Lessons from the Animals of Remus 2013
I was privileged to return to Essex, England this year to teach Reiki and celebrate Remus Memorial Horse Sanctuary's 30th year. Sue Burton, the sanctuary's founder, has dedicated her life to helping horses and other farm animals in need. Remus provides excellent care and rehabilitation to over 200 horses, ponies, donkeys, sheep, goats, cows and cats. Remus is an amazing place, being voted The U.K.'s #1 Horse Sanctuary and recently honored by a personal visit from the Countess of Wessex. Remus is truly a one-of a-kind sanctuary, in that it emphasizes not only the physical health and wellbeing of its residents, but also nurtures their mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing as well. Holistic in its approach, Remus uses many therapies to help its animals, including offering a complete Reiki program, based upon the ethics and principles of The Shelter Animal Reiki Association (SARA).
The first morning of my teaching at Remus Memorial Horse Sanctuary started on a foggy morning, drinking tea in the beautiful new conference room, built recently just above the barn. What a perfect location to hold the discussion parts of the classes, as the occasional bleat of a sheep or goat could be occasionally heard.
This first day was a special "Equine Reiki Day," focused on working with our horse Reiki teachers. After student introductions, I began the class with a special meditation that I call "Hatsurei Ho with the Animals." It's basically the Hatsurei Ho with the addition of inviting the animals into the energetic space created. It's a lovely way to share healing and gratitude with animals! After about 20 minutes of leading the Hatsurei Ho breathing practices, I asked the students to open their hearts to the horses of Remus, to invite them into this beautiful space created by our practice, to share together a beautiful space of learning and healing.
As soon as I finished speaking this invitation, a loud and enthusiastic whinny was heard from right below us! The students and I opened our eyes and looked incredulously at each other with big smiles on our faces. Apparently our horse teachers were anxious to begin! The neighing continued for a few minutes as we settled back into our meditation, smiles lingering :-)
Allowing Animals to Always Lead...
Later in the day, the time in the class came where I speak about using direct physical contact with the horses. I always emphasize that this is only used when animals come forward and ask for it (we would never initiate this contact), and I also discuss different aspects of hands-on Reiki such as quality of touch, posture, breath, mental focus, etc.
I chose to ask Thomas, a beautiful Bay gelding with a black mane, tail and feathers (long flowing hair on the lower legs) to help me with the lesson. He was eating in the main barn with his mare when we entered quietly. I asked the students to stand on one side of the barn, and I approached Thomas and invited him to join me as a special teacher for the students. He stopped eating and walked with me to stand about 10 feet in front of the students, placing himself exactly central so that everyone could see him perfectly! I thanked him and then began speaking about the different aspects of this kind of treatment, how to "dance" with the contact in a way that makes the horse more comfortable, etc. To be truly successful, hands-on Reiki is an art that takes a special sensitivity, lack of expectations, and releasing of ego. As I was speaking and demonstrating, every once in a while Thomas would turn his head and look at the students, as if to say, "Are you getting this?"
At the end of my presentation, I concluded by telling the students that once again, hands-on contact must never be initiated or forced, but rather must be chosen by the animals. At that very moment, Thomas turned and walked towards the students, slowly standing in the direct center of all ten students. Then he stopped and waited. The students looked at me wondering what this was all about. I said, "Ok, Thomas would like you all to apply what you have just learned. Let's see you do some hands-on Reiki!" Amazingly, Thomas stood perfectly still, lowering his head and falling asleep, as all ten students offered him hands-on Reiki. You might expect that the energy would have been rather intense, given all the focus on just one horse. However, I watched, amazed, as Thomas held a grounded, stable space for all of us lightly, gently and easily. There was a deep feeling of peace, compassion and love from the students and from Thomas. It was truly an amazing experience to behold!
After about fifteen or twenty minutes, Thomas walked away and began eating again, bidding us farewell. We all were so touched by the experience. I shared with students that I had never seen a horse do this before, and that indeed it was something we never could have planned. It was something that never could have happened if we had been looking at the treatment from the human point of view or trying to direct something specific to take place. For me, it was a profound example of the practitioner's job to create an open space and simply to hold that space gently and without expectation. When we do this, it gives the animal room to take the lead and show us something important about what they want and need for healing. In this open space, we too will heal, and it's important that practitioners realize this dimension to the Reiki connection with animals, as it allows us to experience a deeper sense of interspecies communication and healing.
