“This Is What We’re Doing Now”

20171202_165026 (2)I had a kind of revelation the other day, after posting this little piece on my Alchemical Horse blog. Here’s what I originally wrote:

I got to the barn today a few minutes after sundown. The light was fading but the sky was still bright when I reached the pasture. The herd was moving slowly, heads down, toward the east end of the pasture, each horse in his own space but obviously connected. It was so peaceful.

I didn’t have a plan for my time with Galahad, though I had thought about taking him out and feeding him some dinner at the car. We rarely do anything after dark these days, so I figured it would be something different and interesting for him.

He saw me halfway across the pasture; he lifted his head in acknowledgement but went back to grazing. When I got close enough to touch him, he sniffed my outstretched hand, gave a deep “blow,” and dropped his head again. He didn’t even check me for carrots or cookies—he just continued to graze. I heard, “This is what we do at sunset.” It felt important.

Thank goodness I have grown to know him well enough to understand what he tells me, and to read his mood. Tonight, he wanted nothing more than to share this nightly “ritual” with me. So I spent half an hour or more just being there with him. I scratched his rump once or twice, touched him on the withers and shoulder a couple of times, and he leaned into me as he grazed. Nothing was said; nothing was needed. It was certainly a privilege for me to share, and I think he appreciated my presence, too.

“This is what we do at sunset.”

I love this short post—it’s a real feel-good essay, and an almost-accurate reflection of my experience. But even as I posted it, something was nagging at me.

A couple of days later, an email newsletter provided me with the insight I needed.

Here’s the newsletter, from Anna Breytenbach’s AnimalSpirit. The article is “Projection vs Perception,” which describes a group of whale watchers encountering a pod of whales off the shore of South Africa a while back, and singing to them. One of the whales lifted her pectoral fin out of the water and stayed that way for quite a while. The people interpreted the action as the whale “waving to them.” Anna, realizing that this was probably a projection of a very human activity onto an animal, checked in intuitively with the whale, who reported that she was using her fin to feel the sound waves coming from the humans.

That was the key I needed to understand my nagging discomfort with my blog post.

In my mind, I went back to that magical evening in the pasture. What I had actually heard from Galahad was, “This is what we are doing now, and it is important to us.”

That’s quite a different thing, isn’t it? My interpretation is romanticized, satisfying in human terms. But it’s not accurate. The actual message was more about the herd engaging in a mutual activity that strengthened their bond. It was more about doing something together in the moment, focused both on the environment and on the other members of the group.

Interesting.

When talking about working with the imaginal world and its inhabitants, I always tell my students and clients to be careful not to impose our meanings on those Others. It’s so important! And in my personal experience, when I’m wrong about a “message” from one of my imaginal contacts, it’s almost always because I’ve misinterpreted it—it’s not that I haven’t perceived it. I’ve just projected my own wishes and needs and expectations and values onto the other being.

It’s the same when we interact with other humans, actually. We need to be so careful to actually listen to the other person and hear what they are trying to say, without interpreting their words from our own viewpoint. Each one of us has our own perspective, and it’s a gift to be able to really listen and try to see the world from that other person’s point of view. If we would all try to do that more often, the world would be a different place.

So again, the horses have taught me a valuable lesson. I’ve added a couple of parenthetical words to Anna’s beautiful summary of what happened with the whales:

When we are privileged enough to encounter a wild animal [or another human being] in their own environment, behaving in a way that is natural for them, we humans have the opportunity for conscious choice: we can project our own humanness [or our own personal values and assumptions] onto what we’re observing and thereby completely misinterpret their behaviour and intentions, or we can tune into the perspective of that non-human and directly perceive their truths…beyond the constraints of human perspectives. Direct perception is the wise choice.

My thanks to the whales…and the horses….

 

[Cross-posted on The Alchemical Horse]

Hawk

Kanapaha-2008_04_09-IMG_0128

Red-Shouldered Hawk, Florida; photo from Wikipedia.

Well, my morning last Sunday was way more exciting than expected: I went out to the barn around 9:30 to get Galahad out. He wasn’t enthusiastic about it, but he let me put his halter on. He was a little balky when I asked him to come out the center pasture gate. That’s unusual for him—he generally loves to come out of the pasture.

