The Best Show of Force is No Force At All

Kids Around The World
Kids Around The World

The widespread and seemingly more frequent acts of violence around our country and the world motivated me to reflect on my thirty-year human services career to determine what contributed to me not being a target of violence.

I believe that it was my approach that kept me insulated from violence. My goal was to treat individuals with respect regardless of their background. Respect empowers individuals to choose the course of treatment that is best for them, and enables therapists to present options that might not have been considered. Respect breeds trust. It creates a safe and therapeutic atmosphere for individuals to work through their challenges.

The Importance of Working Together

My late supervisor and mentor, Don Kapes, first taught me the importance of adopting a respectful stance in our interactions with individuals. I was part of an interdisciplinary treatment team that Don supervised. We worked with individuals who had extensive criminal histories, mental health challenges and substance abuse issues. In addition, they had a deep mistrust of authority figures. The first thing that Don impressed upon us is something that I have passed down to other human service professionals: “Do treatment with someone, not to them.”

Level the therapeutic playing field by empowering individuals to have a voice in their treatment.   Don taught me that anyone whose voice is honored feels respected, and safe. Silencing the voice of another person not only disempowers them, but also sets the stage for volatile reactions.

Honoring the Teachings of Others

One of the first individuals that I worked with in the chemical dependency field was a Caucasian veteran of the Vietnam War. He was involved in combat. When he returned to the States, to cope with Post –Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), he drowned out the horrors of war with alcohol. During one of our first meetings, he requested to not have staff touch him when waking him. He explained that while in Vietnam many of his fellow soldiers were killed in their sleep.

Consequently, he became a light sleeper. He further disclosed that any physical touch would provoke him to attack, due to his desire for self-preservation. He had no desire to hurt any one else, or continue to fight a war. In retrospect, he was among the first people to teach me about the importance of adopting a peaceful perspective with my fellow man.

I was never a member of the military, but years later I would understand the importance of self- preservation as it played out in my early grief following my daughter Jeannine’s death in 2003.

Global Peace

While revisiting my human service career, I reflected on what needs to be done to achieve global peace. I truly believe that the respect I cultivated with individuals in my care would certainly work towards achieving this objective. Society would first need to buy-in to the belief that prevention of violence and the promotion of peace is the responsibility of everyone. We need to witness and understand each other’s challenges without judgment. The time is now to inspire different perspectives on how we view our fellow man/woman. We are all from the same human DNA; we are all one.

Authoring a Different Ending

For many who have undergone catastrophic loss or other life-altering transitions, the world is not a safe, predictable place. Any uncontrolled and senseless acts of violence reinforce this point. With that in mind, I wish to focus my attention on Eric Garner’s encounter with police that resulted in his death. In the video that I viewed online, I heard Mr. Garner saying very animatedly and demonstratively that: “I did not sell nothing” and “I am minding my business officer (twice) and please just leave me alone.” Demonstrative and loud does not necessarily equate to violence. Mr. Garner was not looking for a violent confrontation, if anything he was looking to avoid it. If one of those officers removed Mr. Garner from the situation and further explored what was going on with him, he may still have gotten arrested. He would however, still be alive. We could be viewing this event as a prototype for peace, rather than as an example of man’s inhumanity to man.

I would love to watch a video of a similar incident with the resolution that I previously described. It would reinforce to the world that solutions motivated by peace are more desirable, permanent and healing, then those solutions clouded by fear, misunderstanding, and a need to exert superiority over our fellow man. It would also illustrate that the best show of force is no force at all.

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The Singing Bowl

A Trip to Frankfort…….. New York

This past Sunday( 5/4), my wife Cheri and I went to a psychic fair in Frankfort, New York, which is about a 15 minute drive from our house. It was fun for me to observe all of the different vendors and talk with some about  the circumstances that contributed to them embracing a sacred path and using that knowledge to help others in times of transition. Cheri browsed the tables, bought a few items and  entered  a raffle in an attempt to win one of many health and wellness based items.

And The Winner Is

Later that evening there was a message on our phone.  A caller by the name of Toni, stated that Cheri had won an item at the raffle valued at  sixty dollars and that it would be at her place of business in Ilion, New York( a hop, jump and a skip from Frankfort) until pickup could be arranged. Cheri was going to go by herself on Monday to claim her prize, but could not because Toni’s shop was closed on Mondays. So Cheri and I drove out on Tuesday to  pick up her prize.

