Time and Grief

Most bereaved people are on the receiving end, at some time or other, of comments that suggest that ‘time will heal all wounds’ or encouragement such as, ‘you’ll be fine in a while ‘ or ‘just give it time’.

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Equally, they are frequently on the receiving end of misunderstandings about how long it may take to become familiar with a world profoundly and forever altered and not of their own choosing.

The suggestion that time heals, in my view, does an enormous disservice to the hard work and sometimes overwhelming effort that bereaved people make to adapt to their changed circumstances after the death of a loved one.   It gives time some kind of active participation in the process and makes bereaved people appear to be the passive recipients of time’s healing efforts.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Time is simply something that is measured by clocks and calendars.

It is a convention to measure existence.  Our perception of time is a fluid thing.  Time can go slowly or quickly even seem to ‘stand still.’  We talk about things being timeless.  We can recall things in our past and they can feel as fresh as yesterday or a very long time ago.

However we may understand time, I would suggest it is not an entity that can ‘do’ things.  To suggest that it works on human heartache in a positive healing way is to deny the very active nature of grieving and rebuilding our lives after a death.

The old saying “time heals all wounds” is simply not true.

Parents do not ‘get over’ the death of their child.  There is no amount of time that can pass that will alter the fact that their child has died and that they must continue to live with this unchanging reality.  Time does not stop the ache in hearts nor does it erase the missing of those we love.

Notions of time do however play a part in the grieving process.

Initially for many time will stand still…the rest of the world seems to be getting on with things while the life of the bereaved seems to have stopped.    People often comment on how their sense of time seems distorted.  It can feel like yesterday or forever ago since they did a particular thing.  The death can seem incredibly fresh and yet it can be years since it occurred.

I suspect that this may be because the intensity of grief in the early weeks, with its capacity to fill every available bit of one’s being, carries with it an inability to connect to calendar time – the passage of hours, days, weeks and months seem completely irrelevant.

Once time stops standing still, so to speak, bereaved people may not think much beyond the present day and the recent past.  It is too overwhelming to think about days beyond because that would mean thinking about a future that does not include their child.

Thinking about the recent past generally involves thinking about all that led up to the death as well as focusing on memories so as not to forget.  It is exquisitely painful to think about the many years ahead.  For quite a long time it is simply not possible to think too far ahead.

However, gradually and with tiny baby steps, those who are heartbroken do start to function again.  It becomes possible again to do the shopping, cook meals, go out, take care of surviving children etc.  Time does not do this…YOU DO and frequently with an enormously huge effort.

However, time does provide a different vantage point that enables people to look back and acknowledge the ways in which they have moved from how they were in the beginning, how they may be different in terms of thinking, feeling and doing.  This awareness may boost confidence about survivability and may herald the beginning of regaining a sense of mastery and control over overwhelming thoughts and feelings.

Many of us recognise that after a while, the time in between moments of overwhelming sorrow becomes longer and the time spent feeling overwhelmed becoming shorter.

I would suggest that it is not the passage of time that does this but your own greater familiarity with your grief, your own better ability to ensure breaks from pain and your own greater ability to re-engage with life within your broader social world.  Such capacities usually occur against a background of learning to live with the experience and discovering ways to build a life around the pain of loss.

All of these abilities are actively engaged in by those bereaved, not always consciously, but nevertheless by the bereaved.

I, as a professional Social Worker, Psychotherapist and bereaved mother of an only child am privy to the painstaking struggle that families make to reconnect with life and rebuild their lives.  Time alone does not do this!!!  To think that it does is to take away acknowledgement of all the hard work and frequently painful work done by individuals and families.

As families engage in the tough task of rebuilding, they are further subjected to time constraints placed on them by the outside world.

Most of us have had experiences where others clearly underestimate the amount of time it takes to rebuild and in particular, the time that people continue to feel sad.

We allow more time for people to adapt to workplace change or moving house than we do for grieving people becoming accustomed to a profoundly changed world.

Family and friends, perhaps especially after the death of a child, are often very attentive and caring in the beginning.

