by Kelly McDermott-Burns
Shelter work wasn’t the reason I first began on the AR path. After teacher training at Brighthaven I remember talking to Kathleen Prasad about her plans to start SARA. The idea really appealed to me and I wanted to be part of it, but I was fearful. How could I go in there and see all those animals waiting for a home? I wasn’t sure how I would handle it. Could I do it emotionally? Was it going to eat me up inside? I was especially afraid to see the results of abuse. Would I start to hate people? I have been asked these questions many times by others and I tell them the same thing Kathleen told me, “If we don’t do it, who will?” I’m a practical person, and those words clicked with me. ‘Oh, right. Someone has to do it.’ It was enough for me to put aside my fears and give it a go.
I have been volunteering Reiki at the Rutland County Humane Society, a SARA shelter, for five years now. I am fortunate to be working in a wonderful shelter with caring staff and a clean environment. The experience has been so incredibly enriching for me personally and for my work with animals in my private practice. Being able to look my fears of encountering anger, sadness and loss right in the face and to be of service to the animals regardless has taught me patience and compassion. I have learned how to find the good in many situations that seemed beyond redemption. I have grown in my understanding that I still need to grow.
My personal practice has been the most important element in this work. Without Reiki supporting me it would be incredibly difficult to walk into RCHS and not absorb some of the pain and sadness I encounter there. Reiki keeps me grounded and opens my heart to have a deeper understanding of compassion. Not just for the animals but for the people that have left them there. I am learning all the time about non-judgment, one of the hardest lessons for me in this work.
I didn’t find all this out right away, of course. I struggled in the beginning with anger and sadness. I wanted to save everyone! I was fearful that some would never make it to a good home. I checked the logs every week to see who went home and had mixed feelings when my favorites left. I wanted them to go home but I also wanted them for me. My own fear of abandonment came up over and over again. Whew!! So much to learn!
Staying diligent with my practice helped me to move through all that. I focused on being grounded through my work with Joshin Kokyu Ho and the first symbol. I maintained emotional balance through my work with the second symbol and the third symbol helped me to open my heart.
Today, there are other meditations I use to go deeper into my true nature. I continue to use the precepts to work through each difficult situation I encounter. And I always keep the basics at hand for days when I have trouble getting into the space.
This isn’t to say that some days I don’t cry over an animal’s fate. It only means that I can see a bigger picture, that I can gain some insight into living a fully compassionate life without falling apart.