as the animal’s situation in a shelter or his appearance. For instance:
Situation: A sick-looking dog is dying.
Negative thought: “I hate this. What a poor dog. Life is so unfair.”
Emotions: Stress, sadness, despair
Result: Our negative thinking has gotten in the way of helping the animal. We were so focused on what they looked like, or our take on the direness of a situation, that we neglected to truly be there in the moment for the animal, offering a peaceful space. Instead, the time shared between you and the animal has been tarnished by negativity.
Step 3: Retrain your mind to think positive.
This goes back to mindfulness in Step 1. When you feel a negative thought emerging, look deeper to the heart of things—this will help you find a positive focus. For example:
Situation: A sick-looking dog is dying.
Positive thought: “What a beautiful soul he is: perfect and bright in this moment. I can imagine exactly what this dog was like as a puppy, running around happy and doing silly things. Just think of how much joy he has brought to so many people in his lifetime! I feel so blessed to be here in this moment, supporting him.”
Emotions: Compassion, love, joy
Result: The animal is not stressed out by our negative energy, but rather drawn to our open heart and mind. A positive space has been created.
Step 4: Practice, practice, practice.
Emotions are tricky things, and they often have minds of their own, refusing to listen to us. So be easy on yourself if this is all new to you. Learning to think in affirmations requires time, patience, practice and self-compassion. If sad or negative thoughts feel standard and familiar to you, it’s going to take extra effort to retrain your mind to think positively. But it can be done, even if it feels a little weird at first, or like you’re making it up. But keep trying—eventually the energy within you will shift, and that’s when you’ll know your hard work has paid off. You’ll feel less stress and anxiety within your heart, and the animals around you will feel that, too.
How can we live a more heartful and fulfilling life? Is it even possible? I believe that it is. But only if we protect ourselves (and our hearts) from life’s inevitable stresses. Think of it as building an armor of sorts—against impatience, anger, short-sidedness, judgmental thinking, grudges and other negative emotions. If that sounds compelling, it is! To get started, you must learn to embrace the four dimensions of heartful living. They are as follows:
1. Peace: Peace can be difficult to find in our crazy, busy lives. Our complicated days often end up pulling us in different directions, leaving little time for ourselves. Our overactive mind can leave us feeling scattered and stressed—and closed off from those around us. But by finding that peaceful space within ourselves, we can handle the obstacles thrown our way and open our hearts to animals (and even people) on a deeper level. It’s not always easy, but I find peace by quieting my mind with meditation. I like to meditate when walking my dog, standing in a pasture with my horse or even taking a stroll on the beach. Meditate regularly, and peace will follow. Here are three tips for finding more peace in your day.
2. Love: Only once we feel peace within our hearts can we tap into love and its healing possibilities. Truly heartful living means universal love and respect—for ourselves, for those around us (human and animal), for the world at large. Opening your heart and connecting with others means so many things, including: learning forgiveness, feeling gratitude for the now, eliminating prejudices and showing love through actions, like volunteering or simply noticing and being friendly with those in the community around you.
3. Clarity: What happens when we quiet our mind through meditation and open our heart with love? We are able to see deeper than the surface of things and awaken to what truly matters. A dog at the shelter that is sick and depressed doesn’t need you to use Reiki to try to “fix” this or that. What he does respond to is you sitting quietly with him, opening your heart and inviting him to share that space. This may take up to 45 minutes or an hour or more. But with patience, I’ve seen dogs like this open up to me, walk over wagging their tails and offer me their tummy. Only with peace, love and clarity can we see beneath the surface.
4. Compassion: If all beings felt and lived with compassion, our world would be transformed. Though we can’t control what other people say, do or feel, we can control ourselves and then radiate heartfulness into the world. So choose compassion. Realize that we are all One, and therefore we must choose kindness and be of service to others, as often as we can.
When we can learn to live a heartful life by embracing these four dimensions—peace, love, clarity and compassion—we find ourselves closer to happiness, closer to fulfillment, closer to being the kind of person we want to be. But like any puzzle, the picture isn’t complete without all four pieces. So if one is missing in your life, strive to reconnect with that dimension in order to maintain your balance and harmony. Your heart (and the animals) will thank you.
We all want to provide a happy life for our animals—after all, they’re special members of our family. A good start is to provide clean water, healthy food, a warm bed, toys and socialization. But are you feeding and nurturing their hearts and spirits? Are you harnessing the joyous power of now?
