Miss Ellie, 1993 – 2017

I haven’t been able to bring myself to post this until today….

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Tuesday morning, the 8th of August, I woke very early from a kind of time-travel dream:

I’m walking, then sitting in conversation with a woman friend near a flowing stream with a rocky bottom. It’s not a particularly picturesque location—mowed lawn, bare river bank—but we’re having a pleasant conversation. Our shoes have gotten wet—mine are dance shoes. It’s a dark, damp day but very pleasant.

Then I’m walking by myself through a cafeteria, and I realize it’s 20 years or so in the past. I am filled with joy as I see many of my friends, some of whom I haven’t seen for years, and some of whom I know are unhappy “now” but will be happy later. I nod at some of them, but there’s no real interaction; just the joy of seeing them and of knowing that they exist here and now in both times. It didn’t feel unusual to me at the time.

There is a question in the dream: “Would people be happy if they knew that we would always see our friends again?” And it felt, when I woke up, that it was the concept that was important, not the dream itself.

When I wake up I’m still filled with joy.

The day started uneventfully, like any other weekday morning: make coffee, feed the cats, get breakfast, drop my partner off at the train, get ready to go to the barn to work with the horses.

Miss Ellie, my 24-year-old cat, had been more or less at death’s door for several years. We joked that she’d cross the Rainbow Bridge every night while everyone else was sleeping, locate some of her friends who had extra lives that they hadn’t used up, and come back renewed. Seriously. She’d have a terrible day and we’d think, “This is it. She can’t survive this.” But then the next morning she’d be up and around, eating everything we put in front of her, and apparently planning on living to be a hundred.

Ellie clearly wasn’t feeling too well that morning. She drank a little chicken broth, used her kitty box, and went back to sleep. I wasn’t too worried—she didn’t seem all that bad. But shortly after I got back from the train station, I heard a ruckus in her little bed—she was having a seizure.

I knew that was the signal I had been waiting for; I couldn’t let her suffer. We’d prepared for this day well over a year ago—she slept in her fabric cat carrier which sat on top of her heating pad. All I had to do was zip up the sides and carry her to the car. She mewed once. Just one time. And within half an hour, she was gone. She didn’t fuss much even at the vet’s office, and her passing was so gentle and quiet—there wasn’t much left of her, by now.

Later, I remembered the dream and understood why it had come to me when it did.

I also remembered an Ojibwe “phrase of the day” (here) that linguist and teacher James Vukelich did on Facebook a few days before Ellie’s passing:  “The spirits will decide when we see each other again.” He talked about how in the Ojibway language there is no word for “goodbye.” Rather, they say “Giga-waabamin—we shall see each other again,” and it implies the certainty that if we don’t see each other in this world, then we’ll meet in the spirit world. That gave me so much comfort.

Yes, Miss Ellie. You’re with me still, and we will surely meet again in that world, just as my dream said.

Afterwards, I found myself devastated but also so relieved…. I had been investing so much emotional energy in her care: At 110 or so in human years, there wasn’t much left in her life except food, water, and sleep. In the last few years, she had taken to yelling for food constantly—and I mean constantly. If she wasn’t asleep or using her cat box, she was yelling, even if she had just eaten or still had a full bowl of food. That took a huge emotional toll on me, as did having to clean up after her when she missed the box. We had pretty much given up any attempts at cleanliness in the downstairs; we couldn’t bear to keep her confined to one room, cut off from her family. It was very  hard on all of us, but so worth it in the end.

These days, I feel the relaxation beginning to take hold in my entire body. Yes, I miss my Ellie…but I do not miss (nor does she, I’m guessing) the frail old body housing her spirit lately. Clean, happy, healthy, playful once more, she visits me often, showing herself as that 8-week-old kitten she and I joked about, and her energy is happy and excited. So it was the right decision, and made without any need for soul-searching or regret. Still, it’s going to be a long time before I quit looking for her, seeing her out of the corner of my eye, worrying about her….

She left us at the Full Moon, after a full and wonderful life. What a blessing to have known that sweet, vibrant soul for so long…and to know that we will see each other again.

