Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I am staying at the guesthouse at St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the holidays, because I love to sit with the monks as they sing. They have the most amazing, soul-shuddering harmonies.

Anyway, this morning at prayer service I sat right in front of a beautiful manger display from Jerusalem. My eyes kept returning to small statues of the animals depicted in this particular scene: the cow, the ox, the donkey, sheep, goats and even some camels. I could picture dogs and cats running around happily in the background, off-camera, so to speak. And it really warmed my heart to know that these sweet and gentle creatures were present at the birth of the Christ. They stood witness before and therefore were part of this sacred family. That's no small thing!

I know there is debate as to whether animals were actually present at this sacred birth, but regardless: we 21st-century humans should try to remember that these animals are all noble and sacred beings and deserve to be treated with respect, love, and reverence. As do we all. Their (and our) ancestors knelt at the cradle of the Christ. May it be so!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Laurie Anderson on Lou Reed's "Good Death"

As a meditator, I was very struck by Laurie Anderson's farewell tribute to her husband Lou Reed in Rolling Stone magazine.  Sometimes it can feel as though our meditation practice isn't "doing anything" or "getting us anywhere."

But Laurie Anderson's essay gives a clear example of just how beneficial a strong meditation practice can be: it can help transform the moment of death from one of fear and uncertainty into one of peace.  I encourage you to read this.

Grief has changed my voice...

Grief has changed my voice. Usually when I sing lead there's this inner flame that I can access and pull up and out through my voice. I can't find that flame right now. I'm not saying that this is a permanent situation or a catastrophe; it's just interesting to go inside oneself and discover something missing. But....I am going back into the studio with Gaura Vani and friends to record more vocals in a few weeks. Please pray that my voice returns by December 8th!

Friday, October 25, 2013

The latest installment of "The Chloe Chronicles" is here.

The new print edition of Bark magazine just came out and I just re-read the latest installment "The Chloe Chronicles," which I handed in about three weeks before Chloe died. In this piece, I wrote about how Chloe was slowing down and showing signs of aging. I wrote about how I was starting to worry that some day she might get sick and die. I had no idea she was actually quite sick, yet as I re-read the piece, the signs are there. 

I don't know how to react. I could feel ashamed and horrified that I treated her "signs of aging" so lightly; or I could feel awed that, at some level, we got to say goodbye in such a deep way.

What awes me most is the pull-quote Bark chose to use. A few months ago, when I expressed my concerns about Chloe that I wouldn't be able to handle it if she got sick, she said (telepathically, of course): "Don't worry. We are together now. That's all that matters. And when the time comes, you will still be with me and I will be with you."

Thank you, Bark magazine, for publishing The Chloe Chronicles and allowing me to honor her in this way.

Friday, September 27, 2013


I'm sad to report that my sweet, sweet dog Chloe (also known as Gopi) died very suddenly and very unexpectedly this morning, from hemangiosarcoma. Basically, she had tumors on her spleen and lungs which burst quite suddenly, causing severe internal hemorrhaging. Apparently this particular sarcoma is difficult to detect until it's too late. I had no idea she was sick and thought that any lethargic behavior she had been displaying the past two weeks was related to the dog-attack in early September. (She was mauled by another dog while under the care of a dog-sitter). Anyway, when I came home from NYC late last night, she could barely walk, and didn't give me her usual high-spirited greeting. In fact, her personality seemed to be absent. And her abdomen was bloated. And her feet were cold. My poor sweetie. I realized she was seriously ill and took her straight to an emergency veterinary clinic in Poughkeepsie. 

The vet at the emergency clinic actually advised me to euthanize Chloe last night, right on the spot, but I could not do that. No way. I chose to bring her home with me instead. The vet said Chloe would likely die within twelve hours, from the hemorrhage. But still, I wanted to bring her home. I suppose it was a bit selfish of me, but I wanted to have the opportunity to say goodbye. We gave Chloe some painkillers and lifted her back into my van. Chloe was still too weak to walk once we got home, so we spent the night lying on the floor in the foyer. She panted all night long, likely in pain, while I recited mantras and prayers from the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian and Jewish traditions.
I told her how much I loved her and what a good, kind, loving being she has been. I kept reminding her how pretty she is, and how sweet, and how everyone enjoyed her company so much. I thanked her for being my companion. She wasn't 100% coherent, but I think at one point she wagged her tail. (I had gotten one kiss from her before we went to the hospital, and it was cold. As cold as death.)

Oh, Chloe. You sweet thing.

After a long night in which neither of us slept, I decided to take Chloe to our regular vet--Dr. Rothstien at Saugerties Animal Hospital. Dr. Rothstein practices TCM and acupuncture in addition to traditional veterinary medicine and I absolutely love him. As I drove to Saugerties, I started to allow myself to believe that Dr. R would have a magic herb to cure Chloe. From what the emergency clinic said, it was unlikely Chloe would survive. But I hoped that Dr. R would at least be able to do some acupuncture to ease Chloe's suffering. I even accepted the fact that I would elect to have her euthanized if Dr. Rothstein recommended it. I had said my goodbyes, after all.

On the way to the vet I brought Chloe up to the monastery (KTD) for a very important task. There, Lama Tundup--a Tibetan monk--performed the TIbetan Buddhist version of "last rites." He read passages from an ancient Tibetan text--none of which I understood. He fed Chloe some mantra seeds which were blessed by the Karmapa. Chloe could barely swallow at that point, or even operate her tongue, so I had to plant the seeds on her tongue, the way a priest might administer communion. Chloe's gums were white from anemia. Her tongue was brown. I wanted to cry, but I was told it is important to make sure our animals (or any beings) remain calm at the time of death. I kept petting her, reminding her that she was going to have a very auspicious rebirth. At some point during the ritual, Chloe became semi-alert and turned her body to face Lama Tundup. He touched the text to her forehead. Did she feel it, I wonder? Did she receive some powerful, karma-clearing transmission?