Even more important than the basics to ensure your animal’s happiness is to develop a relationship based on mutual trust, respect and shared peaceful presence, which is something animals are great at teaching. Watch what your animal is telling you by his behaviors; listen to your heart to help you savor moments when your animal is truly blissful; and meditate with your animal to help you connect more deeply and strengthen your bond with each other. Your animal will respond in amazing, contented ways to your new mindful attitude. In turn, the happier your animal is, the more joy will radiate in your own life!
Read on for the top signs your cat, dog, horse, lizard, bird or bunny truly is happy. Taking time each day to stop, open your heart and share mindful, meditative moments with him will increase these behaviors and ensure a happy animal. I’ve written many sample meditations you can share with your animal to bring peace and contentment.
A happy cat:
Is playful and curious.
Lies on his back with tummy exposed, and rests with paws tucked.
Nudges you with the crown of her head or her nose, or rubs her body against your legs.
Is welcoming when they see you.
Puts his tail up when saying “hello.”
Gives happy meows.
Does “the long blink” when you look at them across the room.
Kneads biscuits on you when you cuddle them.
Shows interest in what’s going on around her and the environment.
Grooms and licks.
Drools on you.
Follows you everywhere.
A happy dog:
Has relaxed ears.
Wags his tail enthusiastically.
Stands or sits with a playful or relaxed body posture.
Gives slurpy kisses.
Spends most of the day exploring, playing with toys, walking around and doing things.
Asks for attention.
Shows enthusiasm for their favorite things: snacks, walks, when you return home, etc.
A happy horse:
Is relaxed with floppy ears.
Has sparkly eyes.
Walks with a spring in his step.
Perks his ears forward in a friendly greeting, as if to say, “Hi, it’s so great to see you today!”
Holds his head up and looks around.
Enjoys horse toys and companionship.
IGUANA OR BEARDED DRAGON
A happy lizard:
Eats well and has a full tummy.
Lives in a clean environment.
Goes willingly to you (a sign of trust).
Has space to climb and a large enclosure.
Likes new sights and smells. Consider taking your iguana for a walk outside on a leash.
Has happy vocalizations: singing, soft chattering, talking, whistling.
Purrs, especially when paired with a relaxed body stance and fluffed feathers.
Preens her feathers (and tries to preen you).
Perches on a single foot.
Plays games with you, like “peek-a-boo.”
Regurgitates her food for you (you’re welcome).
Wags his tail, much like a dog.
Is alert and uses her assortment of toys, chews, perches, mirrors (assuming she likes mirrors).
A happy bunny:
Rolls on her side and relaxes with her eyes closed.
Lies down with his head flat on the ground (an invitation for pets).
Grooms herself to stay clean and shiny.
Shows off with “binkies”—meaning, he runs and jumps and twists mid-air.
If these signs don’t seem as prevalent as they should be in your animal, and you’re seeing negative behaviors instead, it’s probably time to schedule a vet appointment. Here are some general warning signs to watch for, which may be signal illness or depression:
Over-grooming: Chewing skin, pulling fur, licking paws too much, chewing on paws
Changes in eating habits: overeating or eating less
Reluctant to play or go for walks; general inactivity
Negative changes in potty routines
A bearded dragon who has turned his beard black
A horse that holds his head down, kicks the stall or paws the floor, shows signs of aggression or flashes his teeth when you approach
Destructive dogs that chew on your couch or shoes instead of their toys
A panting bird or a bird that sits on the bottom of the cage
Although the above warning signs may on the surface seem obvious, sometimes in our busy lives, although we may be taking care of the basics with our animals, we often forget to stop and check in with the deeper levels of feelings our animals may be having. Sometimes we are just too busy to just be with our animals. Learning to slow down and spend time sharing the present moment with the animals we love can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary—each and every day!
How do your animals respond when you slow down and remember to savor the moment with them?
I have been honored to share Reiki with thousands of animals around the world. And through this work with animals—many of them in shelters—I’ve seen firsthand how Reiki always finds a way to heal the animal on some level, even if what needs healing isn’t readily apparent at the time. The following stories illustrate three powerful ways Reiki can help animals in need:
A story of physical healing
There was a kitten one day in the shelter where I was volunteering. He had been poisoned. His mother had somehow ingested poison, and then the babies had nursed, and so there were three kittens and the mom. By the time I got there, two of the kittens and the mom had already died, and there was this one kitten left, and he was in pretty bad shape. He was very listless and couldn’t open his eyes. He couldn’t stand up and was just lying there. The staff person said to me, “Well, we’re not sure he’s going to make it, but we want to give him a little time; can you sit and do Reiki?”
What is more powerful than being present with an open heart and compassion for another being?
