Sarah, a long-time animal lover and volunteer at the sanctuary, graciously shares with us the endless life lessons she learns from the animals at Indraloka. Enjoy!
On a warm, sunny, June afternoon we pulled up to a place that housed pigs- or rather- a place where pigs lived. We were on a rescue mission, and knew very few details beyond: “There is a pig in need, an we are here to help him.” It was very clear that Gavin was hungry, thirsty, and hot without shade, but when we gently lifted his ears he did welcome us with a glimmer of hope in his eyes, and a quiet grunt. Gavin was very willing to follow a bowl full of food and walk right into the truck where he would travel home with us. We were grateful for his cooperation and the trust he was already showing for his new human friends. Once he was into the truck with the air conditioning running, a bowl of cool water, and feed mixed in with a lush layer of hay to nap- I joined him while the other humans continued their work with other animals.
Once the initial excitement of comfort wore off, Gavin was very curious about his new surroundings- especially, the human in the front seat! Not knowing what to expect, I did a lot of singing and talking to Gavin, and he responded by gently nuzzling me, letting me know he was fully engaged and enjoying our time together, already. With each gentle nuzzle I lifted his huge ears to expose beautiful big brown eyes, and Gavin would make eye contact with me for long enough to let me know, “Oh good, it’s still you… keep singing, please.” It was around that time that another pig was squealing loudly outside of the truck. I could see and hear that pig, and I knew that Gavin could see and hear that pig too, and we both recognized that she was scared and unhappy. The harder she struggled outside of the truck, the more I sang, and the more I sang, the closer Gavin squirmed his body to me. He did stand a few times to look out the windows- and much to my surprise when I reached down to gently touch his belly in hopes of helping him relax- immediately he flopped to the ground grunting quietly letting me know, “Thank you, that feels so good.”
As I replay that moment in my head over, and over again- I continue to be astounded by his spirit. There we were, sitting in a strange truck, with a pig screaming outside of the vehicle with many human strangers moving quickly- the scent of fruit, grain, and other pig treats in the air- and yet not only did Gavin allow me to reach out and touch his belly, he rolled to the ground asking for more. The amount of bravery, faith, and trust that he displayed in that moment is something I hope to never forget. On the long drive home Gavin napped a lot, occasionally sniffed the humans in the front seats, and got his first taste of “sweet crunchies.” We told him they were apples, but I like his language, better. We promised Gavin that he would enjoy sweet crunchies and so much more in his new home, and that the hay he was basking in in the truck would be far more plentiful at the sanctuary.
After several hours of travel, with bumps, twists, and turns in the road, the doors opened to the sanctuary, rich with the sounds of nature and animals already in slumber. Gavin desperately wanted to explore his new space, but his weak body would not allow him the energy and momentum needed to leap from the truck. Showing no fear, Gavin slowly inched his tired limbs onto a pile of hay bales, and with some coaxing and gentle help, he rejoiced as he finally walked into his stall filled with soft hay, fresh water, sweet crunchies, and a meal to fill even the emptiest of bellies. Since that night Gavin has already started gaining weight, making friends with cats, and he is on the path to recovery from a host of illnesses.
His struggle is not over, but as he proved in the truck that night, Gavin recognizes that he is safe now, and that he is loved. He is gentle and kind, and he is gracious for his meals and caregivers. Gavin represents the kind of spirit I wish more humans would strive to embody; one that is able to give and receive love, one that is able to forgive by letting go- even of the immediate past, one that has faith and trust in the moment- without expectation, and of course- Gavin showed us that accepting a belly rub from a stranger is really no different than accepting a smile, a wink, or a kind word from a passerby on the street- and taking a moment of appreciation to let that connection soak in. Gavin has shown us that even when sweet crunchies are abundant, take time to savor every morsel- each drop of sweet nectar, because pleasure doesn’t have to be rushed. I have only known Gavin for a short time, but before our tires even hit the road as we left his past behind, he had already changed my life.
The person feeding the animals that night climbed in with Lily’s bucket- full of food. Not realizing I was there, they called her and placed it on the ground. Lily looked me in the eye without moving a muscle- and then she hugged me even closer, sighed, and closed her eyes for a quick snooze. Everyone who has met Miss Lily knows that she screams for food from the moment she hears the feed-bin open, until an hour later when the bin closes for the night. At meal time she is not polite, she is not patient, and she surely does not pause for play when her meal is nearby. (I promise the rest of the day she is quite kind and lady-like!) I had no idea when I arrived that night that Lily had not eaten dinner, until that food sat inches away from her… while Miss Lily Pie, my sweet piglet friend, showed me how easy it can be to simply choose love over food. It was eye opening, soul opening, and most of all heart opening. I knew immediately I had to take the same steps as Miss Lily.
During a recent visit, sweet Lily Pie asked me to “Please come snuggle.” Of course, she didn’t have to ask twice! She rolled for a belly rub first, but then used her snout to nuzzle her face into my armpit and wriggle her body closer and closer until she was resting her head on my arm, her back on my belly, and her rump on my legs- I believe we humans call it “spooning.”
