Saturday, April 24, 2010

Call of the Wild

If you talk to the animals
they will talk with you
and you will know each other.
If you do not talk to them,
you will not know them,
And what you do not know you will fear.
What one fears one destroys. 
~Chief Dan George

Eye of the Tiger ~ Photo by MJohnson © 2009.
Not so long ago, I had the great fortune to learn of a sanctuary for exotic wildlife located practically in my backyard—the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keensburg, Colorado, just on the other side of Denver—so I went there to visit these four-legged friends and see what the rescue was all about. And there I found a refuge beyond my wildest expectations, a world-wide movement of recovery, healing and hope.

Play Therapy by Wild Animal Sanctuary.
Driving into the facility, situated on some 320 acres in the middle of nowhere, I felt as if I were driving through the rolling grasslands of a real African safari, passing acres of wild animal habitats on either side of the graveled road until I came upon the large, temperature controlled, round-house facility, centrally located on the property and designated as the educational center and receiving area for newly rescued animals. This is the first point of rehabilitation—fabulously staged playgrounds and swimming pools—where the abused animals are allowed to recuperate, play and readjust to life before being integrated into their new habitats.

Walking Wounded:  African Male Lion ~ Photo by MJohnson © 2009.
And it was here that I learned the truth about the Captive Wildlife Crisis facing many lions, tigers, bears, leopards, jaguars, wolves and other exotic animal friends that find themselves out of their element and living in basements and backyards of private homes as a result of the careless attitudes and behaviors of another great species—the human. I had no idea how serious the issue was.

The problem looks like this: Man has a great desire to study wildlife and understand these rare and often endangered creatures from far and distant lands. Teams are sent out to capture these fascinating animals for public zoos around the world where everyone can enjoy them. But it doesn’t stop there, for in an effort to increase zoo attendance, more and more animals are captured then bred, producing cute and precious little baby animals that draw large crowds of zoo-goers, but which ultimately endangers their lives; for these exotic captive populations grow beyond what is manageable and sustainable and, soon, the zoos either have to euthanize their captives or sell them to private animal traders to keep populations in check.

Spotted ~ Photo by MJohnson © 2009.
These careless practices pave the way for breeding, commercialization and abuse. Some people even think they can keep these great cats as house pets! Insane, right? But prevalent; so the issues of licensing and the humane care and treatment of captive wildlife present additional problems to contend with.

Black Bear in the Wild ~ Photo by MJohnson © 2008.
That’s where the Wild Animal Sanctuary comes in. This 501(c)(3) non-profit organization is committed to exotic animal rescue, care and public awareness through education. They take in these “cast-off, unwanted, abused, abandoned and exploited wild creatures which man brought into civilization, bred and profited from, and no longer has use for.” And they’re really making a difference.

As I explored the sanctuary, I was overwhelmed with the sense of calm these animals reflect in their new, healthy environment—a place that honors their right to be cared for with dignity and respect. Lions, tigers, leopards, bears and wolves greeted me with yawns and roars while lounging in the setting sun, sharing with me their scars and histories of abuse. 

Scarred ~ Photo by MJohnson © 2009.
Like this guy, who had been kept in a cage much smaller than his size—where he couldn’t fully stand up or turn around—in the parking lot behind a gas station somewhere in Texas, where for a small fee patrons could go out back and gawk at him through the bars of his prison; and where he was beaten by his “owner” for doing what was in his nature to do; for being irritated by his show-and-tell life.  Why do people feel the need to dominate animals in this way? 

Still, notwithstanding his scars, here in the spaciousness of his sanctuary den, he portrayed a sense of relief as he lounged peacefully in his new environment.

Rest Easy: You Are Safe ~ Photo by MJohnson © 2009.
I stood in awe as I watched him, amazed at nature’s splendor and the telepathic way that animals communicate with us. I believe they want us to know them—their struggles, their pain—and we can, but we must quiet our minds enough to listen with our hearts and engage their living spirits, an ability that goes far beyond any act of anthropomorphism that we may conjure up. It is to connect to the essence of Life itself. And when we do—when we open ourselves to these healing connections—we see beyond our impermanent human condition into a shared mystical experience of life, even if for just one moment.

And as the sun prepared to do its disappearing act in the night sky, the wolves gathered round to howl a great “goodnight.”

Good Night ~ Photo © 2009.

By Melissa Johnson

To get involved or find out how you can help, please visit the Wild Animal Sanctuary and follow them on Twitter at  All photos except for Black Bear in the Wild were shot on location at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keensburg, Colorado © 2009.

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Consciousness Unfolding

One thing we do know:
Life will give you whatever experience
is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.
~Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

Consciousness Unfolding © 2008 by Melissa Johnson.

I was having dinner with a friend in a small North Beach restaurant in the heart of San Francisco—one of the most culturally diverse cities in America—when two guys with shaved heads walked in dressed in camouflage, suspenders and black boots, bearing the Aryan Nation insignia. They were loud and boisterous, making everyone uncomfortable from the start, and we just knew they weren’t from the city. Within moments, two of the ethnic customers got up and left the restaurant in a hurry while the supremacists made snide comments about their departure.

They placed their orders, taking pleasure in harassing the young Middle Eastern woman working behind the counter, and then took seats at a table in the middle of the restaurant where they continued with their mean-spirited banter, making loud racist comments and laughing at their power.

When their orders were ready, the young woman carried the tray from the kitchen and as she approached the men, one of them hit the tray from underneath, knocking it up into the air before sending it crashing to the floor, scattering food all over the restaurant. The girl immediately knelt down to clean up the mess, apologizing to the guys and telling them that she would bring more food.