Earthly Matters

We met Toni at her place of business, Earthly Matters, where Cheri picked up her prize, a basket of  natural bath and body products. We  also discovered a great collection of crystals, incense, rocks and a variety of other items designed to enhance connectivity to self, others and nature.  In the process of browsing  the shop, I was drawn to this beautiful brass bowl with a wooden mallet inside,mounted on a small pillow ( pictured below)

My Singing Bowl
My Singing Bowl

Toni informed me that the item was called a singing bowl . She told me that the singing bowl is used to clear out any negativity from  a room or other sacred space. I also discovered through some online research, that singing bowls are classified as a standing bell. They sit with the bottom surface resting ;the rim of the singing bowls vibrate to produce  harmonic sounds . They are used for meditation, relaxation, music and personal well being. Cheri encouraged me to buy it and to learn to use it. So after a brief tutorial from Toni, I took my new toy home and began to see what kinds of sounds I could produce .

Joyous Noise

I was instructed to first tap the top of the bowl with my mallet ,and move the mallet around the outside of the bowl. The sounds  are produced by gently applying pressure to the outside of the bowl  . After a few clumsy attempts to produce any harmonic sounds, I began to experience success at producing sustained joyous noise. The harmonic  frequencies I produced energized and relaxed me at the same time. When I have been relaxed and energized in the past, my ability to  walk in awareness is enhanced which allows me to  better develop the clarity I need to negotiate the path that I now walk. The path that has been redefined by the death of my 18-year-old daughter Jeannine, on March 1,2003.

Finding My Music

I have disclosed in previous blog posts and articles the blissful memories  that were created by Jeannine’s and my love of music. Our shared love of music  continues to be a major piece in the ongoing development of  the pure relationship that we enjoy today.  I never played a traditional musical instrument growing up, so any memories that I have of Jeannine and the continued bonds that I have established with her , have been through music we both listened too during her time on earth. It is exciting for me to be able to further strengthen our connection and develop continued clarity and peace through musical sounds that I can produce, while holding her in my thoughts.

The Synchronicity of It All

I would have never discovered the joys and the transformative qualities of the singing bowl had Cheri not entered the raffle last Sunday at the psychic fair, won a prize and picked it up when and where she did. Had Earthly Matters been open on Monday, Cheri would have gone to pick up her prize without me due to the fact that I was teaching most of Monday. If that occurred, I wouldn’t have discovered the joys of  singing bowl. It was the synchronicity in all of these events that contributed to me not only purchasing the singing bowl,  authoring this post in this moment.

All roads ultimately lead to the same place, the present moment 

The Afterlife of Billy Fingers-a true story by Annie Kagan

 

 

A Day of Rebirth……. For The Both of Us

The following piece was authored by Patty Furino, a dear and trusted friend and witness to my growth and rebirth in the aftermath of my daughter Jeannine’s death. Patty has also taught me that we continue to evolve by having those people of the highest level of thought in our support network.  As you will discover, Patty walks a sacred path with honor and integrity and she has helped many negotiate challenging transitions in their lives. I first met Patty in July of 2010 and spent a weekend with her in Long Island in November of 2010, and the wisdoms that she shared permanently redefined how I viewed my daughter Jeannine’s life and death. Jeannine truly did bring us together and was very present during that weekend in 2010. I am sure there will be more to come in the future on our shared experience. I also hope that this submission from Patty will be one of many that she will share on this blog. 


