Out On A Leash
New Idea – national weekly magazine
An interview with Hollywood legend and spiritual author Shirley MacLaine.
She’s an Oscar-winning actress, but Shirley MacLaine is also an acclaimed author, who has inspired millions of people with stories of her own spiritual search. Books such as Out on a Limb and Dancing in the Light were groundbreaking explorations of her meetings with spirit guides, trance channellers, past life practitioners and native healers, her discoveries of other dimensions of herself and the world. Through her practical and down to earth studies she brought credibility to a subject often maligned.
Her new book Out on a Leash details the lessons she has learnt from her dog Terry, who brings her peace, courage and entertainment. Hilarious in parts yet also profoundly moving and wise, it alternates Shirley’s words with Terry’s, and displays gentle wisdom alongside advice for finding happiness in life.‘Terry has taught me simplicity, she has completely changed my priorities. And she just makes me laugh all the time. She makes me smile through my life now,’ Shirley says.
‘She doesn’t have to have any plan, so I’m learning to live without a plan too. Of course when I go to work I’m very efficient and a strong work ethic is my top priority, but with Terry the priority is to just allow whatever happens to happen, good and bad. If there is such a think as bad – I’m not sure there is.’
While in the past Shirley has learnt so much from travelling the world and meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds, she is now enthralled by the lessons we can all learn from animals.
‘They show us a whole different take on nature. The whole sensibility of what nature speaks about it is what I’m learning – trees, other animals, birds, worms, insects, rocks. I’m having a different relationship with nature than I’ve ever had before because of Terry. I take her for walks in the mountains and I hear her little heart, and it’s so adorable. My relationship with her is so wise, so revealing, so educational.’
The phenomenon of ‘hearing’ animals is not new, and it’s no longer considered out of this world. The growing amount of horse whisperers and psychics who can communicate with animals to understand what they need to be healthy or to perform better is gaining acceptance.
‘I think people are slowly becoming aware of animal wisdom – perhaps because they see what human beings can do to each other, and animals don’t do that.
‘Animals will kill for food, or if they are frightened, but they don’t do it for money. They don’t do it for corporate gain, or because they have different isms from each other. I’m becoming more outraged at killing and yet less political, because I don’t trust any of the political leadership – they all have agendas. My agenda is what I’ve learned from Terry, and that is to find balance and peace.’
So how exactly does Shirley hear Terry?
‘It’s emotional concept. I’m very much in touch with her feelings and her mind and her heart, so I feel what she’s feeling and then I translate that into this very limited thing called English. But I get a much more accurate reception from the feelings. I hear her – she was really talking to me. And as a result of that she insisted that I write it down. She wants to be heard, she wants to be respected. She wants to be valued in a human way, not just a dog way. And that’s what I did.’
Terry is the first animal Shirley has connected with in this way, despite a lifetime of having pets and being around animals. She has nine other dogs on her ranch in New Mexico – plus horses, ducks, deer, elk, bears, mountain lions and coyotes. But it is this little rat terrier, who called her in to a pet store in Malibu, LA, and convinced her she wanted her, that has found a way into her heart and her head. It was Terry who made her realise she wanted to leave her LA life and make her permanent home on her 8000 acre ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico.
‘Perhaps it’s because this is the first animal I’ve had with me all the time. She’s the one I take with me everywhere, who goes on the planes with me, who sits on the movie set with me, so that’s probably why. It may be that we knew each in the past too. And maybe now I’m just ready to hear.’
Shirley says it’s hysterical to watch Terry interacting with the other ranch dogs.
‘They know she’s the royalty, they know she’s the special one, the one who lives in the house with me, the one who sleeps in my bed – she’s the one! And they have this total acceptance. They’re not jealous. She’s the one who gets very proprietary and very jealous, because she’s spoilt rotten. She has this adorable, darling personality, full of wit and mischievousness and a kind of a challenge to a straight line. She has an ability to make you look at all the different corners of what you never look at.’
Although Shirley has met some fascinating people in her life – Hollywood royalty, spiritual teachers, dancers, politicians and heads of government – and had incredibly transforming and nurturing relationships, she says she has never met anyone who has taught her as much about the world or herself as Terry has.
‘There have been many different people in my life, but the relationships we have with humans – family, lovers, friends, teachers, whoever – there’s always some hidden agenda. I don’t have an agenda with Terry. I have no expectations with her, I don’t think I should protect her from anything really, except traffic. She’s quite capable of being her own independent crusader.
She can take care of herself. I’ve seen her on the beach – these huge, vicious dogs come along, and she has a way of disarming them all. I could let her go in any situation and she’d be fine. She wouldn’t go near a really dangerous one, she’s not that stupid. She’s not like most of us American humans.
‘Right now Americans, our government, are playing with fire. She would never do that. She’s smarter than that, she has a kind of equaliser in her little system – she knows when to back off.’
Whether or not you can accept that Shirley’s dog speaks to her, the wisdom contained in the book is profound. It can help people live better lives, be happier, let go of the complications humans create to make their existence harder than it needs to be.
‘Terry’s sophistication of simplicity is so profound that I’ve learnt to live more that way. And to live with less judgement of others, because that’s the way she lives with me, and I live with her,’ Shirley says.
‘There’s no question that animals have wisdom we can learn from. They live with another understanding of reality. What about an animal that can find his way home from 4000 miles away that never left a scent? Terry sleeps in my bed with me, and I’m all cuddled up with her, and she enters my dreams. If I’m having a really bad one, Terry will bark away the person in my dream who’s giving me a hard time.’
Shirley has long taught others through her books, films and explorations, but what’s the best advice she’s ever been given?
‘It was from Terry, who says: “Don’t make so many plans, just let life happen, because it’s going to happen regardless of your plans.”’
Visit Shirley MacLaine’s excellent website here.