By Sharon Callahan

AUTHOR OF: THE VOICE OF THE INFINITE IN THE SMALL; REVISIONING THE INSECT HUMAN CONNECTION


Joanne Lauck is an environmental educator and the author of the book The Voice of the Infinite in the Small: Revisioning the Insect-Human Connection (SwanoRaven, 1998) which won a 1999 Editorıs Choice award from the Independent Publishers Group. To order call: 1-800-366-0264 or visit Amazon.com and search by authorıs name or title. She is seeking stories of insect/spider-human interaction (in dreams or waking) for possible inclusion in a second book and welcomes correspondence. Please write her at 1724 Alberta Ave, San Jose, CA 95125, fax her at: (408) 266-2843, or email her at: joanne@imagination-at-work.com

Sharon
Joanne, would you comment on your feelings about how our relationship with and treatment of animals and the other kingdoms of nature relate to our own spirituality and unfoldment as human beings?

Joanne
It is my understanding that animals and human beings emerge from the same inexplicable core of unfathomable light. Our divine contract with each other is deeper than the questions of dominion and stewardship; forged out of the quintessential bedrock of a common physical experience and well below the reaches of an indifferent human culture, mesmerized by its own power, and intent on ruthless control and domination of the natural world. These luminous ties that link human and non human, then, are stronger than our differences and stronger than the arbitrary patterns of separation thrust upon us by contemporary beliefs that have belittled and trivialized our kinship, dismissing it as a sentimental misappropriation of love because of their non-human status. It has been my experience that honoring this deep linking is critical to our psycho-spiritual growth. Over time as we meet our personal challenges and keep turning toward ever greater versions of ourselves, we meet the animals who already live with impeccable authenticity and who await our return with what can only be joy and thanksgiving.

Sharon
What do you see that we can do to enhance the spiritual lives of our animal companions and other animals?

Joanne
I think the single most important thing we can do to enhance the spiritual lives of our animal companions and other animals is to see them as "other nations" of consciousness and meet them outside our own desires and needs. If we can resist the temptation to reduce them to powerless victims even while aiding them, and if we can also stop reducing them to just our symbol, our sign, or our message, we have an opportunity for a mutually satisfying reciprocal relationship that will result in a fuller measure of gifts given and received. This is also an important stance to take in relation to the animals that come to us in our dreams. Following the lead of many psychologists, we tend to reduce dream animals to representations of some aspect of ourselves, but I believe they come as themselves into our dreams to teach us something. They may correspond with a part of us, some interior aspect, but they are not just part of us. That belief denies the animal. The dream animal is rather a presentation of a divine animal, ancestor or god who often highlights, intensifies and even blesses those qualities that you share with them. James Hillman who has repeatedly challenged the popular reductionist approach to dream interpretation gives a good example. He says if a fox appears in your dream you can say your cleverness, sneakiness and attempts to raid the chicken houses is your psychopathic shadow or sex complex or whatever. Or you can honor the fact that the fox has come and is telling you that these qualities are part of nature, that this is where you and the fox connect. It will give you more respect for that part of yourself and encourage you to live those qualities in the right way, that is, harnessed to values that respect and enhance life.

Sharon
How can we expand the awareness of people to include animals as spiritual beings?

Joanne
I think that the most potent way we can elevate the status of animals in our culture and raise consciousness in others is to model "right" relationship with non-humans as we go about our lives. I remember an incident several years ago when I had an opportunity to do just that after an exercise class. The class was held in a room with floor to ceiling sliding glass doors. Outside were beds of flowers and an expanse of green grass. Toward the end of the class I noticed that a wasp of some sort was flying up and down the glass doors. I suspected it had entered when someone opened the door to cool off and now was trying in vain to get back outside. When the class ended I went over and lifted my hand to the insect, silently asking it to go on my finger so I could help it outside. It crawled onto my finger and I opened the door and it flew away. When I turned around the entire class including the instructor was standing there, looking at me in a sort of stunned silence. I shrugged and said, "Insects donıt understand about glass." Speaking about the insectıs probable confusion over the glass made sense to those watching. People are not usually in the habit of thinking about an animal or insectıs point of view, but when they do take it into consideration they are more likely to respond compassionately. And compassion opens doors inside us and between us and the animal. Realizing that even insects appreciate a helping hand at times does a great deal to ease fearıs grip on a person and when it relaxes its hold, curiosity and the desire for connection surfaces.

At any rate, my casual comment broke the silence and they all started chatting again. Several came up and wanted to know why I wasnıt afraid and several others shared their own stories of contact and communication with other species. Chances are some of them will try to respond in a similar manner should a similar occasion arise. I do the same thing in my high school classroom when someone discovers an insect inside or on the window. I stop the lesson and help it outside. The kids are watching and making note that I think life is valuable and worth our time and consideration. Thatıs the beginning point on the road to seeing animals as spiritual beings.