I awoke early this morning and felt an urgent call to revisit your essay entitled “A Day of Rebirth.” (http://thegrieftoolbox.com/article/day-rebirth) It led me to revisiting our thoughts from that first weekend together, so I decided to read our journals from the weekend. Looking back, Crow medicine filled my thoughts. The book Medicine Cards, by Native American, Jamie Sams, discussed how Crow Medicine reminds us to Honor our past as our teacher, Honor our present as our creation, and Honor our future as our Inspiration. It is still amazing to me when I look back and realize how Jeannine brought us together on 11/11/10 for a program entitled, “Embracing the Power of Change.” Little did we know how you were going to be doing just that! You have mentioned your weekend on Long Island in different blogs. Every time I read our journals from that weekend, I am reminded of how far you have come on your journey of remembering. Your blog is a beautiful testament to the wisdoms you have received as you remembered and transformed the painful memories. My wish is that each person creates a circle of people that witnesses and supports their own journey of remembering and eventual transformation. This is the way we can become a planet of wiser human beings. We have the ability to walk with an awareness of the lessons we can learn, through all the experiences our life brings. Many of us get caught in the drama of life, and never look for the path that can lead us to peace. You my dear friend, found the rays of sunshine peering through the trees as you walked down the dark path. You are an inspiration. When I was ordained in 1998 as an Interfaith Minister, I vowed to walk the path with honor and integrity. I chose to follow the motto of St. Francis, “ Make me an Instrument of Peace.” I made a commitment to use my connection to the Great Beyond, only in ways that I could be proud of. My goal has always been to inspire a peaceful prospective for people during their challenging times. Your essay is one of my proudest moments. From as far back as I can remember, I have always had conversations with my “wise friends on the other side.” Back in the 1960’s, I saw people who were put in mental institutions and subjected to shock treatments to clear away their imaginary friends. I was determined to find the balance between my connection to Spirit, and the journey in my ‘zip code’. I always trusted that God would bring me to the people who would not fear my gift and would connect with my knowing. I have journeyed through my life always walking in faith. I have always been mindful that this connecting is a gift from God, and should not be used as people’s entertainment. Your journey brings me great joy for it validates my mission on the earth. As you mentioned, spring is a time of renewal and rebirth. I feel it is finally time to come out of the shadows on my journey, and share how working with the Creative Source within each of us, can help anyone transform their perspective and find peace on earth. I thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts on your Bootsy and Angel Blog.

Enjoy Every Sandwich : Teachings About Life and Death from Warren Zevon

 Connection Through Music

I have had a deep love of music since I was 15 years old. Many of the greatest memories I have of my daughter Jeannine has been through our shared love of music. In the early phase of my grief, music from The Counting Crows, The Wallflowers, Tom Petty, The Goo Goo Dolls and The Gin Blossoms and others helped me get in touch with the pain of Jeannine’s death, while allowing me to stay connected to her. Today in the 12th year of my journey, music is a major part of the ritual and ceremony that I have embraced to not only honor Jeannine’s memory, but to spend some time with her beautiful spirit.

The Wind

Warren Zevon was a brilliant American songwriter and musician who made many memorable recordings during his lifetime, and whose songs were adopted by a number of other musicians. He was diagnosed in 2002 with inoperable mesothelioma and died on September 7,2003. Between the time that he was diagnosed and his death, he recorded his 12th and final studio album The Wind. This album represented, to me his finest work, not only musically but contextually.  The Wind was one of the first albums that I purchased after  Jeannine died in 2003.  In retrospect, I didn’t find The Wind, it found me.

Keep Me in Your Heart

Hold me in your thoughts; take me to your dreams

Touch me as I fall into view

When the winter comes keep the fires lit

And I will be right next to you

From the song Keep Me in Your Heart, lyrics by Warren Zevon and Jorge Calderon

 

Keep Me in Your Heart was the last song on Warren Zevon’s final recording of his brilliant career. It was a touching reminder that his spirit would never die .There was also his poignant request to be remembered, if only for a little while, by those whom he would leave behind. It was one of the first songs that I listened to after Jeannine’s death that spoke to the importance of maintaining connection with our deceased loved ones as a way to navigate our grief.

Finding Grace in Adversity

One of the most important lessons that can be learned from Warren Zevon’s life is how he chose to handle his impending death. Rather than run away from it, he embraced it as another part of his spiritual experience as a human being. He displayed grace in adversity and in the process crafted a recording for the ages, one whose teachings will hopefully be passed on for generations to come.

“You know, you put more value on every minute…I mean, I always thought I kind of did that. I really always enjoyed myself. But it’s more valuable now. You’re reminded to enjoy every sandwich, and every minute of playing with the guys, and being with the kids and everything.”