For many, such support tends to diminish before the bereaved stop needing it.  Friends and families may think and some directly say it, that it’s time to move on, that you need to get over it, that you have the rest of your lives to think about, other children to pay attention to etc etc

Others may give various forms of “hurry-up” messages.  They want the bereaved person get back to normal and to do so fairly quickly.  Our broader society supports and encourages this notion of a speedy return to pre-existing normalcy as if that were possible.

Bereaved people very simply need to be allowed more TIME to adapt and regenerate.  Time is not the prime ‘doer’…..it is the context within which all grieving and mourning and rebuilding take place.

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with thanks to my colleague Vera Russell

Sadness friend or foe…?

Sadness is one aspect of grief.

The sadness and sorrow after the death of someone central to who we are, is frequently of an overwhelming nature, powerfully uncomfortable and sometimes frightening in intensity.

It is also an emotion that people want to apologise for, thinking it a sign of ‘not moving on’, of weakness and inadequacy.

At its purest, sadness is love in the face of physical absence.

Grieving may be understood as what is experienced as one becomes accustomed to a world forever changed the includes the person who died with a different connection, a non-physical one.

People may die, but our relationships with them do not.

Sadness is, in fact, a useful and necessary emotion.

Leaving aside cultural rules about this emotion, the question may be asked as to what purpose does it serve?…What good does it do?…Why would nature have chosen this emotion?

The emotion of sadness occurs when we have lost someone or something that is important to us, and there is nothing we can do about it.  Sadness turns our attention inward so that we can reflect and think.  It allows a close examination of everything…which is part of what is necessary to rebuild life around the pain of loss.

Sadness slows us down; it slows down our biological systems contributing to withdrawing of attention from the outside world to our inner world.

Moreover, when we are sad, we look sad.  Our face and body language signal to those around us that we may need help, care and compassionate understanding.

We are hard-wired to respond to each other in this way.  We are biologically constructed to respond with care and concern when we see others suffering.

While many of us have been conditioned to perceive sadness as a negative emotion, it is a necessary emotion and has its usefulness and wisdom.

We are expected to be in control of our emotions and while it is important to learn how to ‘dose” ourselves when faced with intense emotions i,e. Get a break from them; it is important not to suppress them, deny or avoid them,

We, in our culture, tend to overvalue reason, logic and the capacity to be rational.  Conversely, the language of the heart tends to be undervalued.

We search and are encouraged to seek quick remedy, relief and recovery.  We don’t like to be vulnerable, out of control.  We tend to keep our intense emotions secret and unseen and may even feel ashamed of them.

We are taught that to give too much room to intense emotions may be a sign of weakness or breakdown.

We turn away rather than toward them because of cultural conditioning and because they can also be frightening.

Grieving people sometimes fear that they will be overwhelmed by emotions like passionate sadness forever.  They may also feel as if they are going crazy because of the intensity and unpredictability of intense sadness.

Our language is full of advice such as ‘get a hold of your self’, ‘get a grip’, ‘stay in control’ amongst many others.

The fear is that overwhelming emotion may be destructive.

We are sometimes encouraged to take medication that will make us feel better.  The focus is on getting rid of strong emotions rather than learning from them.  It may be difficult to believe that having strong, intense emotions acknowledged, listened and attended to, in fact, helps them diminish.

Sadness and sorrow are neither positive nor negative in themselves …it is the way we think about them that is positive or negative.  How we think about things affects how problematic they may become.

Profound and passionate sadness is not a bad thing.  It is the most normal emotion imaginable following the death of a child.  While at the beginning that sadness may fill every inch of your being, it does not stay the same shape and colour for the rest of time.

Feeling emotional pain is not a sign of being sick…it is a sign of having loved deeply.  It is the other side of love and as noted previously plays an important role in rebuilding life around the pain of loss.  It allows an inward reflection on such questions as  ‘Who am I now?’, ‘How am I different?’, ‘What do I need?’, etc. and it acts as a signal to the world around that compassionate care is required.  This care includes the time and space to, for a while, withdraw from our normal concerns.

