As I write these words, 2017 is coming to a close.  There is always something about the end of a year that calls me to reflect back upon my experience of the past 12 months.  This year it is especially true.  Please bear with me (and stay with me) as I get a bit personal….maybe my introspection here will call you to something similar?

Those who received Christmas cards from Mary and I this year got a little extra note….we had always resisted including one of those lengthy letters outlining our family’s past year’s comings and goings, but this year we broke down and included a brief “bullet point” note giving some highlights.  We borrowed the idea from a friend’s card we received and we thought what a nice compromise….share the main points in an easy to read format.  Nice for a card insert that people might read, a bit brief for true reflection.

This blog is that reflection…to a degree.

Before the year started, I knew that 2017 was going to be a year of change.  Yes, there was Donald Trump and all of that….but my feelings were about something more than the obvious changes in the political world.  In fact, most of my online passwords early in the year included the word “change” in them in some variation.

Late in 2016, I consciously started backing away from a number of personal commitments that were on my plate.  I stepped back from most public speaking and touring and teaching.  After years of heavy calendar schedules, this year I only committed once….leading a spiritual retreat in Geneva, Switzerland in August.  I also stepped off of my role on the board of directors of the Coffee Party USA and away from my activities with the group, leading their campaigns group, hosting on online radio program and more.  Except for my role with Centers for Spiritual Living’s headquarters and writing this website, both of which I maintained….I consciously freed up a lot of time.

Much of this time was needed for me to focus on taking care of my aging chocolate lab, Harmony.  She had come into my life as a pup 14 years ago and meant the world to me. Early on in the year,  I spent my energy and time centered on her—assisting with her health and mobility issues and I stayed close by to make sure she had what she needed.  In late May, she made her transition. My grieving intensified.  My writing this website stopped.  It took me a month to post my loss on social media.  It took me 3 months to return to this website and write an article about her loss (The Deep Power of Grief).

I still miss Harmony.  As I mentioned in that other article, I will write about her in time.  I still cannot do so yet.

After her death, my friend and one of my spiritual teachers, Patty Luckenbach sent me a copy of her book The Kingdom of Heart: A Pet Loss Journal. It’s a great resource for taking time to reflect upon your pet and your loss.  I highly recommend it.  I wrote a lot in it….until I couldn’t.

Another spiritual teacher recommended that Mary and I take a personal retreat to the desert to be alone with our thoughts and feelings…to process where we were emotionally.  In late June, we spent 5 days outside Abiquiu, New Mexico, alone on some native American sacred land that we were blessed to access.  The time there was helpful….it helped with the healing…to a degree.

I connected with a grief counselor with whom I met many times.  The sharing…the crying…..the talking out the loss helped me….as did the wonderful support I received from friends and family.  I am truly blessed with a loving support network.

This experience has opened me up to realms of life from which I have previously run…death, impermanence, the thinness of the veil between the physical world and the non-physical one. In this exploration and contemplation, I too, changed.  What had been mainly an intellectual understanding was now infused with the deeper sense that comes from living through something.

In the backdrop of my moving through the pain of loss and my inner changes, the outer world continued to display challenging experiences, especially in the political world.  The only other blog that I have written since Harmony’s leaving was one on the debate around repealing Obamacare (Dream a Higher Vision for Healthcare).  There were many other political situations where I “almost” was called to write a blog….but for some reason, I didn’t.  The inner changes were continuing….the healing was moving forward….I still missed Harmony…I was still exploring life….I wasn’t ready to return to routine writing.

And then, all of a sudden, life changed again…..

During this exploration, I wondered if Harmony would return again in another dog.  We connected with an animal intuitive who said that Harmony would definitely return in another body.  We asked for a time frame and signs to look for….we were told it was soon but not yet.  At first, it was to be the fall…then maybe early next year…we were given information on what Harmony was doing outside the physical world.  It’s easy to dismiss this stuff as the desperate clinging of a grieving family to their lost love one leading them to false hope and delusions of reality.  I get that.  My “logical mind” always questions such stuff and seeks “proof”.  There were aspects of the messages we received that provided a degree of proof.  You might not be convinced, but I was.

Disappointed that Harmony’s return was delayed, I awoke one morning and felt the need to check out the available dogs at a local area shelter.  The compulsion to follow this feeling was unusual but I decided to listen.  I looked at the shelter’s website and saw an 8 year old black lab that was up for adoption.  It seemed like a good option…I had just lost a sweet older lab, why not help out another older dog?  I felt compelled to visit the shelter and check him out.  When I got there, to my surprise the older black lab was no longer available, he had been adopted. However, I decided to look through their book of available dogs and was shocked when I turned the page to see a picture of a chocolate lab that looked in her face just like Harmony staring out at me ….the dog’s name?  Penny.  I laughed.

What was funny? You see, when I was a teenager, I had a dog named Penny who was my closest friend and confidant. She came into my life during a difficult period as a teenager and was a life saver for me.  She later passed away after I was grown and married with kids….living out her later life out with my parents.  However, in discussing her importance to me a few years ago an intuitive indicated to me that Penny from my teenage years and my current girl Harmony were the same animal soul.  That was interesting and made sense to me on many levels.

Hence, to see this dog at the shelter who looked like Harmony and was named Penny was a coincidence that I could not ignore.  I met her. Within a day, we had adopted our new Penny (pictured above).  And…our lives changed.  She is not an older mellow dog….best guess on age was 10 months old.  She was a stray, the shelter knew nothing about her early months.  Attempts to locate her original owner had failed.  She had been alive and living with someone somewhere as a puppy at the time Harmony passed.  Now she lives with us.  Is she Harmony? Did Harmony send her to us? Is the coincidence just a coincidence with no meaning? Who knows?

What I do know is that we still miss Harmony and will forever be different because of our life with her.  She, too, came into my life at a difficult period and helped me navigate pain, change and newness.  She was once a puppy with a lot of energy, chewing things and running around excitedly.  She grew into calmness and peacefulness and lived up to her name of Harmony.  She brought harmony to my life in so many ways.

And now, Penny has brought something new into our house.  She is a puppy….an adolescent with a mind of her own….chewing things and running around with boundless energy. She brings an excitement and curiosity about life, looking, sniffing and tasting everything in her path.  And, she brings love…..lots of love.

So 2017 has certainly been a year of change on so many levels….but one thing did not change….the immense power of love to make our lives worth living.


Mark Gilbert

PS. And as 2017 ends and 2018 begins….one of those changes is a call to revisit this website, to reflect upon its purpose and to again bring my voice here to the world. More to come on this next time…..

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