I have always considered myself “navigationally impaired” and one who always gets lost and needs turn by turn directions. Don’t tell me to head east or west. Tell me turn left or right. Tell me landmarks. This morning as I was doing some research on the North Star as I work on developing more lesson plans for the animal assisted education work that Ahnung and I are doing at The Lab. When Ahnung came into Pet Haven’s foster program after being rescued by Karen Good up at Red Lake reservation, she originally came with the name “Mama.” Karen names dogs she rescues or finds abandoned who are pregnant as Mama until she can come up with a more permanent name. Karen asked me to name my precious girl, who at that time was simply known as “Mama”. At the time I was going through some very difficult painful times emotionally. There was a dark cloud that loomed around me, and a heaviness in my heart from some deep, old childhood trauma. I was struggling to make sense of my roots (being raised in a third world country on the other side of the globe) and to release a childhood secret of sexual abuse by a once trusted family friend – trust violated at such a young age, it was hard for me to trust humans. Something about Mama’s eyes spoke directly to my soul and to the little girl in me. I also sensed defeat in her and exhaustion from her struggles. A week later I told Karen I had a name for “Mama” … I wanted to name her Ahnung (pronounced Ah-NUNG) which means star in ojibway. I wanted Ahnung to always remember, and to be proud, of her roots and of where she came from. I also wanted to name her star because to me, she was my north star. She was the bright light, fixed in the vast night skies, where I would hold onto as I worked through some deep childhood pains. In the same way, I wanted her to know that I would always be there for her and that we would walk together in our journey to learn to trust again. I have come to realize that Ahnung has been my inner compass.
My external sense of direction has been lacking. What Ahnung has taught me is that my internal sense of direction has been strong. I may get lost going from point A to point B because I have spent many years nurturing and watering the seeds inside of me. She is now teaching me to look outward, to notice the stars, the skies, the children … she has built a bridge for me to reach the hurt child in me and to touch the hearts of kids/youth whose hearts have been hurt and who have learned not to trust. Ahnung has been my north star. And now as a registered therapy dog she has become the north star for so many more kids. In group settings at The Lab (where Ahnung and I volunteer) working with EBD youth - in one on one sessions; in classroom presentations --- time and time again I witness transformation through the connection that takes place between Ahnung and the kids. Somehow she just knows what to do and how to create a space where a kid can feel safe … and as she looks into the eyes of a kid, and the kid looks into her eyes, it’s as if I witness the birth of star. She has taught me, and she teaches these kids, that no matter what we have gone through, we can overcome our hurts and until we are able to feel the bright star in our hearts, she will continue to light up the night skies.
Sense of direction? Orientation …. Wanting to belong and to know where we are and where we are going. We have an inherent need to orient our lives and it can be found in the sacred spaces of our roots, our work, our places of worship, our environment. We all want to belong and to feel like we have a sense of place. Is your sense of place outside of you? Inside of you? Or both? And true north? Where is that for you?
I have been blessed with the gift of Ahnung ... she has been my guide and my north star. And now she is sharing her precious gift with so many others. Miigwech Ahnung.