In this episode, meet my guest, Rachel Pray. With over a decade of experience working in clinical settings as a therapist with diverse populations in community mental health, now trained as a Master healer in Reiki, Rachel facilitates Reiki healing to horses and humans and offers Dharma wisdom to clients through her Reiki + Wisdom Energy Healing & Counselling practice.
The impact of losing her mom to cancer at age 17 and coming out as queer at age 20, the marginalization of groups, losing your identity and getting grounded with Buddhist practices are just some of the topics covered in this robust conversation.
As an activist, Rachel advocates for her LGBTQ community, racial equality, peace and economic justice. In addition, she is a contributor to the ground-breaking anthology “Kiss Me Goodnight”, written by women who lost their mothers when they were young.
1:18 Episode topics
3:04 Meet Rachel
6:46 Conventional therapy
11:36 Rachel loses her mom at age 17
14:37 Visits from the afterlife
20:50 40 years of mourning
26:10 Losing your identity
30:26 Coming out queer & marginalized groups
37:15 What queer means
41:54 Buddhism - what will you do with your one precious life?
46:39 Reiki and energy healing
51:47 Healing with horses
Rachel Pray 0:00
Welcome to another episode of Grief Talk. Everything you want to know about grief and more. I'm your host, Vonne Solis. As an author, mentor, and bereaved mom since 2005, through guest interviews and coaching, here's where you'll always get great content that is inspiring and practical to help you heal after loss.
Vonne Solis 0:21
Today's guest is Rachel Pray. Rachel is trained in Reiki at the master level and has over a decade of experience working in clinical settings with diverse populations in Community Mental Health. She is a published poet and photographer, as well as an editor and creative consultant for writers. Rachel facilitates Reiki healing to horses and humans, and brings Dharma wisdom to her counselling and energy sessions, based on her Buddhist practice. Rachel also advocates for her LGBTQ community, racial equality, peace and economic justice and is a contributor to the groundbreaking anthology "Kiss Me Goodnight", written by women who lost their mothers when they were young.
Vonne Solis 1:05
Okay, so welcome to the show Rachel. I have been so excited to speak with you about all the stuff we're gonna talk about today.
Rachel Pray 1:15
It's nice to be here. Thank you for inviting me Vonne.
Vonne Solis 1:18
Oh, yeah. So, I'm so excited that we connected. For the audience, Rachel and I connected on a networking site where I do get a you know, have a lot of connections with guests, but I feel a feel and felt an immediate connection to you, Rachel. With your background, what you're currently doing and what you have to offer. And what you do have to offer my audience is jam packed with stuff.
Vonne Solis 1:41
So today we're going to be talking audience some a little bit about what Rachel is doing now in her energy work, her Reiki, her wisdom counselling. The Reiki, interestingly enough, also equine, so for horses, as was mentioned in the introduction. We're going to talk a little bit about how Reiki can be used for animals. We're also going to be talking about Rachel's experience with grief and identity loss and, and finding it again. Not only from the loss of her mom when she was 17, but also coming out queer when she was 20, in representation of any marginalized group, wherever you're coming from, that just happens to be impacted by these issues.
Vonne Solis 2:27
I myself was impacted greatly, by my identity. The only one I had as a bereaved mom, and it can trap you. So we're going to be talking about that. We're going to talk a little bit about her Buddhist practice, and mindful living. And we're going to then share how you can work with Rachel, if you so desire, and what she's contributed to as a publication. We're gonna get into all that right now.
Vonne Solis 2:52
So Rachel, if you'd like to share with the audience, what, you know, just explain a little bit more about what you're currently doing. And I'm always fascinated by what led you to do what you do.
Rachel Pray 3:04
Yeah, it is. It's interesting, isn't it, how our paths kind of sometimes change over the course of a lifetime. And what I'm doing now is very much informed by what I've done before, right? So I started off studying creative writing and literature and teaching literacy and that kind of thing. And I also taught some self-defence and some outdoor education. And then I moved into working with horses, which I'd done since I was very young. But I started to do it more professionally, and got involved with an organization that did therapy. Not physical therapy with horses, but emotional therapy, using horses as a kind of reflective tool for the nonverbal communication. It works incredibly well for people with certain kinds of trauma, especially PTSD. And so I did that for a long time. Worked with therapists and brought people into, you know, Equine Assisted Learning and therapy sessions, and learned a lot and got really interested in how I could do more. And then I went back to grad school, and studied clinical psychology, and started being more you know, doing more conventional therapy.
Rachel Pray 4:14
And all through that time, I've studied and practiced Buddhist meditation, starting in my mid to late 20s. And then just recently, you know, as happened for a lot of us during the pandemic, I was feeling kind of restless. I was training a horse but not really working with people that much. And I got involved in this Reiki training. I met a teacher and we really connected and I started to practice it and learn and now I've went all the way through to my master level, Reiki energy healing. And it feels like a really wonderful transition that incorporates a lot of my skills and training in clinical psychology with Buddhist meditation. Working with horses. It all kind of comes together and I get to offer this, this healing and this and this counselling. This, this, I call it wisdom counselling, because it's informed by Dharma, by Buddhist teaching.