Like many dog guardians, I often feel guilty that I am not "doing enough" for my dog. Yesterday, for example, I was not with Chloe during those hours in which she fell ill. I feel VERY guilty about that. As in: how dare I go sing in New York City when your dog is dying? But we all know that thoughts of guilt are silly, destructive thoughts. Plus, I didn't know she was dying. I thought yesterday was just another day. Anyway, as I watched Lama Tundup give Chloe more mantra seeds, I thought: well, if even it's true that I "I didn't do enough" for her in this lifetime, at least I am making some effort to ensure that she has an even better lifetime the next time around. She will likely be reborn a human.

So then it was time to go down to the vet for our 9:00 appointment. I drove with one hand on the wheel; the other on Chloe's cold paw. I sang Om Mani Peme Hum for her, and the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra. Could she feel it? Or was she locked in her own private place of pain? Or non-pain, if the painkiller was still working.

I found myself wishing--as I often wish--that I had a partner, because then that partner Could be the one driving the minivan, and I could be in the backseat hugging Chloe. Instead, I just held on to her paw. It felt smaller, as if she had already begun to shrink.

We were now about ten minutes away from the Saugerties Animal Hospital. Thus it was time to seriously address the issue of euthanasia. In Buddhism, there are different schools of thought about this. Some teachers feel that if you make the decision to end another's life, you are taking on negative karma, because you are ending someone else's cycle of suffering prematurely. Other teachers feel (as I do) that if your true desire is to ease the animal's suffering, then the act of euthanasia is actually a benevolent one. But as I drove down the hill from the monastery, knowing what I was about to do, I considered both theories. And I decided that even if I did indeed risk taking on more negative karma for euthanizing my beloved dog, I would do it anyway. I would bring more suffering upon myself in order to ease hers.

I am not trying to toot my own horn here. It's just that I've never really looked at love from that angle before. I haven't really done any heroic or noble things in this lifetime, but in that second I realized that this thing people call sacrifice isn't sacrifice at all. It's just pure love.

Shortly after I had this realization, Chloe died. We had just pulled into the animal hospital parking lot. I don't know how to describe a lifeless body--the way it sags. But those of us who believe in reincarnation trust that there is life beyond the body. This is what I told Chloe.

Was it wrong to keep her alive in her diseased body for another twelve hours? I think the soul-Chloe would say no. I think the soul-Chloe knew I would have been paralyzed with guilt for the rest of this life if I had had to make the decision to end her life. I think she also knew I would have been paranoid about the negative karma. So she, in her life-saving way, she saved me. Again. Those of you who are now thinking "Lee analyzes too much" are correct. So let me just end with this:

She knew I loved her. And I knew she loved me. We are complete. And so I say goodbye to a beloved friend.

Right now, through my window, I can see fat squirrels frolicking across the lawn. And there is no one to chase them.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Animal Aid USA Fundraiser-An Evening with Acclaimed Dog Author Lee Harrington. Saturday October 5 in NYC

Dog lovers: I'm honored to have been invited to participate in this wonderful fundraising event for Animal Aid USA. Founded by Prince Lorenzo Borghese, Animal Aid USA relocates animals in kill-shelters to loving homes through its large network of rescue groups and volunteers. I have friends who volunteer for this group (i.e. the fabulous Jen Bush) and believe me, they work hard. Each weekend they travel to remote areas in the US and lovingly rescue hundreds of dogs. Read about them here

Anyway, this event will basically be a hip NYC party, featuring books, music, authors, princes, and dogs.
After a short author Q&A moderated by Ms. Bush, I'll be performing covers of Pete Townshend's song "Sleeping Dog" and Heart's "Dog and Butterfly" with songstress Jen Bush. Jen will be singing some songs as well.  I believe "Hound Dog" by Elvis (duh) and "I Love My Dog" by Cat Stevens are on the list.
You might know Lorenzo as "The Bachelor." We in the animal rescue world know him as a great champion of animals with a big and generous heart. By coming and supporting Lorenzo's foundation, you are DIRECTLY saving the lives of animals in need.

Free Bark magazines and free copies of the acclaimed memoir "Rex and the City," --plus  big hugs of gratitude - will be given to the first 60 attendees.
For more information on the event, visit:

TIME:  4:00 - 7:00 PM
LOCATION: Shetler Studios & Theatres
244 W 54th St, New York, New York 10019-5502

The facebook copy reads:
Join us for a tail wagging evening of chat, song and fun with writer, singer, editor of BARK Magazine and dog lover extraordinaire, LEE HARRINGTON! The evening will begin with a lighthearted interview, then I will join Lee for a short musical performance and the evening will end with a meet and greet and book signing. Did I mention that the first 60 people will receive a copy of Lee's book, Rex and the City? Well, you will and you can even have some wine and light refreshments. Lee lives 2 hours away and graciously agreed to give her time to this fundraiser to help animals in need. Let's make it a nice showing for her. Tickets must be purchased in advance using this link:

By coming and supporting this wonderful organization, you are DIRECTLY saving the lives of animals in need.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Check out the latest cover of Bark magazine! (Fall 2013) This is our 75th issue, so it's rather a milestone for us.  All our covers are cute, but this one just kills me. Look at that terrier's face! The cover dog is a rescue, of course.

Appearing in this issue is my review of Mary Oliver's latest collection of poems "Dog Songs." All I did in this review was gush ineloquently about how sublime Mary Oliver's poems are.  What else could I say?

Also in this issue, is a Q&A I did with New York City's only house-call vet, Dr. Jeffrey Levy. Dr. Levy also happens to be a noted veterinary acupuncturist and.....he fronts a pet-rescue themed rock band called "Pet Rox." Their new CD, "Just Sniffing Around" was recently released. 