I love you, my Miss Ellie. Giga-waabamin.

 

 

Breakthrough!

2013-06-13_15-48-29_943February 1996. I wake, sweating and breathing hard, from a dream where I must leap between dimensions or lives before the second part of a melody is played by a peculiar magical music box.  Failure to make the leap means certain destruction.  There is no place to escape, no place to hide, and no rest.

This dream arrived at a terribly difficult time in my life, and I knew even as I woke what it was about. It was such a familiar feeling! For most of my life, this “leaping between dimensions or lives” was what I constantly did, because I desperately  needed for everyone to like me. And so I did my level best to be whoever each person wanted or needed me to be. I had no real idea which one of these personas was “me,” or if I even existed outside of other people’s opinions. That’s a terrible way to live, but so many people spend their lives that way.

Of course, living like that was exhausting, and knotted up with the self-loathing that was such a huge part of my life. It was impossible to keep up with what I’d told each person, and I was terrified that I’d get my stories mixed up.  Many years ago I quit equivocating (as I think I’ve mentioned here before), thank goodness. But, at least at first, that wasn’t enough to overcome decades of feeling like an impostor in my own life. And it took decades longer before I knew what my own truth is and began to be able to speak it out loud.

I bet more than a few of you can identify with these feelings.

But the other morning I woke up and realized that I actually like myself at least as well as I like my best friends.

Wow.

Does that sound dumb?

And then just this morning—JUST THIS VERY  MORNING—I was able to do something that’s always before been impossible. I looked at myself in the mirror, eye to eye, and said, “Hey you. I like you!” and smiled shyly….

Wow….

I’m not saying that this will last, and I’m not saying that I like everything about myself. I screw up regularly in oh so many ways. But still…. I seem to be learning about acceptance and forgiveness, and it’s actually getting easier. And my compassion seems to be extending to myself, too. Who would have thought!

I’m laughing now, as I type this, because it seems so simple, and yet I’m also hearing the echoes of childhood admonitions: “Don’t be conceited!” “Who do you think you are, saying these things?” “You are so stuck-up! What will people think?” And I might be blushing just a little, too…but this is my story and I’m sticking to it.

Because it’s such a new and amazing feeling. After 66 years on this planet, I’ve finally turned into someone I actually like. No, that’s not quite true. I’ve just quit trying to be anyone other than who I really am…and I like myself that way.

Cool, huh?

For those of you who are already there, count your blessings (as I am sure you already do). I know you’ll applaud me. For those of you who aren’t there yet, know that there is hope. It really can happen! I’m hear to tell ya!

Woohoo!

 

Galahad is still my teacher

20170518134208(2)[Cross-posted from It’s an Alchemical Life]

Another stream-of-consciousness post, as I’m working on something that feels new:

“Making” my horse do anything is no longer something I want to do, unless it’s absolutely necessary. So we’ve been studying and trying things out.

Yesterday I went to the barn to work with my Galahad on a lesson from the online course we’re enrolled in.

The assignment was to get him from the pasture and take him for a walk on the lead without pulling on the lead rope. I was in each moment to try to figure out what he was feeling, ask him to come along instead of insisting, etc.

His feet were sore, he said (true enough—he’s recovering from a bad bout of thrush), so he didn’t want to walk on the lane where there are rocks. If we walked on grass, though, all he wanted to do was eat. He wanted to go say hi to all the horses in the turnout runs, which I couldn’t let him do. He didn’t want to go across the bridge, because ROCKS and SCARY. Mostly, he just wanted to eat grass. Our communication seems pretty clear, but it kind of feels like I now have a grass-eating monster who asks politely—by stopping dead in his tracks and pointing—to eat more grass. He will, if asked quietly and several times, lift his head and follow me for a few steps. That’s a very good thing.

After half an hour or so of grazing, we found the big indoor arena open, so I took him in there and took his halter off. He explored for a little bit with me, but wasn’t too enthusiastic. I tried asking him to move, which he did, but then he went back over to the gate and stood there getting sleepy…. Our session obviously wasn’t going anywhere, and I wanted to end before he got really shut down, so we left.

