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Fleeting Moments of Compassion

You may have noticed an absence of communication in your in-box from me last week. The reason? My partner and I along with our furry brood of rescued felines and canines embarked on a five and a half day exhausting cross-country journey to our new abode on the beautiful Sunshine Coast of British Columbia.

The adventure involved packing and driving a 16 ft. moving van with our life’s possessions, converting the back of our Toyota Matrix into a kitty cargo area (complete with well-used litterbox, lots of cozy blankets and a couple of “hidey” boxes for the shy ones), and leaving behind our beautiful community of friends and family in Ottawa for a quieter life of artistic inspiration surrounded by mountains, ocean and abundant wildlife. Admittedly, it’s an adjustment into the slower pace of life – even from someone who already considered herself somewhat slowed down – but it’s only been a week since landing so I’m confident that integration will happen rapidly. If only I could beam the people I love over to this beautiful paradise, my heart would be complete. Instead, I plan to commence the exciting task of building a coastal community of cool and compassionate people while always maintaining an open door (and open heart) policy for the beautiful folks back east to visit (with a secret wish for them to stay).

We’ve been without regular access to internet for the past couple of weeks and much to my excitement, we just had a blazing fast cable internet line installed into our home yesterday. What that means is that I can regularly connect with everyone in this amazing virtual community once again! And I’m very excited for what’s to come. I have a long list of inspiring podcasts to release over the coming weeks and so much inspired thought to share with you in future blog posts. Teaser alert: Stay tuned for a very timely podcast next week from two amazing women who are channeling the power of love into a compassionate international movement – Anita Kranjc and Mary Fantaske from Toronto Pig Save are opening hearts and minds with their dedicated love-based animal activism. Their interview is particularly timely for me in that it will be released after experiencing a very emotional cross-country journey (more to come on that topic next week).

The following week – my birthday week (and a significant birthday at that!), I’ll be releasing an extra special interview with a woman who I deeply respect and admire. A woman who helped me access my inner Goddess this past summer – the Goddess who guided me to that place inside that said “go for it” when the thought of moving back to the west coast was just that – a thought. Sierra Bender is a woman who has changed my life. She’s a woman with a beautiful mission to heal the wounds inflicted on the Divine feminine and guide us back to the power, strength and kindness of the Goddess within. I can’t wait to share this amazing interview with everyone!

But that’s not all. This week, I have the honor of sharing a wonderful guest post from a dear friend of mine.

Dani Dennenberg is a compassionate soul who’s touched my life in so many ways. We first met as residents of the intern house while doing work for PETA in Norfolk, Virginia back in late 1998. Many excited late night conversations connected me to this beautiful soul and her mission as a budding Humane Educator. Dani has sparked my life in so many significant ways. From introducing me to the power of Humane Education to guiding me towards the connection with my life partner (the love of my life with 13 special years together this year), and finally, to triggering the dormant desire to move back to the west coast in this most recent life transition. Dani is a special woman with a very special place in my heart. She is now working as a Humane Educator and Program Director for Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers (HEART) in Portland, Oregon and I’m thrilled that we’re within a few hours commute of one another once again.

Dani recently spoke at the sold out Educating for a Just, Peaceful and Sustainable Future Humane Education conference in New York City this past September. With keynote speakers such as Dr. Jane Goodall, Zoe Weil, and Arun Gandhi (grandson of Mahatma Gandhi), this was indeed quite an honor. Dani has an impressive bio that leads with the fact that she was the first graduate of the Institute for Humane Education’s Master’s Program in 2003. Dani directed IHE’s certificate program and served as adjunct faculty through their M.Ed. partnership with Cambridge College and also facilitated Sowing Seeds Workshops for the Institute. She founded/led the Seeds for Change humane education program in San Diego from 2000 until 2008 reaching over 15,000 students, teachers and administrators. As part of her efforts with SFC, she also taught a year-long elective course in global ethical issues for 10-12th graders at Cortez Hill Academy, one of her career highlights.

She has also directed higher education partnerships for the Northwest Earth Institute and served with AmeriCorps’ Students in Service program, fine-tuning her passion for service learning and community partnership development.

She will be pursuing a doctoral degree with the University of Portland’s EdD program in Learning and Leading in 2014 and holds a B.A. in Sociology from the UCSD.

With that, I’m honored to present to you today’s guest post by my compassionate dear friend, Dani Dennenberg.

“In my work as a humane educator of nearly 15 years, I’ve witnessed beautiful moments when I can feel a young person’s heart opening. It’s rare and precious. That raw sense of openness, inquisitiveness and engagement that often leads one to reconnect with the often-forgotten-about organ known as the heart. As an empath, this lights up my world. That’s because I was the kid scooping ladybugs out of the pool when I saw them struggling. I was the teenager who refused to take part in and had to leave the Biology classroom while sheeps’ hearts were being dissected because I knew the hell these animals had experienced. I am the adult who lets my heart’s wisdom guide me. But living in the heart can be a lonely place. It can be alienating. And I sometimes find that I have to harden my heart just to function in this society. At other times, I am unable to distinguish between my heart and my mind because the lines sometimes blur (here’s a great article to help you discern). Those latter experiences are betrayals I’m not willing to live by.

In our culture, emotion is often devalued and framed as a negative, sometimes fringe thing – passionate animal activists or environmentalists are derided for their caring and painted as “too sentimental,” as though logic, reasoning and the mind are inherently more valuable, even virtuous and as though we can’t have strong hearts and minds. Because of the overemphasis on the mind, I have to actively challenge thoughts about being strange or overly sensitive. In Los Angeles, the use of bull hooks in circuses was recently banned. A bull hook is a sharp wood or metal tool used to punish and control and causes unimaginable pain and suffering in elephants. Infamous Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey’s CEO characterized the group of people behind the ban as “crazies” because they were led by the power of truth expressed as emotion. Since when does being guided by feeling qualify one as misguided?

The heart was long identified as the center of the entire body, the seat of life, or emotion, or reason, will, intellect, purpose or the mind. In the Hebrew Bible, the word for “heart” lebab is used in these meanings. In Chinese medicine, the heart is seen as the center of shén “spirit, soul, consciousness.” The Sanskrit word for heart, hRd is a cognate of the word for heart in Greek, Latin and English. The same word is used to mean “mind” or “soul” depending on the context. Notice the beautiful pattern?

I hit a low point a few weeks ago when I felt overwhelmed by the lack of compassion, empathy and responsibility I was witnessing in young people. After I presented to a group of 6-8th graders at Shaarie Torah, a local synagogue about the destruction of rainforests and the near push of Orangutans to extinction for palm oil plantations I said I didn’t want to presume that every one of them cared as much about this issue as I do. A young man turned to me and said, “I think it’s safe to assume we all care about this issue!” with emphasis on “all.” I smiled. Big time. And was deeply grateful for that moment”.

In many ways, this can be a very discouraging world when we care so deeply for all living beings. But when we remain steadfast within our heart-centered connection, the Universe often delivers a reminder that we’re not alone. Fleeting moments of compassion become global movements when embraced by the collective. And all it takes is one person to lead the charge.

Live with passion. Live with purpose. Change the world.

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