Enter with a Happy Heart

Recently the Communications Coordinator at the Shy Wolf Sanctuary asked me about making a video for the purpose of describing why I volunteer. This was a common request. Many of our volunteers have recorded wonderful and inspiring videos that are posted on the sanctuary’s Facebook page. I’m always impressed with the grace in which they speak. I was not born with that attribute. I knew I could probably get by with a short clip stating the obvious; I volunteer because I love animals, it makes me feel good, it’s important to give back, to contribute to a good cause. Though I do volunteer for all of those reasons, it went far deeper than that. I knew it would be difficult for me to voice the words. The only way I would come close would be to write it.

I am the proud Mama of two happy and loyal Labrador Retrievers. A yellow lab named Kaiser and a chocolate named Stella. They have this amazing knack at reflecting back to me who I am, or rather what kind of person I am being from one moment to the next. If I’m in a bad mood, they’ll sort of make themselves small and creep along the side of me, still wanting to get close, in spite of my edgy silence. If I’m sad, Kaiser will lay his head on my lap and I can see the sadness in his eyes too, and suddenly I’m comforting him saying, it’s ok, it’s ok, and before long, everything is ok. I’ll look at him and ponder, how did you just do that? When I’m happy, Stella leaps around me with such spirit, dropping toys at my feet, engaging me in play, nudging me and encouraging me to express my own playful Spirit.

I’m amazed by this innate brilliance that allows them to tune into my energy. How the vibration in the room can be tense, but when they do what they do it suddenly hums with calmness and love, and I am inspired to be a better person than the one I was five minutes ago.

Sometimes life has a way of drowning out our true essence and we can fall into periods of misery, sadness, unhappiness, loss of direction, loss of Self. A while back I found myself in this type of funk, consumed in a negative energy that felt suffocating. My vibration was low. I knew I needed something in my life to raise it, something that would align me with my true essence.

That first morning as a volunteer, I pulled into the Shy Wolf Sanctuary somewhat giddy. I practically leaped over the stone pavers to get to the entrance, like a small child jumps puddles. Everything felt animated. Even that ordinary entry gate stood tall before me, like a knight protecting his kingdom. There was this handmade sign that read Enter with a happy heart. I felt honored to have access. With a happy heart, I went inside.


That day fell just two weeks before the upcoming anniversary of my sister’s death. These feelings of joy upon arrival to the sanctuary were so contrary to the overwhelming feelings of sadness that consumed me in the previous weeks. There were things about my sister’s death that I carried around with me like weights in my shoes. I grew attached to the images of her dying, even though they pained me.

So often I wanted to call her and talk to her about the things I was struggling with. I needed her humor. Her sarcasm. Her amazing squeeze until you can’t breathe hugs. I needed her to validate my feelings. She’d tell me I had every right to be upset, even though we both knew it’s better to let go of that which we cannot control. She’d tell me pain is subjective, and it doesn’t matter if I broke a pinky and she broke a leg, nobody can judge which hurts more.

There’s plenty of truth to the words I imagined my sister speaking to me. Pain certainly is subjective. Small things sometimes bother people in a very big way, and sometimes tragedy is handled with ease. Why is it that some things penetrate deep at times, when at other times they seem to roll off our shoulders?

I spent some time contemplating that, and deep down I knew the answer. Simple logic always tells us we are unhappy because of this, that or some other thing. It’s the way it appears on the surface. If only I had this job, this body, this house or this car or this person, I would be happy. If only my sister managed her illness the way I wanted her to. If only she didn’t die. If only.

But we’ve all witnessed the fallacy in that sort of thinking. People finally get all of those ‘things’ and soon it is something else they are lacking that is responsible for their misery. Because the truth is happiness cannot come from external things or people or from trying to control situations that are beyond our control. The only thing I had control over was me and how I was responding to what life was presenting to me, which was a complete reflection of my emotions.

Sure it’s ok to cry, scream, and stomp our feet over life’s hurts and disappointments. I sure as heck felt entitled to the hurt I was feeling over losing my sister. It wasn’t supposed to happen, no matter how much I knew it was inevitable. I wasn’t ready for it. But still I went through the motions. I grieved. I comforted others. I remember my Mom saying when I offered to write the eulogy and do the reading at the church, “Oh honey, I don’t think you’ll be able to handle that.” Inside I thought I don’t either! But I wanted to be grown up about it. I mean, I was an adult for God’s sake. But inside I felt like a child and I secretly wanted to throw a tantrum over this unfairness. I get it though. Death is part of the process. It’s beyond our control. The show must go on.

But sometimes, the show goes on without us. We get stuck. We become misaligned, sometimes so out of balance that when everyday life challenges present themselves, we are easily taken to our knees. So how was I going to get unstuck? How was I going to get back into alignment with my true essence?

If you’ve ever spent time petting an animal, you’ve probably experienced a sense of calm from that encounter. There are countless studies that show how pet owners live longer, healthier lives. Pets get us outdoors more, they lower blood pressure, raise our levels of the happy hormone oxytocin, they offer companionship, unconditional love, and that rare non-judgmental ear when we need to talk. In short, animals emit a positive frequency.