To subscribe to Bark and experience non-stop cuteness (as well as vital information about life with dogs):

To purchase Mary Oliver's sublime poetry collection "Dog Songs":

To hear clips from Pet Rox and learn more about Dr. Jeff:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11th.....again and again

Twelve years ago I was living in Brooklyn, with my former husband Ed. I'll never forget that moment when the NPR news radio station we were listening to went dead. We knew then that the towers had fallen. My husband--a newsman himself--immediately left in order to get into NYC (even though all entry points were blocked) and to his office. He spent the rest of the week filming carnage and interviewing survivors while I stayed at home alone and wept for my city and all her people.

A few months after the towers fell, I left NYC and my marriage and my job and even my dog and moved to a Buddhist retreat center. I knew things had to change, and that the change had to start with myself. But that's another story....

I'll never forget how silent the city was after September 11th, and how connected everyone felt, even though our connection was based on horror and sorrow. Cab drivers stopped honking their horns; everyone made eye contact. There was so much oneness and so much love. I don't think that feeling of oneness has necessarily gone away. I do think the world has changed--dare I say for the better?

Think of how many people have embraced spiritual teachings these days. And how much kirtan there is. There are yoga studios on every block and in every town. People are truly remembering that All Are One.

It's tragic that so many lives were lost on that day, and that the motivations for those attacks were ignorance and hatred. My heart still bleeds for those who lost loved ones and suffered trauma. I hope everyone continues to heal and grow. We are all with you.

The Dalai Lama's Message Regarding September 11th

I encourage everyone to read this beautiful speech by the Dalai Lama, delivered directly after the 9/11/01 attacks.

"The events of this day cause every thinking person to stop their daily lives, whatever is going on in them, and to ponder deeply the larger questions of life. We search again for not only the meaning of life, but the purpose of our individual and collective experience as we have created it--and we look earnestly for ways in which we might recreate ourselves as a human species, so that we will never treat each other this way again.

The hour has come for us to demonstrate at the highest level our most extraordinary thought about Who We Really Are. There are two possible responses to what has occurred today. The first comes from love, the second from fear. If we come from fear we may panic and do things—as individuals and as nations—that could only cause further damage. If we come from love we will find refuge and strength, even as we provide it to others. This is the moment of your ministry. This is the time of teaching. What you teach at this time, through your every word and action right now, will remain as indelible lessons in the hearts and minds of those whose lives you touch, both now, and for years to come. We will set the course for tomorrow, today. At this hour. In this moment. Let us seek not to pinpoint blame, but to pinpoint cause. Unless we take this time to look at the cause of our experience, we will never remove ourselves from the experiences it creates. Instead, we will forever live in fear of retribution from those within the human family who feel aggrieved, and, likewise, seek retribution from them.

To us [Buddhist thinkers] the reasons are clear. We have not learned the most basic human lessons. We have not remembered the most basic human truths. We have not understood the most basic spiritual wisdom. In we have not been listening to God, and because we have not, we watch ourselves do ungodly things. The message we hear from all sources of truth is clear: We are all one. That is a message the human race has largely ignored. Forgetting this truth is the only cause of hatred and war, and the way to remember is simple: Love, [in] this and every moment. If we could love even those who have attacked us, and seek to understand why they have done so, what then would be our response? Yet if we meet negativity with negativity, rage with rage, attack with attack, what will be the outcome? These are the questions that are placed before the human race today. They are questions that we have failed to answer for thousands of years. Failure to answer them now could eliminate the need to answer them at all. If we want the beauty of the world that we have co-created to be experienced by our children and our children's children, we will have to become use that to happen. We must choose to be a cause in the matter.

So, talk with God today. Ask God for help, for counsel and advice, for insight and for strength and for inner peace and for deep wisdom. Ask God on this day to show us how to show up in the world in a way that will cause the world itself to change. And join all those people around the world who are praying right now, adding your Light to the Light that dispels all fear.

That is the challenge that is placed before every thinking person today. Today the human soul asks the question: What can I do to preserve the beauty and the wonder of our world and to eliminate the anger and hatred—and the disparity that inevitably causes it—in that part of the world which I touch? Please seek to answer that question today, with all the magnificence that is You. What can you do TODAY...[at] this very moment?

A central teaching in most spiritual traditions is: What you wish to experience, provide for another. Look to see, now, what it is you wish to experience--in your own life, and in the world. Then see if there is another for whom you may be the source of that. If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another. If you wish to know that you are safe, cause [others] to know that they are safe. If you wish to better understand seemingly incomprehensible things, help another to better understand. If you wish to heal your own sadness or anger, seek to heal the sadness or anger of another. Those others are waiting for you now. They are looking to you for guidance, for help, for courage, for strength, for understanding, and for assurance at this hour. Most of all, they are looking to you for love.

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

-Dalai Lama

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Recap of the Omega Fall Ecstatic Chant weekend

Hello Beloveds:

The Omega Fall Ecstatic Chant 2013 Festival this past weekend was absolutely amazing!  Thanks to Stephan Rechtschaffen and Shyamdas for continuing to make this event a glorious expression of love and oneness.  As Gaura Vani said at the closing ceremony, the vibration just gets deeper and deeper every year.  We're on our way to becoming a Kirtan Nation!

I had the great privilege of singing onstage with the sublime Adam Bauer--a rising star in the kirtan world, whose first CD "Shyam Lila" will be released this fall. I was also blessed to sing at the finale with so many kirtan musicians I revere: Gaura Vani (my producer, no less), Jai Uttal, Ishwari and Sruti Ram of Sri Kirtan, Donna Delorey, Krishna Das, Steve Gorn, Vraj Devi, Ananta Cuffee, Visvambhar – Vish, Janaki Cuffee, John McDowell, CC White, Adam Bauer, Arundhati, Patrick McAndrew and Steve Postell. 

It was wonderful to see so many wonderful old friends at Omega and to make new friends as well. Among my new friends are the beautiful London-based wall Vrajdevi (a great friend of Shyamdas) and the dashing vocalist Patrick McAndrew, who sings with CC White.  I feel like I'm name-dropping, but it's just that I am so thrilled at how many beautiful and talented people there are in this world, and how many of them seemed to have congregated in Rhinebeck this weekend.

