(This is an exerpt of a Sunday morning summer service that I led at First Parish Watertown Unitarian Universalist church – on July 1, 2012)
Good Morning – Today’s opening music was ‘A Beautiful Spring Day’ from the Disney film ‘101 Dalmatians’. I chose this music because in listening to it, I could immediately visualize the opening scene of that American classic – where, at least in my memory’s eye, a dog and his human spend a contented day together in urban nature… essentially wanting for nothing…
My name is Izzy Tappan-deFrees. I am a longtime member of this church, but in this past year I have been somewhat reborn in that I made a major career change from an IT programmer to a house-call pet groomer.
Let me being by saying that what I share today is colored by my life here in urban New England – by the dogs and cats that I have shared life with in my homes. I am fully aware that others of you may be touched by other animals in very different ways, based on the cultural connections of your lives – but hopefully my message can transcend those differences.
Forgive me, but I tend to get most of my news these days from the internet. On June 20th, last month, ABC News reported numerous ‘Ways That Dogs Can Improve Your Health’.
- There was a recent Univ. of California, San Francisco study that claims house dust from homes with dogs seems to contain less syncytial (sin-sis-shall) virus – a common cold respiratory strain.
- Dog owners apparently have fewer cardiovascular problems including high blood-pressure and elevated cholesterol levels.
- Dogs seems to reduce anxiety
- Dogs reduce loneliness
- Dogs keep you active
- Dogs can help with rehabilitation
- Dogs do amazing work assisting humans with disability issues and countless other work tasks that help humanity, including, most recently, search and rescue in the Colorado wildfires.
Now, as a cat parent, I would argue that cats have many of these same gifts – certainly reducing anxiety and loneliness. There is nothing more calming to me than the purr of a sleeping kitty on my chest.
But cats are, interestingly, one of the beings in this world that can cause dissension among people… I think that you either love cats, or you don’t.
When, my wife, Beth & I first got our cats and then again when we were actively working at bringing Elijah into this world, we endured many warnings about cat dangers:
– Cats feces can spread a deadly toxoplasma parasite that can harm unborn fetuses
– Cat fleas can spread plagues
– Cat scratches will spread bacterial infections
– Jealous cats will try to smother young children
However, I will never forget the transformative day when we brought home our 2 cuddly sister kittens 15 years ago on my birthday. There was, on that day, an immediate and undeniable energy shift – a light-ness of spirit entered our house and like the cliché – “made our house a home”. Since that day, no matter how harsh life has felt, the comfort of a soft fur-ball finding its way onto my lap, the breathing together at the end of the day, the dancing at my feet each morning while I fix breakfast, the loyalty of my cat Bandit, who insists that I am the alpha cat and sleeps every night, on guard, at my feet… There is a giving of energy from cat to human that I find hard to imagine life without. And by the way, our cats did not try to smother our newborn baby Elijah – though they did, undeniably, adopt him as a sibling and have guarded his spirit ever since.
I believe that pets are often featured in our strongest childhood memories.
As a child, I often felt what I think may be common, that ‘my dog is my only true friend’. I was a latch-key kid who spent many hours alone in my house. But Sprite, my beagle, would never fail to greet me. He was loyal, a play-mate even when my circus-act games with him bordered on abusive. The thought of life without him brought me to my knees… and that is, I think, how we as humans in this country most often learn to live with life passage… it is though surviving the devastating loss of our pets. I believe that our son Elijah came to understand the impact of grief and the mystery of death at age five, not just through the death of his grandmother three weeks earlier, but also through the sudden death of our 7- year-old cat, Olive. I believe that this understanding stayed with him and may explain how he was able to calmly witness his grandfather’s quiet hospital death last year, with a heart open to love, and sadness and passages.
Working with Animals
This past year, animals have played a central role in my passage into a new life image. My decision to work with animals came to me as a whisper in the ear, an answer that I could finally hear to the same old question asked hundreds of times before – “What do I want to do with my life?” I wanted to leave the corporate world and work independently in a business of my own. I wanted to feel like the work I do is impactful and appreciated. I wanted to use my body and be artistic with my hands. I imagined that there must be a market for taking care of animals who did not like to travel. My family was willing to release me from being the head of household and insurance holder. My muses circled around me at an evening campfire last August, where I found myself whittling a dog head into a stick. The next week, I visited a grooming school in Newburyport that offered a six-month, holistic-based dog and cat grooming program – run by some wonderfully caring and original women who were willing to guide me on my way. I did not look back, and have since quit my job of 26 years, finished school and have been running my house-call grooming business with major contentment. Elijah created my BuddyBarber company logo, I built a website and my clients have been finding me in a steady stream – among them, older dogs & cats, small timid dogs, matted cats who need relief from summer heat, blind and deaf dogs & service dogs who are most comfortable staying close to their owners… I have been busy most every day.
People have asked me ‘How did you decide to do this?” – I can answer with a recounting of details, but I can’t really explain where the inspiration, the whisper, came from. Perhaps it was just the same ‘still, small, voice within’ heard by Elijah the prophet – for whom our son was named.
I am, by-the-way, loving what I am now doing.
I love that my business has developed pretty much as I first imagined it.
But much more, I love all the ways that working with animals is fulfilling beyond what I imagined.