Vonne Solis 5:11
Yeah, I feel like I need to go out and buy a horse. Move to California and have you as my therapist. Oh, my goodness. Riding horses was one of my passions, and I only have done it a handful of times. But I love horses. So, you're like the whole package. And that's why you're just you're such a special guest, because you come from the conventional model of therapy. So for my audience, sometimes it's my concern that people who go into practice as coaching, and even sometimes counselling, and you know, their shingle doesn't have the academic, the letters behind their name, that the work isn't necessarily considered as valid.
Vonne Solis 5:59
So trying to say what I'm trying to say is because you come from that world, you understand both. And so it's a breath of fresh air for me to be able to pick your brain a little bit. Because for those of us that go to conventional therapy for difficult things, and we get some help, but there's still gaps. Because models of treatment of therapy don't necessarily reach some of the areas with a lived experience, if you will, or even having a consciousness that's been expanded. And I think that's still quite missing, you know, in traditional conventional therapy. And I'm not knocking it. It has its place for sure. But I love it, love it, love it when I meet someone who's I think crossed over and is in the energy and stuff work, because it's a complete different picture. Would you agree?
Rachel Pray 6:46
I absolutely agree. I mean, there's a reason I'm no longer practicing conventional psychotherapy, right? And I really, really tried. I gave it my all, you know? And I really threw myself into learning and training and practicing. And I had some incredible teachers and wonderful supervisors, and amazing experiences in clinical training and in different community mental health organizations. And I miss a lot of it. But honestly, I had to find a way to offer what I felt that I had to give without having my spirit and my heart kind of feeling like it was being crushed, or at least diminished by the the somewhat dysfunctional, and limiting psychotherapeutic constraints.
Rachel Pray 7:37
There's, there's wonderful ethical values there that are incredibly important. And there are boundaries that are also very important. And at the same time, I was working within a model that felt, if I can use the word, patriarchal. In the sense that it, it wasn't really honouring the full experience of what it means to be a human being. And how many of us are marginalized. And we experience things as a collective society, not just as individuals, right? So that kind of tendency to pathologize mental health issues as if it's an individual problem. Or even, for example, to pathologize grief as an illness that needs to be cured, rather than a human process that we all experience that's very much a part of, of life. And really, there's nothing wrong with grieving. In fact, it's necessary and can be transformative. So does that answer your question?
Vonne Solis 8:36
It does. And I want to really be clear. I am not at all criticizing conventional, anything medicine, therapy. What I am saying is, it's a breath of fresh air and it's wonderful when you have both those worlds. Because if you are practicing in conventional medicine, therapy, you from my experience, meeting a few of those types of practitioners in my life. Personally working with them, they can't really blend the two, if you're in that. Working in that conventional model. And so I think that world opens up a whole lot of stuff for us. And I'm really, really happy that it served a purpose for you. And you've built on that, no doubt. And probably, I'm gonna hope and say that some of those tools and things that you've learned in that model have served you well in the one you're currently working in. Would you say that?
Rachel Pray 9:29
Absolutely. I could not be doing what I'm doing now without all of the incredible training and experience that I've had as a therapist. And I'm so grateful for that experience. And I've been to therapy off and on for a lot of my life and it's incredibly helpful. And, you know, there's nothing wrong with therapy. It's wonderful. And at this stage of my life at 58, it just became a little bit too constraining. And I needed to allow myself to explore what other ways I could offer as a healer and to the extent that that's who I am. And when I had worked with horses, that's really what I was doing. I was working as a healer and I, but I didn't feel that I had enough professional training at that point to really launch into my own work. So, yeah. It's just a, it's a blending like you're saying of the various skills.
Vonne Solis 10:19
Yeah, totally. So, so all therapists out there in the conventional model, we love you. And we need you. And audience, if you are blessed enough to actually seek some therapy for certain things, if you can get the help, and it's helping you work through a problem, awesome. You might be called to look for something a little bit more. My own work is in the Divine. And so no human can help me on the planet, learn the things I'm learning from the Divine and have learned.
Vonne Solis 10:46
Anyway, moving on, I want to just say, and I want to acknowledge that one of your key messages Rachel, is that grief is a natural and collective human experience. That healing is possible. We're going to be talking and focusing on that today. A lot of my own work is centered around healing. But I also want to acknowledge the tough parts, and I do acknowledge the tough parts of suffering from whatever brings us to our suffering. But I always like to stay focused on the fact that what we do with the tools that we learn and practices from different practitioners. Books we read. People we meet. This contributes, in my, in my experience, and my view to the bulk of our healing. It's obviously what we do with our stuff and how that comes to us.
Vonne Solis 11:36
I want to ask you a little bit about the loss of your mom when you were 17. I know you had another major life event, as we're going to get to next, when you were 20. But sticking just for the moment to the loss of your mom, when you were 17, how did that impact you then? And is it still impacting you today?
Rachel Pray 11:56
I feel very much like a person who has lived my life without a mother. You know, I don't think that there's anything really quite as transformative as that experience in my life that I can point to. And it happened at such a crucial time developmentally, in my adolescence. I was 16, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she died a year and a half later. It was it was a pretty rapid process of the illness. And she died at home, which was unusual back then, 1983. And that was really wonderful in a lot of ways. But also very difficult to be a teenager. I was I was, I'm the only daughter. I have two brothers. And so I was in kind of a caretaking role. And I was also trying to finish high school and apply to colleges and you know, keep up my GPA and take my SATs. And all of that was going on while my mother was dying at home.
