Saturday, April 5, 2014

A new Way .... The Ahnung Way

I had just arrived in Walker, MN last October 10,  2013. It was my first trip back to Leech Lake without Ahnung; it was my first Leech Lake Legacy spay/neuter clinic without Ahnung. I had Legacy with me and before continuing on to the Tribal Police headquarters to meet up with the other volunteers who were setting up for the clinic, I decided to check into our room at the Country Inn. It was a beautiful fall day and leaves were a flaming orange. My heart felt this huge hole … this emptiness, this void, and this piercing pain in my heart as if a hand had reached through my chest, pried open my rib cage and grabbed the already broken fragments of my heart. With Legacy by my side we walked towards Leech Lake. I promised Ahnung I wouldn’t run from the pain; I promised her I would walk with her, stand by her on our Final Walk together, no matter how long or how short it was; I promised her I would cherish every moment, and when it was time to set her spirit free, I promised to hold her and be there with her.

She promised me she would always be with me; she promised me she would guide me; she promised me she would always be in my heart … I would simply have to learn to listen, and to be with her, in a new way.

The pain in my heart was fierce; it was unrelenting; it was breaking me. But Ahnung gave me the gift of knowing our time was limited; she gave me the gift of knowing that the path we were to walk together on earth was limited, and that we would approach a bridge soon … a bridge where she would have to cross over, and I would have to stay behind, for now. In 2011, we were both diagnosed with a ‘terminal’ illness … I learned Ahnung had cancer and that I had a rare heart disease that would lead to heart failure. Interestingly, this awareness came within a couple months of Leech Lake Legacy coming to be. We chose to continue the work of Leech Lake Legacy. Somehow, I just knew it was work we needed to do.

So that fall day on October 10, 2013 I walked along Leech Lake with Legacy. I promised Ahnung to walk toward the grief and the pain, and not around it like I used to. But so much of me wanted to run and to escape the pain. A part of me wanted to numb the pain, but I could feel Ahnung’s calm and wise presence next to me .. and with her spirit inside of me, I put one foot in front of another, and I kept walking. With Legacy by my side ... we experienced what I share below, from my blog post on October 16, 2013 ( …

We continued walking ... as the trees opened up and we could catch a full view of Leech Lake up above us I saw what appeared to be a large bird flying towards us. At first I couldn't tell what kind of bird it was. It flew closer and closer to us. In moments, the bald eagle swooped down and hovered right above us. There was a momentary pause, and in that instance all I could feel and sense was Ahnung. 'I'm here." And the eagle flew away. There was no beginning or end, or life or death in that moment. We were One. I said outloud, 'miigwech (thank you) Ahnung' ... and my heart was filled with her spirit and I knew I was exactly where I needed to be ... continuing the work at Leech Lake Reservation.

And then Ahnung appeared in my dreams about a month ago. She gift me with a vision …

a circle with with people of all colors, races, ages .. of animals, of trees, of rocks .. and at the center was a fire and flame that reached up into the skies; and with us were stars, a squirrel, an eagle and a turtle. And I could hear drums. It was as if I could hear the heart of the earth beating. I could hear Ahnung's heart. I could hear my heart, everyone's heart. We were one heart .. and then I woke up"

The eagle appeared again. Ahnung is choosing an eagle to communicate with me. She has also guided me to Ishkode (means ‘fire’ in ojibwe). She has gifted me with the most beautiful vision. She is guiding me and she is asking me to walk a new path now … The Ahnung Way.

Teach me to remain rooted and grounded, while soaring like an eagle. Teach me to slow down, to watch, to listen, to observe, to be patient, to live in the moment and to know when to let go.

Teach me the wisdom of your way.

Teach me the wisdom of The Ahnung Way.

Legacy and Ahnung - Grand Marais 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Ahnung Way ....