So I sat outside the cage, and after several minutes, the kitten tried to open his eyes and tried to move his head, and he leaned forward, and I could see he saw, he knew. He could sense I was there because, of course, animals are much more sensitive than people, and he was asking for more healing. So I opened the cage door. I put my hands in. I cupped my hands around him and he leaned his little head on the side of my hand, and he was tiny enough that I could easily fit him just within my hands (and I have very small hands). He was just a teeny, tiny little thing. He curled right up and leaned his little head against me and slept.
After about 45 minutes, he woke up. I moved my hands away. He opened his eyes and looked right at me with his very bright eyes, meowed a teeny, little meow, stretched, and went over and drank water. Amazing, and with just one treatment of 45 minutes! It was literally as if he had come back from the brink of death, with nothing except Reiki.
What is more powerful than being present with an open heart and compassion for another being? Isn’t that the ultimate healing? And this is what we do as Reiki practitioners!
This is a beautiful example of how Reiki touches our most inner heart and spreads out in a beautiful ripple effect, and this is why we see these kinds of physical healings, as with the kitten. It is so beautiful to see.
A story of emotional healing
Another day at the shelter, they asked me to work with a dog who was very, very ill, but also had been severely abused and was basically shut down. If you’ve ever seen an animal like this, it’s where they are unresponsive; there’s just basically “nobody home.” He was lying in the back of the kennel, his head down. His eyes were open, but they were glazed over with no expression; he had absolutely no response to people walking through, or to all of the loud noise at the shelter. There were dogs barking next to him and jumping around, but he had absolutely no response. He was completely shut down emotionally.
Even he could not resist the beautiful power of love and compassion that is Reiki.
I sat outside his kennel and offered Reiki. For me, what this means is, it’s really about feeling the love, opening my heart, sitting in compassion and just inviting the animal to share that space. So I sat there for about 45 minutes to an hour. At that time, I had to move on. So I stood up and thanked the dog. I could hardly believe my eyes: As soon as I stood up and thanked him, he got up, too. He walked over wagging his tail. He walked up to the front of the kennel, rolled on his back and offered me his tummy, all the while wagging his tail. It was the most amazing transformation from just one treatment.
This healing didn’t happen because I was thinking I need to heal this and that problem. It wasn’t because I was directing energy to do this and that. It was because an open heart with compassion is the ultimate healer! It doesn’t matter how bad something is—Reiki can transform any condition. In essence, Reiki is really love and compassion, and thus it can reach any problem. So I always feel there is always hope, especially because of what I’ve seen over the years.
Reiki is so powerful, and yet it is completely noninvasive and very, very gentle.
A story of spiritual healing
Despite the beautiful things I have seen, I know that Reiki is not a cure-all. Just because you do Reiki doesn’t mean you will never get sick or that you won’t die. But over time I have come to realize that it’s the peacefulness of Reiki that is really what’s important.
In this sacred space, all things are possible.
There was a dog that came into the shelter one day, and the dog was very vicious and they were going to have to euthanize him. I happened to be there a few hours before that, offering Reiki, and the staff said to me, “Oh, can you at least sit with him? He’s very aggressive and nobody can really do anything with him. Maybe it will help somehow?”
I knew that this dog’s path had been decided and there was nothing I could do to change it, and yet with Reiki, I knew I could do something.
So I went and sat outside the kennel. I could see that this dog was very vicious and out of his mind with rage. I sat a bit away from the kennel and turned to the side so that I wasn’t making him feel even worse (although that would have been hard to do!). He was pacing and snarling. Every person or dog or movement that he saw, he would lunge, snapping and barking.
So I just closed my eyes, went inward, and created that Reiki space. I focused on the peace of Reiki, and just sat. I thought to myself, I’m just going to shine my light, and I hope it helps. I knew that was all I could do. After about 20 minutes, I opened one eye because I could tell things had quieted down. I was afraid to look because he was so sensitive to any movement or any eye contract at all, but I opened one eye just to glance at him. He had actually stopped pacing, stopped barking, stop growling. He was standing. He would not lie down, but he was standing, leaning against the side of the kennel. His head was down and bobbing up and down slightly because he was falling asleep standing up. Even he could not resist the beautiful power of love and compassion that is Reiki.
Even though he was euthanized later that day, I could feel that his spirit really received a beautiful peacefulness that he otherwise would not have felt in this lifetime. I feel that that was important for his journey. In fact, for each and every one of us, it is very, very important to have that peacefulness, even if it is only for a short time. Yes, perhaps the dog’s life here was ended, but this brief moment of rest for his body, mind and spirit was a profound gift.
It’s amazing to me that by simply relaxing, being quiet, breathing and having a heartfelt intention to help another being, you create a sacred space. In this space, all things are possible.
Do you have any powerful animal Reiki stories to share?