Shout-out also to the author Matthew Sharpe, a former Columbia University colleague with whom I lost touch with years ago but have found again. I'm so proud of all Matt's successes as an author and professor.
Jai ma!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

I had the honor of singing some backup vocals on the fabulous Ilan Chester's new CD "Symphony of the Soul." This CD is a collection of beautiful, powerful mantras composed with symphonic music.  Ilan, who was born in Israel and raised in Venezuala, has the most transcendent, commanding voice.  Check out "our" song Gauranga.

Memories of My First Paid SInging Gig

Yesterday I had lunch with my father, who is celebrating his 87th birthday.   (He was old when he had me, so don't go trying to calculate my own age based on his.)

Anyway, at lunch,we reminisced about our family camping trips.  I was reminded that I actually had my first paid singing gig when I was about five or six years old, when our family was camping in New Hampshire.  Apparently a friend and I walked from site to site, singing "Joy to the World" to the happy campers. (That would be the "Three Dog Night" version of the song). One audience member paid us a quarter.  What a thrill!  I guess that was my first taste of being paid to sing...
But mostly, I am thrilled to realize that there was a point in my life when I wasn't shy about singing in front of others.  It's so nice to be back into that place of non-shyness again.  Joy to the world indeed!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Here's some terrific wisdom from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar about the benefits of Sanskrit mantra.

Here's some terrific wisdom from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar about the benefits of Sanskrit mantra.

"Different letters affect different parts of the body. Our body is like a garland of letters, it is called akshara maalika (garland of letters). You are a mala or rosary yourself; different letters affect different centers. Sanskrit, the oldest of languages, is organized in such a way that it fits Darwin’s theory of Evolution.

The first letter of Sanskrit language is A, which is what every child says. The last of the vowels is Aha. What is the sound that comes when you laugh? Aha ha ha! So, in laughter, the entire language is present, from A to Aha. In Sanskrit, Aha is used for wonder and for laughter. You cannot laugh without Aa and Ha in it, even if you try.

If you observe the Sanskrit vowels, which are A, Aa, E, Eee, Oo, Oou; observe how the sound is generated. The soundA comes at the root of the throat, Aa comes more outward. E comes from the palate, and Eee is more outward. Oo comes to the lips, and Ruu, the tongue rolls.

The rest of the letters are I, Ai, O, Au, An, Am, Aha. If you move to consonants, they start with Ka, Kha, Ga, Gha, Na and they start from the throat. Then Ca, Cha, Ja, Jha, Nna, the sound move towards the mouth. Then come Ta, Tha, Da, Dha, Na, these come with the help of the dental movement. The last few come from the lips Pa, Pha, Ba, Bha, Ma.

If you observe, all these sounds move from the base of the throat outwards. Even the animal kingdom is taken into consideration here. All birds emit the Ka and Ca sound. Only two birds, i.e., parrot and mynah can use the sound Ma also. All other birds only use Ka and Ca.

Amphibians like frogs, make sounds that sound like Ta, Tha or Tra. Mammals like cows, sheep, goats, horses, etc., use Pa, Pha, Ba, Bha, Ma, or the next set of consonants.

Lastly come all the other alphabets like Ya, Ra, La, Va, She, Sha. Therefore, the alphabets and sounds are arranged in the same order as the theory of evolution, i.e., birds, animals, mammals and humans. Isn’t that interesting? It is absolutely fascinating.

There was some research done in England; scientists found that Sanskrit language is very suitable for neurolinguistic functions. For about ten years, scientists were trying to understand why people with a base in Sanskrit are very sharp at mathematics and calculations. Do you know about 60% of the English language follows Sanskrit? If you see the roots of the English words, most of them are Sanskrit based. Svasa is sister, Brata is brother, Pitha is father and Mata is Mother. If you draw parallels like these, you will realize that the base of English is Sanskrit language."

|| Jai Guru Dev ||

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How Cool Is It When an Old Friend releases a Hot New Movie?

Several years ago I hosted a dashing young filmmaker named James Ponsoldt, who stayed at my house in Woodstock during the "Woodstock Film Festival."  This is one of the many, many cool things about living in Woodstock, NY.  We treat everyone who visits like family--whether it's Gabriel Byrne, David Byrne, or just some visiting parks official from the DEP. I had the honor of spending a few days with director James Ponsolt and producer Scott Macauley while they stayed at my house in 2006.  Yes, I'm name dropping. But why not? I'm proud of them and am always happy to promote my fellow artists. It was clear to me and the festival judges that these two men were not only immensely talented, but also caring and kind.  My dog Chloe, by the way, adored them too.

Anyway, it's been thrilling to watch Jame's rapidly rising career in Hollywood. It was even more of a thrill to read the spectacular review in The New Yorker of his latest movie, "The Spectacular Now."  Critic David Denby loved the film and called James "someone to watch."

I'm so proud of you,  James! I encourage everyone to see this tender, beautiful movie!

NICOLAS RAPOLD of The New York Times also lauded the movie:

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Dog Who Can Open Doors Strikes Again

It was very disturbing to find the Dog Who Can Open Doors waiting outside for me when I returned home from the library this morning.  My previous dog Wallace (of "Rex and the City" fame) probably would have chased the car all the way to the library.  Chloe, fortunately, was curled up on the front lawn, waiting. I'm also fortunate that we have a huge lawn far from the road.

We don't lock our doors in the country, but I guess it's time to do so!

Her English Setter friend Rainbow, by the way, was the one who first taught her to open doors.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The 17th Karmapa has a new blog!

I don't think I'll ever stop marveling at the wonders of the internet. Just think about it: at any time of day we can read the blog of, say, the Karmapa (!) and receive amazing enlightened teachings. We really have no excuse anymore not to become realized.....the teachings are literally in the airwaves!

