A symphony of empowerment

Our-Symphony-With-Animals-Cover-Two-Thirds-Original-SizeAysha Akhtar was only five when a close family friend began molesting her. The abuse continued for five years and across two continents, after her family moved from London to Virginia. She told no one.

Then came Sylvester, a German shepherd mix technically belonging to a relative, but basically her dog. They shared friendship, kinship, walks in the woods … and abuse, as Sylvester’s owner’s idea of training was throwing him against a wall.

Akhtar, now a neurologist and public health specialist, recounts their journey and much more in Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies (Pegasus Books, 2019).

Writing this book took Akhtar into not only her own history, but into a slaughterhouse, an animal sanctuary, a prison, and a forensic necropsy by an ASPCA veterinarian. She even corresponded with and visited an imprisoned serial killer who’d also abused animals. Akhtar does this both as an accomplished physician and scholar and as a human being who is deeply affected by what she sees and hears.

Through it all, she challenges us to examine the ways we break with and join with animals in our actions and attitudes. The effect one life can have on another, even and especially across species lines, is profound. It was Sylvester who helped the young Akhtar find the strength to stand up first for him, then for herself.

The stories here range from inspiring to devastating, but you can visit the author’s website for suggestions on how to make a difference. That one starfish is counting on it.

 

 

 

 

Donkeys carry with care

Diego in pasture 11.23.18 copy

Diego, adopted a year ago from the Bureau of Land Management, gets ready for some Reiki at Summit Equestrian Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. (Photo by Nancy Crowe)

Picture it: You’re a young girl dealing with an unplanned pregnancy — one with major implications for the larger world — and a new husband who wasn’t quite on board at first. The kid’s coming any day now, but guess what? You’ve got to schlep to another city because some dude in power decided to take a census. Some help with these burdens sure would be nice.

Though the Gospels do not specify how the two got to Bethlehem, the image of Mary riding a donkey with Joseph walking alongside is part of Christmas culture. One can only hope it happened that way. It would have been a long, hard walk for a pregnant woman, maybe impossible if she went into labor en route. But even if Mary and Joseph didn’t have their own donkey for this trip, it’s not hard to imagine that one might have turned up on the road to Bethlehem and, having considered the matter carefully, volunteered for the job.

Donkeys have traditionally been beasts of burden, but they have a strong sense of self-preservation. I’ve learned they carry a lot more than us and our stuff … but they’re selective about what they take on, and when.

Diego, who is pictured above, came to Summit Equestrian Center last year from southwestern Arizona via the Bureau of Land Management. This previously wild burro was understandably overwhelmed when he arrived. The first time I offered to share Reiki — a non-invasive stress relief modality — with him, he declined and walked away. I told him that was completely OK, he was in a safe place, and I was not there to force anything on him. Central to the practice of animal Reiki is that participation is always up to the animal.

In the weeks that followed, he did agree to share Reiki for short intervals, each time moving a little closer to where I stood just outside his enclosure in the barn. One day, he gently bumped noses with me. Soon he decided he liked not only Reiki but head rubs.

Diego has his own sense of where he belongs and the proper way to relate to others. Throughout last winter, he stayed in the barn, often accompanied by Lakota, the mustang with whom he’d traveled from the BLM center. He watched with concern as Mildred the goat settled her arthritic limbs into a pile of hay, and she calmly returned his soft gaze.

Another day, Josie, Summit’s resident pig — who at the time was going through what I can only describe as porcine adolescence — approached the pen. Diego leaned down so that they were nose to snout. Josie, who perhaps had counted on being ignored by the equine newcomers, squealed insolently and trotted off. A confused Diego drew back.

“Don’t take it personally, Diego,” I told him. “You should hear some of the things she’s said to me.”

Spring flowers bloomed, and Diego still resisted going outside. Summit’s director, Allison Wheaton, read up on donkey training, gathered some ideas, and decided she needed more treats and more patience. On the next try, Diego walked right out and joined the others as if that was his intention all along. A natural introvert, he’s found his niche — often a donkey-sized space in the trees — but he joins the herd around the hay each day. When he wants Reiki, he makes himself available when I’m on my rounds.

As Allison pointed out, Diego challenged us to get beyond what we thought should happen and when, and instead to tap into our creativity and patience. That freed us to think in new ways and Diego to offer more of his authentic, kind self. From someone captured from the wild and moved from one holding area to another before being adopted, that is a precious gift indeed.