When I initially emailed the volunteer coordinator for the Shy Wolf Sanctuary to ask if they could use some help, the response was a bold YES. I was ecstatic! I know what you’re thinking. How was volunteering going to solve whatever turbulence was in my life? It wouldn’t bring my sister back. It wouldn’t make the world kinder. It couldn’t possibly motivate me to dedicate more time to the things I was neglecting. It would only suck up more of my free time. It couldn’t get rid of the negativity that seemed to be penetrating me from all angles. Right?

When I reflect on the times in my life when I have experienced the most joy, I was living, breathing, speaking, behaving, thinking, and acting from a place that coincides with the true essence of who I am. In other words, living my life with intention. I was mindful of my thoughts, my words, and my actions. When we make a conscious decision upon awakening to live and breathe from a place of love, we stay true to our Spirit, that part of each of us that is an extension of our Creator. For me, it’s easy to identify when I’m not living in accordance with my true Self. I am overly sensitive, frustrated, disappointed, or insecure. It’s easier for negativity to penetrate. The balance scale feels off-centered. It’s easier to point a finger at all of the external reasons why life feels wrong, chaotic, or disappointing. It’s easier to leave the responsibility of happiness in the hands of other people, so I can cast blame elsewhere. But the most liberating truth for each one of us is that we create our own reality.

If I were to make a list of the things that bring me pure, simplistic joy it would go something like this: being around my loved ones, being in the company of animals, walking in nature, submerging myself in water, playing my guitar, listening to music, making jewelry, and writing creatively. All of these things align with my true essence. Seems simple, doesn’t it? Just do what brings us joy and we will be happy.

But sometimes life happens and in response we place ourselves in chaotic situations or maybe surround ourselves with toxic people. We repeat negative thoughts and feed negative beliefs, giving power to a frequency that lowers our vibration. We become consumed by it. We emit it back into our own atmosphere. The result? We become misaligned, often leading us to repel those very things that bring us joy.

When I entered my first wolf enclosure, the experience was overwhelmingly delightful. I remember thinking I will never get enough of this! Just being in the vicinity of these graceful animals lifted my spirits, or in other words, raised my vibration. I sat quietly on a tree stump inside an enclosure while the wolfdogs studied me from afar. It took many times of doing this until the one day when a wet nose nuzzled into the back of my neck and I felt the weight of Cree’s long body push up against mine. He rigorously rubbed his head back and forth along my shoulders. This gesture of trust and acceptance filled me with an indescribable joy. I was reminded of the rewards of gentle patience. Oh yes, the wolves are wonderful teachers and I was thrilled to be among so many.

The first time sweet Indy, who is blind, went belly up for me, I was honored by this invitation to massage her aging body. It was difficult for her to get down on the ground. She lifted her front paw a couple of times before she could find a comfortable way to lower her body. She finally collapsed into the dirt and rolled to the side giving me access to the underside of her body. I gently massaged her and combed my fingers through her long fur. After a while of doing this, Indy picked up her head from the dirt and turned towards me. She just held her head up in the air. I got closer and she touched her nose to mine. I placed her snout in both of my hands to help support the weight of her head and I gently massaged her cheeks. We studied each other’s eyes and while knelt down in the dirt with this beautiful, blind wolf I began to cry. It’s difficult to find words to articulate the emotion. Though Indy’s eyes couldn’t see me, every other part of her could. I felt her love and acceptance and was overwhelmed with gratitude as she reflected back to me who I was at that very moment. My vibration was at an all time high. I was setting my frequency to that of the wolves.

With every animal encounter, I am better able to tune in to my true essence, and with that there is this fantastic momentum that continues when I leave the sanctuary. I am a more attentive and patient mom, I have immense gratitude and love for my spouse. I’m a better sister, daughter and friend. My guitar is more noticeable in the corner of the room and I lose track of hours playing it. I take more after dinner walks with my dogs. I say thank you more. I write more. I laugh more. I think about my sister and I honor all of the things that were great about her. I’ve forgiven her for dying. I’ve forgiven myself for not having the power to save her. And even though I cannot see her with my eyes, I know she’s there because I can better interpret my surroundings from a frequency of love, just as Indy did with me. I attract more of what’s good into my life. I respond to external circumstances with greater ease.

The Shy Wolf Sanctuary is not just an animal sanctuary. It’s a sanctuary for me, too. It’s a sanctuary for my fellow volunteers. We are woven together by this vibration that runs through every animal enclosure. When there, I am inspired to give of myself wholeheartedly, to be a better person, and in return I am aligned with my Creator. It fills me with so much gratitude that it spills over into all of the other areas of my life.

On the anniversary of my sister’s death, I considered staying home from the sanctuary. Not necessarily to wallow in sadness, but somewhat afraid I wouldn’t have it in me to open that gate and enter with a happy heart. But then a short time later there I was standing outside of the sanctuary with my hand resting on the handle. What got me there? It might have been the gentle whisper of my sister’s voice telling me to honor her by staying true to my Self, or my dogs romping about the room reminding me to stay true to my Spirit, but most likely it was the steadfast assurance that when I reached that sanctuary gate, there was nothing but love set to the highest frequency on the other side.

I looked at that wooden sign hanging on the gate, Enter with a happy heart. I smiled knowingly. It’s just inevitable.


-Lynn Domenici


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