Here's an interesting blog about the origins of the Karmapa Chenno mantra.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Shaman Goddess Eileen O'Hare

To all you spiritual seekers and students of sacred sound:

I encourage you to read and subscribe to Eileen O'Hare's blog. Eileen is a shaman, a teacher, a healer  and--in my mind--an embodiment of the Divine Feminine.  Soon she'll be releasing her first sacred chant CD.  I've heard it's magnificent!


I had a wonderful recording session in the studio yesterday. We’re arranging the backup vocals for my gospel choir. I can’t wait to hear them sing the chorus to Govinda Hare, a song I am recording in honor of my friend Shyamdas, who left his body in January.

Today’s goal is to NOT let my critical mind step in and judge everything I created. My inner critic can be so harsh and ruthless. It scares me sometimes.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Very excited about Jon Katz's new eBook "Listening to Dogs"

I encourage all you dog-lovers to check out Jon Katz's (the bestselling author of The Dogs of Bedlam Farm), revolutionary new eBook "Listening to Dogs." It's a ground-breaking "dog training" book in that it's not a training book; but rather an empowerment book. All of us truly have the wisdom and knowledge within us to train our our wise, knowing dogs. And we can do this without brutality, frustration, or needless expenses. As Jon says, why pay for a dog training guru when you can be your own for free? This will be the best $2.99 you ever spent!

Sunday, May 26, 2013


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I'm getting a late start on planting my flowers and seedlings this year, but I think it's better late than never when it comes to flowers. There is such beauty in their colors and elegance--and in the very fact that they grow. Being a city person at heart, it never ceases to astound me that a living, breathing plant can sprout from a dry, tiny, seemingly lifeless seed. Watching them grow--and witnessing spring in general--is a reminder that we live in a magical world, full of beauty and abundance.

I love all flowers, but my favorite ones seem to be the tall, delicate ones that sway in the winds: Cosmos, Columbine, Dahlia, Flowering Maple and Nicotania to name a few. There's something stoic about these tall, feminine flowers--the way they yield so gracefully and reverently the elements, and always reach their faces to the sun. I guess I aspire to be like that, too. I want to radiate beauty (yes, that's shallow) even though in the past I've allowed myself to get knocked about a bit.

Anyway, I am here to write about sacred gardening. Last weekend my friend Mukti and I held a small ceremony for the Yamuna River, and to commence the ceremony she burned an Agni Hotra fire as we recited the Gayatri mantra. I don't have enough room in this post to describe the Agni Hotra (for more info visit but the most astonishing thing Mukti told me is that the Agni Hotra fire (and its smoke and ash) all have the power to neutralize pollution, purify our water, nullify the effects of toxins and heavy metals in our bodies, and basically heal Mother Earth and all her inhabitants. Teachers from the Vruksa Ayurveda lineage are now encouraging everyone on the planet to start conducting Agni Hotra ceremonies. The world needs it desperately. So now, thanks to Mukti, I shall start doing do myself.

This morning, I took some of the sacred Agni Hotra ash and mixed it into my seedling soil. I also mixed some into the soil of my herb garden. This--I am told--will not only help my plants to grow rapidly, but it will help transform my herbs (which were admittedly purchased at a nursery that uses pesticides) back into natural, organic plants. How amazing is that? (Maybe there is a way to combat the devastating evils of Monsanto after all.)
I am told that the seedlings will sprout three times as quickly, so I'll keep you posted on that.

As an aside, I have always recited mantras while gardening, because years ago I learned that the mantras would benefit the life force of the plants. You've all heard of the "talking to plants" practice. Well, I talk to mine in Tibetan, through the mantra Om Mani Peme Hum. (In Sanskrit one chants Om Mani Padme Hum. Slight distinction which must be made.) 

 The Dalai Lama himself has said that all beings will benefit from this mantra--and this includes plants.Neglected plants can be revived.  Infested plants can develop stronger "immune systems"--thus rejecting the insects or diseases that are afflicting them.
I'm serious. I've watched it happen.

Anyway, today I decided to add the Gayatri mantra to my gardening-with-mantras mix.  I did this primarily because this is the mantra which accompanies the Agni Hotra ceremony. But the Gayatri mantra is also one of the oldest and most powerful mantras of our time, and in the Western world it known primarily as a "chakra-purifier." This mantra is also very good for the brain and the intellect. For our plant friends, this mantra helps them to assimilate the sun and--as said above--protects them from toxins and impurities. Pretty powerful, right?

For those who don't know the Gayatri Mantra:
Bhuh Bhuvah Svah
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi
Dhiyo Yo nah Prachodayat
I know people who play mantras inside the house all day long (myself included) so that our plants, animals and homes can absorb the powerful healing vibrations. I even know a woman who hangs a speaker in her trees on sunny days and blasts crystal singing bowl music so that her trees can hear the mantras, too. Luckily she lives in Woodstock, NY, so her neighbors don't mind.

Here's a sample of OM MANI PEME HUM chanted in the traditional Tibetan Buddhist melody.

Here's a nice version of GAYATRI from Deva Premal.

I don't want to come across as someone who is pushing Buddhist and/or Hindu belief systems onto all gardeners of the world. Whatever your tradition--Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Wiccan, Jain, etc--I am sure you have a special prayer, hymn, or mantra that brings your comfort.

Try playing these mantras for your plants and animals for a few hours--either while you are gardening or while you are out. They'll love you for it. I mean, they already do love you. But they'll appreciate knowing how much you love them back.