Rachel Pray 12:50
And it was really, you know, I think it's a human experience that many, many human beings have had, but not as many people in my particular situation at the time we're having, right? Like I was living in a relatively privileged community and situation where I really didn't know anybody else at my age who had experienced death. The death of a parent at that, at that time. And then eventually, you know, of course, it became more, I had more in common with people as we all got older. But so, yes, it transformed me in many ways.
Rachel Pray 13:27
And one of the ways that it transformed me was I was really given a gift, as painful as it was and remains very painful in a lot of ways. I was given the gift of experiencing life and death, right? I got to watch my mother die. And then I had to figure out how to live my life without the parent who really had raised me and nurtured me. My father wasn't really capable of doing much of that. So, and then I had to become a parent, in a sense to my younger brother and really launch out into the world at a very young age.
Rachel Pray 14:01
So I have an enormous amount of gratitude for the resilience and many of the gifts that that experience gave me. I have a very strong connection with my mother to this day. And it's allowed me to understand that there's something there. There's a relationship there with a person who's died that is possible to, to continue. It's not the same as having them they are alive and being there in your life. But there's some, there's some ability to continue that relationship beyond death. And that's been fascinating and interesting. And
Vonne Solis 14:37
Can I just ask, like, does your mom actually have visits with you? Like, were you blessed? Like I've had my daughter visit me over the years. Well, ever since she passed in 2005. Although the visits got a little bit less frequent. The less I needed her, I guess?
Rachel Pray 14:53
Vonne Solis 14:53
And I always like to say the busier she got, whatever she's doing, you know, it sort have like, yeah, I don't really need to check on you. But initially in those first few years, there were physical manifestations of her presence. Astral, mostly astral telepathic, but lessons in it all. It has been such a gift for me. What's the connection with your mom been like with her in the afterlife?
Rachel Pray 15:18
Yeah. No, it's a really good question. I mean, it's, it's funny because I was brought up in a very scientific, very intellectual, academic environment. And we didn't talk much about anything like this. But my mother said to me before she died, she said, I will come back to you. If it's possible.
Vonne Solis 15:39
Rachel Pray 15:40
You know, as a teenager, I was like, I don't even know how to process that.
Vonne Solis 15:44
Rachel Pray 15:45
It was touching. But it was, I was also just overwhelmed by everything that was going on. And I didn't know she was even, if she even knew what she was saying. But she did. She came, she came to me. And she has, she has come to me. And sometimes it was a little bit scary and, and overwhelming and confusing when it first started to happen. And now I'm just like, Oh, hey, mom, like how, you know, how's it, you know, like, not not that it's really like, so direct it can be communication. But I can feel that there's a presence there.
Rachel Pray 16:14
She's also communicated through other people. My brother's had the experience of a friend of his from high school came to him later and said, By the way, I have a message for you from your mother. And I've had that experience too, where like a partner has had a dream and said, you know, your mom just told me X, Y, or you know, like. It is just, it's really interesting. And, you know, there's lots of different ways to interpret what that all means. And we can look at it just psychologically, or we can look at it as a larger continuum of human experience that we don't necessarily understand. So
Vonne Solis 16:48
It's so interesting, because I'll just throw in a little aside here. So I started working as an Angel Therapy Practitioner in 2006. So that was all about, okay, working with the angels, channeling angels and all that. So okay, fast forward to 2015. So, you know, nine years later. So now I'm like, Look it. I'm comfortable. I'm doing lots of channelling for clients. Nobody's doubting the results. So I feel very drawn in September 2015, to go for a week to work with James Van Praagh. And for people who don't know, James Van Praagh, he is a medium internationally renowned. He's been around for decades. And you know, he's a pretty cool guy.
Vonne Solis 17:33
So a lot of people didn't even know why they were there that weekend. But the 100, there were about 100 of us. And the whole thing was to be a vessel for you know, our loved ones in the afterlife that want to come through us and leave a message for their loved ones. So you either can do it, or you can't do it. But most people there could. And some of them that, you know, the people that didn't know why they were there were some of the best mediums. Maybe it was just because they were so like not expecting anything. But here's the thing. So five days of going around different groups, different partners, whatever. We even did an exercise where the sitter, you know, sat outside the room, door closed. And the group that was you know, in another room, myself, part of this group was, you know, we're getting messages. None of us said, from who. It didn't matter. And then at the end, the person comes in, and you give them all the messages. And we were all, all getting messages from the same person. It was so cool.
Vonne Solis 18:39
So you'll never convince me that there isn't ongoing consciousness and an afterlife. The only thing I'm not 100% sure about is what form it really is. And my daughter has basically taught me it's just energy and vibration. And they have to appear to us in some way if you're able to channel or have astral visits. And they will appear to you in a way that you can make sense of it. And that's all I'm gonna say. I have gone gone so far as to see my current, some of my current family members when I first got into this stuff, or, you know, this was, well I got into 41 years ago, but this was about 35 years ago. I saw them as colour. And I knew exactly who they were. It was pretty cool.
