Friday, August 07, 2009

How Love Deepens Us; How the Animals Teach Us

This is an article written by Catherine O'Driscoll, the author of several books. Although Ms. Driscoll has written with logic and is able to easily convey the intelligence behind her decisions, the poignancy of this writing reaches beyond logic and touches a very deep place in the hearts of those who read it. Here, as portrayed so beautifully and lovingly, is the heart of the matter. Catherine, thank you for this incredible writing that holds so much truth and beauty. I cried all the way through!

By Catherine O'Driscoll

I begged my parents for about two years before I got my first dog. Kelly was a Shetland Sheepdog. I was only twelve, and I didn’t have much of a clue about how to look after a puppy, so we walked for hours together over the surrounding countryside. One day, when she was seven months old, a larger dog lent down to sniff her, and within a split second, she lifted Kelly up between her jaws and shook her, breaking her spine. The life in Kelly had gone before we reached the vet.

Years later, when I was 28, my house was burgled while I slept upstairs in bed. This, combined with the fact that I was now working from home, gave me the excuse to realise the dream I had cherished since a child. Chappie, a Golden Retriever, came home with me. He was eighteen months old, the product of a broken home. That first day, he explored the house and garden, and then he came and sat beside me on the sofa. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and without words we bonded. In that moment, we came home to each other and settled into each other’s hearts. Had it been a Disney cartoon, birds would have fluttered and beams of light would have danced upon us, and angels would have sung – even though, to the uninitiated, Chappie was just a dog.

I have spent many years in the company of dogs, and the love we have shared has shaped and enriched my life. When I think of Chappie, long since gone to the Great Mystery, I feel complete, and loved. I feel tenderness and joy. I see the sparkle in his eyes as he digs for mice or chases a rabbit scent. I can run my hands over his body in my mind, and feel every muscle, every curve. I remember how he would lie next to me by the bed, and jump up and dance and smile because I was awake. I remember how he would play with Oliver, so gently, and then Samson, so gently – allowing the pups to bite his neck, never once reacting in anger. Never once.

Every so often, Chappie would look at me, and I would look at him and I’d feel as though I was looking at myself. Our energies had merged, and we were one. There was no separation. He was me, and I was him.

I shall always speak his name.

Sophie was another beautiful soul. She was wise. She knew about wisdom, acceptance and contentment. She knew how to play. Sophie would go into the garden and do her Tai Chi exercises, which no-one had taught her, and she’d sit and look at the light dancing through the trees and smell the air, and sigh contentedly, and wag her tail. She’d take you to another realm, just watching her.

Sophie taught me about leadership. She never once raised her voice in anger, or snapped. She never once pushed herself forward or exerted her authority with the younger dogs. Instead, she’d just look and raise her lip slightly, gently, and the other dogs would do as they were told. She had presence, and focus. She was a natural leader, more in control than any blusterer or bully. The other dogs listened to her because she was wise, and safe to follow.

I used sit alone late at night while the dogs slept around me, thinking about the day. Sometimes Sophie would wake up and look at me and bark quietly, and wave her paw gently at me. For a long while I thought that she just wanted a cuddle. Then one night I realised that she only barked at me when I was thinking negative thoughts. She was teaching me to be aware of them, drop them, and be at peace.

Sophie was always a calming presence, but she knew about elation, too. She is still with me, in my heart. If I close my eyes, I can see her beautiful silver hair and her pretty pink nose. I can smell her: she smells of flowers, and she shimmers with light. I can look into her eyes, and she sends me messages. She works with me now from the other side, bringing me peace, teaching me acceptance, helping me not to worry. She taught me that once there is a bond of love, it is never broken.

I can’t prove to any scientist that Sophie speaks to me from the other side, but I know that she is a resource for inner peace, even now. While on this earth, that little dog embodied the qualities of wisdom and motherly love, and I believe that once you make contact with those qualities, and have someone to anchor those qualities upon, then they are at your constant disposal.

I shall always speak her name.

And then Oliver and Prudence bowled into our home like whirling dervishes: two little puppies full of life, determined to remodel the garden and house. I think they came from a special place where larger than life people are made.