In spending time with intense and profound emotion, it is possible to discover or renew the capacity for gratitude, joy, faith, courage and compassion.

Healing is a journey through pain not a departure from it.

The purpose of intense emotion is not to make us miserable forever but to help us heal.

with special thanks to my social work colleague Vera Russell

Supporting Grieving Adolescents

fantastic-wallpaper-with-butterflieMany bereaved families may have surviving adolescent children who are mourning the loss of their brother or sister.

This is often new territory both for the teenager and also for the parents trying to work out our best to care for them especially when they are feeling so emotionally depleted.

Some things to think about:

1. Grief is not always visible

Grief is not just the outward display of emotion. It is also the thoughts and behaviours that we experience in response to the death of someone we love.
As adolescents are in the process of becoming more independent of their parents and other important adults, they may at times feel reluctant to show feelings or talk about their thoughts as it can reinforce a sense of dependence and vulnerability. They may also choose to inhibit some of their thoughts and feelings out of a desire to protect their families. They may also prefer to share their experiences with their peer group.

Strategy: Be available

It is when we are listened to and heard is when we feel most understood. Create a home environment where open communication is encouraged. Convey to them that it is okay to have the thoughts and feelings that they may have and that you will be available should they decide to let you know what is going on with them.
As with adults, at the beginning of grief, it is sometimes very difficult to communicate what we are thinking and feeling…it is no less difficult for adolescents who have less life experience than adults and who, when they are feeling vulnerable may find it difficult to put things into words.

2. Don’t try to “fix” the pain associated with grief

It is difficult and uncomfortable for parents to witness the pain of their children. They usually want life to be okay for their children and are pained by what they see and uncomfortable about the helplessness it can create in them. This means that we may want to take away or fix the pain of those we love. This may take the form of avoiding conversation about the person who has died or distracting them from thinking or feeling their pain. While this may be momentarily effective, it can result in the adolescent hiding their grief or withdrawing or expressing their grief in destructive ways.

Strategy: Talk about the loss

Invite the adolescent to talk about the person who died. Encourage questions. Should the teenager not want to talk, respect this. Offer others that they may speak with about their feelings.
Always answer questions honestly and clearly. If you do not know the answer to something, say so. Share your memories, thoughts, beliefs and don’t expect that your teenager will always see things as you do.

3) Understand that grief does not proceed in orderly predictable stages.

Young people grieve in doses. Like with adults, their grief is more likely to go in waves. Sometimes adolescents may have outbursts of grief after a period when they have seemed perfectly okay. Know that this is normal. Their grief like yours, may at times seem unpredictable. They are no better at grieving or making sense of the world than adults. The difference is that they may seem unaffected for periods of time and a burst of emotion can catch parents unawares.

Strategy: Allow for adjustment

Because grief does not proceed in an orderly fashion, teenagers need to be allowed leeway as they adjust to a life forever changed. Providing a secure, consistent environment with predictable routines is important. This helps to generate a renewed feeling of safety and security. Be aware of any danger signs such as violence, drug and alcohol abuse, risk-taking behaviour or dramatic changes in personality. Seek help when necessary.

4) Model Healthy Grief

Like all of us, adolescents learn from those around them. They will pick up implicit and explicit messages from those around them on how to grieve. This is how they think they should behave or are expected to behave. They take their cues from important grown-ups in their lives (even if they do not look like they are paying attention).

Strategy: Mourn together

Be aware of the messages that they may be receiving from those around them about how to grieve and offer alternatives when appropriate.
The more adolescents observe healthy communication and the appropriate expression of the many feelings associated with loss, the more likely they may understand, accept and manage the breadth of emotions and thoughts they may have.

Try as much as possible to consider what things might look like from their perspective. Give thought to the closeness of the relationship your teenager shared with their brother or sister. Acknowledge the deep loss it is for them too.

When you can, in the midst of your grief, set aside time, attention and availability for the adolescent. That does not necessarily mean talking about the death but maybe just time spent together doing something that is fun and thereby communicating that they matter and they too are important.

