Healing through Connection
I have a complicated relationship with pets. I grew up in a small town in Wyoming, and we learned not to get too attached to the cats that would come and go. Most of them were feral and not the cuddly type. And all of them wound up getting hit by trucks or just disappearing. We also had an extremely active Dalmatian, "Sparky" who went to live with a nice farm family after he had exhausted my dad's patience many times.
In my 20's, I had roommates with cats who were moody, and would sometimes attack me for no apparent reason. I knew that people love their pets, but I never quite had that same experience, and began to think I never would.
Then came my little daughter, who was a pet lover from her first encounter with an animal. After asking many times, we went to the shelter and got a 4 month old white male cat, whom she named Snowball. When Snowball came home with us, he immediately crawled under the couch. But, by bedtime, he curled up in the bed while I read to and sang to my son and daughter, just like he had always been there. Then, he won me over completely by curling up and sleeping on my butt when I went to bed that December night.
He was a comfort to us all. When I was going through my separation and divorce, he seemed to know when I needed comfort, and he would be there, on my lap, purring and cuddling. My heart began to crack open to loving him, but I still felt cautious, as I had learned to be. I nursed him through a serious illness at one point and my heart grew even more tender toward him, as I saw his suffering.
In May of 2018, I came home one night, when the kids were with their dad, to find Snowball dead in our front yard. I cannot even describe the grief I felt. There was the sadness of not knowing what had happened to him, as well as the terror of having to tell the kids. And the thought of him no longer being with us was almost unbearable.
The next few weeks were so difficult. My daughter really took it hard. She has composed poems to Snowball, and has a wall in her bedroom dedicated to pictures of him. We still talk about him almost every day. But, as kids are known for their resiliency, my kids began to ask to get another cat. We connected with a friend who was fostering an expectant Mama cat. We went to visit and the kids each chose a kitten, brother and sister, whom they named Snowdrop and Prettyface.
I'm learning to love again. These cats are so affectionate. But, I found that I was slow to connect at first. It is hard to love again after loss. But as I let myself become attached once again, I am reminded of this: turning toward connection instead of away from it facilitates healing.
I also learn this lesson teaching yoga at an addiction recovery center. The guests there are always encouraged to connect, and not to isolate. In fact, I have learned that connection is the opposite of addiction.
I see these beautiful, intelligent people learning to thrive and to share what they have in common in order to begin their healing process. The way that they speak to each other with respect and camaraderie, and the way that they welcome someone who is detoxing and is in extreme physical and emotional pain often leaves me close to tears. They feel so alone and are restricted from interacting with their loves ones, but the community there, if they are open to it, is crucial for true healing.
It makes sense. When we are allowed to cut ourselves off from other sentient beings, we begin to think that this is all there is. We begin to feel empty and alone. Loneliness is in fact one of the worst epidemics in our societies currently. The introduction of social media would seem to fix this, but we are finding that connecting to social media actually makes us feel more alone, isolated, and insufficient than we felt before!
However, meaningful conscious connection with others opens us up to the realization that we are not alone, and even more, that we are not separate. We are part of a bigger whole. The collective consciousness.
I, like many others, identify as an introvert. I love my time alone and my quiet reflection. But I have learned that there is a time for this, and that too much of it can cause sadness. When I reach out and connect with others, even just my cats, I feel more meaning in my life. I can apply what I have learned in quiet reflection. It becomes real.
And here's the thing...any connection that inspires you can heal. It's wonderful to find a spiritual community. Or a community that does anything that you love, like running, yoga, knitting, reading. Maybe you just have a group of friends who challenge each other in open minded conversation. Maybe your extended family gets together and shares meals. If you have none of these, begin by doing what you love. Find the others who love it too. Create a ritual around doing what makes you feel joy. Schedule it in with the myriad of other things that you feel obligated to accomplish. Make it a priority. Put it on the calendar and don't let anything come before it.
These meaningful connections are what make life full and abundant with joy. They fuel us with the energy it takes to accomplish our tasks with zeal. We may even find when approaching our tasks with our cups full of love, that the tasks then become our art, an expression of our inner joy.
Rumi may have put it best: "Let the beauty of what you love be what you do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."