Bursting Our Hearts Open
Dear Spirit to Spirit friend,
I just returned from teaching a program for Columbia University, for the Spirituality Mind Body Institute Masters Program at Teachers College. I was invited last year to develop this program entitled:"The Animal-Human Bond". The program was offered on site at Catskill Animal Sanctuary- a rescue and sanctuary for farmed animals- in Saugerties, NY.
It was designed as an in-sanctuary training/experiential program with the animal residents. What better way to assist students in opening to who animals truly are than by experiencing a goat named Hermione (that's her in the photo) walking up and leaning into you for contact. Or a duck named Lola who loves anything that looks like a hole, sharing a sweet bonding moment by poking her beak into your jacket sleeve.
It seems to be natural and easy for us to relate to and love dogs and cats and horses. We can easily experience our commonality. Some people connect with birds and rabbits, fewer with reptiles. And what about those animals who are mostly farmed for food- cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys.... Most people see these animals as somehow "too different" from us. It is easy to have preconceived ideas about who they are. We often assume that they do not relate to family and friends and life and their living situations in any way that is similar to us. That their loves, their joys, their pains, their hardships, what they value in life is in no way like us at all.
And yet.... what happens when we meet Benjamin and hear his story. Benjamin and Blossom- two young cows rescued from the beef industry at 6 months of age. And learn about Sadie, who spent a good part of her life in sanctuary after living as a "beef "cow and losing her 4 babies to the industry. Sadie, who adopted Benjamin and Blossom upon their arrival at the sanctuary and for the first time in her life got to mother her babies and fulfill something that had been painfully missing for her. She was fiercely caring and protective of her children and offered them the guidance of a mother. Upon her death this past January at the age of 27, Benjamin was bereft and cried over her body, unable to accept her passing. It has taken him quite a while to heal.
Does this change how we think of cows? It certainly did for the students meeting Benjamin and Blossom and hearing their story this past weekend. Hearts bursting open, eyes welling up as our tour guide, tour director Kaden, shared the sweet and touching story of how cows experience love and loss.
Or the stunning story Catskill founder Kathy Stevens shared with us about Paulie, a rooster rescued from the cock fighting industry. He was one of the first residents of the sanctuary 18 years ago. The common assumption about roosters is that they are extremely "aggressive", especially those in the cock fighting industry.
One freezing cold winter night, it was too cold in the barn for Paulie and he was shivering. Kathy saw him and scooped him up into a crate and took him home with her. She placed the crate in the living room and went to bed. And then she heard Paulie yelling loudly. She sensed that he was lonely in the living room and brought the crate into her bedroom. Lights off, Paulie is still yelling, She opened the crate to let him wander. Paulie showed up at the side of the bed- yelling. Finally, Kathy picked Paulie up and placed him on the bed. Quietly, he walked up to her head and lay down next to her face and went to sleep.
Animals of all species will surprise us, astonish us, and break our hearts wide open if we let them, if we are open to them. When they are allowed to be who they are and express themselves freely- and when we see them, feel them, listen to them deeply- we will be overwhelmed by love and recognize our similarities, our sharedness, in ways that are beyond anything we can imagine.