Healing with Animals

“All knowledge, the totality of all questions and all answers is contained in the dog.” ~ Franz Kafka

The totality of all.  I would say this is by no means a small burden.  Yet, sometimes it can be the smallest, furriest, or the hungriest creatures that are able to remind us of the simplest lessons of life.

I have had the honor of meeting one of the wisest teachers of my time.  He was no sage, mystic, or savior.  Instead, he was a Guru.  And by Guru, I mean the name of my 15 lb. Shih Tzu who has taught me more than most of the people I have met.

I don’t think I have one photo where his tail is not a blur

Through him, I have discovered the limits of my ego, the depths of my compassion, and the extent of my selflessness (and selfishness).  I have watched as he has taken on my vibration and shown me my true self.  I have witnessed purity and innocence blossom and exist within a world of intention and agenda.  Like a blank canvas, I saw every brushstroke before it became a painting. I was able to trace each characteristic to its source.  Through his development and life, I was able to understand mine.

For many people, not just dog owners, animals unravel the mysteries of the human experience.  What is it about them that make the invisible visible?  How is it that my dog can teach me more about myself that I could possibly attempt to learn on my own?  I believe it stems from the flow of nature in all animals.  This pristine source of life uninfluenced by the forces that affect humans, is able to simplify the complexities of life.

An example of this simplification can be observed in the boy’s ranch.  These alternative youth programs designed to help troubled adolescent boys use the setting of a horse ranch to therapeutically heal its patients.  The actual therapy is accomplished through horses.

Each boy is assigned a horse.  For the next 6-12 months, the boy must take care of, groom, feed, and eventually ride his horse.  What has been found is that a relationship ensues that transcends the barriers of denial, fortitude, and resistance within the youth. After speaking with a few boys who have undergone this process, they described their experience with their horse as deeply communicative; the first time they were truly understood.

The horses are able to mirror the boys, reflexively communicating with them.  If the boys were holding back, their horse would also.  When the boys opened up so did their horses.  When the boys were honest with themselves, their horses began to act like horses.

An hour with this guy could heal any wound.

This healing nature exemplified by the horse is present in all animals.  It is even present in plants and trees.  The wild has served many in their quest for self understanding.

What is responsible for the inner transcendence? It is the universal connectivity that everything shares.  Quantum physicists named it the Unified Field, spiritual seekers call it enlightenment, religious folk call it God.  Whatever it is, it is present in all of us and is most easily understood through animals.

Their pureness and ability to continually stay present allow their channels of receptivity to respond to their environment in a completely reflective manner. This is why a horse can show a boy his problems.  This is why I have learned so much through my dog.

It is by no divine luck that we are so fortunate to be graced with such heavenly companions.  Unconditional love pours from their panting faces and we are blessed with their light heartedness and presence.  Many people think it would be disastrous to be reincarnated as an animal, but when I look into the eyes of my dog, I see that he knows God better than I do.

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Holding the Space

I taught my first Kundalini yoga class one week ago today.  I taught my second class this evening.  From these two unique experiences I have come to understand the meaning of holding space.

As a student, my teachers preached about the importance of holding space.  “A good Kundalini teacher does not mediate with the class, he holds the space.”  “Hey man, you did a great job holding the space, you were solid like a rock today!”  “She can guide the class with her space.”  This space holding business was sure relevant in Kundalini yoga.  I figured one day I’d have to learn it, but all this talk was not giving me what I needed to know.

It was not until I taught my first two classes did I really understand what holding the space was.  The best way to describe it is by recounting my experiences from teaching class.

Besides being very nervous, anxious, and…well, just plain nervous, my first Kundalini yoga class could be describe as an abstract painting.  Not an abstract minimalist painting or even anything resembling any sort of organization.  My painting was a Jackson Pollock on steroids.  The energy of the class was all over the place.  Not only could I feel the energy of each individual straying from my intended path, but I could physically see the scattered energy in the bodies and faces of my students.  All I could think about was moving through the kriyas and finishing the class.  I was worried about my actions as a teacher in the form of instructing – not guiding, not holding the space.

It was not until after that I realized what I had done.  The space I held was not being held at all.  It was in fact abandoned.  I might as well been turned around facing the same direction as the students because I was neither leading nor teaching the class.  From this, I knew what not holding the space was.  Now, I needed to find out what it was to hold it.

Fast forward to tonight.  I came to class much more relaxed.  Having experienced the anxiety release of actually completing a public class and still being able to breath, walk and live happily, I was excited to teach again.  I had a lot to work on.

Every Kundalini yoga class begins with a chant.  The Adi mantra (Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo) is reverently chanted three times to honor the divine wisdom and creativity from within and to give praise to those who have taught before us, honoring their legacy.  This mantra sets the tone of the class.  The week prior, I had had a poor tuning in.  I had chanted nervously and from my throat.  The result was frantic and chaotic.  Tonight however – as I chanted from my navel – I noticed a difference.  I owned the space.  The class was focused and I guided them through the chant.  At the end of the chant I had the attention of the class on all levels.

As the class went on, I had the urge to study my upcoming instructions – as if to perfect my verbal communication of the postures.  As I did this I felt a strong urge to stop reading and to sit still.  I went with this force.  I sat.  In this space, I understood what I was holding.  I was ushering the energy of my students into an area where they could experience their higher self.  By sitting still and overseeing the playground of consciousness, I was clearing the path to their experience – whatever that may be.

It was effortless.  It involved a clear mind.  A thoughtless mind.  It required intention, love and care.  It was a product of surrender and humility.  I was not the path, nor the reason it was there.  I was merely a vessel.  A sign that gave direction.

In this experience, I understood what space was.  I experienced space and the importance of the teacher.  In this space, information came to me.  I was so afraid of not having anything to say in my first class.  I constantly found myself short of words and those that I did speak did not vibrate deeply.  However, tonight while holding the space of the class, words came to me.  One profoundly poetic phrase had me rethinking its origin, as it surely did not spring from my consciousness.

Part of the work of a teacher is to instruct: teaching yoga postures, lecturing a child, explaining math problems, running a sports practice.  The other part of teaching is to inspire.   A true teacher guides their pupils by providing an arena that will clear the path leading to their greater selves.  This arena is the space.  The classroom, the yoga studio, the football field, and home are all arenas.  These are all areas of space that must be held.  In doing so, we are providing a better future for the world by guiding her students into their highest being.