I tried really hard not to be disappointed by this, but OMG I am so disappointed.

It’s all my fault, not his. I just can’t seem to drop the agenda. But it just seems like all we ever do together these days is clean his feet, feed him, and walk around while he grazes. There’s nothing else. It’s not like I don’t enjoy his company, but I watch other people ride their horses (which I would never force him to do even if it were safe); I watch the videos of people with horses who happily move around them, pay at least some attention to them, and dance with them. Sheesh. I want Galahad to enjoy something, anything, that we do together that’s not grazing; I want to play with him. Other people do that with their horses…why not us? And Galahad plays with his friends…why not us?

I feel like pretty much of a failure; I shed lots of self-pitying tears over that. I feel bad because I know Galahad knows that I’m not satisfied, and he’s so sensitive that it can’t be any fun for him, either.

There is actually a different way of looking at this—but maybe it’s too dreamy. Dunno.

My horse loves me, I know without a doubt. And he seems to enjoy being with me as long as I don’t ask anything of him. It’s exactly the same when I used to try to ride him: I can sit on him and he’s fine, but as soon as I ask him to do anything, he rebels and bucks.

But here’s the thing: It could actually be that this grazing is more about him wanting to be with me peacefully, without any agenda, without me asking him for anything that he doesn’t want to do or can’t do for whatever reason. It could be that he really is avoiding the pressure of me asking anything of him. Because here’s the thing: He never wants to go back out to be with his horse friends; he always stops me several times on the way back. He has such a good time outside the pasture—and it’s not just about the grass, because he’s just as bad in the dead of winter, and it’s not about treats, because I don’t carry them.

I wonder if what he’s actually thinking, when he blocks me on the way back to the pasture, is something like, “I’m not ready to go back yet, Mom. Can’t we just hang out some more?” and then he offers the thing he likes best in that moment, which is grazing quietly, side by side.

I like that interpretation, and it actually feels accurate…but what do I do with that?

Anyway. Like I said, it’s not him; it’s me. But I’m about ready to give up and just quit trying.

And then, this morning, an insight that was probably obvious to everyone but me: At some level, Galahad and I are replaying my childhood experience with my dad, with me cast in the role of Arthur The Great. Like so many girls, I was desperate for my dad’s love, attention, and approval—and he (narcissistic, perfectionist, domineering) was never satisfied with anything I did. It was a losing battle, though I never knew that. Kids never do.

And like Galahad, I did the best I could to please. A part of me rebelled, like Galahad does, though not outwardly (that was always punished). Galahad’s lucky—and this is what makes him such a great teacher—because he’s incapable of artifice. He is himself, and only himself. If he can’t please me by being himself in the moment, he will just shut down; and thank goodness, at this point in our relationship, he doesn’t get punished for it. He gets to express an opinion.

At least that’s one possible interpretation of what’s going on, and it’s a really useful one for me personally.

So I’m wondering…. What if I work with Galahad but in the knowledge that I am working with myself as well? I mean, do the “repair” work consciously, as a practice, almost? What would that be like? Healing the two of us? Because we’re both survivors of a terrible “parenting” or “training” style. “Obey me or I will hurt you,” and “No matter what you do, it will never be perfect, and therefore it will never be enough for me to accept you.” Seriously. Both of us.

Could I do that? Could I overcome my internalized parenting style enough to do this? What an interesting thought…. But it could take forever! I want to play with my horse NOW! I want him to trust me NOW!

Yeah. And how old are you, Kay? And how many decades has it taken YOU to work through this? What? You haven’t figured it out yet?

Yeah. It’s gonna take a while…. He and I are worth however long it takes…and it will take ME way longer than it will take him, I bet.

 

Another Lesson from Midnight

2014-05-10_12-08-11_631So much in the world seems to be getting more angry, more violent, and more hate-filled these days. It’s uncomfortable and worrisome. What on earth can a person do to counteract all that? Developing a better, kinder, gentler way of dealing with others would surely be helpful. But how? And while still maintaining one’s own individuality and boundaries?

Horses, through our relationship with them, have some answers for us.