Rachel Pray 19:25
Yeah, that I mean, that's my experience of it is as there's an energetic quality. And in many cultures, in fact, in most human cultures going back tens of thousands of years, there are traditions. Shamanic traditions of people who have particular sensitivities who are able to kind of, you know, go into a trance or go into a deep meditative state and come back with information that's helpful from from ancestors right? Or we reach out and ask for guidance from ancestors in all different kinds of spiritual traditions, including Buddhist practice. There's a big emphasis on being in touch with ancestors. Whether they're ancestral teachers from the Buddhist lineage, or people who are actually related to you. And I've learned from this practice how to reach out and just express gratitude to ancestors and feel their presence in my life. And it's really very powerful. I mean, in in Buddhism, they're called bodhisattvas, or Devas. And there's a really strong tradition of noticing and accepting and understanding and appreciating that we're not necessarily the only, the only beings in this moment, right? We're surrounded by all different kinds of energetic life. And it's really quite wonderful.
Vonne Solis 20:43
Yeah, outside of of those viewpoints, we're kind of lagging in trusting what we can't see, but we're getting there.
Vonne Solis 20:50
So I just want to jump on really quickly, you know, you mentioned to me when we chatted before that you felt that you've had 40 years of mourning. So I did just want to expand on that just a little bit. I want to ask you, for other people that might be feeling that way. And I am, by the way, audience, I don't want to feel like we've skimmed over Rachel's experience of losing her mom at 17. It's a really complicated subject and I'm not focusing on that here. But I've started to meet quite a few people who did lose their mom at younger ages. And my understanding is, and Rachel, you might be able to confirm this, you know that the most difficult loss is child loss. And the second most difficult is losing a parent when you're a young age. Is that something you feel?
Rachel Pray 21:41
I hesitate to rate the quality or severity of any loss.
Vonne Solis 21:48
Rachel Pray 21:48
Because every experience of grief is unique. And we all suffer in ways that are very human and very painful and can be also transformative. And, I mean, I'm also a poet. I'm a writer. And one of the ways that I've worked with some of this grief and, and just, you know, life in general, is to write poetry. And my mother was a pianist. She was a musician. And poetry is a little bit like music, right? So I feel that her musical qualities in some ways have passed down to me as poetry. And one of my poems was published about 10 years ago in an anthology that was put together by two therapists. And all of us contributors, we were all women who lost our mothers when we were young. Young children through I think about 20, or 21 was the cut-off. And I organized I helped to organize a couple of readings, one in Massachusetts, one in Los Angeles. We got together we read our contributions. Many, many women showed up. It was on Mother's Day weekend. And there was such a strong sense of connection that I felt with the other women, I realized that I was in a very particular group of people who had experienced this particular form of loss. It is significant loss.
Rachel Pray 23:11
Some people were close with their mothers, some are not. Some had complicated grief, some did not. Some ended up with loving stepmother, some did not. But we all had in common that we lost that relationship before we had a chance to individuate and become adults and go out into our, into our own lives.
Vonne Solis 23:31
Rachel Pray 23:31
And the other reason I say 40 years of mourning isn't that I've been sad and grieving and suffering every minute of every day of the last 40 years. But every stage of life that I've gone through, including high school graduation, which happened shortly after my mother died. College, college graduation. Being in a significant relationship. Getting married. I didn't have any rights at first, but we still had a wedding. Becoming a parent. All of those experiences in life, I didn't have a mother to talk to. To ask advice from. To celebrate with. To fight with, you know what I mean?
Vonne Solis 24:11
Yes I do.
Rachel Pray 24:12
Right? And with losing a child, you you lose. I mean, I can't speak to it. It hasn't happened to me, but I can imagine that you lose those milestones as well.
Vonne Solis 24:24
Yes, you do. Yeah. Just the opposite. Like my daughter would be 40 now. 40! And I think the biggest loss for me, I also want to say my mom is gone. She left in 2010. She was also a pianist, and I was also a poet. So there you go. We're very kindred that way. And I probably haven't grieved her loss. I'm going to be really honest about that. Because she died five years after my daughter and my dad died as well and there's been other deaths. But I was so consumed by the child loss that I literally don't think I grieved my mom. But at any rate, it is similar in the sense that I can, I can imagine. I love that you said I can imagine because most people would say I can't imagine. And I always say, Yes, we can imagine. And because it's so scary, that's why we don't want to imagine it.
Vonne Solis 25:18
But yeah, I've lost everything after age 22. And any person, any parent that's lost their child at whatever age, they've lost everything after that point. I guess where it would feel similar somewhat is, at an age that they're going because they're also presumably the parent dying at a younger age though that is expected, we have the last photo. We have the last moment. We have our last action together. We may or may not have baggage and unresolved stuff. Most of us do. And with losing a daughter, of course, you fight with your daughter. And then of course, you feel horrible when they're not here anymore. And thank God, my daughter, and I did not end on the note of a fight. But we did end on me saying I wasn't going to help her with some money for the month. And yeah, I've lived with that one.