Rosie, a miniature donkey who was formerly part of the Summit herd, also had strong opinions about what should happen when. If breakfast was late, everyone heard about it, and she didn’t like it when the pony she habitually hung out with wasn’t close by. Once, when I arrived and went to check in with the sheep, ducks, and chickens first, Rosie hee-hawed from the pasture fence.

“I’ll get there,” I assured her. “You’re important, too.” She looked back at me, ears swiveling, and quieted down. She still wanted to be first, mind you, but she appreciated the acknowledgment. Rosie has since found a new family and is happily keeping her humans, horses, and cows in line.

A friend has a donkey she says is like a giant cleansing stone, soaking up her worries and processing them like a string of rosary, mandala, or misbaha beads. It’s a relationship of trust and mutual care. If a donkey shares your burdens, you can be sure that donkey finds them (and you) worth his or her while.

Today’s donkeys may not carry material possessions and riders like they did when Mary needed help on her journey. But if we treat them right, and let them lead us into new ways of thinking and being, we may find support beyond our wildest human expectations.

Empath survival … and more?

BK04739-Empaths-Survival-Guide-final-outline250While Judith Orloff’s The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People (Sounds True, 2017) covers much of the same ground as her earlier works, this is a worthwhile, well-timed reinforcement.

Being an empath goes beyond having empathy, Orloff explains: “We actually feel others’ emotions, energy, and physical symptoms in our own bodies, without the usual defenses that most people have.” As an empath myself, I so appreciate the realism and simplicity of that last part. I don’t have the defenses most people do, but I have other abilities they do not. That’s the way we humans are; it’s that “gifts differing according to the grace given us” thing, and it’s why we can (and must) appreciate and help one another.

I received a review copy (but no compensation) after answering a call on WordPress for bloggers to review the book. Having many years ago read her books Second Sight and Dr. Judith Orloff’s Guide to Intuitive Healing and listened to the audio program Positive Energy Practices, I was interested in reading what Orloff had to say about empath survival in 2017.

Although some basic information on types of energy vampires and protection strategies is repeated here, there are many new and useful nuances and details. As an animal Reiki practitioner and animal communicator, I appreciated that Orloff included animal empaths in her chapter, “Empaths, Intuition, and Extraordinary Perceptions.” There are also good, practical tips on work, travel, and personal relationships and raising sensitive children.

Here’s where the real learning came for me: Despite the many insights and strategies for empaths’ mental, physical, and emotional well-being, in the dark recesses of my mind lurked a “C’mon, there’s got to be more here.” The “more” had to do with what actually happens when we stand up for ourselves and set boundaries, even to the extent of putting our well-being before social correctness, in a couple of the book’s examples. There will be judgement. There will be push-back. There will be consequences that will feel much different from what happens if we just go along and try to be like everyone else.

I often tell people being an empath or highly sensitive person is a gift, and those of us who are given such a gift have the responsibility to make sure we then gift it back to God, the universe, our little corners of the world, etc. It’s up to us to learn how to protect our energy and manage our sensitivity so that we can be at our best for ourselves and others.       If we’re not careful, we can cross that line between empowered empath and overly sensitive problem person. So there’s got to be more, right? Explanations to roll out? Ways to defuse the anger and deflect the criticism that may come our way?

Except maybe there isn’t.

Orloff consistently emphasizes treating others with tact and kindness, especially narcissists and other energy vampires (such as rageaholics, control freaks, and nonstop talkers). For example, with a controlling or critical person, she suggests calmly saying, “I value your advice, but I want to think about how to approach this situation myself,” or politely, firmly, and unemotionally asking the person to stop criticizing you. (She also wisely suggests examining and healing the self-esteem issues that make these such a bother.) There are no detailed defense tactics here; just quiet, succinct assertion.

Well, duh.

Taking responsibility for ourselves and our needs — without apology, explanation, or justification — in a kind, fair, respectful way is, in fact, enough. If we stand in our power and allow others to stand in theirs, we cannot become problem people. Others’ judgement is not our business, and the pusher-backers will find something else to do once we’ve walked away.

Maybe that’s the empath survival strategy I needed to review at this moment in 2017, and I’ll bet I’m not alone.

For more information on intuition, wellness, and empath protection, visit drjudithorloff.com. To learn more about my writing, editing, and intuitive work, come see me at njcrowe.com.