In the Lakota culture, the phrase mitaku oyasin conveys a sacred bond between humans and other animals that can be translated into English as all my relations. Author of the New York Times bestseller Animals As Healers and Teachers, Susan Chernak McElroy uses the phrase as title for her follow-up book All My Relations: Living with Animals As Teachers and Healers which shows us the roles animals have played in the author's life.
The ten essays that make up this volume explore many concepts including ownership; naming and unnaming things; interpreting signs and language; seeing animals as mirrors of the soul; and honouring one's personal stories. For each, McElroy introduces us to animals that have shared her life's journey. She then uses their stories to convey her thoughts and beliefs that animals offer solace as well as lessons in living to anyone willing to listen. Each chapter ends with A Practice for the reader to undertake to help absorb the principles expressed therein.
And while the author often uses animals familiar to us as objects of love and affection, she is not afraid to tell the stories of chickens, rats and spiders. "There exists an even greater power for informing and healing our lives than Mind-Body-Soul. It is the trinity of Self-Others-Earth. Beneath this wider canopy of relationships, we find precious mirrors and voices that will reflect back to us our ingredients, our directions, our use," McElroy writes.
I admit I found the book uneven and so loaned it to a friend for her comments. I think my viewpoint was that I related to some essays but not all . . . and that is okay, we all have different points of view based on our unique life experiences. The overall message still emerges that we can be in touch with, and gain value through, our interaction with nonverbal, living creatures. (And I will argue that plants also provide this contact with nature.) The important concepts are to see the connection between nature and our personal stories and to understand this connection is a sacred one, expressed by the phrase: All My Relations.
Since this is a very personal book, so too reading it is a very personal choice for a reader to make. Whether you connect with McElroy's stories or not, I am sure the reading of them will start you thinking, and more importantly feeling, differently about the natural world from which many of us are estranged.
reviewed by Keith C. Heidorn
February 2, 2005
All My Relations: Living with Animals As Teachers and Healers by Susan Chernak McElroy, New World Library, 2004, ISBN: 1577314301.
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