Vonne Solis 26:10
So it doesn't matter what note we end on, what matters is it ends. And it really, yeah it strips you. For me, it stripped me of my identity as a mom of two and a mom of a daughter. And certainly of a happy family. And for you, well I'll ask you. What did it strip you of with your identity? Because we're going to talk about identity loss.
Rachel Pray 26:31
So yes, exactly. You lose a sense of who you are in the world. I remember very strongly experiencing back then as a teenager. I don't know who I am without my mother. Like I actually really felt that. Because I wasn't prepared. I hadn't lived out in the world as my own person yet. And she and I were going through some conflict, you know, because I was a teenager. And at the same time, I was trying to separate and have my own life and go out into the world and go to college. But I still needed her a lot.
Rachel Pray 27:02
And then I remember when I reached the age that she was when she died, she was 46. I remember looking at photos of her, you know, some of the photos that I had from back then. This was before digital photography so I just had regular photographs.
Vonne Solis 27:16
Rachel Pray 27:17
Wow, this is, I'm going to be older than her. Like, from now on, I'm going to be older than my mother ever was. Right? And I don't have the wisdom of an elder. You know, I mean there are other people in my life I could ask, but I didn't have the wisdom of a mother elder to say, And what was it like for you when you were, you know, this age? And what about, you know, menopause? And what about, you know, when my daughter was going through adolescence, or you know, some of the struggles she was going through? So just feeling that, that loss of that connection over time that informs my own sense of my identity as, as a daughter, as a mother of a daughter.
Rachel Pray 28:00
And then when I came out when I was 20, I didn't have the experience of being able to come out to my mother and say, Hey, by the way, you know, this is who I am. And whether we, you know, whatever, however that was gonna go. I don't know. But I imagine she would have eventually been accepting, but we might have had some, some struggles around it. I didn't get to have that experience either.
Rachel Pray 28:21
So in some ways, it was very freeing. And I remember saying this at the time and I came out in 1985. I remember being surrounded by people who were struggling for the most part with their families. And some of them, including my partner at the time, was disowned by her family. And I thought, I am so free to be who I am. To come out as a queer person because I have already lost my mother. I have nothing to lose, in a sense, right?
Vonne Solis 28:53
Rachel Pray 28:53
There's freedom there. I was riding a motorcycle. Like I, I was, in a sense, doing what I needed and wanted to do for myself. There was some sense of freedom in that at the same time as there was the sadness.
Vonne Solis 29:05
Yeah. That's really interesting. So I want to, I want to say a couple of things really quickly. So for anyone who might be a bereaved parent or bereaved daughter. So everything that you lost, while you were talking about everything you didn't have from your mom that you lost, you know, because of her death, I lose as a parent not being able to teach my daughter. And that, I was feeling that so much when you were talking. Especially the menopause thing. But I was like, Yeah, it's like, yeah, I don't get to teach her that. Because I mean, I have my son but listen, I'm not probably going to teach him the same things.
Vonne Solis 29:43
And the other piece to that for me is what struck is when you said well, wow, I am now the age my mom died. Or I'm now five years more or I'm now way older, you know, etc. I'm aging. She's not here. And I kind of see that with my son a little bit. Like he's 31. And, and it's like I have to stop and remind myself, oh, yeah, but really, I've been a mom for 40 years. I've been a mom for 40 years. Just because my son isn't 40, doesn't mean I still didn't have those other 10 years. And that's something I've lost, too. Is not being able to sort of publicly speak and claim that until my podcast.
Vonne Solis 30:26
I did want to ask you, as we move on, to you're coming out at age 20. Do you think that and have you experienced social and cultural influences that have restricted you silenced you in in your grief in any way? Your healing? Like, I'm just wondering how you think of culture, and society playing into your overall experience of everything you just talked about so far. Coming out. Losing your mom. You know, like all the things that get packed into that?
Rachel Pray 30:59
Yeah, no, that's a really good question. I mean, I've lived through some very interesting times, right?
Vonne Solis 31:06
Rachel Pray 31:06
So politically, I was born in the 60s. 1965. And I remember as a really little kid, my parents didn't watch TV much. We had a tiny little black and white TV. But I remember they would watch the Watergate hearings, right? And they were involved in, you know, peripherally in some civil rights, you know, supporting organizations and candidates and that kind of thing. So when my mom died, it was at the very beginning of what came to be known as the AIDS epidemic, right?
Vonne Solis 31:39
Rachel Pray 31:39
In the early 80s. And so when I came out, at that point, I had left the East Coast and I was living in California, and I was close to the San Francisco. I was going to UC Santa Cruz. And the quilt. The quilt that was created by Cleve Jones and contributed to by lots of people all over the country who had lost loved ones to AIDS, was traveling through Santa Cruz. And I volunteered to be a docent. And I did that and I met people. And then I eventually got involved in activism. And I was involved in Act Up for a while and I got to meet Cleve Jones. I got to meet Gilbert Baker, who created the rainbow flag. And I, at the same time, as all of this kind of excitement and energy was happening, it was a lot about death. There was a lot of death and dying and loss. And the gay community, particularly gay men, were really reckoning with, how do we manage loss at this catastrophic level? We're losing partners, friends, and many of these men were in their 20s 30s 40s, you know, quite young, like my mother had been. And I was 23, I guess at the time, 24.
