Read an Excerpt
Buji and Me
By Wendy Kelly
Medallion Press, Inc.
Copyright © 2011 Wendy Kelly
All right reserved.
Chapter One Embark on the Journey
When you want to learn something about yourself, start by listening first and barking last. Buji
Something miraculous happens when we step outside ourselves enough to connect with an animal. It is as if somehow, even if only for an instant, we come into alignment with the way things are supposed to be. When we do, we find our place. In that moment, we get a glimpse of what was intended when the earth came into existence, the harmonious occupation of time and space for various species together, each bringing out the best in the other, partnering on the great adventure of life, blessing every day with fulfillment and joy, making a difference one little ripple in the great pond of the universe at a time.
Over the last twenty-five years, science has quantified the significance of the connection between people and their pets. Research has shown that interacting with animals, whether petting a cat, playing fetch with a dog, or watching a goldfish swim in a bowl, raises our serotonin and dopamine levels (the neurotransmitters in our brains that signal well-being).
One study showed that stockbrokers with high blood pressure who adopted a dog or cat had lower blood pressure readings during stressful situations than did those who had no pets at all. Several studies have shown that heart patients who have pets tend to live longer than those who don't. A Study in Belfast found that dog owners suffered less from sicknesses, had lower cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure in addition to increased survival rates after suffering a heart attack. A ten-year study of four thousand three hundred Americans revealed that owning a cat could cut your risk of heart attack by almost one-third.
There is no question in my mind that pets increase our well-being and longevity, and sharing our lives with animal companions does something beyond what's measurable. Interacting with animals, particularly ones that have become our pets, inspires wholeness within us, and the connection has a spiritual dimension as well.
The power of this connection is woven into the very fabric of our beings. Traveling life's journey with an animal companion contributes to a full and happy life. If we will pay attention, we can catch a glimpse of the universe smiling back at us through the eyes of our pets. It's as if somehow, even if only for an instant, we come into alignment with the way things are truly supposed to be. We find our place in the universe where being and belonging have always been our home.
It is not always easy to explain, but it is tangible: pets have a way of making us better at being human and humane if we will let them. As we move through life, it's a clue the universe gives us about why we are here and what we are supposed to do to make this journey worthwhile for all.
Meeting Buji was the spark that helped me awaken.
If you want to get back to the place where you belong, you must learn, once again, what you knew all along. Buji
All my life, I have sought out the companionship of the natural world around me. As a child, I befriended mammals, birds, bugs, and trees. It may sound strange, but they all made me feel like I belonged, that I was a part of something bigger, that I could understand and be understood without uttering a word or doing a thing, that I was complete just by being in their presence. It is something I still feel today.
This connection has led me to my current path. It is why I chose to work with animals—or why they choose to work with me. Perhaps it is my Native American heritage that runs deep in my soul and reminds me of the energy we share with all living things, the energy that welcomes us home unconditionally, regardless of who we are or what we do in this time and space. It is this connection that shapes my journey and has undoubtedly been the source of my sanity and wholeness.
Animals can teach us that we belong to something greater than ourselves. Maybe this is why I have always known that at the heart of our existence, we are all one.
Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure. Oprah Winfrey
I remember spending hours of my childhood waiting and hoping to get a brief glimpse of understanding into the animals around me. I would round up the dogs in my neighborhood for a town meeting of sorts just so I could study their interactions.
I learned that I could accurately predict their behavior in future meetings: who would sniff whom, who would stake claim to a toy or territory with hackles up, who would make friends with blurred tails while others sheepishly displayed their soft underbellies.
I also "borrowed" my canine friends for one-on-one meetings. I delighted in teaching them a trick or two and returning them home with their heads as full as their bellies and their tails wagging, to the joyful surprise of their families. Like a thirsty sponge, I soaked up every moment as I learned to understand and hear what my animal friends were communicating.
It wasn't just dogs who captured my attention. Some days I could be found on all fours peering closely into the volcanic mound of an ant colony. I would take my primary color paint set and color code individual ants so that I could track their business matters and social interactions of the day, all of which I would carefully document in my double-lined writing tablet after paying for my colorful intrusion in fine grains of sugar currency.
