I’ll begin with a quote by the poet Mark Doty:
make me believe in God now
so little between spirit and skin
any gesture so entirely themselves.
In 2003, I placed this excerpt before the third section of my MFA poetry manuscript. The third section contained mostly poems about animals and my deep connection to them. “So little between spirit and skin,” Doty writes, and I know this in my bones. Right now, as my cat Selkie is suffering from some trouble with his lungs, I feel his spirit so clearly present even in his physical form; I feel his authenticity to just be with his struggles; and I feel his unconditional love each time he climbs on my chest and belly so our hearts and lungs can touch. His love and affections are pure; his intentions are straight-forward; and his ability to be in the present moment teaches me every day.
I realize how much I am like Selkie and all of the other animals in my life–past and present–and my friend Karen reminded me of this today when she came over for tea. I told her how often I feel more comfortable around animals than people, how animals provide this clear, authentic, uncensored love that doesn’t get clouded with conflict, over-thinking, and the human tendency toward setting limits (or conditions) on love or relationships (whether we realize we do this or not).
I told Karen the story of my parakeet Zelda, who was in my life for eight years. Zelda used to fly from her cage, land on my chest, and nestle herself under my chin when I was lying down on the couch. She stayed there, feeling the thump-thump of my heart under her feet, while I felt her butterfly-wing breaths as she fell asleep in the little chest cave I made for her. Karen told me that we often attract that which we put out into the world. She looked at me and said, “You give unconditional love, Courtney.” I felt the hair on my arms raise up, understood it in my gut, and suddenly wondered why I was born human and not a rabbit or a dog or a gerbil. It’s hard to love unconditionally sometimes, I realized. The human condition is so much more complicated than the world of non-human animals. I find you very pleasant to be around, I imagine my cat thinking when we first met, I want to spend more time with you. You feed me. I like that. I like it when you brush me on the bathroom counter. I’ll remember to ask for brushing when I want it.
I believe there is such simplicity in our relationships with animals that we almost forget that this unconditional relationship exists. We are loved without limitations. We are accepted as we are.
So in honor of Zelda, who sparked the deep-seated sense of unconditional love in me, I created this mixed media piece tonight.
Unconditional, mixed media visual journal, 5″ x 8″
(click on image to see larger view)
When and where have you experienced true unconditional love in your life? Write about what it means to be unconditional or to feel unconditional love from someone else. Maybe even do a visual journal, splatter paint, or do an unconditional love dance. What does it look like, feel like, smell like, taste like?