Listening as an Act of Love

Interview “On Being” hosted by Krista Tippett

Sunday mornings in our house involves the ritual of gathering around the radio, waiting until 5 minutes after 10 AM, when the dreadful news is over, and listening with eager anticipation to the NPR program, “On Being” hosted by Krista Tippett. I have gotten so much inspiration and fodder for this blog from listening to the interviews, meditating on them, and discussing them with family and friends. The interview on this particular program was entitled, Listening as an Act of Love. It was with the founder of StoryCorps, David Isay.


I’ve known about StoryCorps. I’ve seen documentaries of how they travel around the country, setting up portable interview booths of safe places where children can ask their elders about their lives, and where elders are given the platform to share their stories and wisdom. The stories are all archived in the Library of Congress. History, StoryCorps contends, is not just the stories of the major players and the winners. 

Scribbles in the margins of history

The most interesting aspects of our history are in the notes scribbled in the margins. There is value in the individual everyman stories. Each story is unique; yet there are recognizable themes. Within the primary themes of being born, living and dying, lots of very interesting experiences happen that become threads of generational patterns.

StoryCorps’ mission, according to its website, is to “preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” 

The soul is contained in the human voice

David Isay, founder of StoryCorps says “The soul is contained in the human voice.” He sees the StoryCorps booth — a setting where two people ask the questions they’ve always wanted to ask each other — as a sacred space. He described how “listening as an act of love” and that “eliciting and capturing our stories, is a way of insisting that every life matters.” The interviews are not written, they are recorded, retained and archived unedited. It is the oral history of our generation.

Value of active listening

“We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. When I heard this, I sat up straight and felt my ears perk forward in the universal language of recognition.


“Wow,” I realized, “we are doing the same thing with animals.” While their souls may not be “contained in their voices,” we can –and do- access their soul conversations and help them process what they need for happier, healthier lives.

We watch. We listen. We smell. We feel. We taste. We sense. We allow. We respond. We empathize. We create a place of safety and comfort. We pay attention to all the nonverbals of their communication.

This is what PetMassage is all about. PetMassage provides the means and platform for them to share their stories. We are the actively “hands on shoulders, direct laser-like focused listener.” We observe their movements, reactions and releases and our intuitive bodily responses to them. Being an active witness, being their facilitator, listening, we give them their voice. While we may not be able to understand what the dog is sharing, we honor their act of expressing the stories of their life and times.

Dogs share stories when we ask them

Why is it so important for dogs to participate in a PetMassageTM? David Isay said this about the people who participated in his program, “No one else has ever asked them.”  When we ask dogs, they open up. Within the safe confines of a PetMassageTM session, they allow themselves to feel us, and their body as it responds to our touch. In their PetMassage they share more than the memories of their lives; they share those of their ancestors. There is a species memory. The wisdom expressed in autonomic nervous system patterns. Usually. Not always, though. Not all dogs are the same.

Some stories come harder than others

Dogs are very similar to people in that some of them are open and happy-go-lucky. Some like to keep secrets. Some are reserved. Some are manipulative. Some are nervous. Some are angry and with their hairtrigger temper, fly into a rage at the slightest provocation. Some have a Berserk Button.

Some are non-responsive. These are the dogs that I describe as having a flat affect; they are so profoundly emotionally numb they have closed down. Their walls are high, thick, and impenetrable. These dogs, fortunately, are rare. And, giving them a safe forum and permission to revisit their stories is so beneficial. Acknowledging their stories of the emotional and physical trauma they’ve incurred facilitates re-socialization and recovery. It is tremendously valuable. It is a process.

We’ve learned and intone the mantra that dogs are spontaneous. They live in the moment. Yes, and each moment they have is perceived through the filters devised by their unique set of life experiences. The experience of a happy, healthy, fully functioning dog eating a bowl of food has a very different tone than that of a dog who has known hunger, or who has had one leg amputated and has only three legs to balance on.

What would you like to tell me?

Why is it so important for abused and rescued dogs to participate in a PetMassageTM? As David Isay, said about the people in his StoryCorps program, “No one else has ever asked them.”  All dogs have stories. Their lives have value. They are seeking a way to share them so they can process them. PetMassageTM gives them their voice. 

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