Nothing Oliver did could be described as dull or unexciting. He was funny. The way he walked made you laugh. The way he talked made you laugh. The way he played, the things he did, the set of his tail . . . everything about Oliver just made you well up with mirth. His own inherent joy leaked out of him, like a virus. People would come towards him on walks, and burst out laughing. I used to lie down next to him and put my arms around him, and feel deep joy. It’s amazing how something so seemingly simple – like hugging a friend - can account for the happiest memories of your life.

Oliver was a collector of people. Everywhere he went, people would gather round him and feel good, just to be in his presence. No-one could ignore him. If workmen came to the house, his nose would be in their toolbags, tail wagging, stealing their tools. If we went away for the weekend and stayed in hotels, Oliver would work his magic around the sitting room, making friends and getting everyone talking together.

Oliver came to me with a mission. All animals, including humans, come with a mission – of this I am certain. Oliver knew he didn’t have long on this earth – four short years – so he packed every second full with his unique brand of joy and excitement. He made sure, good and sure, that when he died, I would be forced to ask why, and forced to follow through. He made sure that I would love him beyond measure, beyond reason – beyond all fear and caution. He turned me into a lioness, fighting for the survival of a species. He came with a mission and broke my heart in its accomplishment. He made me courageous on behalf of the dogs. He taught me to banish fear.

I shall always speak his name.

We all need our hearts cracked open at some stage or another. It can set our feet upon the path. And when you buy a dog, you are setting yourself up for a broken heart.

In life, Prudence was my protector. She was a punk, and a love bucket. Prudence only ever wanted to be with me. She protected us from hedgehogs in the lane and horses in the fields, and she protected the exuberant boys from each other. Once, I believe she saved my life when we met an unsavoury character in a lonely lane.

The last month of Pru’s life was distressing, and tender. I was devastated yet honoured to hold her hand as she made the transition. We went for walks together, just the two of us, and she was so grateful. She took me, with determination, to all the houses inhabited by the children who were her friends. They had always come to us, but somehow Prudence knew where they lived.

It was quite something to walk into the village with my darling girl, and allow her to lead me where she wanted to go. She took me through the various streets and straight up the garden paths of the houses inhabited by her friends, never once wavering. She knew precisely where she was going, even though she’d never been there before. She knew it was time to say goodbye to her dear young friends.

I washed Prudence and kept her clean, and she was so grateful. I gave her my permission to go, which she was waiting for, and she thanked me and told me that she loved me. And then she was gone. I can still feel her head resting on my lap. I can still see her dancing and pumping out beams of light. I can still hear her cheeky fun-filled bark. I can run my hands over her body in my imagination and feel every inch of her. And I can nestle my face into her neck, and she isn’t gone at all.

And I can know, because of Pru, that the only thing that matters when we die is how much we have loved.

I shall always speak her name.

And then came Samson – the little Buddha. Animals, like humans, are evolving along their own spiritual paths. Samson was highly evolved. When you talk about a person like Samson, words do not exist to describe his energy. You’d have to sit with him, in the silence, to understand fully. Awesome, limitless, sublime, pure love – these words only come close to describing the experience of being with Samson.

Samson was devoted to me. He didn’t want to be anywhere where I was not. He took care of me. If I was working too hard, and was tired, he’d come to me and take my arm in his mouth and walk me through the house and up the stairs and into the bedroom, and he’d guide me onto the bed and tell me to get some sleep.

Sometimes, when we were out walking, he’d be so overcome with joy and love for me, that he’d fly at me and wrestle me to the ground, and – helpless with laughter – I’d lie there while he kissed me.

Samson was very mindful of time, and very keen on order. He liked to ensure that routines were kept in the home, and that enough time was allocated to rest and relaxation. “Stop work now”, he’d say. He was always on my side, wanting the best for me – and when I failed to attend to my own self care, he told me that I mattered, and insisted I listen.

Samson was a dog with a very big heart, and a very big brain. A very big soul. He embodied unconditional love. I have access to that love, still. I just have to close my eyes and he is with me, shimmering with light, wrapping his love around me.

