Cats take a message and get back to you (as opposed to dogs, who at least in this old saying, come when called). I’m beginning to think they have the right idea.
My work with animals has taught me to slow down long enough to respond, rather than react, to what is happening. A pause of even a few seconds can stop me from reacting — say, rushing to fix something that may not be mine to fix or just going along to get along. It buys me time to think about what’s being said and how I actually feel about it. Then I can respond in a way that brings better results.
That’s one of those things I always knew, but it took my Reiki practice (and of course, years of living) to bring it home.
Don’t get me wrong; reaction can be good. If my dog is in a dangerous situation, coming when called could save her life. If a 6-foot stock tank is rolling down the hill toward me during an animal Reiki session, you can bet I’m going to react by getting the heck out of the way. (Yes, that happened.)
Pausing and saying “I will give this some thought and get back to you,” “I need a minute,” or some variation thereof buys time to do better. Or, like the cats, to take a good stretch in the sun.
If the other person tries to pressure you, pin your ears back and walk away.
A sad stillness enveloped the barn and pastures at Summit Equestrian Center on a damp, fall-is-coming morning a week after Whinnie died three years ago. The animals were grieving, and as I arrived for my weekly animal Reiki rounds, so was I. In fact, I feared my own sadness would taint the energy I wanted to share with them.
Whinnie, Summit’s thriving-with-disabilities spokeshorse, was a dwarf miniature horse with a giant presence. That presence was glaringly absent now.
All of the animals had taken turns visiting with her before she passed. They knew she had been struggling. When animals grieve, whether for a human or another animal, it’s not that they don’t understand what’s going on. They probably understand it better than the humans do, and feel the loss and disorientation all the more acutely.
On that morning a week later, no other humans were about, but three horses waited by the fence. They felt not only the loss of Whinnie, but the sadness of the other animals and humans who’d known her.
I wasn’t sure anything I could offer at that moment would help. In the face of suffering, injustice, and anger, it’s easy to feel that whatever we bring to the table will not be enough.
However, surrendering the outcome is essential when sharing Reiki energy with animals or communicating with them. So with a brief prayer, I set an intention for the animals’ highest good and put it in God’s hands.
Rain began to fall, and without thinking I put my umbrella up. Startled, all three horses pulled back.
I folded the umbrella and stashed it away. I started to castigate myself for not remembering that I actually knew better than to unfurl an umbrella near a horse.
But they were still there and so was I. “Sorry, guys.”
They relaxed, and I shared Reiki energy with them and with the other horses, ponies, and donkey who stood, still and mindful, in the pasture.
I offered a variation on the earth and sky meditation my animal Reiki teacher, Kathleen Prasad, taught. This meditation gently taps into both the grounding power of the earth and the divine expanse of the sky. I reminded the crew that support is always available, no matter where we are or what is happening.
A chilly breeze cut through my jacket as we finished up. The perfectionist in me still wondered if I’d done enough.
Then Boo, a beautiful 14-year-old black cat with white whiskers and a delicate white star on her chest, strolled up. She usually hid out in the barn. Now here she was, meowing and rubbing against my legs.
Boo had been dropped off a couple of years earlier. Though initially terrified of people, she became “selectively social,” as executive director Allison Wheaton put it.
Being well-trained by cats, I know when one is demanding food, a lap, an opened door, a quick head rub, or the ever-popular skritch above the tail. Today, Boo wanted healing energy: Come on, let’s see what you’ve got.
I sat on a bench in the garden while Boo continued to wind around me, occasionally putting her front paws on my knee but never quite taking the leap into my lap. As she took in the energy, she kept up a running commentary of meows and purrs. This, I felt her tell me, was just what she needed. Of course, it was just what I needed, too.
One of Whinnie’s most important lessons was that it doesn’t matter what you can’t do or don’t have. If you show up with an open heart and put what you do have out there, chances are it will be exactly what is needed.
Even today, when COVID-19, violence, and division send us scrambling for an adequate response, we can bring our imperfect offerings.
We are here. We can offer more than we think. We can do this.