Rachel Pray 32:45
So there was a part of me, honestly, that felt quite comfortable in that environment. Because I was a person who understood grieving at a very personal level. And a lot of people my age, who I knew, who were not gay men, at the time, did not have that experience. And were maybe a little bit more scared or uncomfortable or unsure. And I just, I kind of embraced it, honestly. I mean, I was on the periphery in a lot of ways, because I wasn't centrally involved in in that struggle. But I did feel a level of community because I think it allowed me to have a communal experience of grieving. As I was coming out.
Rachel Pray 33:33
So many of us were cut off by our families. I wasn't. I struggled with my dad somewhat, but he never caught me off. He never disowned me. My partner's family, it was very difficult for her and for us. And many, many people I knew at the time were experiencing that. So culturally, we were in an extremely homophobic time. We were in a time where we had no rights. Where we gay, and queer people were considered that there was something like deeply wrong with us. That's how we were treated. That there was something so wrong with us that we shouldn't even be allowed to exist. And that was extremely painful and difficult to live through, and also made me strong and more determined than ever to support the people around me who maybe didn't have the privileges that I had. And I felt that I had no choice but to speak out. And that's what I did.
Vonne Solis 34:23
I love what you're saying, Rachel and although our circumstances are different, feeling marginalized and well, obviously in in your world, there is pure bias and prejudice and so on. I experienced that. I don't know if I told you this. My daughter was half West Indian, so she experienced a lot of racism. And that hurt me a lot and so in my life feeling marginalized, just to contribute to the conversation for anybody that might feel marginalized in another way. There are many groups that we fit into that make us feel marginalized. Grief is for sure one from certain losses, not all but certain. I was a single parent at a time my daughter was born in 83. It was kind of like if you're a single parent, something's wrong with you. Like, you know, actually, here's a story.
Vonne Solis 35:17
She got pneumonia when she was two. You know, I was working, so I wasn't able to stay home with her all the time, at that, at that point. So she was in daycare. I picked her up. So something was drastically wrong. I took her to the hospital, and turned out she had pneumonia. So she was in for five days and recovered, but the first thing they did? Sent a social worker to me.
Rachel Pray 35:39
Vonne Solis 35:40
Rachel Pray 35:40
Because you were a single mom.
Vonne Solis 35:42
Yeah. So there's a lot of stigma in the 80s. Being a single mom, for example. Having a mixed child, for example. She was actually born in a little Catholic hospital. And I could hear the nurses, you know, what did they say? I wonder, you know, like, basically what island the dad is from. Something, I don't know, just something. I mean, it's just whatever.
Vonne Solis 36:06
So it's, it's like I went through all that kind of stuff. And so what I'm trying to say here is it doesn't matter where we feel marginalized. Where it comes from. There is a pain and can be a suffering to that. But what you said was, so ear catching for me, which is community. And you found your community and community is so important. And you found your voice. And so yay for that. And I think sometimes we need to find our voice more than once, depending on how our life unfolds. And I used to have a pretty powerful voice long ago. My daughter died. I felt absolutely deflated and vulnerable and invisible. I just found my voice through this podcast. I might have had some of a voice as an author. But as a podcaster, it's, this is why I'm doing what I'm doing. Is to actually speak and say these things out loud. And it is so freeing. So community is really important. If you can find one that feels right, we go through these things together. We are not alone. So thank you for mentioning that. Rachel.
Vonne Solis 37:15
One of the things I did just want to touch on briefly, when you were going through this period of coming out at age 20, and you do identify, I want to admit I feel a bit funny saying the word queer. I think it was you or somebody else actually that's coming on the show that also identifies as queer helped me understand what queer means. I wonder, actually, Rachel, would you be willing to just to help the audience understand what queer really means?
Rachel Pray 37:42
I mean, I think it's, I think it's a it's a word that's been used differently in different times and different places. And it means different things to different people. Part of the reason why I say queer now, when I talk about myself and my coming out is it's sort of genderless. And I like that.
Rachel Pray 38:00
When I came out, I was coming out as a lesbian. I was a woman. a female identified person in a relationship with a woman and I was a lesbian. And when people would yell dyke at me in a negative way, I thought that's a cool word. And I, looked it up and I did some research, and I found out what where it had originated, and I really liked it. And so then I would call myself a dyke. But then there's in certain situations in which when you say, Hi, I'm a dyke, like, that isn't necessarily the easiest way to introduce yourself and sometimes made people uncomfortable. And then over time, you know, I began to understand that I'm not just, and also I don't say I'm gay, because gay in my experience, growing up and coming out was a word that was used for men. For gay men. And it just never really resonated for me.
Rachel Pray 38:46
So the word queer, you know, it means different, right? It means you're different. A little strange, a little special, a little unique. But it has lots of different meanings. And for a long time, we would call it maybe call ourselves part of a queer community, right? Rather than saying the letters that people say now.
Vonne Solis 39:05
Rachel Pray 39:05
So for the queer community. So I like that it has an inclusive meaning. And as I, as I got older, and I kind of looked around at how certain words and labels and identities were being used, I realized, well, I'm also a gender nonconforming person, you know? I mean, I've always been someone who doesn't look and act stereotypically female, whatever that means. But, you know, the female socialization that was expected of girls who were born when I was born. I pushed back against that because I was athletic and rode horses and you know, had a lot of brothers and friends who were boys and I wanted to do all those adventurous and active things. Not that girls shouldn't do that but it wasn't as accepted as being a female trait, right?