Advice given by Warren Zevon on The Late Show with David Letterman when he knew he had terminal mesothelioma (10/30/12)

Retrieved from http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Warren_Zevon

Spirit Vs. Ego and Other Random Thoughts

On my previous blog, I posted a couple of entries with some miscellaneous and sundry thoughts on a variety of different topics related to grief, loss and transformation. I am going to repost  some of these here along with some additional ones that come to  mind. In a sense, this represents my first new post for my new blog:

  • I read a quote some time ago that went something like this: “Ego says when everything falls in place, I will have peace. Spirit says ,find your peace and everything will fall into place.” Such a simple, eloquent teaching, but challenging to assimilate on a day-to-day basis. For me, the challenge is about the conflict between my soul’s need to just be  and my ego’s desire to maintain or not relinquish or assume control over my surroundings. For any of us who have experienced the death of a child or other catastrophic loss, the ego-soul conflict will surface. Over eleven years into my journey following the death of my daughter Jeannine, most days my soul wins. Other days I honor my humanness. And I am at peace with that.
  • If someone told me upfront that they were self-serving and self promoting, I could deal with that. At least I know what the contents of the package are ; I could choose to unwrap it or leave it alone. What I have difficulty dealing with is someone who tries to disguise their self-serving behavior as service to others.
  • Change is a necessary part of growth;learning to negotiate the pain of loss is a necessary part of managing change.
  • I think it is better to have life changing events shift perspective, than simply put things in perspective. When perspective shifts,movement occurs ;we can embrace transformation from loss due to death or other life transitions.
  • I get more excited promoting the work of others than talking about myself. As long as the message I am promoting is motivated by honesty and integrity of the messenger, I will put it out there.
  • My soul family, past and present, is part of my healing and understanding in the present.
  • I don’t assume everyone that I know wants me to automatically pray for them when they are experiencing challenging times, I usually ask their permission first.
  • Once I stopped asking the “why questions” about my daughter Jeannine’s death, I got all the answers that I needed. There is a lot to be said for sitting in the quiet.
  • Spiritual development occurs when we commit to walking in awareness; paying attention to what is happening around us and understanding how it is all connected.
  • The older I get the more I realize that there is  more to learn, and that I am ready to embrace those teachings from anywhere, anybody and anything. I never not want to be unteachable.
  • Entitlement is another word, like coincidence ,which is no longer a part of my vocabulary.  Gratitude is a word that I use often, now .
  • You can see yourself as a person who is a victim of circumstances beyond your control, or as an empowered person who transcends those circumstances to find new meaning and purpose in life.  In the early phase of my grief after Jeannine’s death, I chose to see myself as a victim of circumstance, now I see myself as the author of my own life experience.

Wishing you all peace.

An Undeniable Thread of Connection: Mother, Daughter, Sting and Thomas Cole

Sadie and Sting

My mother Sadie Roberts died at age 77, on March 11, 1994 of a massive bacterial infection. For  some time after her death, I listened to an album by Sting called The Soul Cages.  He wrote the lyrics and music to grieve the death of his father. Listening to it was a cathartic almost surreal experience. Sting’s music and singing allowed  me to get in touch with the visceral experience that accompanied my mother’s death. Beyond that ,I saw no other connection with anything past or present in my life at that time. However as has been the case for me recently, I have looked at my past  experiences through a lens that has been altered because of my daughter and Sadie’s granddaughter Jeannine’s death in 2003. I felt it was time again to revisit The Soul Cages.

Jeannine and my mother shared a close bond. Jeannine was almost 11 when my mother died and she took it very hard. Little did I know , on 3/1/03 Jeannine would be reunited with my mother for all of eternity.

End of Life Synchronicities

Two priests came round our house tonight

One young,one old,to offer prayers for the dying

To serve the final rite

From the song “All This Time”, by Sting

From the album: The Soul Cages

On the day of my mother’s death, she was administered the prayer of the sick and last rites on two separate occasions by two priests, one young and one old.  A few days before Jeannine died a young priest and older deacon administered the prayers of the sick to her.  I had always ,before today, viewed my mother’s and Jeannine’s end of life journeys as separate ,because they occurred several years apart. However, the similarities of their end of  life rituals indicated there was a teaching or teaching yet to be discovered.