It's been 6.5 months now since my sweet Ahnung crossed over into the spirit world. My heart still aches for her and often I find myself hoping I will wake up, and this will all just be a bad dream .... and she will be there right next to me, or I will hear a big thump as she throws herself down on the floor to sleep, or  we will be taking one of our long leisurely walks. I feel her presence with me every moment. I feel her guiding me from the spirit world, and yes, she continues to send me signs and messages. She led me to Ishkode and the little fireball girl continues to make me laugh and smile with all her antics and mischief. I have no doubt Ahnung gifted Legacy with Ishkode ... as the two of them are as bonded as Legacy and Ahnung were .. only this time, Legacy is the big brother guiding his little sister in the same way Ahnung guided him.

A few weeks ago, Ahnung appeared in my dream. This was only the second time she has appeared in my dreams since she left the physical world on August 25, 2013. I shared the following on my Facebook page on Feb. 20th:

"I am sure it's not a coincidence that the morning after Ahnung appeared to me in my dreams, in what was so real and vision like, that I got a call from Purina to meet with leaders of animal welfare organizations in St. Louis. In 1968, when I was 4 our family traveled across the world from Thailand to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis in hopes doctors could save his life. He crossed into the spirit world on December 20, 1968. I returned to St. Louis in 1980 when we moved to the U.S. for our education and lived in St. Louis for ~ 16 years. Purina, in their efforts to build a coalition in Missouri 'found' me ... I have no doubt my Papa and Ahnung had something to do with it. Here is what I posted on the dream I had the night before I received the call: "And last night, Ahnung (for the second time since her spirit crossed over on August 25, 2013) appeared in my dream and she showed me a new way, a new vision. I am not a visual artist, and I woke up with an image so vivid, so clear ... a circle with with people of all colors, races, ages .. of animals, of trees, of rocks .. and at the center was a fire and flame that reached up into the skies; and with us were stars, a squirrel, an eagle and a turtle. And I could hear drums. It was as if I could hear the heart of the earth beating. I could hear Ahnung's heart. I could hear my heart, everyone's heart. We were one heart .. and then I woke up" So I reach out to the stars ... to Ahnung and to my Papa, for guidance, as I travel back to St. Louis next week. My life is not my life ... and my work on earth must not be done."

The vision remains so clear and vivid. I have been unable to erase the image from my mind and from my heart. And over the past few weeks, the words "The Ahnung Way" keeps appearing. Since my speaking engagement in St. Louis I have been asked to present at two different events.

I hear Ahnung telling me I have more work to do, and that my work goes far beyond animals ...  I hear Ahnung telling me to listen and to open up my eyes, my senses, my heart to the expanse of something so much greater; not to limit my world and energy to the world of animal welfare, and to not even limit it to this physical world. There are many bridges that connect all of us in this world, and there is a bridge that also connects us to those who have crossed over into the spirit world.

I live my life guided by a We Believe statement that I wrote at the end of 2008 shortly after Ahnung came into my life. The We Believe credo, was slightly modified and became the Leech Lake Legacy We Believe Credo. The We Believe credo is what guides the work of Leech Lake Legacy ... it is what guides my life, and it is what I believe is The Ahnung Way.

  • We believe we all belong -- that our lives have purpose and meaning -- and that our footprints will be forever etched in the hearts of some living being, some cause, some dream.
  • We believe a spirit of fire and a flame of passion reside within each and every one of us.
  • We believe our journey is a never-ending question, embracing twists, turns and hills with child-like curiosity and playful adventure.
  • We believe in the power of creativity and stories to open hearts, touch souls and inspire committed action.
  • We believe in community. That connection begins with conversation, respect, active listening and an open, non-judgmental heart.
  • We believe every voice matters.
  • We believe in the healing and transformative energy of animals to build a bridge for a kinder, gentler and more compassionate world.
  • We believe reservation animals challenge us, teach us and guide us to our deepest sense of Home.
Ahnung is asking me to walk a new path .... The Ahnung Way. Yesterday, I reserved the domain I don't know exactly where this path will lead me, but I know that the vision she brought to me a few weeks ago is something I cannot ignore ... 