Finally, remember that this is new for all of you and that there will be some trial and error as families become better able to take care of each other.

being present…

“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
— Lao Tzu


An easy way to stay in the present and take control over the thousand little thoughts that bombard our brains on a daily basis is to adopt an effortless technique called breath focus.

Breath focus will enable you to make for yourself a state of calmness amidst turbulent times.   One can do it anywhere, in line in the supermarket, waiting for a plane, train or bus, in the quiet and amidst the bustle of a city street.

I particularly love doing my breath focus in the shower.  There is something magical about having a focused shower.  You already know where the soap goes;  you do not need to think about it.  A perfect time to practice breath focus, under the soothing flow of shower.

So, what is breath focus?  It merely is paying attention to the breath.  Being an observer to this most basic of all our functions that we take for granted.

Imagine if you will that you are in your shower, you absentmindedly reach for and start soaping yourself, your mind is wandering to a thousand different thoughts.   Now, while you are in the imaginary shower with the warm water cascading over you bring your attention to your breath is it in or out, continue to search for your breath.

Now you have located your breath consciously decide to work with it.  Start by taking a deep breath and as you do notice the feeling of your expanded chest.  Note how far you can stretch your ribcage.

Now exhale, this time put your mind to your stomach and as you exhale notice it deflating, notice it relaxing, notice it becoming soft.

Notice your breath as it passes your nose, is it warm?  Notice the speed, the pressure.  Now push the breath all the way out, out, out.

Now repeat, as you breathe in pay attention to every tiny part of your in breath all the in and all the way down.

Repeat, until no thought enters but those of you following the breath.

Congratulations you have just meditated.  Move on with your day in a calm and relaxed manner and when you remember it be present to the breath.




Skillsets of Resilient People


How to Bounce Back from Adversity

Everything in life is in constant movement and change. Nothing ever stops. The only constant is change itself.

Through our life, we experience change in many forms, from key development milestones, as we witness our bodies growing and ageing, to life-changing shifts such as having children or losing loved ones. In between is a myriad of other episodic life moments, where we experience the effect of change cast over a backdrop of a moving culture, a fluctuating economy and a constantly shifting environmental landscape.

Change can be hard to deal with, especially when it is dropped down on you in the most unexpected and abrupt ways. You can suddenly lose balance, disconnect from your inner resources and feel unable to respond adequately to changing circumstances. In short, you enter into a crisis.

This is what the typical life crisis is made of–the inability to respond adequately to change. It is when your inner world–beliefs, emotions and attitudes–do not reflect the outer world as it changes. Anxiety and stress often stem from this inability to deal emotionally with change. Ironically the wrong response to change is often stagnation.

Resilience and adaptability to change are extremely important life skills, often associated with emotional intelligence and a healthy attitude or perspective towards the self and life in general.

Here are eight ways to help you not only adapt to change, and deal with crises, but actually thrive in it.

Stress and changeStress often stems from an inability to deal emotionally with change.

1. Embracing Change with Excitement and Curiosity

What is the first emotion you feel when you suddenly face an unexpected change that doesn’t have a known outcome? (basically you don’t yet know whether it’s good or bad). For most people, fear or anxiety is the first thing that comes up. Fear of the unknown is one of the deepest and most pervasive of fears. If you let this fear overcome you, it starts creating negative thought patterns and other unwanted self-sabotaging patterns.

Positive people usually get immediately excited about the prospect of change because their view on life is, in general, an optimistic one and therefore they expect that good things will happen more often than bad. They might initially hesitate for a while but then cheer themselves up and end up looking forward to it. They embrace change. They get curious. Curiosity is an important trait to have because it engenders movement and the power to get out of a comfort zone.

2. Avoiding Patterns that Create Stagnation

People who are most likely to deal effectively with change implicitly know that life is in constant movement and they cannot stop and gather moss. They need to move and circulate the energy around, whether it’s the energy of their thoughts, money, body, work, etc. This is a secret very few people know and follow consciously.