This particular morning, though, he told me that there was something scary in the water tank there—not so scary that he wouldn’t go to the tank, but too scary to get a drink. He kept looking and snorting softly, so I went to look, and sure enough, there was something: A red-shouldered hawk, by some misadventure, had gotten stuck in there and nearly drowned.

I took off Galahad’s halter and went to get a small rag to cover the hawk’s head and several towels to wrap him up and soak up some of the water—he was waterlogged, hypothermic, and not moving much at all. I was afraid he was too far gone to save, but I had to try. I told him each step in the process, hoping he could feel my good intentions.

Even sopping wet, the bird weighed almost nothing—amazing. I carried the soggy little bundle over to the barn to find a dear friend of mine who could be counted on not to squeal, go crazy, or insist on unwrapping the hawk. I wasn’t sure quite what to do next.

And the oddest thing: I asked my friend what she thought I should do…and she “just happened” to have the World Bird Sanctuary’s Raptor Center phone number programmed into her phone—she and her husband had needed to call them about a bird just a few days ago. The Center is located about five miles from the barn. So she called and left a message. “Coincidence,” huh?

I kept changing the outer towels without taking the covering off the hawk’s head, and held him on my lap until I could feel his warmth coming through. He never offered to move, except that after half an hour or so he’d flex his feet when I touched them. The huge claws on those powerful yellow feet are amazing. That’s all of the bird that I could see, and I didn’t want to risk upsetting him by looking at him.

I had to get home to teach my Sunday afternoon dreamwork class, and finally, when the Sanctuary didn’t call back right away, I decided to just take him there. So I let him sit (covered with his towel, in Galahad’s feed pan) on the floor of the car until I could get him to the Raptor Center. So fortunate that we have experts so close by! On the drive I played recorded nature sounds to him, and he attempted a faint whistle, but didn’t move.

The volunteers who met me at the Center determined that the bird was apparently uninjured, just chilled and in shock; they put him in a cage with a heat lamp, took my information, and gave me a number where I could call and get updates on his condition. I didn’t take any photos—no time while I was getting him out of the tank, and once at the Raptor Center, it seemed somehow intrusive. Dunno….

What an amazing adventure. Thank you, Galahad for letting me know! I think the credit for this “save” really belongs more to my horse than to me.

I called the Sanctuary this morning for an update for “my” bird: He’s doing well, eating on his own, but may in fact have a fractured coracoid (a bone in his shoulder). That’s something they can’t see from outside, so they’ll feed him up in an indoor cage for a week, then put him in an outdoor flight cage where they can check him out further. Once he’s healed, he can be released.

This part of the story alone would be amazing enough—how often are we given the opportunity to save a magnificent wild creature like this?

But there’s more: I’ve been seeing this particular species of hawk regularly (and not just randomly) for about a year now. There was one sitting in a tree out at the Rescue Ranch one day, for instance, just eyeing me; one flew at windshield level across the highway right in front of my car a couple of months back, close enough for me to see his eye. Up close and personal; they had something to tell me, it seemed.

I shared the story in the class on Sunday, where we were talking about the relational, collaborative nature of the universe. One of my students pointed out that there must be a message for me, and an important one, if this bird was willing to nearly die so that I could really hear him. So I checked in with him in reverie during the class:

From the porch of my imaginal cabin, I can see Hawk on the ground near the steps. I invite him onto my arm, but then he takes off into the sky with me, magically, on his back. Thrilling, that flight! We land on a lichen-covered branch somewhere in the woods…and suddenly I am Hawk, flying blazingly fast through the air.

Such a feeling of power—I can feel the strength in my pectoral muscles, powering my wings. I feel the physical pride and power of my being, the enormous vision that I possess, the certainty of my ability to find and capture the prey that I need to survive. “Ruthless” is one word that springs into my mind. Ruthless. Discerning. Far-seeing. Ruthless in achieving goals, in taking my prey, my sustenance. Power. Speed and precision.

“Take what you need! Have no doubts!”

Collaboration indeed! If I hadn’t cultivated the willingness and the ability to hear Galahad (and not just see a stubborn horse who didn’t want to leave the pasture), and if Galahad hadn’t understood that I would listen to him, that hawk would be dead now. There is no doubt. I couldn’t see him in the tank; he was tucked under the rim, where I had to go over and actually look into the water to see him.

