A Basketful of Love

I had an amazing teacher from kindergarten through second grade, Ms. Bonnie Hegg. Ms. Hegg saw me not as just another five year-old, but as a soul. She encouraged my creativity by teaching me to play the autoharp; when I cried because I was upset about littering she told me it was important that I cared about the world; when I mastered reading above my level she put me to work teaching the other kids to read. She showed us films like The Red Balloon and allowed us to do our work in beanbags instead of desks.

Ms. Bonnie Hegg

Ms. Bonnie Hegg

On Valentine’s Day our class made paper heart-shaped baskets by weaving together strips of pink and red construction paper, stapling a handle over the top. We hung the baskets on a wall, and then buzzed around filling them with our hand-made Valentines, one for every classmate.

As I was leaving class that day with my filled basket, Ms. Hegg beckoned me over. “Hey, I need you to do something for me,” she said as she reached under her desk. I thought she was going to ask me to help her with alphabetizing files, a task I loved.

Instead she handed me an identical Valentine basket, filled with the paper Valentines. “This is Timmy’s,” she said, referring to one of my classmates. “I need you to hold onto it for him.” “But why?” I asked, puzzled. “He’s not allowed to have these because of his religion,” she said, not explaining further. I didn’t understand, but I trusted Ms. Hegg and took the basket. “Your heart has room for it, Chandra,” she said.

Timothy

Timothy

When I got home I sat on my bed and emptied my own basket, spreading out all the sweet Valentines from my classmates. Then I emptied Timmy’s out. The cards were virtually identical to mine. I felt deeply troubled. What kind of God didn’t allow someone to be loved and get a Valentine? If all the kids loved Timmy as much as me, why couldn’t he be told that? I felt sad and confused, and pushed the basket under my bed so I didn’t have to explain to my mother.

But I took my assignment seriously and tried to “hold the love” in my heart for Timothy. Whenever I saw him I thought to myself, “You are loved,” and pictured all those Valentine cards.

Me in kindergarten. Mom forbade me from wearing my homemade necklace of mussel shells I collected on the beach for picture day, but Ms. Hegg said Go For It!

Me in kindergarten. Mom forbade me from wearing my homemade necklace of mussell shells for picture day, but Ms. Hegg said Go For It!

As I grew up and moved into adulthood, I never forgot this lesson. I discovered that sometimes people don’t know they are loved, and when that happens you have to hold onto it for them, safekeeping it like a paper basket under the bed, until they realize their own wholeness. I learned that, indeed, my heart did have room for all.

Is there someone you know that could use a little reminder that they are loved? A friend, a co-worker, a perfect stranger? Don’t get fancy. Draw a heart on a sheet of paper and give it to them, reminding them that they are loved. I guarantee you’ll feel love when you do it, too. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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She is Blind and Now I See

My sweet little rabbit, Molly, has been losing her vision due to cataracts. I first noticed it a few months ago in her left eye. One day I gazed into her beautiful deep brown eyes; the next morning it was like a shade had been pulled down over the left side.

If rabbits experience depression (and I think they do), Molly fell into one. She spent more time under the couch and wouldn’t come out to the yard to play. I felt depressed, too. I realized how attached I was to Molly’s form, to being able to gaze into her eyes and feel I was connecting with her soulfully. I didn’t want to see her suffer or struggle. I didn’t want things to change (again).

Molly, beautiful no matter what

Molly, beautiful no matter what

With time Molly began to adapt, mapping out the house by running along the edges of things with her whiskers. She seemed to function just fine, and together we settled into some form of acceptance.

Then yesterday, while preparing to take her on a pet therapy visit, I noticed that Molly’s right eye was starting to turn white, another cataract forming. My heart sank. I asked the human question of despair: why?? I resisted change, again. In resisting, I suffered.

While making our rounds at the adult day care center, Molly’s friends cooed and cuddled her, telling her how beautiful she is and how much they love her. Some people noticed the cataract and just nodded, understanding. No one said, “I don’t love you anymore.”

When I take the time to simply ‘be’ in the presence of another, form becomes irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if it’s a blind rabbit or a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Spirit transcends the physical and holds us in the infinite presence of love.