It was a hot day, she had already eaten dinner, and Lily needed some quiet time in the remaining sunshine with a friend- and I gladly accepted her invitation. As I sang to her, Lily snored loudly, even as my hand tickled her chin and she smiled up at the sky. We stayed like that for a long time- exchanging quiet stories, singing songs, and watching the clouds. I’m not sure whether Lily needed that time, or if she sensed I needed it- but by the time we each took a deep breath and stood up, the world around us seemed even more vivid and alive than before. Our fun was not over, though!
Next, I called Lily over to her wallow- deep with warm water and wet mud- and my boots sank in. As I sat on the edge, I kicked the water gently, making ripples and light splashes at the surface. Lily was mesmerized- and when I stopped, she dove her face into the water blowing bubbles with her nose and mouth to make the same ripples appear. When she stopped, I started again. We went back and forth several times- until Lily surprised me! She dove down into the water- locked her eyes on my eyes- lifted her snout and threw a giant layer of mud onto me! As I laughed and kicked my boots to splash her, she continued to throw mud at me without ever breaking eye contact. Once we both had our fill of muddy mayhem, she gave me a giant muddy kiss on the chin to say “good night” and I’d like to think we both spent the rest of the night smiling while thinking about the fun we had just shared.
One of the highlights of my recent sanctuary visits has been sitting with the sheep. For many months, I sat in their pasture waiting- and they ignored me. Or, on the better days, they sniffed me and walked away. They chose to surround me and give affection a few months ago, and ever since that day, they surround me when I enter the pasture.
The sensation often feels like a total body hug- and I love it! On my last visit, I sat in the hay and Magdie the sheep-loving pig flopped onto my lap for some affection. Within moments, the sheep surrounded me from all directions and “hugged” my body warmly. With so much love and energy exchanged between “The Sheepies,” Magdie and myself, I’m not sure words can fully express the sensations. The closest I can explain is a warm bubble full of love wrapping around my body. It was intense and beautiful, and once we all had our fill, I think we each walked away a little healthier and happier.
A second personality deserving of a column is a sweet cat named Templeton. He is long and lean, his gray coat is rich in color, he has a gigantic handsome square head, and he has a silent meow that always catches my attention. Templeton is one of the newer additions to the feline family at Indraloka, but he has become a fixture all over the sanctuary grounds. Sometimes I find him smiling up at me while napping with Maddie and Vanna, other times he is having a secret silent conversation with Lily, but most often, I find Templeton waiting for his human friends. He is one of the first to greet visitors, and he always takes the time to extend well wishes as people leave. I fell in love with Templeton and his quiet, unassuming personality the moment I met him, and most other visitors do, too.
A few weeks ago, a very unassuming student in my classroom stopped to tell me a story. I gave him my attention while seating other students, and moved him along. He didn’t move. Instead he pulled out a collection from his pocket, and after a quick “oooh, and ahh” I moved him along, again. He didn’t move. He announced “This is my wheat penny collection.” That caught my attention, because truth be told, I had an extensive wheat penny collection as a kid and hadn’t thought about it in years. The young man in my room, who is usually very quiet and reserved, respectful and engaged, but not overly enthusiastic about music, held out a wheat penny saying “I want you to have this one. Please keep it.”
The following day I brought one of my own wheat pennies in and gave it to him, and he stood there, silently, with blazing red cheeks and a smile from ear to ear before he could find the words “thank you.” In that moment he reminded me to always stop and listen, no matter how little time is available, because listening is what matters most, and also that sometimes the people who seem the least interested or engaged from outward glance, are actually absorbing fulfillment and joy from our interactions.
From that moment forward, I have looked at my students and even my friends and family differently, remembering that care and connection comes in all forms. I missed something important, though. When I visit the sanctuary, I find that kisses from pigs, dogs, goats, and even cows are the norm. I know that Whirlee Girlee will tell me stories while she and the other horses are in the barn. I know that the sheep will offer hugs and gentle massage, and Tao will wait his turn to go last. I recognize connection at the sanctuary, and I am so lucky to find it abundantly.
A few days ago, though, while I was listening intently to Whirlee, Fancy gently reached over, grabbed for my hand, and when I turned she nuzzled me gently and gave me a big sloppy kiss all the way up my arm as far as she could reach. It took me by surprise, Fancy has always been quiet and reserved around me! It was a great moment, but I still didn’t understand. I even told myself “I don’t really connect with Fancy, that’s interesting!”
Today I was back to visit, and after careful thought, decided that Fancy should get a visit in the pasture- something I don’t normally do. The other horses were there, and right away Fancy walked over, nuzzled my neck and chin, and again slurped from fingertips to shoulder with a kiss. In that moment I realized it was a mirror from my recent experience. Fancy just gave me her wheat penny. The first time I heard the message, I applied it to my human community. The second time I realized it’s true for my animal friends, too.
They connect in their own way, and just because it isn’t always visible- doesn’t mean it isn’t there. They appreciate the time people spend with them- or near them- even if they never make physical contact. The final piece of the lesson, at least so far, has been to recognize that as healers, caregivers, teachers, and leaders, we often reach out to others. We take on the responsibility of creating pathways for others to connect with us and to feel safe. The young man in my classroom, and Fancy – they were brave. They initiated unexpectedly, and they did it in their own way. I love that, I admire that kind of strength.
Sometimes maybe we are all too busy helping others to feel comfortable and welcome in OUR world, instead of reaching out and trying to become a part of THEIR worlds.