Oh--I should also add that hanging prayer flags (Tibetan, Celtic, Chakra) above your gardens will help your plants as well. Or wind-chimes. Or any sacred symbol. Why do you think the concept of garden statues came into being? I don't think their origins were purely decorative. I think there is a larger meaning to those St. Francis, Virgin Mary, and/or Diana statues we see in many modern gardens. Perhaps even those garden gnomes serve a sacred purpose. :)

Friday, May 24, 2013

THE CHLOE CHRONICLES, Part IX - The City Slicker Visits the Country Vet

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

There's nothing like taking a cool, refreshing shower after a sweaty walk with the dog. Right? I love that feeling of satisfaction that our dogs--and our bodies--are well-exercised. Now I'm ready to start the day on a fresh note, and the dog is ready for a nice snooze. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Back in 2003, I worked as a decorative painter at the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya at Shambhala Mountain Center--a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center near Boulder, Colorado. This was before the time of Facebook or blogs--and even digital cameras seemed to be a novelty. Thus, I was never able to really record the kind of work that I did there. Plus, I was in rather a haze, from having recently left my marriage and having dove into Buddhist practice and meditation full-time. So I just did my work, painting tiny decorative molds of auspicious Buddhist symbols and images.  Painting those molds felt very rewarding--plain and simple and pure. Which was just what I needed at the time. We were always in the moment, because at that center we were taught to see every action as a practice. Thus, we never felt the need to record our actions anyway. These days, people are broadcasting their every move on Facebook.  That doesn't really give one a chance to be in the moment, now does it? :)
Anyway, I haven't seen the Great Stupa since 2003, nor did I ever get to see my "artwork" installed on the columns and walls, but recently I decided to troll for some images on the web. Thus--to my delight--I found this picture of Sakyong Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama standing near one of the columns.

Joshua Mulder, the master sculptor and art director at the Stupa, used to tell me that working on the Stupa would accumulate great merit and help purify my karma for many lifetimes, and I often forget that fact. It's so easy to get caught up in the obstacles of daily life and forget how one is truly blessed.

So I am so tickled to see these images. Even though I played only a small part in this magnificent endeavor, I feel thrilled and honored.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (holder of the Shambhala lineage) with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2006. See our decorative molds to the left. This image comes from

A close-up shot of some of the molds, which I found at

The Stupa itself--isn't she beautiful? Image from

Monday, March 25, 2013

Chloe Chronicles VII: On Getting Rejected by a Rescue Group

Chloe Chronicles VII: Rejection Blues

--> You know how it is — we dog lovers can be partial to certain breeds or types of dogs.  Some of us love the cuteness and ease of lapdogs; some of us admire the regal carriage of Afghan hounds, or the calm strong presence of Shephards, or the goofy sweetness of pit bulls. Some of us can’t resist the ultra-floppy ears of Bassett Hounds, or the giant gentleness of the—ahem—Gentle Giants, or the wiggly wags of Labs. The list goes on and on, and I am sorry if I have left out your favorite breed or mix. And, oh, the glories of mixed-breeds! Who can resist the myriad combos? I have a friend with a short-legged, big headed lab/Bassett mix named Hagrid—the cutest dog you’ve ever seen. Another friend has a Beagle/Setter mix—a gorgeous orange, brown and white dog with a Beagle’s bugle-bray. 
My own Chloe is some sort of Spaniel/Lab/Border Collie amalgam, and I adopted her, in part, because of my Spaniel/Setter fixation. I love their beauty, their exuberance, their fondness for hikes and swims, their silky fur, and they way they transform, inside the house, into cuddly lap dogs—albeit 70 pound ones. To me, the only thing better than having a bird dog as a companion is to have two bird dogs. So the idea of adopting a second dog was always on my mind.

In 2006, I finally left New York City and moved to the Catskill Mountains full time. I had had Chloe for about a year at that point, and we had enjoyed a rich life, spending part of our time in an apartment in the city and the other part at a small cottage upstate. It was an ideal situation in many ways, but it got to be exhausting. The commutes and the changes and all that packing and backing-and-forthing was too much, especially with a large dog in tow.

So I moved to that big house with lots of land I had always dreamed about. Finally, it was time to adopt my second dog.

I was very excited at the prospect, and I knew Chloe would be too. We all know that dogs are pack animals and thus are happiest and most comfortable when they are members of a canine pack.  Chloe loved other dogs — she loved to play and romp and flirt — and she also seemed to enjoy being a mother dog. I got a kick out of watching her play with puppies at the dog park, wrangling them and letting them crawl all over her, giving them playful but very gentle swats and nips. It made me wonder if she had had puppies at some point in her young life, before I adopted her. It made me wonder if she missed them.

Therefore, I decided I would adopt a puppy this time around, rather than an adult. I had the time, after all. And I knew what raising and training a puppy would entail. I felt fully prepared to adopt my Setter pup. And so, I began my search on  Whereas I’d searched the Internet for several months before choosing Chloe, the second-dog search took only a few weeks. I found a Setter rescue group that I liked, and they were in the midst of arranging adoptions for a litter of nine liver-and-white pups. Seven of them were male, and I knew I wanted to adopt a male. I telephoned immediately, and spoke with a kind and encouraging volunteer, who filled me in on the adoption process. We spoke for about 45 minutes — about me, their group and my potential dog — and by the end of the conversation, she told me she’d send an application. (Apparently, this group will not even send out applications until they speak to the candidates in person or on the telephone.) “You sound like an ideal candidate,” the woman said.

I must confess that I also thought I was an ideal candidate to adopt a dog. I’m not saying that I’m a perfect human specimen, or that I know every last thing there is to know about dogs, but I do work for Bark magazine, for goodness sake,—the best dog magazine out there, which means that for the past twelve years I have been reading, editing, and reviewing (and yes, writing) articles and essays from some of the top trainers, behaviorists, veterinarians, ethologists, poets, and animal rescuers in the country. We who read Bark are up to date on the best and most effective training methods (positive reinforcement/operant conditioning, of course), the latest studies on canine behavior and psychology, the newest and best veterinary treatments (holistic and allopathic) and even the latest treats, toys, beds, gadgets, accessories and foods. And please don’t think I’m bragging—if you are reading this column in Bark magazine, that means you have access to all this knowledge, too.
To further toot my “You Should Let Me Adopt Your Setter” horn: I also spent years writing a series of columns—and a subsequent memoir entitled Rex and the City—about how I devoted just about every waking moment of my life to rescuing and rehabilitating an abused hunting dog: a wonderful Spaniel mix named Wallace. He was everything these setter rescue groups “warn” you about: exuberant, energetic, high spirited (read: highs-strung), vocal, stubborn, capable of fantastic athletic feats (i.e. leaping tall fences in a single bound, etc). We used to joke that Wallace was the equivalent of three dogs. So again, I felt I could handle a Setter puppy.
-->Meanwhile, Chloe was running circles around the car, dancing happily at the sight of another canine. I told Chloe to come sit quietly by me so that Mr. Whitaker could say hello. (And yes, I spoke to Chloe in a full sentence). Chloe immediately ran to my right side and sat, looking sweetly at Mr. Whitaker with a gently wagging tail.

