How I Found My “Soul-Mate” Job
By Maya Gottfried
Many of us seek soul mates in relationships, but what about “work soul mates”? What about the work we do that helps complete us? That takes us to the next place spiritually? For me, writing Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuarywas a soul mate job.
At age 35 I learned about Farm Sanctuary, a national organization (with shelters in Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Orland, Calif) that rescues and advocates for farm animals. I soon became (healthily) obsessed, attending NYC activist meetings, volunteering in the area of publicity, and participating at demonstrations. It was “work,” but with a spiritual aspect, fulfilling in ways my regular job as a publicist was not. As a child, I wanted to help animals by becoming a veterinarian when I grew up. I swiftly changed my mind after discovering some details of what a veterinary education entails. Though I hadn’t found my way to veterinary school, I had somehow managed to use my skills to help save animals. I felt alive.
I explored Farm Sanctuary’s website frequently. All of the animal residents had a name and a story. Truly, every story was proof of the subject’s strong spirit. These beings each had a family, a soul, thoughts, fears, quirks, and loves. In the places they had been (factory farms, stockyards, etc.), most had been abused, confined, separated from family members, and treated like soulless commodities of the food industry. Now they were free in the sun, lounging on the grass, and splashing in the water. And as one of the most amazing testaments to their enduring spirits, many of them now trusted humans.
I realized that Farm Sanctuary was a children’s book, it just hadn’t been written yet. There was a great truth here. It was a truth of peace and love and compassion. The book was (and is) the most important piece of writing I’d ever worked on. Unlike my other work, it had the power to save lives. If people saw what I saw, I hoped and believed they would be inspired to protect farm animals through veganism and other forms of activism.
Once Farm Sanctuary granted me permission to do the book, I found that the reality of writing it had grown truly intimidating. How was I going to know I had successfully portrayed the individuals living at the shelters? My other two books used poetry in an effort to communicate the soul. For this reason, Our Farm was composed of poems written in the animals’ voices. I dove in.
Then I found out I had colorectal cancer. The world stopped. I remember the bright white recovery room, sun pouring in, the uncomfortable doctor, and my mom’s look of uncertainty when I told her. I didn’t cry or start screaming or become overcome by any sort of hysteria. It was more like a message flashed in my brain, “Urgent: Your time may be limited.” After telling my Mom I had cancer, the next thing I told her was that I really wanted to do the book.
In Anatomy of the Spirit, written by Caroline Myss, Ph.D., the author quotes a Native American woman’s words on completing your work before dying, “…you cannot leave one part of your work unfinished before you die. Otherwise, you leave a part of your spirit behind.” When it is not possible to finish, the responsibilities are passed on to someone else, but not left undone. I think back to my desire to be a veterinarian as a child. That same soul, that same mind that began life wanting to help animals, now given a potential deadline, wanted to get that done before leaving.
I had chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is indescribable. It’s beyond words. My feet and fingers tingled, I could barely eat, and I couldn’t leave my apartment for weeks. I could feel the chemo when I cried. I practiced restorative yoga and drank green juices, which helped. Shining bright on my horizon was the book. It was bigger than chemo. It was bigger than cancer. It was close to God. A channel. My own personal ray of sunshine that I had been given to transfer joy, truth, and life to other beings. I focused on it during those horrible, nauseous, dizzy days of chemo.
When on breaks from chemo, I would visit the Watkins Glen shelter to get to know the animals better. Once chemo was done, the chemicals withdrew, and I finished the poems.
Through the eyes of the Farm Sanctuary residents I experienced the world anew. As I put myself in their sweet, innocent bodies and minds, I imagined what it was like to be happy and in the sun after so much meaningless pain. I saw the pure beauty of nature and the peacefulness of their new homes as they might see them.
I also learned from other people like Colleen Patrick-Goudreau who podcasts “Vegetarian Food for Thought” and Natalie Bowman at Farm Sanctuary. The organization’s president and co-founder Gene Baur’s book, Farm Sanctuary, caused me to re-examine the true nature of human relationships with animals. As children, people have an innate connection with and love of farm animals. I wanted to support this in my book.
As with any job, there were days of struggle, days when I didn’t know what to write, or how to communicate what I wanted to express. But I never doubted that writing the book was something I wanted to do, something I needed to get done.
So now that the book is out and I’m cancer-free, does that mean I have nothing left to do? Of course not! The book has brought me to a new spiritual place. I feel stronger, more truly accomplished, and more connected to the beauty, love, and joy that exist in the world. I know I can help others and I want to do MORE! Everything I work on doesn’t have to be a life-saving endeavor, but I look forward to meeting my future soul mates.
Maya Gottfried is an animal-loving writer of poetry and prose for children and adults, as well as a publicist. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with two fabulous cats, and drinks a lot of vegetable juice.