Stagnation goes against life because life is–by its own nature–movement. When they face unexpected change, they make an effort to flow with it and keep themselves from getting stagnant. By stagnation, I mean following the same thought patterns and doing the same things. So these people think sideways, try new things, follow new paths or divert their attention away from the same patterns.

Comfort zoneCuriosity engenders movement and the power to get out of a comfort zone.

3. Being Emotionally Response-Able

They own and take response-ability of how they are affected by a situation. Resilient people know that how they respond emotionally to life is everything. Experience is not something that happens to them but something they make out of a situation.

This simple but basic attitude changes everything and most certainly, it helps you deal with any form of change and disruption. When you are emotionally responsible you do not blame life or others. You try to find new ways to look at things and people. In fact, people who are emotionally intelligent find it instinctive to quickly change the energy of a situation, or people around them, by first changing how they feel about it. They know that responding negatively or falling victim to their own emotions is not helpful and will ultimately stop them from moving forward and adapting to change.

4. Keeping Perspective

Perspective is key because it can change your feelings, attitude and will. Give two people the same situation and they will respond to it differently, if their perspective is different. Difficulty can become a useful challenge and an opportunity to learn. Disappointment can become a life lesson that teaches more about self mastery.

Everything can be turned around with the right perspective. Successful people will always look for the right perspective to get a better angle on an apparent problem. A sudden change can be turned into a springboard that helps you leap forward, if seen from the right perspective.

The right perspectiveEverything can be turned around with the right perspective.

5. Knowing and Respecting One’s Fears

We often hear the cliché of facing one’s own fears. I think this is sometimes interpreted as being confrontational or aggressive. Successful people don’t bust their fears. Nobody really does. They understand them more, and respect them for what they are, but make it a point not to be controlled by them.

In fact, mentally strong people are ones who have a healthy internal dialogue. They do not push their fears away and they don’t fight or resist them either. They are just more conscious of which of those fears are holding them back, and understanding them. They befriend them, they talk to them and they might even give them names. In the end, they dance to the music of life by recognizing their fears and overcoming them (not fighting them) through self love, courage and faith.

6. Keeping the Faith in One’s Self

The last point above brings me to the following. To successfully deal with the currents of life, you have to most of all keep faith in yourself. Know that you have all the resources needed to deal with any life situation. Do not be sidetracked by your mind that tries to make you believe you are inadequate or that you need something from somewhere, or someone, to solve a problem. You don’t.

People who successfully deal with change and crisis, time after time, believe that they always have the resources to push through. They do not look outwards for answers–they look inwards. They have faith that they will always look into themselves and summon up the courage, the ideas, the will, the attitude, the answer. They believe that they are connected to a creative life force that they can always tap into, without any consensus from anyone.

Befriend your fearMentally strong people befriend their fears and try to understand them.

7. Self Love

Self love’ is always misjudged by many because it sounds selfish or narcissistic. It certainly isn’t. Quite the contrary, self-love is the key to opening up to the world, and others, with kindness and compassion. Self-love means being open to yourself. You allow yourself to be human, to err, lose and find yourself again. Most of all, it means not to be harsh to yourself by criticizing or judging all the time. This would only create a negative internal dialogue that would generate more negative thought patterns.

As mentioned earlier on, successful people have a healthy internal dialogue. They communicate with their subconscious and their feelings/emotions in a positive way–lovingly and accepting. They don’t judge themselves; they just learn and move on. So when the going gets tough and the world around you changes too quickly, the first step is to love yourself more.

8. Trusting Life

This is very close to the first point, where I mentioned that resilient people are optimistic about change and unknown circumstances. They do not cocoon themselves in but open up their arms and trust the flow of life. They are, in general, optimistic because they choose to believe that life is supportive and not conspiring against them.

If bad things happen, they change perspective, take emotional responsibility and move on; but they do not lose trust in life because they know that once their attitude and perspective is good, life will respond and support them all the way.


Adapted from an article by Gilbert Ross on Friday November 24th, 2017



Victor Zammit is the author of the Friday Report, a weekly report that has been printed every Friday for the past 18 years.  This weeks report can be found at this link.            http://victorzammit.com/November24th2017


Over the last five years we have seen the closed minded skeptics getting fewer and fewer, while orthodox religions are also losing numerical support.

