Listening to the teachers...

I had a soul mate for many years whose name was Star Gazer. He was a tassled, grey and white bearded collie who had the joie de vivre of champagne. This breed of dog knows how to be clownish, inhabiting a place of humor and generosity. They are a messy breed, and are dramatists. Even when he was just a puppy, he was debonair. He could go anywhere, greet the person we were visiting as some kind of gleeful and magnanimous party host. From massage therapist offices to stores to people's homes, every one loved him. After a "beardie bounce" (a process of leaping high in the air while also pirouetting in space, which always reminded me of Baryshnikov) and enthusiastic tail wags, he would find a corner and relax. The perfect fifty-pound guest.

One thing he never did was whine or complain. He wanted what he wanted, but imagine Cary Grant going after something he wanted as opposed to John Wayne.

So when I was getting ready to see my first shamanic client when he was only a year old, and he began scratching furiously at the door and barking at a startling, high pitch, I knew something was different. I knew he not only wanted to come into my client studio, he needed to. I opened the door, he came in and began to relax immediately. He became calmer even as I became a bit frantic because I could feel that he was positive that he should be there, but I was entirely unsure how my client would react.

He and I had journeyed before, but, of course, making the space comfortable and safe for the client was my first priority. Still, I could feel he was going to stay, intractable, which was such abhorrent behavior that I decided I would find out if the client was OK with having a dog present.

As I waited with Gazer, I felt nervous and didn't know if I could truly be of service, truly show up and do the shamanic work I would be called to do. A knock on the door, and I opened the door smiling, communicating an ease I didn't entirely feel. The woman was beaming, too, and seemed very happy. But Gazer did not do his beardie bounce and did not give her his usual over-the-top "wow, am I glad you are here" welcome. He walked gently (an odd adverb for the verb "to walk") over to her, and delicately put his head in her lap just as she sat down.

She burst into tears. Her mask was stripped away by his utter tenderness. The unexpected empathy of this glorious animal, who immediately merged with her emotional state, gave her a freedom that no amount of talk would ever allow. The appointment shifted into deep and true currents.

When the time came for the shamanic work, she received a soul retrieval, a shamanic practice in which the practitioner reclaims a part of the soul of the client that has been lost and returns it to her. As I did my work, she lay quietly, and Gazer stretched out against her, pressing his nose, head, and even his tail against her body. He was gone, journeying. He entered into an altered state of consciousness in a way that I knew as well as I knew my breath. The drumming was loud, and, like me ( and unlike other bearded collies who are terrified of noise), he travelled on the back of the drum to the worlds of nonordinary reality.

When the work was done, I sat up and blew the client's soul piece back into her body. As she began to cry, he nestled even closer for a while, but when she began laughing, a huge smile came across his face and he sat up, looking at her, taking it in, as that glorious plume of a tail thumped the floor. When she finished, he gave her a kiss on the face, came over to me and gave me a kiss on the face, walked briskly to the door, opened it (he knew how to open doors) and left. The appointment was over.

That was 15 years ago, and Gazer is gone now. He was with me with every single client and student who walked into my studios for thirteen years. And over the years I learned that sometimes the person who is quiet and removed and seems quite ill is actually ready to presence great emotional joy, just as the person who may seem to be chipper and happy may be holding a great sorrow. Over the years, I learned if I watched Gazer during the first minute of an appointment, I would understand how that client needed to be held and nurtured. He was never wrong. Not once.

We were, in the truest sense of the word, partners. Of all the teachers and practitioners I have ever known, he was the most gifted. To say that I miss him doesn't begin to cover it. But learning from him helped me integrate the biggest truth -- everything has a spirit, and everything is my teacher. It is not woo woo to say you can learn from the spirit of a tree. Or a lake. Or the spirit of the land you live on. We are all in ceaseless communication, all vibrating and humming to each other's true teachings.

Now, when clients come, I try to embody that spirit of seeing through the heart. That intention is the guiding intention of my work. My husband Don is a painter, and a portrait of Star Gazer sits above my main altar now. Even though I never stop missing him, I know he is with me. He lives in my soul.