When I started my animal Reiki business out of my living room 11 years ago, one of my biggest challenges to building my new business was finding shelters willing to allow me in so I could bring Reiki to the animals. Back then, no one had even heard of Reiki! So imagine how difficult it was to open those doors and make those connections. But with a lot of perseverance, one by one I found people with open hearts and minds willing to take a chance on me.
Sound has a profound effect on the entire mind-body physiology. –Deepak Chopra
From Gregorian monks and Tibetan Buddhist monks to Hindu priests and even Native American shamans and medicine men—the ancient practice of chanting has historically been a universal way for spiritual seekers to create a peaceful space and achieve therapeutic healing. And it still is today.
Chanting is a wonderful way to “consciously breathe”—to unite our breath with sound in a way that is very healing for our emotional selves. Research has shown that chanting lowers blood pressure, and even just listening to chanting can help reduce our stress by calming our nervous system. Chanting also creates an inner feeling of well-being that radiates outward—meaning our animals can feel it, too.
Peace in ourselves, peace in the world. —Thich Nhat Hanh
Heavy emotions such as anxiety, fear, anger and sadness are very small and constricted. Chanting, on the other hand, is a very expansive exercise. The more expansive you become, the more easily you can feel emotions without being knocked over by them.
Your animals will feel this expansiveness as a tranquil, serene balance and will come forward to share it with you. They will want to be a part of this strong, balanced space that you radiate.
If we accept that sound is vibration, and we know that vibration touches every part of our physical being, then we understand that sound is heard not only through our ears, but through every cell in our bodies. —Dr. Mitchell Gaynor
Here are two ways you can use chanting for healing with your animals:
1. Chanting the first Reiki mantra: The “oh” sound is associated with the navel area, the “oo” sound with the solar plexus, and the “ay” sound with the heart/head. So this chant can help to move your energy from the earth up—just as if you are a beautiful tree who is nurtured from the earth, and growing and expanding upward. This is how all creatures on earth grow, from the earth up—and we must remember that this is also our true essence. When we remember this, we can more easily deal with the difficult situations we and our animals may face. Listen in and chant along with this beautiful, musical rendition of chanting Choku Rei, by Jonathan Goldman.
Your thoughts are your message to the world. Just as the rays are the messages of the sun. —Amit Ray
2. The Japanese Medicine Buddha Chant: There is a long Buddhist tradition of chanting this mantra for the healing benefit of animals. I have created this special audio for people to listen to (and chant along) with their animals for healing. Here, you can take a listen and feel the energy during this healing circle at a recent SARA (Shelter Animal Reiki Association) retreat:
Maureen Petras of Reikicares-Animal Reiki in Penn Valley, California, uses this Japanese Medicine Buddha Chant to help shelter dogs. “[This chant] is amazing,” she says. “I used it recently with an unsettled puppy at the shelter I volunteer at. It was like I flipped a switch, and he went into a deep sense of peace within seconds of me starting to chant quietly. The rest of the dogs became quiet and relaxed as well—so quiet and relaxed that when I was finished with the cats in another room, I walked by the dog kennels on the way out to say goodbye, [and there was] not one bark. That has not happened once since I started a month ago. Just happy peace!”
And according to my student Caroline Thomas of Hoof and Paw Holistic Therapies in Chelmsford, England, “The chanting truly helps me to let go and to just ‘be.’ It helps with my breathing, and the animals love the grounded energy that it creates.” She reports that the Medicine Buddha Chant, in particular, helps tremendously in her work with the sanctuary horses at Remus Memorial Horse Sanctuary. “Using [this] chant, I have been able to work with a horse called Marcus who was beaten so badly, that when he came to Remus, he stood in the exact same position in the Remus stable for days, as he was so scared to move. My relationship with Marcus now is one of trust and respect. I hold the ‘Reiki’ space—chanting along with Kathleen’s audio—and stand motionlessly in the field. During these moments, he will often come and nestle his head on my shoulders. I refrain from touching him, as I know that he does not want me to touch him. He respects me for this and now looks for me while I walk through the fields.”
No worries if you’re a chanting newbie. Here are five great tips for beginners!
Tell me: Have you tried chanting with your animals?
Did you know that those who work with shelter and sanctuary animals are highly vulnerable to compassion fatigue? Not surprisingly, helping (and opening your heart to) abused, unloved and neglected animals on a regular basis is extremely stressful and traumatic. Those involved in euthanasia of such animals also experience grief. Compassion fatigue, therefore, is unfortunately an occupational hazard for those working with traumatized animals.
According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project (CFAP) and the American Institute of Stress, the symptoms of compassion fatigue vary but can include any of the following:
Excessive sadness or bottling up of emotions
Losing your sense of humor
Neglecting your appearance
Abusing substances to cope
Feeling mentally and physically tired
Having difficulty concentrating
Reduced sense of meaning or purpose in one’s work
If you think you may be suffering from compassion fatigue (but aren’t sure), you can start by taking this self-test.