Rachel Pray 39:51
So I embrace that I am in a female body and I'm a woman. And at the same time, I'm something else, right? Some people would call it non binary now. I don't really identify with those words. But yeah, I'm kind of something, you know, third gender or whatever you want to call it. In other cultures, it's called two spirit. There's lots of different ways that other cultures identify this quality of having some combination of male and female traits, right? I like that. But I would never, you know, I can't call myself two spirit because I didn't grow up in those cultures and those communities, but that's why I use the word queer.
Vonne Solis 40:39
Thank you for just for explaining that Rachel. I actually, listen, I was a tomboy as a kid. And I was a skinny little thing. I did not give thought to femininity, until my 50s. Probably my late 50s. I was 53 before I even got my nails done. Because I'm a spiritualist. Gender doesn't play into it for me. So I don't think about anything other than we're all equal. We're all you know, this oneness of spirit. And so I think it's kind of interesting how we've made it such a cultural thing over the decades. But anyway, we're not really talking about that. But I did just
Rachel Pray 41:23
The times we're living in where there's a lot of focus on identity and words and all of that.
Vonne Solis 41:27
Rachel Pray 41:27
In my community, there's a tradition of reclaiming words that have been used against us. And that's the other reason I use queer and dyke because I give them back the power and the positivity that they have and take away the power of somebody to use that against me.
Vonne Solis 41:41
Rachel Pray 41:41
There's a wonderful book by Judy Grahn, called Another Mother Tongue that I think has been reprinted several times. She did amazing research on the origin of some of these words, and it's really, it's really powerful and very healing.
Vonne Solis 41:54
Yeah. And I really am appreciative that you mentioned that because it helps de-stigmatize us as people when we get tagged with stuff. I want to move a little bit into your Buddhist practice. Why they contemplate death and how could we contemplate death in this crazy Western culture of ours?
Rachel Pray 42:16
I mean, Buddhism, I think when I first started reading and studying and learning about Buddhism, when I was in college, I was very drawn to the aspect of the teachings that focuses on death in a way that's so different than the culture that I'd grown up in. There was no taboo about death in Buddhist teachings. Death is talked about a lot. And death is considered a part of life. It's considered to be something that we should think about and pay attention to and honour and contemplate, you know, often. Daily. And Buddha actually took his followers to the charnel grounds. And they would sit and contemplate the bodies decaying and learn to just experience the, whatever comes up. Whatever comes up for us. Fear. Aversion. To allow those feelings to come up without turning away. And to understand that this is part of life. This is a natural cycle of life and death. And there, there's, there's an arising and there's a passing away. You know, everything is impermanent. So every moment is impermanent. And this life, it's very precious. Life is, life is short. You know, there's a saying in Buddhist practice, what will you do with your one precious life? And I really, really resonated with those teachings, even as I as I got older. Even even more so.
Rachel Pray 43:58
That contemplating death, and especially in a communal sense with others, there's a practice in Buddhism called maranasati. Which is the contemplation of death. And there's a whole sort of series of exercises that you can go through in community with others, to really face the reality of death and face those fears that come up. And embrace the, the gratitude that arises and the ability to be very present. Fully present and aware in each moment. Because you, you know, with every fibre of your being, that you are going to die. And that every person and every being in your life that you love, will pass away, in some form from your life. Then there's this incredible life energy that flows in when we allow ourselves to accept the reality of death, because there's that preciousness of life.
Vonne Solis 44:59
Yeah, yeah. That's so beautiful. There's no order to death folks. And again, you spoke about community. And I'm just going to say in contemplating it for yourself, even in terms of for your loved ones, we're very open about it in my very small family. And we talk about it, not necessarily all the time, but enough that everybody knows where the wills are. What you want done. You know how much money you want to invest in, in the, you know, sending off, and so on and so forth. And we don't talk about it quite like as if we're preparing a shopping list. But we talk about it openly and honour it. And I truly believe that when it is our time to go, I truly believe we are in tune with that. And if we have this enlightenment, for sure, we will not fear our passing. Hopefully, it will be very beautiful. So thank you for that. Like really thank you for that.
Vonne Solis 45:58
The other thing, we're coming now to the top of the hour, Rachel and I did just want to ask if you had any last thoughts. Your key message really is about grief being natural, and it's a collective human experience. You also spoke about that Reiki and Buddhist meditation can bring a supportive energy into your daily life and help with this. Are there a couple of tips that you could maybe leave the audience with that they could you know, if they're not going to turn to a full fledged Buddhist practice or even as a meditation practitioner, are there a couple of things that people could do to sort of center themselves, if they are in grief? If they do feel marginalized to feel more empowered?
