By Lois Stanfield, Minnesota

I have been in love with Afghan Hounds most all of my adult life. Many years ago as a young adult, I had an inner vision of a female pup that guided my search for a dog of my own. Responding to an ad from a small, private humane society, I called to ask about their pups they had—two males and one female. I asked them to describe the female, and the description fit my inner vision exactly. I told them, “That’s my dog. I’m on the way to pick her up.”

That little pup, it turned out, was half Afghan Hound and half yellow Labrador retriever. I called her a halfghan. She looked almost exactly like a purebred Afghan, and her behavior and character traits also were that of the Afghan Hound. I fell in love with the breed and never looked back.

Afghan Hounds are quirky dogs. They are extremely beautiful and regal to look at, but their personality is one of mischief, silliness, and playfulness. They are really clowns dressed like princes and princesses, and the dichotomy appealed to my heart.

Many years and several Afghans later, friends of mine rescued dogs from a terrible situation at a kennel in Indiana. Donna, one of the rescued dogs, was more than ten years old at the time and in very weak condition. Her long, dark hair was matted beyond repair. It took many months of rehabilitating her before she was back to health and ready for adoption. Unfortunately, due to her age, no one wanted her. But I wanted her very badly. Her story had touched my heart, and I wanted very much to give her a loving home for the remainder of her life.

The Afghan Hound rescue organization required adopters to have a house with a fenced yard. Afghans need space to roam and love to run. I did not have a house but had always fancied having a home of my own with a yard for my dogs. Now seemed like the time to make this a reality. The Mahanta, my inner spiritual guide, through a succession of miracles, made it all possible.

Donna Comes Home

Donna was eleven when I was ready to adopt her into my new home with a nice, fenced yard for her. She would be coming to live with me and my male Afghan Hound, Pistachio, who was her same age. Friends expressed concern for what I was taking on. Donna was a senior dog who had never been a house pet. I was a little worried but trusted the Mahanta that all would work out well.

The first day was chaos. I brought her into the house and removed her leash. Immediately, she started racing around from room to room, upstairs, and downstairs, in a state of panic. She was panting and clearly distressed. I realized her newfound life of freedom was too much for her to accept all at once, so I set up a wire pen with a comfy dog bed, water, and food dishes next to Pistachio’s bed. Once she was securely in the pen, she settled down. Pistachio’s calm presence in his bed, next to hers, reassured her.

I spoke to her using her given name, Donna, repeatedly but got no response. I began to wonder if the terrible experiences she had gone through might have damaged her brain and cognitive abilities. But I received an inner nudge from the Mahanta to ask her what her real name was.

I sat down in quiet contemplation and asked her, “What is your name?” I immediately received the name Lila. She responded to “Lila” instantly, as if she had been called that name all her life!

A Cosmic Sea of Words: The ECKANKAR Lexicon defines lila as “Singing and dancing made up of sound, silence, motion, and rest which Soul does as a result of God-Realization; the play of Soul.” I then Googled the meaning of the name Lila and found it can mean “dark-haired beauty.” Donna’s coat was nearly black. I thought, Wow, the name Lila really fits her. She truly is a dark-haired beauty. And the play of Soul was something she hadn’t experienced in her harsh life. I hoped her time for joy had come.

Accepting More Freedom

My next task was to help Lila learn to enjoy her newfound freedom and life in a loving home. I began to leave the door of the pen open for an hour at a time. She would venture out for a little bit, then retreat to the security of the pen. I gradually left the door open longer and longer to give her a chance to get used to her new home.

Most evenings after their dinner, I would give both Lila and Pistachio a treat to chew on. After chewing his treat for a bit on his bed next to Lila’s pen, Pistachio would get up and go into the kitchen for a drink of water. Lila would jump up, dash out of her pen, grab Pistachio’s treat, and bring it back into her pen. Poor Pistachio would return to his bed with a look that seemed to say, “What? Where is my treat?” I always gave him a new one. Night after night, Lila would steal Pistachio’s treat until she had quite a stash of them in her pen. Eventually she learned there would always be plenty for her, and she stopped stealing his.

I began folding back one side of her pen during the day, leaving Lila with the partial security of a three-sided enclosure. After a couple weeks of this, I started leaving the pen open all day and night. Then I removed it altogether and left Lila’s bed next to Pistachio’s. I brought her dishes into the kitchen, where they both ate. She had graduated from being a dog used to staying inside a kennel to a free, beloved house pet.

Insights on Spiritual Freedom

I thought about Lila’s situation in relation to the spiritual freedom that increases as Souls grow in consciousness. When I first stepped onto the path of Eckankar, if I had been given total spiritual freedom, it would have been too much for me.

I’ve found that my spiritual teacher, the Mahanta, only gives me as much as I can handle. Through life’s experiences and lessons, I unfold naturally and gradually. Every situation is an opportunity to grow, open my heart more, and embrace the bigger picture of life and spirituality. But it has to be done in stages. I get support as I’m able to handle the greater flow of the ECK and maintain balance. I saw Lila’s situation as demonstrating that principle. She needed to embrace complete freedom a little bit at a time.

—Photos and painting by Lois Stanfield