2016 was a great year for my Animal Reiki practice. As well as a growing client list at home I was, with the support of SARA, able to plan a trip to my beloved Tree of Life for Animals (TOLFA) in Rajasthan, India with friend and fellow SARA colleague, Kelly McDermott.
Kelly and I had met at the SARA conference in California at Ratna Ling Buddhist retreat centre in 2015. As SARA teachers we had been invited to speak about our work with shelter animals and give a presentation on an aspect of our teachings. Each day of the conference was to have a theme based on the 3 key concepts of traditional Japanese reiki – grounding, expansion and connection and the importance of these concepts when working with animals. I kicked off the conference with grounding, Kelly followed with expansion and the wonderful Gail Pope of Brighthaven (my roomie for the conference) put it all together and concluded with connection.
Grounding and Earth Ki
My presentation revolved around my work at TOLFA in Rajasthan India. My first visit in 2010 I spent 6 weeks purely working with the animals from morning till evening – bliss – but although I had been well informed of what to expect, nothing prepared me for the reality of some of the sights that I faced. India is often described as an assault on the senses and I truly can’t think of a better way of describing it: overcrowded, noisy, hot, chaotic, fragrant (in a good and not so good way) and stunningly beautiful and animals everywhere! Summed up perfectly by Erika Abrams of Animal Aid Unlimited ‘if you love the bizarre you will love India’! Grounding is definitely the order of the day.
So in 2010, wildly excited about being in India, a country I had been desperate to visit since working and studying with an Ayurveda teacher, learning about the herbal heritage and therapies of India and almost taking part (poor timing) in a skills exchange to the famous Ananda in the Himalayas. I combined my trip with my other passion, animals, and that’s how I find myself in the kennel block F at TOLFA being introduced to my dogs. Holding my breath at times such were the severity of some of the injuries and conditions that are just not seen thankfully at home in the UK. As I stand there with my toolkit of essential oils, herbs and reiki in a deafening sea of sound as stressed dogs and those coming out of anaesthetic bark and howl, I was instantly reminded of the comedian Billy Connolly on aromatherapists (please do not look it up if you are offended by bad language !) and thinking to myself – Really, what on earth did I think I was going to achieve here – I was slightly daunted to say the least!
That was a big lesson in self-care for me, I wanted to do all I could to help these beautiful souls without being distracted by their condition. Once you met their eyes it was easy to visualise them as healthy and whole. Another lesson from the animals was that they so do not want our pity. Human emotions can literally be tasted by dogs and not something they want to be around. So it became part of my morning routine to work with my own energy connecting with earth ki and grounding to allow me to be the best possible channel of energy for these beautiful dogs.
Thanks to my animal reiki training and practice I feel I can walk into any situation no matter how daunting and be the best channel/reiki practitioner that I can. At the end of the 6 weeks working side by side with veterinary professionals I was able to show them the value of complementary therapies by letting the results speak for themselves, and at least be accepted as a safe practitioner that would do no harm even if complementary therapies are not their cup of tea. I know of several that now have a more open mind after seeing reiki in action. Over the years I have been asked to hold a reiki space during operations, amputations and post op recovery where it has been touch and go. As well as receiving top medical care the animals at TOLFA are being treated by very open minded vets, after all meditation and spirituality are a fact of life here. TOLFA became a SARA shelter in 2013.
We Arrive at TOLFA
I knew Kelly would be okay. She is a highly experienced and gifted reiki teacher/practitioner and I was confident that although it was her first visit (she had so far survived the chaos that is India followed by a long and seat gripping car journey to Pushkar with good humour) and I knew that although I can’t fully prepare anyone for what they might see from our conversations at Ratna Ling and in the planning of this trip she knew that lots of grounding and working with earth ki was in order.
As the auto rickshaw pulled up outside the gates of TOLFA I saw a little brown dog standing in the road. It’s my friend, Mouse. We haven’t seen each other for 2 years. He does a double take and starts running up the road towards us. He plops his head in my hands and softly whines. I have tears in my eyes at such a welcome. Mouse is a bit of a law unto himself and isn’t much fussed about human contact so I am deeply honoured. Mouse is one of my reiki dogs, we share regular distance reiki space.
The first day is tough, TOLFA is bursting at the seams with new arrivals and many of them are already in a bad way. At least they will have medical care and know love in their final hours, but it is a tough day. It comes as no surprise to us and the staff that after a reiki session some of the puppies choose to pass over.