" .... a circle with with people of all colors, races, ages .. of animals, of trees, of rocks .. and at the center was a fire and flame that reached up into the skies; and with us were stars, a squirrel, an eagle and a turtle. And I could hear drums. It was as if I could hear the heart of the earth beating. I could hear Ahnung's heart. I could hear my heart, everyone's heart. We were one heart .. and then I woke up ..."

I will share more as this journey evolves and Ahnung continues to guide me from the spirit world. 

With my Papa

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Winter reflection

It has been a harsh winter in Minnesota ... sub-zero temperatures, wind chills dropping down to -40s, and a couple days ago more heavy snowfall with blizzard conditions. I am fortunate I am able to afford a service to come plough my driveway and all I have to do is shovel my patio. Yet even my patio, and the heavy snow was tiring and hard on my back. It has become harder to find a place to even place the snow, or enough strength to lift a shovel full of wet, heavy snow above a pile of growing snow.

I admit I was wishing for spring. I am tired of the bitter cold, of not being able to take my little Ishka who is full of boundless, puppy energy for long walks. And then this morning I am reminded by Ishka and Legacy of how to live in the moment, of how to cherish and see the beauty. They find joy in the piles of snow, they tear around the yard and leap in the air without a care in the world .. and then they curl up to rest. And then there is Legacy, who plops himself down in the deep snow, content. Simply content.

I took time this morning to trudge around in the deep snow in my back yard. To watch Ishka and Legacy explore. I can only imagine the many scents they experience .... and somehow, my heart drifts to Ahnung. This is my first winter without my spirit dog and guide by my side, in physical form. But she picked Legacy and she guided me to Ishkode, so as I trudged around the snow in my boots, with Legacy close by and Ishka doing her best to trip me in the snow as she played games with my snow boot laces, I could feel Ahnung with me.

And this morning as I take time to enjoy the snow, the beauty around me, and to feel Ahnung's spirit in me, in Legacy and Ishka, in the snow, the trees, and all around me, I find myself reflecting on another one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems ... When Death Comes ...

It will be 6 months on February 25th .... I remember that Sunday, August 25, 2013 like it was yesterday. I remember holding my sweet Ahnung and feeling the weight of her head and body lean into me and let go as she took her last breath and her spirit was set free. I remember that moment and the pain of feeling a part of my being ripped from me. But I also remember, her spirit fill my heart, my soul, and being ... and in that moment I promised to continue listening, and to learn to walk with my Ahnung in a new way. And yes, she continues to guide me from the stars and from the spirit world ....

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

~ Mary Oliver ~


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Listening to the spirit of Ahnung: Pay attention to my heart

On my drive home from the Animal Humane Society around 5 pm last night I was hit with a blast of fatigue. We were having a day of warmth in Minnesota … temperatures in the 30s versus the sub-zero temperatures we’ve been having, and are due to have again today. It was also snowing and the roads were getting slick. As I sat at the stoplight on highway 55 waiting to turn left onto highway 100 south, fatigue hit me surprisingly. I remember thinking momentarily, I need to just close my eyes for a minute. Then I shook my head, turned up the radio and rolled my window for a blast of cold air to wake me up. I could also feel a heaviness in my heart, a physical heaviness. It’s been 2.5 years since my diagnosis with  left ventricular non compaction, a rare heart disease .. no cure, not much known, and ‘the main target of treatment is prevention of heart failure and thromboembolic events.’ Just a couple weeks ago, I received a pamphlet in the mail from my health insurance company titled ‘Managing heart failure.’ Last night, I wondered for a moment, ‘is it my heart?’ And returned to the moment of staying awake and directing everything I had to driving in congested traffic and snowy conditions.

I made it home and after taking care of the pups, found myself on the couch unable to function. I just wanted to sleep. It was as if someone had given me a shot of anesthesia to knock me out.