Collectively we are going through an expansion of the mind unseen in human history. Fewer people are accepting traditional creation stories and religious beliefs. At the same time they are refusing to accept the materialist explanation that everything in the universe came by chance. 

Fundamentalists and other traditional religious believers blame the reduction in the number of their followers on the evils of materialism. However people are saying that they are not finding traditional religious information convincing and relevant.

This is why objective, repeatable afterlife research is more important than ever. People are opening their minds, seeking a new understanding of who we are, and our place in the universe. People are looking for the TRUTH and the TRUTH about the afterlife sets us free from fear of death and despair about life.


Today I have a short story for you…

A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet. He held up a sign which read, “I am blind, please help.”

There were only a few coins in the hat – spare change from folks as they hurried past.

A man was walking by. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat. He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words.

Then he put the sign back in the boy’s hand so that everyone who walked by would see the new words.

Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people were giving money to the blind boy.

That afternoon, the man who had changed the sign returned to see how things were.

The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, “Were you the one who changed my sign this morning? What did you write?”

The man said, “I only wrote the truth. I said what you said but in a different way.” I wrote, “Today is a beautiful day, but I cannot see it.”

Both signs spoke the truth. But the first sign simply said the boy was blind, while the second sign conveyed to everyone walking by how grateful they should be to see…

When your life seems full of troubles, it seems difficult to maintain an attitude of gratitude, doesn’t it? All we see are our problems, like a blackened storm cloud casting a dark shadow over our lives.

And the times when everything just seems to be going smoothly? We often take these precious moments for granted too, don’t we? Caught up in the bliss, comfort, and familiarity of it all, we can simply forget to be thankful.

So what, then, is gratitude?

Simply put, gratitude is a habit. It’s a way of looking at the world and all the good things in it with a feeling of appreciation, regardless of whether or not your current situation is to your liking.

Gratitude is a heart-centered approach to being at peace with yourself and with all you have. When you practice this feeling of gratitude, it attracts even MORE things into your life for which to be grateful.

Go ahead, try it out right now. What or who do you have in your life to be thankful for? 🙂





Nick Ortner

Holiday hints from James Van Praagh

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol


Stressing at the thought of spending time with your extended family over the holidays? For many, the dynamic can be disappointingly predictable. Family situations tend to trigger emotions – an

offhand comment from a parent or sibling can cause a cascade of painful memories, insecurities and emotions. This year, I urge you to treat these trigger points as opportunities to break dysfunctional behavior patterns that (like Jacob Marley’s chains) hold you back from approaching the holidays – and every day – with joy and love.

Experience your own holiday breakthrough with these four simple steps:

1) Manage Your Expectations. Thoughts and words are powerful things, so don’t set yourself up for failure by imagining what could go wrong. If you anticipate that your sister will make a snarky comment about your outfit or your father will grumble that the turkey you slaved over is dry, the law of attraction will deliver those things right to you. Instead, imagine how you want things to go – you’re more likely to attract a good result! But don’t expect one day to heal the wounds of a lifetime. That leads us to step 2.

2) Stay in the moment and take things at face value. If a friend or relative is being polite and helpful today, don’t look back to a time when they were not. Also, don’t take things personally. A friend asked me for advice one year because she was considering “uninviting” her favorite cousin and her husband from Thanksgiving dinner because the husband’s behavior was “offensive.” When I asked her to describe the behavior, she explained that he didn’t engage in conversation, ate very little, and never complimented the food. I advised her to try not taking anything he did personally – assume he wasn’t hungry, was shy, had food allergies, whatever it took to coexist with him so she could continue to share the space with her cousin. After the day was over, she called me and said “Everything went fine! We ignored the fact that Bill was quiet and didn’t eat much, and just let him be. After a while he actually seemed comfortable, and after dinner he opened up to us more than he ever had before.”