Resident TOLFA volunteer, Val French, comments that she can tell where we are working in the shelter by the energy of the dogs as she enters each yard. Val is a SARA student having completed her level I with me a couple of years ago. We help Val and head of Nurturing Staff (TOLFA has dedicated ‘nurturing’ staff and volunteers, such is the importance they place on this aspect of an animal’s recovery), Bunty, with some of their duties and it’s a great way for them to see reiki in action in the shelter. It really demonstrates the concept of ‘being reiki’ (something which can be difficult to grasp) that with practice, you don’t have to take time out or go off site and DO a meditation or reiki session, you can BE reiki as you work.
I had a chat with Bunty who has always had a keen interest in watching the reiki sessions involving the animals in his care. He is a natural healer and clearly an energy worker. He tells me despite doing this job for many years he still feels it deeply when an animal doesn’t make it or when an abused animal is slow to trust him, due to the simple fact that their abuser has probably been a man. He is interested to hear that these are both areas that our SARA training can help support him and I suggest that he should join me on the next SARA course at TOLFA.
I also manage to fit in Reiju with Rachel, Val and Sue who are all at various stages of their reiki journey. I love teaching in the space of TOLFA I can feel the love and acknowledgement of every life that comes through those gates. The land is special full of light, the ground is littered with mica that sparkles and shines, the presence of the mountains add to the cosmic energy – I easily lose myself in the earth sky practice in this special place.
During one of my sessions I had an interesting experience with a puppy I had been sharing reiki with daily. He was one of four orphaned brothers in poor condition, and being the smallest there was worry that he was failing to thrive, but as the days went on he would meet me at the kennel gate tiny tail wagging. As I held him to my heart during a deep earth sky meditation as I became one with the elements and tiny scrap of a puppy, he started to become huge, heavy and I had a sense of being unable to hold on to him – simply becoming his true energy self in the meditation!
Indian street animals are street wise, funny and very intelligent they make the best teachers, they have a generosity of spirit that I know makes an impression on every student and lifelong heartfelt connections are made. I have watched past students have real ‘Aha !’ moments when working with them. The dogs especially are so in tune with human energy (they have to be to survive) so when offered reiki they are incredibly open recognising it for what it is. As they settle into a session (or not, their response is also very clear when they don’t want to participate). Students really experience the true nature of reiki. There is no direct giving or taking from one individual to another each participant is open to receive the pure perfect healing energy that they need. In that space so much can happen. I have had many memorable experiences in my reiki practice at TOLFA.
The next stop on our trip was a visit to Animal Aid Unlimited in Udaipur, the city of lakes. If you use the internet and are an animal lover you won’t have failed to miss Animal Aid Unlimited’s dramatic rescue videos.
Animal Aid Unlimited is run by the Abrams family, Erika, Jim and Claire, their heartfelt love for the animals in their care reminds me very much of the energy at TOLFA, and again is a shelter that not only looks after the medical needs but actively nurtures and loves each and every animal as an individual no matter what their personality or physical condition – an approach that would be welcome at many shelters in the west.
After meeting Erika for a chat about SARA and our work she kindly allows us to visit with the animals for the day starting in the yard for blind dogs. I notice ladies sitting in each yard, on hand to help the dogs if needed and gently diffuse any disputes when someone misjudges personal space. The animals here are clearly so well looked after.
We work in the large animal enclosure with some beautiful souls, some at the end of their days and some just at the beginning of their life thanks to the charity. In India the same problem exists as we have in the west within the dairy industry, male calves are not required, although here they are left at the side of the road and not disposed of out of sight, so there are lots of orphan babies to feed. Erika shows us around she speaks to the goats and donkeys and we see them respond to her, clearly loving her attention and kind words. We watch a cow comfort her companion who is down and are awe inspired at the compassion, care and love that radiates from her they lie together, we stay a while and support them with reiki.
In a country where animals live side by side with people both in the cities and rural areas these charities do so much to promote the human/animal bond, encouraging respect for all species. They have had a huge impact on animal welfare in their respective areas bringing much needed care for both street animals and support to owned animals in the community while addressing issues such as population control and eradication of diseases such as rabies.
It was an honour to visit and share Reiki with them. As always the animals were amazing, wise old friends and new teachers.