All Reiki sessions are unique in some way and always a privilege to share with another being but one of my most memorable has to be with the bears at Wildlife SOS in India.
During our SARA trip to India in October 2016 we spent some time at Wildlife SOS in Agra, a charity that not only rescues wildlife from conflict with man as people invade their habitat but actively campaigns to end the abuse of wild animals in captivity such as elephants and the so called ‘dancing’ bears.
As a reiki practitioner I just love working with different types of animal sensing their energy for the first time and, as I always find, when we connect and go deeper into the meditation or reiki session the feeling that we are separate species dissapears as we share our energy – I was overwhelmed with the sensitivity of the bears, to the reiki energy, to their environment, to us – making it difficult to hear of the lives they had endured before rescue.
For centuaries going back to the time of the Mughal emperors the ‘dancing bears’ have been a traditional way of earning a living for the people of the Kalendar tribe, in more recent times this has taken the form of entertainment in villages and for tourists. The cubs are taken from their mothers at a very young age, in the wild they would be carried around on their mother’s back learning from her and remaining in the family group until fully grown. They go from a natural diet of mainly insects, fruits, plants and honey to a totally unsuitable diet in captivity, a rope is inserted through their sensitive muzzle – tugging on this rope is how they are made to ‘dance’. Even when rescued they have many physical and psychological wounds to be healed.
Wildlife SOS have rescued over 600 of these bears and put in place an education programme to compensate owners rather than prosecute them simply for following their traditional way of life, it’s the only way they know to support their families but when given the chance to earn a living in the modern world they can see it’s a win /win situation, breaking the cycle of poverty and ignorance. In fact many staff employed at the centre are from the Kalendar tribe. The last Indian dancing bear was handed over to the charity in 2009, but they continue to work to stamp out poaching from the wild which still goes on in remote areas, particularly to supply the trade in folk medicine to Asia.
We offered to teach fellow volunteers Sarah and Andy some basic techniques and meditations to continue working with the animals after we had left, they had already experienced a reiki session the previous day and were keen to learn for themselves.
I went off with Sarah to work with one of the bears, Johnny. Although rescued several years ago he was showing the stereotypical stress induced behaviour of many of the bears. They now have the space and natural habitat to move around as they please however, when the stress response kicks in they pace the enclosure fence. In captivity they would have been kept on a 4-6 foot rope from an early age and it is exactly that distance that they pace, wearing a smooth path that can be clearly seen in some of the photos, the staff make daily enrichment and interaction with the bears a priority to try and alleviate this problem.
It is distressing to witness and honestly my first thought ? okay no pressure !! A new animal, a new volunteer and people watching but I know better than to dwell on such thoughts and as Johnny paced the fence I took Sarah through Joshin Kokyu Ho which we continued to practice as he paced in front of us. After around 15 minutes, I could sense him taking notice of the connection we offered and Johnny started to slow his pace and then right in the middle of his path stepped off it and lay down in front of us, he went into the deepest reiki nap I have seen, we carried on with the session and despite others joining us at this point to take photographs he remained in our reiki space. The member of Wildlife SOS staff accompanying us commented that he had never seen this bear relax and afterwards told me that one of the other bears in an adjacent enclosure was in a deep sleep also.
Johnny steps off his well worn path for a deep reiki nap
It was such a privilege to be allowed to work with these beautiful animals, I continue to keep them and all at Wildlife SOS in my thoughts.
Alison McKinnon SARA Teacher