3) Ask yourself – “What is the lesson here?” Create a new tradition for yourself and declare Thanksgiving the time to give gratitude for lessons your family has taught you. If Dad can’t help himself from criticizing your choice of careers, be thankful that his actins have forced you to be strong in your determination to live your own life. If your sister acts like a spoiled brat, silently thank her for teaching you how be an adult and take the high road.

4) Remember to push the pause button. Without anticipating them, be mindful of your triggers. If they occur, hit the pause button. Stop, take a few breaths, and look at the entire situation. See it for what it is and ask yourself how to use this OPPORTUNITY to break a past behavioral pattern. Don’t react the way you always have. Instead pause, look for the lesson, and send that person your love and compassion.

With mindfulness, unconditional love and the intention of breaking old patterns you can fill this season with light – and I know you’ll enjoy watching friends and family experiencing the ripple effect of your love and compassion!

The Spiritual Nature of Animals

ANIMAS: An excerpt from THE SPIRITUAL NATURE OF ANIMALS by Karlene Stange, DVM

Author Karlene Stange’s spiritual journey began during her work as an ambulatory veterinarian, driving her pickup truck through southwestern Colorado, attending to animals in need of medical care. She has experienced the challenges, sorrows, and joys of working with creatures great and small, and she feels a powerful kinship with these beautiful beings beyond flesh and fur and feathers. Her book, The Spiritual Nature of Animals: A Country Vet Explores the Wisdom, Compassion, and Souls of Animals, chronicles her spiritual path working with animals, through the lenses of various teachings of religious and cultural traditions, as well as her own encounters with the magnificent Rocky Mountain terrain and the quirky characters — both animal and human — who inhabit it.

We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from The Spiritual Nature of Animals, in which Dr. Stange shares how her spiritual journey working with animals began.


I set out to understand the spiritual nature of animals, and in so doing, I discovered my own. Creatures great and small dragged me down a rabbit hole and through sacred tunnels into a world of dragons, shamans, gurus, lamas, monks, nuns, demons, priests, rabbis, preachers, scientists, clairvoyants, channels, mystics, animal communicators, and spiritual teachers. Those adepts schooled me and gave me refuge from the drama and trauma overburdening me. They introduced me to the anima — what Jungian psychology refers to as the animating principle present in all living beings.

Anima is the Latin root of the word animal. It means soul, breath, and life. Veterinarians share a personal relationship with the anima; we watch it drain from a body only to meet it again as a newborn foal or pup. Yet veterinary education rarely mentions it. We learn detailed information about bones, blood, and the other physical components, but little is said of the nonphysical aspect — the animas of animals. I now believe it is the most important part.

Firemen do not enter burning buildings or ascend to the tops of tall trees to grab a hunk of meat known as a “cat.” They rescue a beloved family member, a companion. The incorporeal light in an animal’s eyes reaches into our hearts. It touches us more deeply than any physical thing. We humans have the capacity to connect with the spiritual nature of animals; it makes us happy.

I wanted to be an animal doctor before I knew the word veterinarian. As a young girl in Wisconsin, I remember attending a stallion showing. The handler enumerated the attributes of the handsome gray Arabian stud as I stared at a gray-haired man in the audience. He appeared humble and placid and wore a vest monogrammed with the veterinary emblem. I learned that he was the local large-animal veterinarian. Although I did not know him, something about his wise yet nonjudgmental demeanor attracted me, and I longed to be like him. I had yet to learn how the fires of veterinary practice would burn and melt me before forging me into the person I aspired to become.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the suicide rate for veterinarians is four times higher than the national average. This may be due in part to the gory wounds and difficult procedures, the death and euthanasia, and the stress of long hours treating emergencies, but it may also be because of something I call “compassion overwhelm.” We care too much. We tend to be compulsive overachievers who sacrifice our lives for the job, as did the cattle practitioner I read about once in the AVMA obituaries who drowned trying to save a calf stuck in a muddy pond. Or perhaps suicide appeals to us because of our familiarity with death.