I realized yesterday that I’ve been developing a gentler way of relating to Midnight for some time now—several years, actually. It probably started when I quit riding him, and came on gradually without my noticing; but our way of interacting now is more like friends, not like owner and animal or whatever.

Of course I do get more of a say when there are things that have to be done—grooming (which he’s not too fond of), vet visits, and stuff like that. Or when we’re out for a walk and I actually have to leave, so we need to head back to his house before he’s quite ready. But here’s how it goes at the best of times, like yesterday:

Midders bangs on his stall door to get my attention while I’m hanging out in the pasture across the lane with Galahad and Dancer. Since it’s Galahad’s day off, I have time to take Midnight out for a walk, so we get his halter on and head out the door. He wants to go directly down the road, but I need to stop at the car for a couple of things. I ask, and he’s willing to come over there with me. After all, there are cookies in the back, right?

After a few minutes (and some video) we start off down the lane toward the barns. He has a pattern that he likes to do, but we negotiate a couple of changes, since one of his favorite grazing areas is still muddy. He easily takes the redirection—there are good patches of clover elsewhere, after all.

After ten minutes or so I suggest we head up toward the main barn, and he says, “Sure!” and takes off at a clip. When I say “suggest,” I actually mean this: “Midnight, shall we go over there” (I point to the barn) “and see what’s going on?” No pressure on the lead rope—just words, body language, and intention. He looks where I’m pointing and trundles off in that direction.

He gets to choose the pace and direction of his walk, for the most part, and he has certain places he wants to check out. I just hold the lead rope in order to keep it from dragging. There’s lots of stopping and sniffing and grazing. Once in a while, if he decides to go sniff noses with another horse, I might tell him no and put the slightest pressure on the rope, but generally he’s OK with just the sound of my voice.

One of his must-check spots is the cement area under the grain bins—there’s usually some spilled grain there, and he likes to mop it up. Today, though, it’s pretty moldy-looking because of all the rain recently, so there’s no way I’m going to let him eat it. This results in a little bit of a tussle, but not much. He’s not buying my explanation, but he understands that I’m serious, so he’s willing to leave after only a little pulling. And I do mean a little bit—Midders may be small but he’s mighty, and when he gets stubborn with that head of his, it’s not easy to pull him away. This discussion was still in the range of a few seconds of mild pressure on the lead rope.

Then we headed over to the mares pasture to see “his” girls, who all came over to the fence and grazed along with us for a while. It was getting late, and I had errands to run on the way home, so after a few minutes I suggested (with words and body language, not the lead rope) that we head back home to his place. Surprisingly (to me), he picked his head up at my suggestion and off we went.

Along the way Midnight’s buddy Nick was returning horses to their stalls after turnout. Midders, seeing Nick, insisted on taking a detour to say hi. After a greeting and a little conversation (and a couple more stops for especially nice patches of clover), we headed back down the lane at a good clip. He seemed as happy to go home as he had been to go out in the first place.

This has been our routine for the last few years, and I hadn’t thought much about it. There just isn’t any drama any more with Midnight—we go and have our walk and chat a little bit, then go back home. But something about it caught my attention yesterday, and I realized just how amazing (for me) this lack of drama is, and how different my mindset is when I’m with Midders.

Midnight isn’t in training for anything. I’m not going to ride him, and there aren’t any expectations. When I’m with him, I’m just out to enjoy his company and have a good time together. There’s no agenda; I’m not hoping to get any certain behavior from him. We’re just walking together like the old friends that we are.

No agenda…no drama. Wow…ya think there might be a connection?

THIS is what Paulette Evans at Ribbleton Attunement (whose online courses I’ve been taking lately) is trying to teach us to do! And it’s SO HARD! Yet I’m doing it on my own with Midnight, effortlessly, without thinking about it. HAVE been doing it for a few years now, actually.

Wow….

But it’s a mindset that I clearly do not have with Galahad, and that’s the rub. I DO have expectations of him, and hopes, and desires…. So my challenge is to see what I can do to get to this place of quiet non-expectation with my Best Boy, and see what develops from there.