The animals that I meet in my work, nearly all of them, greet me, a total stranger, with a level of trust, an instantaneous eye-to-heart opening, that is, quite frankly, humbling. They trust me to gently remove their painful snarled and matted coats, to trim their nails without hurting them and clean their dirty back-ends. They are patient while I fuss to make them stylish. They communicate clearly to me through their eyes and body language, they tell me when they are afraid or annoyed, they are appreciative and proud of their glamour when I am done. What I have learned through this is that animals are light-years ahead of humans in terms of recognizing and appreciating positive intention and energy.
I have often heard it said that animals live in the moment. I don’t know that I agree with this, because it is pretty clear to me that animals who have been traumatized, carry that anxiety with them for a very long time. I do, however, believe that most animals will try hard to recognize and trust your intentions in the moment. I do wish that humans had the ability to do the same.
And there is a second surprising way that my work is making me happy that I will share today – that is that I never before recognized the open gateway that animals are to the hearts of the humans who love them. In my few months in this work, I have been welcomed into neighbor’s homes that have been closed for all my previous years living in Waltham. I have built friendships with people that I probably would never have spoken to prior to getting to know their animals. I enter a new client’s home and because many of my dogs and cats are older, I am often greeted with stories of loyalty, love & dedication as owners try to explain the bond they share with their animals. This sharing is very meaningful to me, and I cannot begin to explain how much more human and connected it makes me feel – compared to my previous life in an office cubicle.
Animals are, I believe, a largely under-appreciated source of life-energy – one that our resource-scarce world could gain from if only we could learn to fully open our hearts. I will talk more about this energy as we spend time in meditation at the end of our service.
Offertory – (James Taylor & Carole King, You’ve Got a Friend) – In listening to this song from my childhood, it speaks to me of the power of animal affections. Though I doubt that was the intent of the writer, if you think of the singer in this song as an animal, I think you will understand my meaning.
Reiki Blessing of the Animals:
One of the many gifts that I received during my grooming education, was an introduction to the spiritual practice of Reiki. “Reiki”, can be translated as “Spritual Energy” or ‘Universal Life Force” – it is essentially a sharing of energy from one being to another. The energy sharing can be offered through direct touch, or though mental intention. It is the power of intention that makes Reiki so potent a tool in my work – because I firmly believe that animals understand human intention far more than they understand human speech.
If you are one who is a skeptic about the ability of humans to transfer energy, I ask you for a moment to ponder our technological world – today live images and sounds are now routinely split into energy and transported instantly across the globe via Skype, for example. It is not a stretch for me to imagine that the human mind can do more than the computers we have built.
But, the real beauty of Reiki is that it is not intimidating. The success of Reiki is not at all related to the spiritual power of the sender – it is about the desire of the receiver to accept the energy given. And so, if you find yourself wondering, “Should I offer my energy to someone in need if I don’t really know what they need?”, the answer is simple – if you feel the desire to give energy – then there is no need to hesitate. The Reiki practice is one of believing that energy needed will be accepted from energy offered.
I have asked you today to bring a photo or drawing of your beloved animals. I would now like to share with you a bit of Reiki meditation as you take some time to appreciate the blessings of your loved ones.
Let us set the mood… Please sit comfortably and rest your animals upon your lap.
As we start our Blessing, I am now playing music from an album whose title sums up for me the energy power that Reiki can share among beings… The album is called “Inarticulate Speech of the Heart” – by Van Morrison.
To awaken more senses, I will now share one of the calming oil sprays that I use while grooming – it called “Tranquility” and is a simple mixture of water and the essential healing oil of lavender.
Reiki practice uses symbols – this is the first symbol taught and it is called ‘Shokurei’ – and means power.
When I close the fingers of my hand, I capture the energy that normally flows through my fingers. When I draw the symbol of Shokurei on my palm – it is to say that my intention is to gather all the Power of the Universe that I can hold, in the palm of my hand. I invite you to also draw Shokurei on your closed palms.
Can you feel the awakened energy?
And now if you will, place your palms on your photo (or virtual photo) of your beloved animals and imagine that they are here with you in this room.
You may ask your animal, in your mind’s eye, to become aware of the energies that we are offering here together – you may tell them that they may accept any energy that they need for healing.
Or perhaps, you may ask your animal if they will pass the energy along to someone else that you know who may be in need – you may ask them to be an energy conduit – for animals have energy skills that we as humans can only imagine.
I have done this myself, just this week, in trying to pass healing energy to my friend, through her dog, through my cat Pickles…
Or perhaps, you wish to ask your animal to pass your energy to a loved one who is no longer near…
Or perhaps, you wish to ask your animal to pass back to you some energy that you know you need and are missing…
As we sit in meditation, I ask you to reflect on the ‘Shoufuku no hihoo’ – The five principles of Reiki:
Just for today – do not get angry.
Just for today – do not worry.
Just for today – show appreciation, express gratitude, see your blessings.
Just for today – live honestly, work hard on yourself.
Just for today – be kind to others.
As we sit in this sacred moment of meditation and energy sharing, let your mind speak to the animals that you care about.
Who do you share today with ?
Blessings… we are grateful this day for the animals that share our world and make life safer and richer… we are grateful for our open hearts and the power of silent energies to heal us… we are grateful for our human companions who appreciate the magnificence of this world…we respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
May we strive to always treat this world with intentional kindness…