There was not a creature in my neighborhood who escaped my curious gaze. Tadpoles, birds, squirrels, and spiders got equal attention in my backyard summer research projects.
I guess, in all fairness, you could say I was a bit different from the other kids in my neighborhood. As a matter of fact, you could say the same of me now, and that would be true. As a student of life, I know one thing for sure: I am grateful to be surrounded every day by the greatest of all teachers.
This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the fainthearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one's potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life. Carl Rogers
All my life, I have been drawn to animals, perhaps instinctively knowing that I needed them to teach me, heal me, and help me learn how to heal myself and others. Perhaps being an animal behaviorist is what I was meant to be all along, but I didn't set out to become one.
I started my career as a psychotherapist, working with college athletes as well as students and faculty, in the University Counseling Center at Wichita State University. Having been a collegiate athlete myself, I knew the importance of the mind-body connection in achieving outstanding performance. I routinely took clients through hypnotherapy, solution-focused therapy, and creative visualization exercises.
I had track athletes lie on the floor, close their eyes, and run their races entirely in their minds. I would time them with a stopwatch, and astonishingly enough they would repeatedly finish within hundredths of a second of their actual race times. I was amazed to witness the accuracy and power of the mind. Not only were they able to run their mental races with precision, but by utilizing the power of their minds they were able to shave seconds off their actual performance times. That may not sound like a lot, but in track one second is often the difference between first place and not placing at all.
Additionally, baseball players who were in batting slumps improved after visualizing hitting home runs: feeling, hearing, and seeing their ultimate success at the plate in their mind's eye.
It all worked like a charm but still failed to answer some of the deeper questions that constantly poked at my mind. It turns out that the mind is a very sharp tool and an excellent servant, though a terrible master. We can think ourselves into feeling good, miserable, scared, successful, or unsuccessful: the possibilities are endless.
My dad, a wise man with a keen wit and a knack for saying the right thing at the right time, used to tell me before I would line up for a grueling quarter-mile sprint over hurdles, "Wendy, you're better than you think. You run. I'll think."
He was wise beyond any education or degree one could attain, and he was right. When I let go of worrying, second-guessing, and hounding myself about my performance, I was able to excel by being in the moment and allowing my mind to be my servant, not my master.
I remember the story my dad once told me about Roger Bannister, the first athlete to break the four-minute mile, which many considered an impossible feat at the time. When the media asked Bannister how he was able to do it when no one else ever could, he responded, "I refused to believe that it wasn't possible." Our minds can create wings or barriers for us depending upon what we choose to think.
Minds are like parachutes—they only function when they are open. Thomas Dewar
The more I worked with athletes in this way, the more I wanted to learn about people beyond how to improve their performance in athletic arenas. I wanted to know, really know, what made them tick far beyond the pace of any stopwatch. I wanted to understand the concept of being versus doing. I wondered how behavior plays a role in our happiness and how we arrive at defining happiness in the first place. Of course, this was much trickier to grasp and even more difficult to measure.
This curiosity and the nagging necessity to answer these questions was the reason I became a psychotherapist. Humans fascinated me, and I wanted to contribute something that would change lives for the better and also find the answers I so desperately sought.
So I started out at the university, then worked for the Cayman Islands government (a story I will tell you in chapter five), then settled in Florida to work as a psychotherapist. I loved helping people uncover, unravel, and mend the fabric of what made them who they were, while encouraging them to be what they hoped to become. This was what I was meant to do, or so I thought.
It's time to trust my instincts. Close my eyes, and leap! Stephen Schwartz
One day a cat named Brie came into my life. She was a brown, black, and white calico with a dark furry spot on her nose that looked much like a sailboat in a sea of white fur. She was a shelter cat, a stray who couldn't find a home. I regularly went to visit her at the shelter in Grand Cayman until one day she communicated that she wanted me to take her to my home, so I did.