Rachel Pray 46:39
Well, one of the things I loved when I started studying and practicing the Reiki energy healing is how powerful it is to feel that life energy. It's really accessible, and nobody owns it. You know, you don't have to have credentials to experience Reiki. You need to be present and aware and settled in your body and in your mind. And this, this energy that's there all the time, you can really feel it. And it's very healing. It's very powerful. And then one of the things I did just instinctively when my mom was dying, was I put my hands on her body, you know? And, I've done it for years with horses, where you horses are very sensitive beings and very energetically sensitive. And I would put my hands on their body to help calm them. And Reiki is a very ancient form of, of putting hands on bodies to heal, right? It's the same with meditation. When I talk about when I was a therapist, I talked about this with my clients. And as a wisdom counsellor, the same thing. You can get in touch with that very quickly just with your breath, and settle your mind and your nervous system quite effectively. It's a grounding practice. You can feel everything becoming still you can feel that life energy. You can feel a sense of relief from anxiety and stress and fear by practicing being fully present in the moment. And your breath is really the place to start with that.
Vonne Solis 48:16
And when you're talking about breath, so being present and breathing is there a certain rhythm to the breath that they should be doing?
Rachel Pray 48:24
There are some practices that emphasize counting the breath. And that can work particularly well if you're in quite a lot of distress. If you're in a high level of nervous system dysregulation. If you're having a panic attack, that kind of thing, then sometimes counting the breath helps. Some people find paying attention to the breath is not helpful when they're feeling hyper vigilant or having a panic attack. So there's other grounding exercises to start with, before you come to the breath.
Rachel Pray 48:56
My practice, the way I was trained from a Buddhist teacher from Vietnam, was to just notice the breath. And just notice if it's short, or if it's a long breath. Notice if it's an in breath or an out breath and just allow for whatever's happening. But what that does is it actually shifts the part of your brain, your amygdala, it shifts the energy from the part of your brain that's in fight or flight to the prefrontal cortex that's related to your mirror neurons and your attachment. And, I mean, there's a whole, there's a lot of research on you know, neuroplasticity, but it helps to train your mind. Your neural pathways to not be in reactivity. And it's really quite powerful in a very short amount of time. It's easy to learn.
Vonne Solis 49:45
Yeah, I love that. So be still audience if you can. Take moments throughout the day and be still. I was being still there while you were speaking and I'm very calm right now. Very calm.
Rachel Pray 49:56
And in motion. I mean, if you're a person like me, who doesn't sit still very easily, you can do it when you're walking. When when you're washing dishes. You can do it when you're driving. You just notice your breath. Oh, there it is.
Vonne Solis 50:08
Rachel, I'm going to close this off. There is a publication that Rachel has contributed to, called Kiss Me Goodnight, stories and poems by women who were girls when their mom died. So if that is your experience, there will be a link in the description to that. In terms of how people can contact you whether they want Reiki for themselves, or Reiki for their horse, how can they reach you, Rachel?
Rachel Pray 50:35
So the wonderful thing about Reiki is I can do it in person, but I can also do it remotely. It's an energy that can be incredibly helpful, even if you're not physically there. So if people want to reach me for Reiki for themselves, for their dogs for their cats, and especially for their horses, because I have, you know, over 50 years of experience working with horses, my website is called Reiki plus wisdom. And the website is https://www.reikiwisdom.space. www.reikiwisdom.space. And that's the best way to reach me. Email is Rachel@reikiwisdom.space. And I would be more than happy to talk to you about what your needs are. And whether you want Reiki for yourself or your animals or both and counselling to learn how to be more present.
Vonne Solis 51:30
Oh, that's amazing. So did we cover everything you wanted to speak about Rachel?
Rachel Pray 51:35
It's a lot. I mean, I would just say that the one thing I didn't really get to mention was how grateful I am to have had horses in my life.
Vonne Solis 51:46
Rachel Pray 51:47
Since I was seven years old. And just that I got to be around these amazing beings who are very sensitive and are, that I learned from being around horses that there's this whole nonverbal communication that's possible with animals. And so I learned a lot about body language. And I also learned a lot about being aware of my own body and kind of self-regulation. Because courses will respond to nervous energy, and to calm energy, and to body language. And, that has just been so incredibly valuable to me, in my life, in every single aspect of my life. As a parent. As an activist, as a Buddhist, as a teacher, as a therapist. I learned so much from horses, and I just, I hope for others that they can experience this in some way. Whether with horses or with other animals. Because we as human beings are not meant to be around only other human beings. We're meant to live closely with animals and to learn from them. And you can look at the research. At the at the science of this. Our minds are actually designed to calm and to process trauma, partly through proximity with animals. That is that is how our minds process trauma.
Vonne Solis 53:15
Yeah, I love love love that. I miss my animals. Just on closing. I made the decision with my husband in 2020 January. We lost our last animal. I have had animals all my life. But I needed to sort of look after me. And so I miss them. But every chance I get to be around one, you bet that I take whatever cuddles and unconditional love from them that I can because it does help my healing for sure.
Vonne Solis 53:47
Rachel, thank you so much for being on my show. It was an absolute absolute pleasure to have you here and I'm so grateful to have met you.
Rachel Pray 53:55
Thank you Vonne. It's an honour. Your podcast is wonderful. The work you're doing is so important. You're helping so many people. And I feel like we could talk for many more hours. So I look forward to future conversations. And thank you to the listeners as well.
Vonne Solis 54:10
Absolutely. Thank you audience, whether you're watching or listening. Thank you again, Rachel.