Molly just carries on. I treasure our snuggle time, when I can float in the good feelings of connecting soul to soul. It doesn’t matter whether she can see me or not. And, I realize, I can trust in the presence of spirit, whether *I* can see it or not. I notice Molly runs into things a lot, but she hasn’t lost her zest for life or carrots. She just deals with life moment by moment, a great lesson for this struggling human.

Is Your Spiritual Practice as Good as Your Dog’s?

In your spiritual practice, can you honestly say that you are 100% present all the time? As you go about your daily life, are you unconditionally loving to everyone you meet? Are you able to forgive easily? These are ideals that most of us strive for in our lives, yet we may only catch glimpses of our goals over the course of a lifetime.

Our pets, on the other hand, seem to have mastered these qualities and practice them without hesitation. Animals can teach us so much about our own true nature, since they have never disconnected from the awareness of themselves as eternal spirits.

Animals are masters of living in the present moment. They don’t worry about tomorrow, nor do they resent what happened yesterday. There is no ego with animals, only being in the now.

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My spiritual teachers, Molly and Gilligan.

I live with two house rabbits, Molly and Gilligan. They are my best friends, my family, and, I’ve come to realize, my spiritual teachers. Molly doesn’t need a glass of wine, I observe, to relax on her rug. Gilligan doesn’t need stimulants to express his joy while running in the yard first thing in the morning. They know who they are and they express themselves without hesitation.

Man is equipped with a mind, which gives him the ability to think, perhaps too much. Many of our abilities and senses, especially the intuition, can be blocked by our thinking. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of our true nature and essence.

Many people who grew up in a situation where they felt unloved find it easier to relate to animals than to other people. They may tend to love their animals more than themselves. It’s easier to be less judgmental of animals than we are of ourselves or others. Yet animals will bring us back to our spirituality and soulfulness ­to help us remember that God loves us just the way we are. In some ways, an animal may be like the parent you never had, letting you know you are worth loving.

I’m reminded of this again and again when Molly and I visit nursing homes for Love on a Leash pet therapy. The reason animals are so effective with people with handicaps, in nursing homes, and with illnesses is because they teach us what we should have known as we were growing up: that we are loved; that we are forgiven; that we are an individualization of God.

Animals help us learn that we are God’s creation. We may do dumb things and act in strange ways but we’ll always be forgiven. In this knowledge we can go on, and keep practicing and rehearsing as we become the person we want to be.

It just goes to show, you can teach an old human new tricks.

Being in Love

Once a week or so I visit nursing homes, residential care homes, and adult day care centers with my rabbit-friend Molly in tow. We volunteer with Love on a Leash.

Love on a Leash (or in a stroller)

Most of the people we visit are elderly or in need of physical assistance. Many are dealing with mental health issues, or recovering from illness. We often get to see the same people each week. I see so many levels of consciousness, and sometimes marked change. Sometimes we find an empty bed, and know that the next week we’ll meet someone new. I try to remember that behind each person and action is the same god-source.

When I first started volunteering with this organization, I felt like I needed to be a good “hostess”, making sure I kept the conversation going, asking about people’s lives, trying to acknowledge them as individuals. Many people can’t hear or understand as well as they used to. It was good practice for me, just accepting people as they are. Accepting the aging process. And some people simply aren’t interested in rabbits or animals or touch, and I worked on accepting that, too.

Molly also seemed to blossom. At home she was more confident, trying new things readily. Wherever she went and whatever we encountered, she seemed to take it all in stride. She simply lived in the present, being love. Watching her attitude toward life inspired me, too.

The most important aspect of love is not in giving or the receiving: it’s in the being. When I need love from others, or need to give love to others, I’m caught in an unstable situation. Being in love, rather than giving or taking love, is the only thing that provides stability. Being in love means seeing the Beloved all around me.”—Ram Dass

Molly and a friend

Over time we got to know a few regulars, people who sought us out during our visits to make sure they got some “Molly time”. During these visits, the small talk began to fade away. I noticed their faces softening, the eyes partly closing, their attention simply on being with another living creature. I found I could just silently witness the energetic exchange taking place between Molly and her friends. I didn’t have to say a word. Being present was enough.

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