“Avert your eyes,” one of the guys said loudly, scaring the girl even further into submission. “I said avert your eyes!” He commanded, laughing at her nervousness. Soon her Spanish co-worker appeared from behind the counter to help clean up the mess. Everyone in the restaurant held their breath, looking around nervously, afraid of what these guys might do—possibly planning their emergency exit—but no one doubted that we were in the presence of evil.  My friend and I ate quickly and left the restaurant, alerting a nearby policeman of the trouble brewing.

This is an extreme example given to illustrate the state of unconsciousness in which so many people live, disconnected from the essence of who they are and why they’re really here; focused on the physical illusions and thinking them real. But we don’t have to be racist pigs to be sleepwalking through life.  Unconsciousness comes in many forms.

Conscious [kon-shuhs]
To be conscious means that we are aware
of the true nature of our existence,
our sensations, our thoughts, our actions, our patterns,
the environment and the people around us;
it is to be mindful and willing participants
in the unfolding of our lives.

When we’re disconnected from Spirit, so identified with our egos and living in fear, we are asleep. When we participate in the human drama, caught up again and again in the pettiness of life, constantly on guard and doing battle, we are asleep. When we attempt to control or oppress others through manipulation, fear or domination—believing that we’re somehow entitled to our “superior” status—we are asleep. When we fail or refuse to see that our actions, habits and attitudes impact the people and environment around us, we are asleep.

When an inner situation is not made conscious,
it appears outside as fate.
~Carl Jung

That we find ourselves now on the brink of environmental disaster—struggling with a laundry list of social issues—should come as no surprise given the way we have collectively lived here on planet Earth; the way we have so often put our personal interests above the greater environmental concerns, failing or refusing to take action when doing so would infringe on our comfort and convenience or otherwise threaten our bottom line. And then when faced with a crisis FINALLY we start to wake up and take steps to correct our course, all the while bemoaning our fate, some even viewing our reality as punishment from an angry and vengeful God.

Or consider the role of the United States in breeding anti-American sentiment in the world. The way we have knowingly supported the rise to power of certain unsavory characters (Saddam Hussein, for one) and then when we lose control of them, we invade their countries—hunt them down like dogs—and remove them from power, often killing innocent people in the process.

Or the way that our government has a history of selective intervention when people are being oppressed or subjected to horrific crimes against humanity, with such decisions—to intervene or not, and to what extent—based largely on our economic interests in that region.

We tiptoe all around the issue of sovereign rights even as basic human rights are being slaughtered by those in power, yet we barge right in with our bombs and self-righteousness when our oil interests are in jeopardy. Think of our failure to intervene in the mass political genocides of Rwanda in the 90s; or our soft trade embargos against Burma and our refusal to intervene in the torture, rape, murder and oppression of people taking place everyday by Burma’s junta (police); in large part so as not to disturb our economic interests there, and because China and Russia are Burma’s staunch allies in the UN and we wouldn’t dare cross China and Russia.

Or the way that Anti-Americanism continues to grow in Pakistan as a result of U.S. Drone attacks (by unmanned aerial vehicles) in their country, introduced first by President Bush in 2004 as part of this “War on Terror” and continued by President Obama today.

Or the Latin-American anti-American sentiment (dating as far back as the early 1830s) expressed by Che Guevara in 1961 for these unjust reasons:
“The United States hastens the delivery of arms to the puppet governments they see as being increasingly threatened and it makes them sign pacts of dependence to legally facilitate the shipment of instruments of repression and death and of troops to use them.”
Let’s be clear: I neither condone this hate nor give license to their retaliation anymore than I support the bad behavior of our U.S. leaders. As a criminologist, lawyer and human rights advocate, I have learned that we all have within us the capacity for good and evil.  So I'm not selectively bashing our great country.  To be sure, I am proud to be an American, and I continue to be amazed by the stories of heroism, community, selflessness and love of humanity expressed between neighbors, states, countries and so on, equally as powerful in breeding love as those that breed hate. 

But we are not innocent "victims" of our fate.  Our good does little to mitigate the damage our unconscious ways, and our failure or refusal to look at our collective role in the social issues we face is just another way that we sleepwalk through life.  To assume that the government or someone else will "take care of it" is equally unconscious.

Consciousness is not an all-or-nothing proposition; rather, it is a continual unfolding, day after day, year after year, lifetime upon lifetime—like the petals of a fragrant flower, opening wider and wider still to reveal its beautiful truth.

Eckhart Tolle says, “We are here to wake up.”  And as many people and societies have learned through time, either we can help ourselves in that process or we can have awareness forced upon us by circumstances seemingly beyond our control.

Because in the end, everything we close our eyes to or ignore will block us, and we will find ourselves drifting along on others’ agendas.  Our personal lives are no different.  And the more we back ourselves into a corner, the fewer choices we have.

In all things, we must seek the light of awareness. This is our big job, as my grandfather liked to say.  We must not look away because it’s difficult or inconvenient, or because it demands something of us. We must not wait for someone else to do what is within our power to do.

Instead, as we continue to ask ourselves as individuals, governments, nations and the world at large "Why do we do what we do?  How can we make it better?" perhaps, eventually, we'll break through the illusions that keep us stuck, layer by layer, until we no longer need such harsh reminders of this truth.

Some say I’m a dreamer; idealistic to a fault.  But I believe that our greatest creative choice on any given day is the choice to be conscious participants in the unfolding of our lives.

And you?  What story are you writing in the great book of humanity?
By Melissa Johnson

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