Practicing Mindfulness Through Service

You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain
Too much barking drives a cat insane
You won’t be still, oh what a thrill
Goodness gracious great balls of fur!

IMG_3079 Honestly, I don’t know how the kitties do it – listen to incessant barking day in and day out, all day long it seems. I imagine it shuts down when the humans are gone and everyone falls asleep but still….those poor kitties!

People often ask me how I can visit those poor kitties at Brother Wolf Animal Rescue every week. They tell me they could never do it without bringing (or wanting to bring) all of them home. And I totally get those feelings.

I sometimes fall in love with a special kitty IMG_3239and think how I would take him/her home if it weren’t for Paz. I don’t really  IMG_3443 know how Buddha Baby will interact with another cat in the house. I have a feeling he might like it eventually. However, I also consider what might happen if I didn’t help those poor kitties – if not me, who?

And what about the label of poor kitties? The label poor comes from the motivation of pity and I don’t pity a single cat or dog in that shelter. They are given a safe, warm (or cool), dry, comfortable, place to live with plenty of food, water, and as much love as any staff member or volunteer can offer.

IMG_3426Rather than pity, I like to offer compassion to those sweet kitties along with kindness and human interaction. If I was unwilling to move past my own emotions – if all of us who devote service to those in need refused to continue because it’s just too hard, how would that change the fate of those sweet kitties in any way other than negative? And that’s why I serve – because I believe they need me.

Today Elsa, the woman in charge of the kitties at BWAR, wished me a, “Happy Volunteer Appreciation Week!” Wow…that was kinda cool. I didn’t know there was such a thing.

MomColoradoEveryone who knew my Mom knew that she had a servant’s heart. Even when she worked full time, or while she raised seven children, she volunteered for one thing or another. My Mom showed me through action how important it is to volunteer. And while I loved and admired what she did, I also knew the toll it had on her when she over committed to one thing or another. Throughout my life I often volunteered but honestly, not as often as she did. For me, volunteering would come when I retired. So over the years I’ve worked at homeless shelters, picked up trash on Earth Day, played with Madagascar cock roaches to teach children about insects, and many other things, but rarely did I commit to a regular schedule, and seldom did I approach my service with the mindfulness I practice today.

It might have been my second time to volunteer…I was using a gloved hand to remove poo and pee clumps from the kitty litter in one of the cat cages. It suddenly occurred to me how I could not do what I was doing if not for my love of cats and the desire to serve not only the cats, but the amazing humans – staff – who were there every day to take on the same routine – clean, feed, clean, feed, and clean. I also began to realize what a perfect opportunity my volunteer service was to practice mindfulness – attention to the present moment – and my physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual response to every present moment.

IMG_3278It is extremely easy to sit in judgment when working at an animal shelter. And this of course means it’s easy to gossip. I found I was all ears and ready to discuss the shame of those who dumped their cat’s for no good reason. With each story of abandonment I would listen to determine if the cats previous parent had a good reason (they died) or a bad, unworthy, low-life reason (they just couldn’t deal with some behavioral issue). As I listened to myself one day I realized how judgmental I was. MANY will argue that I have every right to judge those people. But I don’t think so. As part of my daily practice it’s important that I do no harm through thought or speech. It’s equally important that I bring compassion and kindness to every person and living being. So while I might initially think that to bring an animal to a shelter is shameful, I also must consider that by shaming an individual, I have lost my compassion and willingness to serve with kindness and non-judgment.

IMG_3431 Another opportunity this service gives me is to meet the needs of each cat, rather than force my own needs. What I mean by this is that I love when a cat comes to me seeking love and physical attention. What’s better than a sweet kitty who wants my love and undivided attention? But the truth is, many of these kitties are scared to death. They are uncomfortable, confused, and overwhelmed. While many want to be petted and spoken to, some just want to be left alone…they don’t yet feel safe and it’s up to me during my time with them to respect their needs. Sometimes sitting down or standing next to a locked cage is the best way to give a kitty attention. I allow them to do what they need to do to feel safe while providing non-threatening human interaction. I don’t know if I do that well with people. And so this experience gives me an opportunity to explore how I relate to others, not only my furry friends.

One thing that is certain at any shelter, kittens are loved, adored, and given homes much more often than older cats IMG_3242 or cats with special needs. Yet many of those cats are the most loving and giving of all! They need little to no training and are perfect companions. In our cat room we have a sign regarding FIV: IMG_3423 Maybe we also need a sign about the benefits of a 6, 10, or 13 year old cat. This too is a reminder to me of how I make decisions and treat others. There was a time when I wouldn’t take an animal that might cost more money because of special needs or age. Now I realize that much of what I believed was myth.

0 0 0 0 BWAR Cat I began my volunteer service at BWAR in October 2014. And while I’ve missed some weeks, I make an effort to stick to my commitment of one morning a week. This too is part of my mindful practice as it’s easy to wake up on a rainy day and decide there are no painful consequences to myself if I decide to stay home. Every time I serve it’s a choice to go clean litter boxes or stay home in my cozy bed. I’m grateful to BWAR for giving me the opportunity to serve and to my practice, Insight Meditation specifically, for showing me how to take what I learn on the cushion in meditation and apply it to my life. It’s funny….while I started my service because I believed those sweet kitties and the BWAR staff needed me, I realize now that I need them. And in this circle we call life, isn’t that true for us all?

With Metta, Kate

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4 Responses to Practicing Mindfulness Through Service

  1. laura says:

    Sharon, i’m so proud of you. keep up the good work. i know it’s rewarding to help the helpless. both of my girls are rescues and i can’t imagine what their lives would have been like. mom would be so happy and proud that you got some of her.

  2. Your comments mean so much Laura – Thank you Big Sis! xoxo

  3. says:

    Nice post.  However,  why do you use a gloved hand to remove litter?  Why not one of those plastic rakey things like I use? Good job doing a turn at the shelter. Since I have a hard time watching the SPCA commercials on TV, you know I would have a hard time. I get so angry at the cruelty of humans and what they are capable of towards animals. Anyway the critters are cute and I’m sure they love playing with you. B

    • Thanks Barb! I clean the cat room where there are SEVEN litter boxes! And in there I do use a scooper; much easier. When we clean the cages (which I did for just a little while) I guess it’s easier (quicker) to just grab what’s in there and throw it out.

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