No matter the reasons, my experience convinces me that an understanding of the spiritual nature of animals benefits the mental and emotional health of veterinarians and animal-loving people who anguish over the suffering of pets and wildlife. Furthermore, veterinary clients may harbor strong religious beliefs that influence their decisions, and we must show them respect and speak to them with wisdom. I hope the insights shared here provide comfort to those who live with, tend to, and love animals. Perhaps, once they learn of their beneficial qualities, some may even come to see and appreciate the simple beauty of maggots and other parts of nature we often abhor.

My goal, then, is to explore the world’s religious, spiritual, philosophical, and scientific teachings about the nonphysical makeup of animals for the highest good of animal care, the human-animal bond, and the well-being of all concerned.

Each chapter explores a different religious belief system and offers three main approaches to the material. First, each chapter begins with a description of that belief system. In order for the reader to fully comprehend the tenets of Hinduism, Judaism, shamanism, and so on, the vocabulary must first be defined. Therefore, each chapter includes some history and definitions followed by an investigation into the religion’s beliefs regarding animals. Then, throughout, I provide stories from my veterinary practice, offering further illustration of the concepts for contemplation. The third element explores the unfolding of my own spiritual growth — a concept I learned in the process — and how it changed me.

The struggle inside me first started in the 1990s and early 2000s when I practiced large- and small-animal ambulatory medicine out of a pickup truck in a rural mountain community in southwestern Colorado. Horses, llamas, alpacas, dogs, and cats were my primary patients, along with other wild and domestic flying, swimming, and crawling creatures. I drove day and night to attend to animals in beautiful places around Durango, Colorado, where the Animas River carves the landscape.

The majority of my time spent researching spiritual teachings took place on the job in a pickup truck where the only way to learn was from audiotapes. Time off included further seeking by reading, praying, attending church services, meditating, chanting, going on a vision quest, attending retreats with a Tibetan lama and Buddhist nuns, questioning psychics and shamans, pursuing an animal communication apprenticeship, and conducting interviews with experts in numerous fields of spirituality.

During this period, I drove an average of a hundred miles or more a day. Fortunately, the scenery made that part of the job a pleasure, although the dirt routes on winding, mountainous terrain were often treacherous. The views of snow-covered peaks and enchanted valleys, tall ponderosa forests, and aspen groves soothed my stressed mind. Guardian angels held the wheel as I watched a bald eagle circling above or stared at an osprey sitting on a snag next to the Animas River. The occasional coyote made me giggle as he scooted across a field, looking over his shoulder as though trouble were on his tail. A bobcat, a bachelor band of elk, or a family of deer crossing the road at times caused me to hit the brakes. Drives to ranches were adventures into fantasylands of hidden canyons and mysterious ravines where cell phone service was lost. A tourist once told me, “You live in a postcard.” To which I replied, “And I drive each day in the mud, dust, and snow that keep everyone else from living here.”

My home is in La Plata County, a community full of colorful characters: ranchers whose families have lived here for generations, Native Americans, mountain hermits, Hispanics, and nonlocal people who moved to the country from cities. The stories I share about these people are true; at least, this is the truth as I remember it. Only the names of people, animals, and some places have been changed to protect privacy. One group of folks who live here, not found in cities, are cattlemen who breed livestock in small family-run operations. Their relationship with the animals they raise for income is often misunderstood. Humans and beasts depend on one another; one does not survive without the other. The rural life itself is foreign to many. The jobs of the mobile large-animal doctor intertwines with the country ranch life, and both involve hard physical work caring for beasts that can be dangerous. The veterinary workforce has evolved to focus more on pets in cities, and a shortage of rural veterinarians creates challenges for folks living in the country.


As a child, Karlene Stange, DVM, author of The Spiritual Nature of Animals, wanted to be an “animal doctor” before she knew the word “veterinarian.” Today she incorporates acupuncture, traditional Chinese herbal medicine, and nutritional therapy into her Rocky Mountain practice. She often speaks at conferences and lives in Durango, Colorado. You can find out more about her work at www.animasanimals.com.

Excerpted from the book The Spiritual Nature of Animals. Copyright © 2017 by Karlene Stange.