Sharon
In the conclusion of your wonderful book "The Voice of the Infinite in the Small: Revisioning the Insect-Human Connection" you speak about the need to reinvent ourselves as a compassionate species and "follow Mantis." Can you explain this reference to the praying mantis for our readers?

Joanne
Mantis is the oldest image of God, the South African Bushmanıs God come to Earth to learn how to co-create. The late Laurens van der Post studied the mythology of this ancient race of people who lived in mystical participation with the Earth and believed that encoded in the Bushmanıs stories of Mantis and his family was a description of the creative pattern of renewal behind all of natureıs outworkings. He suggested that if we attuned to this inner Mantis with the intent of letting it direct our course, we would in essence be turning toward our own soul or authentic nature. Itıs a profoundly alienated and exiled aspect of our most fundamental identity that has cut us off from our roots. As a result of following Mantis van der Post believed that we would be able to live a more expansive version of ourselves and find the wisdom we need to repair the damage to the Earth. So to "follow Mantis" means to put that core aspect of yourself, a foundation of spirit so to speak, at the helm and let it direct your intellect and ultimately your life.

Sharon
Would your comment on your relationship with the animals in your care?

Joanne
The stories of the animals that have shared my life would fill several volumes. I have had many beings live with me over the years and each one had a story‹a story of arrival, a story of gifts given and received and then, finally, a story of leave taking. The one directly responsible for my writing about the healing potential of the human-animal bond was a dog named Leaf. My affinity with Leaf, a bonding of the most spacious heart-full kind, was in truth a friendship of extra- ordinary depth and scope. In dreaming and waking Leaf played a central role in my self-explorations, linking me to the teaching of his wild ancestors. And over the years, with his help, I regained a lost tenderness and learned to navigate the complexities of my human relationships with the loving presence he invariably brought to our relationship.

When Leaf was on Earth, I didnıt feel any need to articulate our life together. I just lived out this very intense bond and the people around me made room for the two of us without understanding how or why Leaf was my life (love) line. When he died, however, I plunged into what T.S. Elliot called the "darkness of God" and during that painful time animals came in dreams to help me "see in the dark." An impulse to write about what I had come to understand about the human-animal bond also quickened and grew, strong and insistent in the months immediately following his death. That was in 1989, and I have been writing ever since. Typically when an animal crosses my path and enters my waking or my dreaming awareness I pay attention and try to establish friendly relations. When Leaf was nearing the end of his life, obedience to this awareness brought Callie, a half-wild stray cat into my life. I had first noticed Callie after I moved to California from Texas and rented a home in a quiet residential area. One of a dozen entities who skulked my new neighborhood, this calico-colored cat took up residence on the back fence of my yard. Initially, her appearance in a dream caught my attention. After the dream, I began looking for her, watching her as she watched Leaf and me. I was open to a relationship and extended feelers into the situation, wanting to understand what was being asked and what should be given. That was the beginning of a ten year relationship with a remarkable being and set the stage for other animals to enter.

I never felt bound by my receptiveness to a specific course of action other than offering respect and appreciation. I simply tried to acknowledge each creature I met as a worthy individual and a sacred presence participating in life. Then, I lived into the question of what was being asked. Caring for the physical needs of the animal has always been an important part for me of establishing a rapport and creates a conduit for the relationship to deepen. I consider it service of the highest degree. Over the years the most unlikely creatures have come, bringing me wisdom, support, and guidance when I least expected it‹from a cockroach I named Cedar and a wild rat (Annie) that I had the opportunity to foster, to a colony of feral cats that I currently care for. I am convinced that the arrival of an animal always signals an interweaving of mutual intent‹an intent that could and does orchestrate the often complex outward circumstances when it is important to bring human and non-human together. Often it takes a lifetime and the physical death of the animal to even begin to understand what the potential for the relationship had been and its measure of fulfillment.

Sharon
I am so happy that you and I will finially meet at The Kinship With All Life Conference Francisco in July of 2000 that will address the spiritual relationship between people, animals, nature and Earth Herself. What is the significance of such a conference?

Joanne
I think it is very significant that spirituality is at the center of this conference and its workshop offerings. In the last twenty or thirty years the number of conferences on our relationship to animals and the natural world has increased dramatically. Yet in most or even all of these, talks about our spiritual connection have happened outside the scheduled presentations, a peripheral topic to the eventıs focus. I believe that the elevation of the status of animals in our culture and the road back to repairing the damage we have wrought as a species to the Earth depends on recognizing animals as spiritual beings, part of a sentient world that is calling to us to remember our place in the circle of life. That this conference puts spirituality at its center is a remarkable achievement and signals another step on the road back to an authentic place in the Earth community.

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