I woke up early this morning to another vivid dream. I had a dream of a mother deer and her 2 baby fawns. I was in a forest and they were keeping a distance from me; something had scared them and the mother deer skipped off, into the woods followed by her babies. But then they stopped, and their eyes were fixated on me. Seconds later, the mother deer galloped towards me. I feared for a moment she was coming directly towards me. She ran past me, barely missing me, and off into the woods again. It was clear she had no intention of harming me – she simply wanted to get my attention. Her 2 fawns followed her, but they stopped. One of them came up to me. The baby fawn turned into a wolf …. She came up to me, pawing at me. I was mesmerized I was interacting with a ‘wild’ animal. And then I woke up from my dream.

The vivid nature of the dream caught my attention this morning. I could feel Ahnung’s presence. She’s communicating with me from the spirit world. Listen Marilou. Listen.
Karl waiting for treats!
Is it a coincidence that I experienced debilitating fatigue after leaving AHS where I was meeting my friends Barbara and Sharon who are going to foster and provide hospice care to Karl, a 5 year old big black dog from Leech Lake Reservation, who was diagnosed with heart failure? Is it a coincidence that just yesterday, I finally got my estate planning in order to ensure the legacy I want to leave behind is all in place and I sent an email with directions on what needs to take place to the Leech Lake Legacy board?

Ahnung lived her life with purpose and intention. She guided me when she was here in physical form. She continues to guide me from the spirit world. I don’t know where my path is going to lead me … or how much more time I will be blessed to have walking this amazing planet. I have been able to put my diagnosis of ‘heart failure’ in the background for the past months. Maybe Ahnung is trying to remind me to bring it back to the forefront … to at least be aware of it .. to notice …. to listen. Maybe she brought Karl? Maybe her spirit is sprinkled in Karl, a gentle giant who showed us yesterday when we picked him up, that he is VERY treat motivated, and will even shake for treats … hmmm, that was a special Ahnung trick too!

Thank you Ahnung for continuing to guide me and for bringing Karl, and the deer (and 2 fawns) and the wolf to my presence. The deer symbolizes gentleness, unconditional love and kindness .. and Native American and Celtic custom regard the wolf as the way of finding the deepest levels of self, of inner knowing and intuition. I hear you sweet girl …. I don’t know where this path I am on will take me, but I know that you will guide me. You are my guiding star sweet girl … my north star, and I am okay with wherever our journey takes us.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Ahnung comes to visit me in my dreams

Ahnung - July, 2013
We are going on 5 months since my precious Ahnung crossed over into the spirit world. Yes ... there are days where I see the light and I feel joy again in my heart. When I see Legacy leap in the air, and Ishka tear around the back yard with her brother, or drag snow shovels, dog beds and pooper scoopers around the yard, I smile. I believe Ahnung picked Legacy in August, 2011, out of 13 puppies from Leech Lake Reservation who found temporary refuge in my studio till they could move onto the next stage of their journey. I believe Ahnung led me to Ishkode/Ishka, the first surrender at the October 2013 spay/neuter clinic at Leech Lake Reservation - the first clinic without Ahnung physically by my side. There are days I admit when I ask my sweet girl ... did you really think I needed a puppy in my life? A puppy with lots of fire and energy?? :) What happened to bringing a puppy into my life with the same calm presence you had? .... There are days when the pain in my heart is still so fresh, when the tears feel like they will never stop, when I ache for just one more day, one more moment, one more touch. And lately, when I re-read the blog pieces I have written on Anticipatory Grief, I ache too for the days and the months when there was a lot of uncertainty of when the time would come, because in that uncertainty, I still had Ahnung. That Sunday afternoon (August 25, 2013) when I held Ahnung in my arms as we set her spirit free, yes, uncertainty left, and in its place came a feeling so heavy, a pain so deep and a desire to run from the sensation of my heart being shredded into a million pieces.