And if I hadn’t cultivated the ability to interact with the unconscious, non-rational world and receive its messages, this experience would just be an interesting coincidence, a fun story to share with friends, but without higher meaning for me.

Wow……

Unforgettable.

 

(Cross-posted from The Alchemical Horse.)

Another Encounter with God

Cirrus_clouds2 by Fir0002 Wikimedia commonsI had an amazing experience the other day, driving to meet a friend in Eureka—another “encounter with God.” It’s so hard to describe those experiences—there really aren’t words that capture the feeling…but no matter.

The sky was beautiful as I was driving down the freeway. Had I not been late for my meeting, I would have stopped for a photo. There were little, puffy clouds in the sky, not many—but they looked like they were “melting,” dripping down and being blown away. I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. (The photo, from Wikipedia, is only vaguely similar.)

I always say that any time I want to feel closer to God, to the Divine, all I have to do is look up at the clouds. That was never more true than on that drive that day. I’m sure there’s a logical and scientific explanation for those cloud formations, but never mind that—it was such a beautiful and amazing thing to see that it was hard to keep my mind on my driving.

Wonderful! Wonder-full!

So I’m driving down I-44 with my mouth hanging open, saying (actually out loud), “God! This is amazing! How did You do this? How did You make clouds?!”

There is a strong part of me, especially when I’m dealing with the natural world, that’s still child-like, even after 64+ years. At times like this, I’m just filled to overflowing with wonder and delight, and I can’t keep still about it. So I’m driving along just full of joy and wonder and the love of life and gratitude for being alive to experience all this beauty—laughing with gratitude and wonder—and suddenly I “hear” a deep, rumbling, joyful chuckle that burbles up in my mind’s ear. “Why, thank you!” says this huge, indescribable Voice. “I’m glad you like them!”

I really do think it was God.

Can God be delighted when we so appreciate His creations? I guess so…. Jung and the Sufis, at least, believed so.

The Being who responded to me was the Judaeo-Christian sky god, the bearded white guy in the sky, I’m pretty sure. This is the God whom I was raised to believe in. He (and it was a “He” who spoke) is the way that I relate to and perceive God in these moments. I think it’s because at these times I perceive Him as a Being with a somewhat-human form, someOne with whom I can have conversations and a personal relationship—a relationship that comes out in funny ways like this.

It seems a very child-like way to experience God—so simple and uncomplicated. It’s an experience of someOne big and powerful, a real Father-figure, and the entire thing is unquestioned….

It was such a great experience! It’s like God and I shared a chuckle. What a blessing—another moment of God’s grace.

I love that the Divine takes so many forms, and I love that one of those infinite forms will take thought of me, one tiny person out of billions of humans here on this earth, and share a moment of wonder with me.

Wow.

Lucky Encounter

800px-Kaldari_Phidippus_audax_01The other day I had a fun and funny experience on the way home from the barn:

I was driving along with the windows open (air conditioner is broken) and saw what looked like a small wad of black and white lint “blow” up onto the dashboard, in the sun, and skid around in the breeze. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a good-sized jumping spider—Phidippus audax—a full-grown one, looked like.

These guys are my very favorite arachnids. They’re so willing to interact—and their vision is spectacular, so they react to your tiniest movement. This little gal was SO hot—the air temperature was 94 and it must have been 125 degrees on that dash! She kept hopping around, looking for a cooler spot.

I didn’t want to leave her in the car, so I pulled over to try to figure out how to capture her. In the meantime, she disappeared down the dashboard toward my right leg. Worse yet, even if I could find her again, I didn’t have any container in which to try to catch her.

But I tell you, that spider’s guardian angel must have been working overtime. What I did have was an open, insulated glass of ice water sitting next to my seat. And wonder of wonders, when I looked down, the spider was dangling from her dragline, all eight feet spread wide in the air. I picked up the glass, moved it under her, and voila! Spider on ice!

She was pretty shocked by the temperature change. She “froze” for a couple of seconds, then began moving v..e..r..y …. s..l..o..w..l..y on tiptoes over the top of the ice cubes, and that gave me plenty of time to get out of the car and deposit her in the grass next to an open field.

Lucky girl.

I smiled all the way home.

Photo credit: Phidippus audax by Kaldari, from Wikipedia