“Wow,” he said. “I’ve never seen such a thing. How did you do that? You got her to sit down and everything.”

“I clicker-trained her.”

“Never heard of that,” he said.

I kept my face blank and pleasant, but inside I was thinking: They sent this man to evaluate my dog? Meanwhile. Took began to bark and scratch at the car window, trying to wedge his body through the small crack.

-->“Well, I suppose I could take him out,” Mr. W said. He looked at Chloe again and seemed to convince himself that she did not have any communicable diseases.That she was the "right kind" of mixed breed. He then strung Took up on a choke chain and let him out of the car.

I should point out here that I Iived on 16 acres of land, much of it bordering thousands of acres of state land. Chloe is never on a leash because she does not need to be: (a) she is not a roamer, and (b) she is, as we have seen, well trained and has perfect recall. For recall, I use hand signals in addition to verbal cues, and a special whistle she can hear at great distances. She’s a terrific dog who has earned her freedom.

Now, Chloe waited for my “okay” command before she said hello to Took. She play-bowed and he play-bowed back, then he leaped forward for a romp, only to be yanked back rather cruelly by Mr. W, who had pulled sharply on the choke collar.

I winced. I hate to see dogs yelping in pain. “Do you want to let him off-leash and watch them interact?” I said. “We can watch their body language and signals, to see how Chloe interacts with other dogs.”

“I never let him off-leash,” he said. “He hasn’t been off-leash since he was six weeks old, straight from the litter. If I let him go, he’d never come back.”

Do you know that for certain? I wanted to ask. But I held my tongue.
“Will you let him off leash inside the house?” I asked.

Mr. W answered: “Sure, I think that will be okay.”

I wish I hadn’t asked.

Once we got inside and Took was released, he began to wreak havoc. First, he peed on my sofa, then he ran into the kitchen and jumped up on all the counters, sweeping his snout across in search of food, knocking over blenders and utensil containers along the way. Finding nothing to eat, he ran into the bathroom, tipping over my little metal trashcan and digging around for used tissues. Meanwhile, Chloe followed Took with a rather perplexed look on her face, as if to say: we don’t do that around here.

Mr. W was aghast. “Took, Took!” he shouted. “No! No!” He finally seized Took by the collar, pulled the chain until the dog choked, and then snapped on the leash.

He’s a show dog, I thought.

“I’m sorry,” Mr. W said with a laugh. “He’s never done this before.”

“Would you like to see the rest of the house?” I said, remaining polite.
I gave him a tour, showing him where the dogs would sleep (two dog beds in my bedroom), and pointing our various rooms and amenities. I showed him the sun room, where Chloe liked to hang out during the day, watching squirrels though the window as I wrote, shifting her body positions so that she was always lying in a patch of sun. I showed him the finished basement—another spot Chloe liked to visit if it were particularly hot outside, or stormy. “She has free reign of the house,” I said. “Whether I am here or not.”

Then we heard a crash—Took, in the boiler room, tipping over boxes, one of which contained antique tea cups. Chloe lifted her ears and looked at me with an air of concern. I swear she rolled her eyes.

“Why don’t we sit in the living room and chat?” I said.

Chloe, upon hearing this, trotted into the living room and seated herself on her “special spot”—one corner of a long sofa that I had bequeathed to her. It was covered with a thick throw rug to protect the sofa cushions from her fur.

“So you let your dogs on the furniture?” Mr. W. asked, bringing out his notepad.

“Just that one spot. She’s trained to stay off everything else except that rug.” I placed a tea tray on the coffee table as I spoke: Earl Grey and cookies. “When we go to friend’s houses or hotels or whatnot, she knows not to go on the furniture.”

“Impressive,” he said.

Meanwhile, Took leaped onto the coffee table, spilling tea right onto the sofa I had worked so hard to protect.

“I think I’ll put him in the car,” Mr. W said.

Back outside, I showed Mr. W the property. As we walked with Chloe across the meadows and around the pond, I pointed out stone walls in the distance that marked the borders, and the mountain that loomed behind us — the beginnings of the great Catskill Park.

“Chloe is boundary trained,” I said. Mr. W had never heard of this, so I explained that I had spent many hours taking Chloe along the property’s perimeter, which I’d marked with light-colored flags on various trees, and used a clicker to teach her that she was not to wander beyond those barriers. “It was time consuming, but it was worth it.”
“My dog could never be trained like that,” he said. I wanted to say, With a clicker, you can do anything, but I held back out of respect for his point of view. I had to respect his beliefs, and he believed his dog would “never” come back and “never” be trainable.

I showed him Chloe’s various skills, cueing her with a mix of hand signals, verbal cues, eye movements, whistles and clicks. It felt like a circus act, but she seemed very pleased with herself, and happy to entertain our guests. When I told her to “run to the pond,” she ran to the pond, which was quite a distance away. Then I shouted “Come” and blew the whistle, and Chloe returned, bounding happily across the grass, ears flapping.

Mr. W was impressed. He petted Chloe and praised her when she returned. “What a good dog!” he said. “I never knew dogs could do such things.” Chloe beamed with pride.  She seemed to feel--as did I--that Mr. W would certainly approve us as puppy adopters.