I shall always speak his name.

Our little Gwinnie died last week. She was fifteen years and eight months old. She was gentle, and joyful. She was a peacemaker.

Fifteen years and three months ago, Gwinnie came home with me and fell in love with Samson. I can still see the wide smile on his face when we brought her through the door. “Thank you, thank you,” he said. He showed little Gwinnie the house and the garden, and she wrapped her teeth around his neck, and he let her. Their eyes shone. They had found their soul mates.

Gwinnie had a mind of her own, and she used it well. She was a rabbit hunter, a wall jumper, a nimble footed speed chaser. Gwinnie was also a cuddle magnet. “Stroke me here,” she’d say. “No, not there, here. Stroke me again. Tickle me there.” And I did.

Gwinnie was an enigma, a dichotomy. She was strong and wilful and self-determined. She lived life on her own terms. But she was also tender and loving, gentle and kind.

Time never robbed Gwinnie of her spirit. Old and frail, we helped her up the steps, we helped her stand when she couldn’t get up. We changed her diet. We gave her supplements and remedies. We willed her to keep going. We watched carefully, observing. Is she OK? Is she happy? Is there anything more we can do?

And she rallied round. She began to stand on her own, to walk up steps on her own. Her footing got steadier. “We’ll have another two years with her,” I said. I believed myself.

Only the day before, she had come walkies with us, down to the bottom field. She refused to stay home. Spirited, wilful. “How dare you go on walkies without me!” She would not let us. She made us laugh with love. Only the day before, she had danced across the garden, sparks of joy flying from her eyes. Only the week before, she had walked into my office and stood next to me, and told me she loved me. Only a few days before, she had paddled in the puddle. Only the night before, she had followed me for left-overs.

They say there is no time on the other side. No body to wear out. No time to run out. Time will never take her love away.

I shall always speak her name.

When a dog comes to live in your home, he settles himself into your heart – if you let him. He will teach you many things. He will take the conditional love you were raised with, and show you how it feels to be loved without limit, without demands.

In caring for your dog, you will learn how to care for yourself. You’ll discover the healing power of exercise, of being out in the fresh air, whatever the weather. You’ll learn the importance of good nutrition, and he’ll show you how, once broken, bodies are difficult to fix.

A dog will teach you how precious life is, and how precious is time.

He’ll teach you the value of little things – like balls, sticks, stones, and rabbit smells. He’ll make you play and forget your worries. And he’ll do everything in his power to remind you how beautiful you are. When you share your life with a dog, you will never feel alone.

When you lose the people you love, as you must with a dog, it changes you. You realise that you are not God, that you cannot control the world. There will be no-one to argue with, no-one to complain to. There will be no-one, and no-thing, that will bring your beloved back.

Feeling the pain of loss, you may come to a deep decision to refrain from bringing pain to any other person. When a beloved friend dies, you may place your feet upon the path of harmlessness. Healing – becoming a healer – is part of that path.

Your dogs will teach you, if you listen, that you can bring health, and healing, to yourself and your loved-ones by listening to the laws of nature. You can become knowledgeable about foods that bring health, and foods that bring disease. When you take medicines, or give medicines to your loved-ones, you can seek to understand what it is you are giving, and the effects that are likely to ensue. You can begin to understand about preventative healthcare, and start to make informed choices.

Ultimately, when you connect with another living being with love, you place your feet upon the path of self-determination and self-empowerment. You step out of group thought, and into individual thought. As Kahlil Gibran wrote in ‘The Prophet’:

When love beckons to you, follow him,
though his ways are hard and steep . . .
For even as love crowns you so shall
he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth
so is he for your pruning . . .
And think not you can direct the course
of love; for love, if it finds you worthy,
directs your course . . .

So you take a dog – your dreams – into your arms, and he sets your feet upon the path of love. There is no going back, for love is the Creative energy. You have no choice, when you buy a dog, but to go forward, create and expand. All the while, your dog wants you to see that you are more beautiful than you can possibly know. And you, if you follow the path of love, will ever seek to be worthy of your dog’s love.

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