And also, I’m thinking, with my human friends. The fewer expectations I have with them, the more quiet curiosity and friendship I can develop, the less drama and the more satisfaction. Will that help the world? Dunno…but it should make my life more peaceful.

How interesting….

 

[Cross-posted on The Alchemical Horse]

The Indoor-Outdoor Place, Part Two

copper-pots-001Part Two: The Rest of the Story

The final part of this dream, which I deliberately didn’t include in the first post, adds an interesting layer of meaning:

Then I turn toward the rest of the house and there are piles of odds and ends, including lots of old and beat-up copper cooking pots that are flimsy and not usable, but could be attractive as part of the décor. I realize that I’m going to want to get rid of them, though, because there’s just too much junk here. The feeling in this dream is of moving into a new area and renovating it or updating it, though I’m somewhat tentative about it.

Cooking pots and kitchen images always make me think of alchemy—the process of heating the elements in order to purify them. Copper, in alchemical terms, is often associated with Venus and the feminine, and in the waking world is easily deformed, bent, and destroyed. These old, battered cooking pots—here likely symbolizing the internalized aspects of womanhood and the Feminine,  are “not usable,” but only decorative at this point. The dream suggests that I may need to get rid of those concepts and understandings and replace them with something more serviceable as I renovate this area of my life.

In fact, that’s what’s happening now in my life, as I finally begin to deal with my internalized mother (who is not capable of providing the support and nurturance that I need) and replace those internal images.

At the time of this dream, more than ten years ago, I had no idea of any of this. The information in this dream has become even more relevant than it was at the time it came to me, because it’s only now that I understand enough, and have become strong enough, to do the difficult work that’s required.

The Indoor-Outdoor Place, Part One

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Dream: I’m in a space that seems simultaneously an indoor room, perhaps a library in a house, and an outdoor garden area. As I walk down one side, there are flowers blooming very early, way out of season, and I worry that they’ll be nipped by the frost. They’re lovely and surprising, but I notice they have no fragrance. Back the other way, toward the rest of the house, there are shelves where the previous owner has kept irises, bulb and all, growing in flasks of water. These irises are also blooming, but pale and faded because they haven’t gotten sunlight. I move them off the lower shelves where they’ve been and put them in the “windows” of the garden where they’ll get more light, and think about adding some fertilizer to their water. The feeling in this dream is of moving into a new area and renovating it or updating it, though I’m somewhat tentative about it.

This dream occurred at a time when I was just beginning the real work of my dissertation.

I remember it well: the sense of surprise that the space was both indoors and outdoors at the same time; the beauty of the flowers, blooming in winter; the concern about them being killed by frost; the odd fact that, beautiful though they were, they had no fragrance at all. And those irises! In vases of water?

I remember being puzzled by the dream, trying to make sense of it, trying very hard to give it a positive spin: renovating something, making it new again; protecting precious blooming things; correcting “mistakes” from previous generations. But it’s only recently, fifteen or so years later, that the real meaning of the dream has emerged for me, and I’ve understood why I could never feel completely positive about it.

My interpretation at the time was this: I know the dangers that are involved here. By carefully protecting these lovely flowers, I can keep them safe, give them light and fertilizer, and renovate the “room.” Yes! A very positive dream! Right?

Carl Jung was a keen observer of the natural world. When we come across images from nature in our dreams, it’s always a good idea to look at them from a naturalist’s perspective as we search for their meaning. In this little dream, what do we notice?

These flowers are blooming out of season, “very early,” in a space that is not protected from winter’s chill. They are in danger of being killed by frost because it’s not yet time for them to bloom. The irises are struggling to grow in vases of water on shelves that receive insufficient light. If you’ve ever grown irises, you’ll know two important things about them: First, they require plenty of sunlight to thrive. Without it, they have a hard time. And second, they can’t tolerate wet feet. The irises in the dream are doomed.

What do these images tell us about the “renovation” that’s being attempted? The time is wrong, and the conditions are wrong! It’s highly unlikely, says Psyche, that the work will be successfully accomplished at this moment. Later, perhaps, and with different conditions. No matter how much I want the psychic changes to occur, “now” is not the time.

