Here's a Buddhist parable about the inevitability of death. A woman, angry that her son had died, demanded that the Buddha restore him to life. He agreed to do so on the condition that the woman find one person in the village who did not know the sorrow of death. She undertook her mission, determined to find that person, but weeks later returned, exhausted after visiting every house, finally understanding that no one is untouched by death and grief. There are those few who have been fortunate in their lives not to have yet experienced the loss of a loved one, but we all eventually will. The only certainty of life is death. However, some of us experience it more frequently than others, each time just as painful as the last for those of us who choose to live with pets. If we are fortunate, we share their companionship for a full 12 to 14 years....but our physical separation is inevitable, the equivalent of a parent losing a child about five times during a lifetime, such short intervals for such deep sorrow. How ironic it is that our greatest love is so concentrated and stunted. Is it a cruel universal joke or a catalyst for our most important life lessons? While there is no compensation for multiples losses, in hindsight, once we sustain distance from our emotional pain, we can count the lessons they bring us in those short lives.
1. Unconditional Love. The one lesson most pet owners agree upon is that our animals teach us to love unconditionally, and along with that, to forgive. They ask little from us but give us enormous rewards with sheer presence, demonstrating the consistency of love. They never retreat from us in anger. They draw us closer to their hearts when we are not as generous as they. They never judge.
2. Selflessness. They teach us selflessness. The dog eats before we do. The dog gets vet care before we get medical care. We take days off work to nurse an ailing animal. We forego the fancy condominiums and luxurious gated communities who practice speciesism -- no dogs allowed, pets under 25 pounds. We take our Rotties and Dobies and Pitties and go live more simply to accommodate them.
3. Acceptance. They teach us to accept impermanence. While this life is temporary, Divine love lasts forever. We learn to exercise the greatest parts of ourselves, to love joyfully and willingly, the essence of Divinity. And as painful as the letting go is, the experience opens our hearts to love another four legged arrival....each new furry guide expands our capacity for love.
4. Release. They make it impossible for us to hold grudges. Yes, we get annoyed if they chew up our shoe or prefer to urinate on the coffee table instead of the shrubbery. Yes, we get furious when they swallow part of a squeak toy and need a $3000 surgery, but that emotion is fleeting and reverts very quickly to love and care.
5. Guidance. They help us understand that we are not alone. They speak to the core of our total being with accompaniment that is way beyond the physical. In fact, despite our trips to the animal shelter or a reputable breeder, we really have not chosen our animals; they have chosen us. They descend from higher planes to guide us through our often flawed human existence.
6. Sacrifice. They lead us to see the meaning of sacrifice: because the love we have for them is so pure, they become our first consideration when the end of physical life approaches. If we are learning as it is intended, we suffer no dilemma of whether to release or clutch onto our ailing companion. We allow ourselves to part with our greatest love at our own emotional expense, placing need before desire.
7. Renewal They allow us to heal from all forms of hurt: romantic, familial, platonic, random.Through the simple gift of their presence, a paw on our leg, a head on our shoulder, our vibration is raised and our capacity for love is expanded. Each time we bring a new animal into our lives, we are energetically mended. And so frequently, I have witnessed animals who have reincarnated, returned to continue the journey with us, which brings immeasurable joy to the person recognizing the return.
I wake up every day with four animals, three who paw at me, bringing me closer to them so I can receive their kisses, and one feathered clown who just chatters away, yelling "Come!" For me, every day starts with these gifts. It makes bearable our most human struggles.
Lisa Shaw is an animal communicator, Reiki Master, writer and professor who lives with her three dogs and a macaw. Her e-book, Illumination: Life Lessons from our Animal Companions, is available on Kindle. Her web site is www.reikidogs.com