Then the issue of the fenced-in yard came up. I had a pool, which was fenced, but both of us knew that didn’t really count. I was banking on the fact that this particular rescue group made exceptions to the fence rule for the right candidates.
“Chloe loves to swim,” I said, pushing through the gate into the pool area. “She does laps.”

“Technically, we require six-foot fences,” Mr. W said, looking around, “and I worry about this pool.” Then he turned to me and smiled. “But I think you’re a good candidate. I’ll put in a positive recommendation.”

I was so happy that I hugged him. Chloe, sensing the mood, threw herself on her back and waved her legs in the air. We talked a bit more about bird dogs in general and Setters in particular, and then discussed the logistics of the adoption process. “I submit a report of my home visit,” he said, “and then the board meets to decide.”

All in all, I felt that this home visit had been a pleasant experience, and a successful one. As we parted ways Mr. W emphasized that Chloe seemed to have a good life here.

So imagine my shock when, a few days later, I received an email notifying me that I had been rejected. The reason? Lack of a fenced-in yard. And more: boundary training. “We cannot give our dogs to people who boundary train,” I was told.

I was crestfallen. Rejection never feels good in any situation, but this felt like an emotional, even personal, blow. Sometimes we come across certain dogs that we know are meant to be with us—we know it in our hearts that our paths were destined to cross—and yet bureaucracy gets in the way.

Soon my sorrow was replaced by anger and indignance. I complained to my off-leash friends, to my rescue friends, to my dog-writer friends, and we all had choice things to say about this rescue group’s decision. I am not usually a back-stabber but it helped to let off some steam. 

“And why did the rescue ground send a representative who wouldn’t recognize a well-trained dog if she stood before him and danced the can-can?” one friend complained at the dog park

“Or if she peed on command on his leg,” a friend chimed in.


“And don’t get me started on fenced-in yards,” another friend said. She actually runs a shelter in Queens. “Yes, yards are handy, especially if you have a dog door, but I just can’t see how access to twelve square feet of much-shit-upon grass, surrounded by a fence so high you can’t see above or beyond it, constitutes a better quality of life for a dog. According to behaviorists, dogs experience boredom and boundary frustration. It can be stressful.”

“And the dogs don’t get socialized.”


After a few days of immature complaining, I finally had to settle into the truth that I would not be granted a dog. I like to think that I have a rational mind, and I always take care to see both sides of the story. Thus, I began to remind myself that the people who work at these rescue groups are well meaning. That’s an understatement. They volunteer their time and efforts and hearts all for the sake of rescuing and rehoming dogs. They have witnessed cases of intolerable neglect and abuse. They have seen dogs die at the hands of humans. They have rescued dogs who were emaciated, or broken-spirited, or simply confused at being separated from people who didn’t care enough to keep them.

Bird dogs are often relinquished, by the way, because they aren’t birdy enough, or they shy away from guns, or don’t respond to those awful shock collars those hunters often use. Bird dogs are often found as strays because, yes, they do run away and they can jump fences.

But anyway, all this is to say that I can recognize a rescue group’s needs to be stringent. People can be cruel. I often find that many rescue workers have lost their faith in the human race, because they have simply seen too many horrors. So they have to err on the side of caution.

But what exactly is the fine line between error and caution?

Back to the fenced-in-yard debate. The pro-fencers argue that dogs are safer enclosed in high fences, and that’s a considerable point. But in this world, as we know, safety is not an absolute guarantee. Even the fenced-in dog can be stolen, poisoned by a toad, strung up on his chain, etc. In life, there are no absolutes, period. Does that mean we should not take risks?

When I first adopted Chloe, I knew the possibility was high that she would be a birdy-bird dog with a strong prey drive and no training. I was willing to take that risk. I also took the proper precautions. In our first few months together, I did not let her off leash in unenclosed spaces. I brought her every day to an enormous fenced-in dog run at Fort Tryon Park in New York City, and there taught her the rudiments of recall. Then I took her to an even larger park—an abandoned fenced-in soccer field underneath the George Washington Bridge. I won’t take you step-by-step through her training: suffice to say that I supervised my dog and continue to do so to this day.

I would have done the same thing with Trinley. And if it came to pass that he still roamed beyond my comfort zone, I would have restricted his activity more. He’d still have had Chloe to keep him entertained and exercised. And she would have kept him in line, too. We all know that older dogs can teach the younger dogs new tricks, and remind them of certain household rules. I still think Chloe would have been a model mother.

But I must say that my dreams of adopting a second dog are finished for the time being. That rejection from that rescue group was stinging enough—and demoralizing enough—for me to give up the quest for a very long time.

Why not try another rescue group, you say?

Why not spend thousands of dollars to fence in the property?

Why not consider another type of dog—a lap dog, for instance, that wouldn’t be fast enough to run away?

I can’t explain....I wanted Trinley. And then someone came to my house and told me I wasn’t good enough. Maybe part of me believed them.

That was six years ago. Chloe is an old dog now, beginning to limp with signs of arthritis, and no longer all that patient with exuberant dogs—especially pups. She has also become—forgive the pun—quite the bitch, and doesn’t necessarily want to share her space with anyone else but me. 

Sometimes I still think about Trinley, with great pangs of regret, but I am sure he found a home. Puppies always do. But I cannot help but wonder how things would have been. I especially wonder this on the days when I do have to leave Chloe alone on those rare occasions where I need to go down to the city for the day, to make music or teach class. She looks at me with her sweet and tender face, and I start to worry that she'll be lonely.  “I’m sorry,” I tell her. “Sometimes I have to go out.”  She seems to understand and, being an older dog, seems to enjoy the extra-long snooze her time alone allows. 

Being older and wiser (we hope) I know that everything always works out for the best. So I hold no grudges against Mr. W or that particular rescue group. But the question of where to draw the line with potential adopters is an interesting debate.....
Your thoughts?