Let Go of our Eyes and See With Our Hearts....
The following day at Remus began a 3-day Teacher Training course. We started in the morning by spending time with a special donkey named Davey. Davey had gone through a major surgery just a few days before. We gathered a few students together and stood outside his stall, so as not to disturb him. I had students focus on a special breathing exercise to create a comfortable meditation space for Davey to share with us for healing. Davey slowly became quieter and more relaxed throughout the 30-minute period. After we finished, a few of the students began to speak quietly about the experience of Davey's illness and subsequent serious surgery and possible post-surgery pain. As the conversation continued, Davey began to show strong signs of unhappiness at our presence, pacing and trying to leave his stall. I immediately brought students back up to the conference room so that we could discuss our experience.
I have seen this so many times with animals—when we speak about them in terms of their problems (mental, physical, emotional), they get agitated and want to leave, rather than connect. It's a great reminder because it could make offering Reiki a very difficult thing if we begin the treatment with a discussion of "what's wrong" with the animal. Often these discussions come from an emotional place of wanting to help, wanting to fix. However, in reality, we can't control the energy, we can't "heal" someone else, and the emotions brought up can be very disquieting for the animal.
That particular morning I related very personally to the discomfort Davey displayed. I remembered two years ago when I went through breast cancer. It felt as if I lost my identity, I was no longer me, I was just "cancer." I know people meant well, but all they could see was my tumor, they just couldn't get past it. It was a terrible feeling, that all my years, all my work, all that I had done with my life, well it all seemed to be overshadowed by my illness. But when I would sit and meditate and go deeply into the Reiki space, when I would stand in the pasture with my horses, or walk in the forest with my dog, I could feel all of that melting away. I could feel my true inner spirit and nature. I could feel my strength and power; I could access my deepest hope for healing. I could visualize and sit in a space of perfect harmony and balance right at that moment. Yes even amidst facing cancer, I could find peace. Because, Reiki and the animals reminded me to let go of everything—all my judgments, all my expectations—and to remember that even at that moment I was just perfect. And that feeling, that knowing, got me through the difficult road of healing.
When I was better I promised myself never to do that to an animal. I promised to always see the animal's inner light and beautiful spirit, no matter what physical or emotional challenges showed at the surface. My heart would see the animal's heart, and in that place, all healing possibility exists, all hope exists, all power exists. It is a lesson that will stay with me always. The experience with Davey also touched the students deeply, and they all wanted to return to apologize to him and work with him later in the day. With a renewed openness and positivity, releasing the pity and fear and sadness, the students were able to experience a deepened bond of compassion with Davey. I offered Reiki to him a bit in the evening before I left the farm that night, and watched with gratitude as he yawned several gigantic donkey yawns in a row, as if to say, "Thank you!"
Remember Inner Peace All the Time
The final afternoon of my time at Remus, I decided to stand outside the pasture of donkeys and Suffolk sheep (white sheep with black faces and legs). It's a large pasture near the back of Remus' property and has sweeping views of the countryside and neighboring manors and farms. The sky was particularly beautiful and grey with clouds. I stood at the fence and set my intention to offer Reiki and invited any animals in the pasture who might want to share the space to join me. After a few minutes, one sheep walked across the field and stood at the fence near me, calmly chewing her cud. I stood with her peacefully for quite a while, just "being" together and listening to the quiet sounds of contentment from the animals around. After some time, I squatted down so that I could see her face more clearly.
As we looked each other in the eyes, I had a strong feeling of centeredness and calm. It was as if she was saying to me, "Life? This is it, right now. My life is always like this, calm, peaceful, centered. Yours can be too, you know." I pondered how we humans always seem be jostled by the ups and downs of life. I asked her, "Would it be alright if I sometimes bring you to mind to help remind me of this?" In response, she turned around and lay down next to the fence, with her curly coat pushing through. I laid my hands on her soft wool and felt our differences melt away into a gentle space of love and respect. I was struck with the thought, that if only everyone could sit with another being like this, in silence, in compassion, in acceptance, than the whole world could find peace! It was such a beautiful lesson from a gentle and humble sheep teacher.
My heart feels deep gratitude for the generosity and compassion that the animals of Remus showed to my students and me during the four days I spent there. If you would like to help Remus in their mission to help animals, such as their latest campaign to raise funds for a surgery to help their horse Pippa regain her eyesight, please visit their website at www.remussanctuary.org.
Photo: Equine Reiki Day 2013 Students © 2013