Soon Brie started hanging around my office while I worked. As it happened, one of my clients who was sitting in the waiting room scooped Brie up and placed her on her lap. When I came out to greet my client, even before I had a chance to speak, I saw something in her that I hadn't in all the weeks I had known her.
As she sat stroking Brie's soft fur, completely absorbed in the moment, I saw wholeness. I continued to watch her, unnoticed, as she tilted her head and leaned forward to listen more closely to the rhythm of Brie's purr. She smiled as her fingers traced the outline of the sailboat spot on Brie's nose. In that moment, she was happy, genuinely happy, and it had nothing to do with psychotherapy and everything to do with connecting with this purring bundle of fur. She was completely immersed in the moment in which everything was right with her and the world.
Brie had helped this woman connect in the present to be here now. She learned what she always knew instinctively but had forgotten along the way: that wellness is a state one achieves not by doing but by simply being.
After witnessing this magic, I realized that the healing connection I have always felt with animals was something others could feel as well. I began to explore the use of animals in the field of psychotherapy. Through my research, I found that animals had a profound effect on our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being. I discovered that people were starting to recognize and tap into the healing energy that animals have to offer.
It all made perfect sense to me. Being with animals allows us to simply be. Somehow hang-ups get shelved when we pick up a cat or watch a gerbil running on a wheel. We are drawn into the here and now, and the here and now is a very healthy place to be.
There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face. Ben Williams
I began working with animals in my spare time, volunteering at the Humane Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). I studied animal behavior with the same passion I had studied the cognitive behavioral processes in humans. I began training animals in shelters so they would be more likely to be adopted. I also learned how to prepare proper candidates for hearing, sight, balance, or emotional assist canines. These therapy animals provided emotional support and healing to those in rest homes, hospital wards, and other institutions. It was miraculous to witness how they used their charms to help those who most needed their unconditional companionship.
As I observed these pets interacting with humans, I learned new and different ways to facilitate growth and understanding. I began to recognize a natural congruency with animals that was infectious. As people allowed themselves to connect fully with animals, the barriers that I had found so difficult to breach as a psychotherapist seemed to melt away with ease. People acted emotionally healthier, and the more they interacted with the animals the more they seemed to be able to tap into an ability to heal themselves, something which had always been available to them but had seemed just beyond their reach. When they let go of the distraction of trying to fix themselves, they became aware that wellness had been there all along: a constant companion waiting in the here and now for an opportunity to emerge and reunite them with wholeness.
As an animal behaviorist, I never have to guess what an animal is thinking or feeling because they show me freely in the honesty of their behaviors. Animals live truthfully. They are always genuine and congruent inside and out. Pets are real and never apologize for it. They are not attached to outcomes or events. They hope and want, but they can just as easily let go. Pets live their inner world and their outer world seamlessly, which allows them to plug in to a way of being that celebrates similarities as well as differences. There's no bottling up of emotions, burying hurts under years of pretending that everything is fine, no lying to self and others. Animals, unlike humans, never pretend.
This congruent nature of an animal's behavior facilitates understanding, and understanding leads to healing. An animal's behavior always mirrors the inner workings of the mind and heart. For example, when a dog feels threatened, she snarls. When a cat feels content, he purrs. When a horse feels spry, she gallops with her head held high and her mane whipping in the breeze. Birds will dance and squawk to show they are happy or sound an alarm if it fits the occasion. There is no façade between animals and their world. Pets don't put on airs or repress motives or feelings.
The truth doesn't require many words. In fact, it requires no words at all. Animals live harmoniously with what is in and around them. Instinct tells them they are connected to it all.
One of the most appreciated qualities of animals is that they are beyond language. That they feel but do not require conversation is a great relief to most people. Mary Allen
As these realizations—my initial noodling that would be the groundwork for this book—were coming together, I decided to incorporate pets into my clients' therapy sessions. The animals helped the clients to focus on being well rather than on what was not working in their lives. It was in perfect sync with my solution-focused approach to working with clients in psychotherapy.
Excerpted from Buji and Me by Wendy Kelly Copyright © 2011 by Wendy Kelly. Excerpted by permission of Medallion Press, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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