But the gift Ahnung gave me in our Final Walk together was a chance to prepare for this moment, and how to walk through the journey of grief in a new way. I could hear her telling me, 'Stand. Four feet on the ground. Let the tears flow through you ..... I am in your tears; i am in the rocks, the squirrels, in Legacy, in Ishka ... and in every animal you bring down on transport from Leech Lake and Red Lake reservations."

I have wanted Ahnung to come visit me in my dreams. As we approach 5 months, she finally came to visit me in my dreams last night. She came with Ishka and we were at Lake Harriet Vet. Ishka was busy getting lots of attention from the staff. Meanwhile, out of the side of my eye I saw Ahnung opening up a file cabinet. She used her mouth to grab the knob and pulled the cabinet door open ... and stashed in front of files was a big bag of chips! I called over to her, and she turned around and looked at me. I walked over to her and she plopped her body down and leaned her body against me. She looked up at me with those eyes that would just pierce through me ... those eyes that spoke to my soul and made us one; our eyes connected, and I held her. Together. We were together again ... and then I woke up.

Shadow and Light Source Both
~ Rumi

How does a part of the world leave the world?
How does wetness leave water? Don't try to

put out fire by throwing on more fire! Don't
wash a wound with blood. No matter how fast

you run, your shadow keeps up. Sometimes it's
in front! Only full overhead sun diminishes

your shadow. But that shadow has been serving
you. What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is

your candle. Your boundaries are your quest.
I could explain this, but it will break the

glass cover on your heart, and there's no
fixing that. You must have shadow and light

source both. Listen, and lay your head under
the tree of awe. When from that tree feathers

and wings sprout on you, be quieter than
a dove. Don't even open your mouth for even a coo.

Legacy and Ahnung
Joy Session by Sarah Beth Photography - August, 2012
I decided to see if there was something symbolic about why Ahnung appeared to me in my dream last night ... I went through some old blog posts. A year ago today, Ahnung woke me up with a blood curdling cry ... there is intention and purpose, once again as to why my sweet girl appeared to me in my dream last night.

Blog post from a year ago:

Friday, December 20, 2013

Papa ... 45 years ago today

December 20, 1968 .... it was 45 years ago today, when my father's spirit was set free. Every time I hear the music, 'Little Drummer boy' I return to memories that are as fresh as yesterday. Our family traveled to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri from Thailand after my mother was told my father was dying. She was desperate to do everything she could to save his life ... and yes, doctors in America could do that .. of that she was convinced. I was 4 years old at the time, and I remember playing with my Etch a Sketch game in the corner of his hospital room. My mom and I lived at the hospital for several months. It used to be there was accommodations next to Barnes Hospital for family, a place called Queeny Towers. I was too young to go to school yet, so I got to spend all my time with my mom and my Papa. I don't think I really understood what was going on, why Papa couldn't carry me around like he used to. But I remember always feeling safe because he was there. I remember how I knew nothing bad would every happen to me because my Papa would save me. When the older kids back home in Thailand wouldn't let me play with them because I was too young, I would some times cry and run into the bathroom and lock the door. No one could get me open the door, except Papa.

