The directors of an elephant sanctuary told of what is done to elephants to "train" them. We've all heard enough animal cruelty stories, so I won't go into the details aside from saying that the trainers beat the elephants with two-by-fours. Images of cruelty stay in my mind. On this day, I was particularly haunted; I couldn't lose the sickness I felt when I heard about the abuse of these noble beings. At the end of the day, I sought the comfort of nature, hiking up Mount Shasta.
I prayed to the mountain spirits for guidance as I walked up the road past the gate that closes the summit to cars in the winter because of the snow. Tall pine trees, with snowbanks at their feet, lined both sides of the road. Though the sun shone brightly, the air still held the chill of winter. I walked, taking in some of the beauty, but the images of the elephants being beaten kept replaying in my head and I was crying.
What's Love Got To Do With It?
The director had said the trainers "love" their elephants. "How could they treat them that way?" I asked the sacred mountain. My question expanded to, "How can people do all the awful things they do to each other and to animals?"
As I climbed higher, still weeping, I began to try to feel compassion for the trainers and everyone else who resorted to violence. People who abused animals and children, and leaders who dropped bombs on other countries, were always a huge challenge for me in this practice.
Let He Who Is Without Sin Cast The First Stone
I suddenly remembered the old housetraining practice of hitting a puppy with a newspaper after the puppy had peed on the floor. You were supposed to push the puppy's nose into the urine, even if it was a long time later, and then whack the puppy with a newspaper. Most of the time, the poor puppy had no idea what this punishment was about, and it was likely to result in a dog that cringes, a "cowed" dog.
My family loved animals and yet this is what we did, because it was the approved practice. As a teenager, I did this with my new puppy. Granted, I didn't hit him hard, but I unquestioningly inflicted my superior size and strength on him through the nose-pushing and the newspaper-whacking. He cowered. I think I only did it once, not being able to stand the cringing. Nevertheless, tenderhearted as I was, I had done it.
On the sacred mountain, I received an answer to my aching questions. It's a continuum — a continuum of violence and a continuum of consciousness. I loved the puppy, yet I struck him, even if only with a newspaper. The violence of the elephant trainers was hardly comparable in the pain it inflicted, but the trainers and I were both inflicting fear and neither of us questioned this accepted practice, even though we "loved" our animals. If we had been fully in touch with our hearts, we wouldn't have done what we did.
On The Continuum: From Violence to Consciousness
As I stood above the tree line on the snowy sacred peak, I was humbled. I could no longer separate myself from the elephant trainers — an extremely unwelcome realization, to say the least. I wanted to view us as diametrically different, but the memory of the puppy told me the difference between us was only a matter of degree. All I could say was that I had realized the error of my ways and was doing my best to live with an open heart. Perhaps the trainers were, too.
In our violent culture, we are all somewhere on the continuum of violence until we consciously strive to step away from it. We are all also on the continuum of consciousness, wherever we are in our soul learning. Some of us may have learned a lot already, but we all still have much to learn.
Being An Apprentice on the Continuum of Love
As I walked back down the mountain, I felt sad and uplifted at the same time. Saddened by the damage we humans, including me, inflict in our ignorance and unconsciousness. Uplifted by a renewed sense of connection and clarity. I gave thanks to the elephants and the sacred mountain spirits for bearing their messages to me.
I saw that the continuum of consciousness is a continuum of love. Consciousness expands as the heart opens. We are all apprentices on the continuum of love. When we step onto that path, we apprentice ourselves to animals, to each other, to nature, to the universe. We are learning to open our hearts more completely to another, whether that other is an animal, a person, a tree, or a flower.
What Can I Do Today To Open My Heart?
As you integrate the lessons of unconditional love, your heart opens and one day you find you are in the flow of the universe. You look into the eyes of a cat and suddenly you feel the oneness that is always there, waiting for you, and you know with your deepest knowing that you are part of the universal whole. You know you are not alone and never will be. You know we are all connected.
We can tap into that connection simply by asking, "What can I do today to open my heart?" For the animals in your life, ask yourself, "Are there ways I can allow them to live truer to their natures? Are there things I can do to accommodate their true selves that I am not doing because it might be inconvenient for me? What can I do today to open my heart?"
©2012 by Stephanie Marohn. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Co.
Dist. by Red Wheel Weiser. www.redwheelweiser.com
This article was adapted with permission from the book:
What the Animals Taught Me: Stories of Love and Healing from a Farm Animal Sanctuary
by Stephanie Marohn.
What the Animals Taught Me is a collection of stories about rescued farm animals in a shelter in Sonoma County, California, and what these animals can teach us about love, compassion, trust, and so many of the qualities we so often try to cultivate in ourselves. Each story illuminates how animals can help us see and embrace others as they truly are and reconnect us with the natural world. A deeply inspiring collection, What the Animals Taught Me awakens our hearts and reminds us that our best life teachers sometimes come covered in fur.
About the Author
Stephanie Marohn is a medical journalist and non-fiction writer and the author of the Healthy Mind series for Hampton Roads. In 1997, a miniature horse named Pegasus started her on the path to creating the Animal Messenger Sanctuary, a safe haven for farm animals in Sonoma County, CA. Visit her website at www.stephaniemarohn.com (Photo: Dorothy Walters)