The Voyage of Life

And all this time

the river flowed

endlessly to the sea

From the song “All This Time”, by Sting

I shared my observations with my wife Cheri about the almost identical rituals that were conducted at the end of life with our mother and daughter. She immediately directed my attention to four portraits on our wall, depicting The Voyage of Life by Thomas Cole. The following information has been retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Voyage_of_Life

The Voyage of Life, painted by Thomas Cole in 1842, is a series of paintings that represent an allegory of the four stages of human life: childhood, youth, manhood, and old age.Allegory is a literary device in which characters or events in a literary, visual, or musical art form represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. The paintings follow a voyager who travels in a boat on a river through the mid-19th-century American wilderness. In each painting, accompanied by a guardian angel. The voyager rides the boat on the River of Life. The landscape, corresponding to the seasons of the year, plays a major role in telling the story.  In childhood, the infant glides from a dark cave into a rich, green landscape. As a youth, the boy takes control of the boat and aims for a shining castle in the sky. In manhood, the adult relies on prayer and religious faith to sustain him through rough waters and a threatening landscape. Finally, the man becomes old and the angel guides him to heaven across the waters of eternity. 

The River of Life manifests differently in each of the paintings as  the voyager progresses through the four stages of life: 

To the child,the river is smooth and narrow, symbolizing the sheltered experience of childhood. To the youth, the calm river becomes rough, choppy, and full of rocks. In manhood, the youth has grown into an adult and now faces the trials of life. The river has become a terrible rush of white water with menacing rocks, dangerous whirlpools, and surging currents. The warm sunlight of youth has been clouded over with dark and stormy skies and torrential rains. The trees have become wind-beaten, gnarled, leafless trunks. The fresh grass is gone, replaced by hard and unforgiving rock.The final painting Old Age, is an image of death. The man has grown old; he has survived the trials of life. The waters have calmed; the river flows into the waters of eternity. The withered old voyager has reached the end of earthly time. In the distance, angels are descending from heaven, while the guardian angel hovers close, gesturing toward the others. The man is once again joyous with the knowledge that faith has sustained him through life. 

Awestruck

I am in awe that both young and old were represented in almost identical fashion during both my mother’s and daughter’s end of life journey. There is an undeniable thread of connection between their transitions from life to death. There is also no denying that my mother’s and daughter’s voyages of life contained many moments of joy as well as many significant challenges, which at times made their waters rough .  I also believe that their faith in God or a higher power sustained them until their earthly time ended and their eternal time began. Jeannine’s voyage of life was short in terms of human law, but not on the depth of her experience.

I also discovered insights regarding life and death through Sting’s 20th century music and Thomas Cole’s 19th century art, two different forms of expression in two different eras.  When there is that much clarity between the past and present, the past not only becomes our teacher,but experienced almost simultaneously in the present.

 

“I know this much: that there is objective time, but also subjective time, the kind you wear on the inside of your wrist, next to where the pulse lies. And this personal time, which is the true time, is measured in your relationship to memory.”  

Julian Barnes- The Sense of an Ending

 

Perhaps the insights we develop when revisiting past events in our life is not due to recalled memories but evolved memories. Because of the teachings that I  have continually discovered during my journey following Jeannine’s death, memories of past events have different meanings for me   As more teachings continue to be revealed , my past memories will develop additional or totally changed meanings for me.Recalled memories in its pure form can at times, be painful because of the trauma that is attached to them. Evolved memories come from a greater understanding of the synchronicities in the universe and help an individual develop clarity during his/her life experience, while dealing with the challenges presented by death or other life altering transitions.

Life in the Cat Lane

I probably should have mentioned in my first couple of posts that I am new to WordPress blogging. The posts you will see for now are ones that were previously posted on my old blog through eblogger. That blog has now been disabled. I am reposting some of my blogs for the last year, so those of who who are new to my work, get a feel for the topics I like to address related to grief and loss. With that being said ,here is another of my posts. Wishing you all peace.