And now, 45 years later, the memories that remain with me are of his calm, loving, gentle, quiet and kind spirit. He was my rock, my pillar, my strength. I tell myself that everything in life happens for a reason. Maybe it's just my way to come to peace with things I have absolutely no control over; my way to accept circumstances and situations that hurt and shred my heart to pieces; my way of learning to walk on ground that never feels solid, and to move in a world where the only thing I know I can count on, is uncertainty and change. I closed my heart at a very young age, and I looked everywhere to try to fill the emptiness in my heart ... striving for perfection, alcohol, sports. We never talked about the loss of Papa. The messages I heard as a child were emotions weren't okay and that 'the sign of an educated person is self control.' And so I held everything in, and at the young age of 9, was also the victim of
Legacy and Ahnung - Photo by Sarah Beth Photography
sexual abuse (a close family friend who was also a Catholic deacon) and carried that secret with me till December, 2008. It was in December, 2008, my first Christmas with Ahnung while I was up at Red Lake Reservation, and had been dealing with flashbacks of the abuse and nightmares, that I was finally able to write a letter to my family and to set myself free from a secret that had chained me down. It was Ahnung, my north star, who led me out of the darkness. I believe my Papa brought Ahnung into my life, to help me move to the next stage of my healing. I believe he brought  Ahnung to also walk with me along my health journeys ... I also believe he brought Ahnung to me, and that I am alive today, because Ahnung took the cancer from my body, and disease plaguing my pancreas ... and I believe Ahnung chose Legacy knowing she would be leaving this world and wanting me to feel joy and happiness because Legacy is Joy! And it was Ahnung, guided by my Papa, who taught me how to keep my heart open; to learn to walk through grief and loss in a new way; to embrace all my emotions and to stop running from the pain. And even from the spirit world, Ahnung continues to watch over me by leading me to Ishkode so that my heart can heal. In 2011, Ahnung was diagnosed with cancer and I was diagnosed with a rare heart disease. I knew then that Ahnung's time was limited. I was also told, it could be a year, 2 years, maybe 10 years before my heart would start showing symptoms from the disease, leading to heart failure. We began a new walk, a new journey, a new way of being and appreciating every moment we had together. And today, December 20, 2013 ... 45 years after losing Papa, I know that Ahnung is with Papa. It was time for her to move on to the spirit world; it was time for her to join Papa.

I don't know when my time will come to join them. Some day, I know I will be joining Papa, and Ahnung, but until then, I will continue to do all I can to quiet my spirit and my soul, so I can listen ... and so I can be guided by their spirits. Until then, please continue to guide me in the work I am doing ...

I miss you Papa. I miss you Ahnung.

Ishkode (means 'fire' in ojibwe - October, 2013)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Reaching for my star

Dear sweet Ahnung,

How can I both hurt so deeply and ache for your presence, your touch, your calm presence, while at the same time carry joy at the innocence, curiosity of the fire in Ishkode?

Shortly after we set your spirit free I didn’t think the tears would ever stop; the pain in my heart would go away; and I lived with the quiet, voice inside of me that so desperately wanted to go with you … for my spirit to soar alongside of you because the thought of  walking this earth without you physically by my side was too much for me to bear. I prayed. I repeated to myself, over and over again, the words we shared with kids we used to visit in schools …. ‘when life gets too much. When the pain is too much and all you feel is darkness around you … look up into the night skies for the brightest star and Ahnung, your Ahnung, will guide you.” For many days and many nights that wasn’t enough. But I made a promise to you sweet girl. I promised to set your spirit free when it was time; I promised to hold you and love you when your spirit was set free; I promised to keep my heart open even when dagger pains in my heart screamed at me to harden my heart; I promised to embrace the pain …. And to learn to listen and feel you and to Be with you in a new way. Sweet girl, I am learning. I feel your spirit so strongly in the studio where we spent your last nights; I feel your spirit in little Ishka; and I smile because I remember how I used to say to myself, “I so wish I knew what Ahnung was like as a puppy.” And now I know.

You are my guiding star sweet girl. You are the guiding star for the many people whose hearts you have touched. You are the guiding star for the work we are doing at Leech Lake Legacy, and you are my fire and my inspiration.

This morning … my heart just aches for you and I just need a reminder from you that you are still with me.

And on this early Saturday morning, before the sun rises, as I meditate and sit quietly I hear you … ‘Listen. Listen. … in the silence you will hear me. In the trees, in the falling leaves, in the heart beat of Ishkode, in the changing season, in the water, in the rocks .. in the eagles ... I am here.’

Keep knocking,
and the joy inside will eventually open a window …..

Go and find yourself first
So you can also find Me.

Don't run away from grief , o soul
Look for the remedy inside the pain.
because the rose came from the thorn
and the ruby came from a stone.


and so sweet girl, continue to teach me to walk and to Be with you in a new way.

Ishkode carries Ahnung's spirit