And in fact, “now” was not the time for the psychic renovation that I was undertaking. It would be four long, agonizing years before I finished the dissertation—before I managed to renovate my psychic structure sufficiently that I was able to provide a suitable “space” for the material to survive. And it’s only now, another nine years later, that the dissertation is beginning to transform itself into a book.

Interpreting the dream in that way at the time, had I been able to understand it correctly, might have saved me a lot of heartache along the way. I might have been more compassionate with myself. But maybe it’s better that it remained a mystery for so long, and only now gives up its meaning, when I can better understand the reasons for the long, drawn-out process. I’m now much better able to provide the structure and conditions for those flowers to thrive!

Nevada is gone.

20150225 Nevada 2 (a4)Nevada is gone.

I can’t even imagine it, but Nevada is gone. We had to let her go—help her across the Rainbow Bridge—two weeks ago yesterday.

The plain details: I found her in the pasture that Wednesday afternoon unable to stand solidly or to walk without wobbling. At first we thought it was a viral thing, but she showed no evidence of illness. She managed to stagger with me all the way to a stall in the barn—the bravest and most trusting little horse ever—and made it through the first night (with LOTS of drugs) standing. We left her about 8:30 that evening, and went back at 3 in the morning and spent an hour with her. She was propped in the corner, miserable but still standing. But by the next morning she was down and never got up again—a progressive paralysis of the legs. She experienced no pain, as far as we could tell, just an increasing fatigue from struggling to stand. By afternoon she was getting more uncomfortable—horses are not designed to stay down for very long—and her breathing was getting labored.

Because she wasn’t sick or feverish, and was behaving normally other than being unable to stand, we and our wonderful vet finally figured that she must have had a bad fall in the mud, or gotten kicked, and injured her spinal cord. That’s the only thing that would account for the entire range of symptoms.

The “good” news about that final day is that she got to eat all the cookies she wanted—she never lost her appetite—and had fresh, hand-picked grass to eat all day long. And she got to be a “lap pony,” which she’s always wanted to do. My partner and I took turns sitting on the floor of the stall with her head on our lap. OMG.

I would love to write more, but I still can’t do it. I’d love to explain how I nearly didn’t go check on her on that afternoon, in the dreadful cold and wind; how I found her completely covered in mud—this horse who almost never rolled in the dirt. I wish I could talk about how she staggered to follow me; about how hungry she was. I don’t think she’d been able to get her head down to eat without falling over. About how she made her way over to the herd when they left for the west pasture, rather than stay alone; how she struggled with me down the lane to the barn and an isolation stall, helped by the promise of hay from a friend in front and strategic shoves from behind by the vet. It took us almost an hour to go those few hundred yards.

I wish I could tell you how the entire herd ran to see her go, and how the mares’ screams could be heard for miles; she was a leader among them. How happy she was to see us come back to her in the dark hours of that next morning; how she rumbled at us each time she heard us, and especially once I started bringing her fresh-cut grass and cookies, all through the last hours of her life.

How my sweet Galahad tried to understand the news of her passing, and how confused he was over what to do with and for me: Shall I bite? Shall I shove? Shall I hover? Shall I hug? Shall I walk with her back to the gate and try to do all these things at once? How I felt Nevada from the other side, running freely, happy and surprised, but wanting her herd and her friends, including my partner and me. (I feel her there now, but she’s distant from me, of course.) How so many friends on Facebook and email sent words of comfort, including one who sent this prayer:

We Remember Them (Jewish Prayer)

In the rising of the sun, and in its going down, we remember them.

In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them.

In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them.

In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, we remember them.

In the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them.

In the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them.

When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them.

When we have joys we yearn to share, we remember them.

For so long as we live, they, too, shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.

OMG. How can it be that I will never see her again, never see her soft nose, never feel her breath and her lips on my hand? How can that be?

Wow….

Well, life goes on. It will never be the same, and though I am eternally grateful to feel her presence with me often, what I really want is the warmth of her breath on my hand….

Thank you for spending your brief life with me, my sweet friend. I remember you.

 

(cross-posted on The Alchemical Horse)