Animal Zen

Animals have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  I have been both a dog and cat owner,and every time one of them died, the pain of grief was intense . It was equivalent to losing a member of my family. I have always valued my pets as loyal and faithful companions but never really gave much thought until recently about the valuable teachings that they reveal to us. I became aware of the teachings from the animal kingdom during approximately the last three years of my life. These teachings have helped me develop clarity during my journey as a parent who has experienced the death of a child. Today, I have four cats in my household, two who belonged to my deceased daughter Jeannine, and two whom I have recently inherited from my son and Jeannine’s oldest brother Dan. Each one of them have unique personalities and are ,in their own way, zen masters. I will proceed to tell you about each one of them and the teachings that I have discovered through our relationship . I have included pictures and a phrase next to their name that describes their greatest quality, and/or exemplifies their most significant teachings.

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Bootsy/The Shadow

Bootsy was a Christmas gift to my daughter Jeannine from her best friend. He is 16 years old , and was a major comfort to me after Jeannine’s death. He slept with me and made sure he got me up every morning(He still does). Bootsy was also my shadow and a protector, following me everywhere I went in the house. A couple of years ago, Bootsy ,who is a long lanky cat anyway, began to lose weight. Our veterinarian had talked about putting him on steroids to promote weight gain, but my wife Cheri and I opted to supplement his dry cat for with canned food. I made sure that he was fed small portions of canned food at least 3-4 times per day. Bootsy took care of me, now it was my turn to take care of him . Shortly thereafter ,he began to gain some weight and thrive. Bootsy nurtured the care taking side of me and in the process helped me address the feelings of inadequacy that I had because of my perception that I was an inadequate caretaker for my daughter during her illness.  Bootsy helped me realize that being Jeannine’s caretaker was not my role in our relationship. I discovered that it was more important for me as  to allow her to make adult decisions not only during her illness but throughout her adult life, while providing emotional support and presence.

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Angel/Patience

Jeannine and I found Angel huddled under a mobile home about 15 years ago. Angel couldn’t have been no more than six months old when we found her.  Angel has this great quality of being able to sit in the quiet for hours on end,and many times purrs without any stimulation from the humans who share a house with her.  She teaches me about the ongoing importance of being able to patiently sit in the quiet and experience the highs and lows of my journey as a parent who has experienced the death of a child. Angel also is also testimony to the fact that happiness truly comes from within.

When Bootsy and Angel die, my grief may also be intensified because of their connection to Jeannine. I will just need to remember the importance of sitting in the quiet as a way to develop clarity about my thoughts and feelings.

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Zoey/High Energy

Zoey, who is seven years old ,was one of the two cats that we inherited from my son Dan. Zoey is a high energy cat who attends to every waking moment as if it is the greatest adventure of her life. There is no moment in the day that she does not want to be a part of, regardless of how insignificant it may seem to me or the other humans in my life. She also loves to cuddle and is one of the most affectionate cats I  have ever been around. Zoey has reinforced for me the importance of experiencing as much joy in the present moment as we can, and that the basis of transformation due to life challenges is being able to give and receive love,without conditions attached.

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Nitske/Safety First

Nitske ,who is also seven years old was acquired by my son at the same time as Zoey. Nitske got her name because as a kitten, she was found in a paper bag on the side of the road in a town in Upstate New York called Niskayuna. Nitske is by nature a nervous,skittish cat until she becomes comfortable with her surroundings and the people in it. I quickly discovered that she would become easily startled,   even if I spoke  in an normal tone of voice, or made a sudden move to pet her.  I began to talk softly to her, telling her that she was safe with us and to explore her surroundings freely , without fear.  She  began to acclimate, became more relaxed and receptive to being petted..  Nitske reminds me that individuals who have experienced trauma from abuse and other catastrophic events need to be in an environment where they feel safe to disclose and just be who they are. Safety helps us become empowered; empowerment helps us shift our perspective during challenging times.   Nitske  also teaches me to continue to be aware of others limitations and to work with them constructively.

Every species of animal has their own unique characteristics and teachings that can help us change our perspective following the challenges presented by the death of a child and other life transitions. We just need to be open to the idea that clarity can be attained through the teachings of our four legged friends.

 

“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.” 

A.A. Milne- Winnie the Pooh

Some Suggested Resources

For those who wish to explore further the empowerment that occurs as a result of our connections with the animals in our lives, I would recommend  the following books:

 

Animal Speaks, by Ted Andrews

Medicine Cards, by Jamie Sams

Dancing Otters and Clever Coyotes by Gary Buffalo Horn Man and Sherry Firedancer