Healing from compassion fatigue doesn’t happen overnight, but there are pro-active steps you can take. CFAP stresses the importance of Self Care during this difficult time and offers the following tips: being kind to yourself, clarifying your personal boundaries, vocalizing your needs and more. The entire list can be found here.
Another option is meditation. In my work with animals, I’ve found that meditating and practicing Reiki can help us to stay centered, strong and balanced amidst all the chaos we observe, sense and feel. If you lack the energy to sustain a long, drawn-out meditation, these mini meditations are a good starting point.
Connecting with the following two Reiki precepts in particular is another way to help guide you down the path to wellness:
1. Be grateful. This precept is really about remembering the positive. Sometimes in difficult situations, we forget that every cloud has a silver lining. Figure out what your silver linings are for the animals that you work with. Perhaps a fearful animal you have worked with is showing progress. Maybe an animal who was abandoned finally found a forever family. Even in the case of an animal who died: Were they given kindness in the last moments of their life? Or perhaps their life has illuminated cruelty in a way that will teach and inspire people to help? If we take some time and look deeper into situations, we can always find things to be grateful for. In fact, some of life’s most difficult teachers are also the most profound.
2. Be honest. Reach out to fellow rescuers who know what you are going through or to your Reiki friends who share an empathic view of the world. My nonprofit, the Shelter Animal Reiki Association, is a group of more than 400 people around the world who spend time with rescued animals and use the practices of Reiki for support. If you can find people who not only understand, but also offer you a positive and encouraging word, all the better!
The Reiki precept “be honest” also means understanding your boundaries. What part of your rescue work is the most gratifying? Which parts are the most overwhelming? Spending time becoming more aware of how your time with rescued animals affects your inner state will help you to move toward balance.
CFAP offers a host of resources to help animal caregivers suffering from compassion fatigue. The Wrong Side of the Rainbow also offers information on Self Care as well as links to pet loss forums and a counseling service in Canada. Talking to a therapist can help, too; a simple Google search will lead you to a variety of animal care compassion fatigue specialists, such as Anne Lindsay of TACTdogs.com.
Remember, there is always hope. You are not alone. You are as strong as the earth and as expansive as the sky. All will be well. Take some time to meditate and practice Reiki, and watch both you and the animals you care for shift back into wellness.
Have you or someone you love experienced compassion fatigue? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this important issue.
I’ve just finished another awesome, whirlwind weekend teaching animal Reiki and mindfulness at a very special place: The CARE Foundation in Florida, an exotic animal rescue center and SARA shelter. Every year Leah D’Ambrosio (my Shelter Animal Reiki Association partner) and I fly cross-country to spend time with the beautiful big cats and reptiles (and my students, of course!). I can’t wait to share more about my adventures with you, but until then, here are some fun facts about this amazing wild animal rescue:
BASED IN: Apopka, Florida (about 30 minutes from downtown Orlando)
ABOUT THE animals at CARE: CARE is a wild animal rescue center and wildlife educational facility that gives permanent homes to “non-domestic, non-releasable” animals. The wide variety of species at CARE includes bears, big cats, birds, crocodiles, monkeys and more.
BEHIND THE acronym: CARE stands for Creating Animal Respect Education
Kathleen and Leah show that even snakes like Reiki!
More of the animals at CARE …
WHAT’S SPECIAL about CARE: I love that CARE loves animal Reiki! But CARE doesn’t just help animals; the organization helps the local community, too, by assisting with disaster relief as needed, teaching students at the University of Central Florida’s College of Business Administration how to run a nonprofit, offering externships to students of the Florida Institute of Animal Arts, and providing facility tours and hands-on time with some of the animals to autistic and special-needs children. All of these fantastic programs exist because of CARE’s amazing founder, Christin Burford, who has, through her love of animals and hard work, manifested one of the most amazing exotic animal sanctuaries in the world. Walking the property, visitors can’t help but feel the love and peace that Christin has created. This is a one-of-a-kind place!
SIZE OF the sanctuary: 10 acres
NUMBER OF animals at the sanctuary: More than 200
TRAVEL TIPS: Call in advance if you want to visit; private guided tours promise an “up close and personal” experience with the animals. Plus, as mentioned above, I visit and teach Reiki and meditation classes at CARE every February—I’d love to see you at next year’s classes!
Dear friends, what are you up to this weekend? Tomorrow and Sunday I am excited to be teaching Reiki 2 at BrightHaven (though we will miss little Joey so, so much). Here are a few interesting and important links from around the web of things I’m grateful for today:
1. A vegetarian alternative to fish: Whether or not you’re a vegetarian, overfishing and mercury levels are real problems when it comes to consuming your favorite fish, whether it’s ahi, bluefin or even unagi. Now enterprising chefs and companies across the nation are experimenting with savory, visually appetizing alternatives to your favorite fish dishes. Vegan options and veggie-based foods like “tomato sushi” (which looks and supposedly tastes like the real thing) are starting to roll out. Though demand is still small, I love this idea and can’t wait to try some of these products. Read more here on the flourishing faux-fish trend.