An Angry Young Man

2014-01-26_17-24-32_796 (2)I’m just getting around to posting this—it was a pretty painful learning for me, actually, and took me a while to process it sufficiently to share.

It happened about three weeks ago. Maise the Dog and I were enjoying our usual morning walk in the local park, which has paved walking trails as well as a few unpaved ones that lead down to the creek. Maise loves the creek!

We started down our favorite woodland trail, but just past the spot where it leaves the paved path, someone had spray-painted a message on successive trees: “THE MEDIA IS DECEIVING YOU.” I have no idea who did it, though I can guess their politics. What offends me, though, is not the politics but the vandalism, and the fact that I can no longer walk down that lovely trail without seeing this person’s opinion. Even if I don’t actually read it, I know it’s there, and my peripheral vision picks up the foot-high, white letters.

A few hundred feet farther along the trail, the path curves to the left along a small, rocky draw about ten feet deep. Right at the curve, there is an arrow, also bright white, pointing down the bank where there is a path of sorts; in the bottom of the draw a similar arrow points to the right. I’ve wondered what it points to, but that will have to remain a mystery. I’m sure as heck not going down there!

So anyway. Today, as we walked along, we heard a voice, or maybe voices—it sounded like a conversation, coming from down in that draw. I considered turning around, because I absolutely don’t want to encounter whoever it is who did the painting. But as we walked slowly toward the sound, I saw that it was one young man, apparently on the phone—he had those little microphone thingies in his ears and was talking and gesticulating wildly.

[Used to be that when you saw something like that, you called the men in white coats. Nowadays the first assumption is that they’re on the phone. Wow…I am SO old….]

So I figured it was probably OK, and we kept walking. What I didn’t see until we were right upon him was an ancient little bit-of-fluff dog, who ambled stiffly right into Maise’s face.

Maise is a very friendly dog, but also extremely playful. She weighs 40 pounds and is solid muscle and bone. This little creature weighed maybe 10 pounds soaking wet. Maise is a young Border collie, and her instant reaction was to get the zoomies. I dropped to my knees to hang onto her for two reasons: first, so that she wouldn’t injure little Fluffie, and second, so that she wouldn’t pull me off my feet, which has happened several times with the zoomies.

It all went downhill from there, literally and figuratively.

The young man, still apparently on the phone (judging from his “wait a sec” comment to nobody visible), started clambering up out of the draw. Fluffy started sniffing Maise’s face. Maise started squirming, play-bowing, and wagging her tail wildly as she tried to dart away from me.

I was a bit annoyed, and said, “You really should keep your dog on a leash!”

“Yeah. Maybe I should. Or maybe I should wash off all this graffiti,” gesturing at the arrows. He was hostile as all get-out; rage practically dripped off him, and quite a bit of it was now directed at me and my dog.

“What if my dog wasn’t friendly?” I asked, annoyed. I didn’t think his response was especially helpful, under the circumstances.

“He never goes near any unfriendly dogs,” the young man said. “And YOU are the one causing the problem! You’re just standing there! Go on, walk on so that I can be six feet from you!” My goodness, he was angry!

There was no point in mentioning that he was the one whose frail, tiny dog was loose, and he was the one who was walking toward us. No point at all. So I grabbed Maise as close to her harness as I could and started dragging her farther along the trail. As we walked away, he muttered, loud enough for me to hear, “I just want to be off the beaten path!”

Sigh. I lost it at that point, and though I didn’t turn around, I yelled back at him, “So do I, butthead!”

Oh my. Maise and I hadn’t gone twenty feet before my anger subsided and a kind of horrified wonder set in. Yes, I have a temper; there’s no denying that. But what on earth set me off so sharply, and so quickly?

Anger and fear and rage are highly contagious, and, in their way, as dangerous as this virus we’re all facing. That angry, hostile, and fearful message scrawled across the beauty of the trail was so upsetting, and both I and the young man were caught up in that. My response was avoidance, if possible; his was rage. It’s so sad that we both gave in to our raw emotions. In a more normal time, he and I would have agreed on many points: how dreadful the graffiti is, how beautiful the woods are, how great it would have been to get “off the beaten path” and enjoy silence and peace.

But that’s not what happened on this day, alas. I picked up on his rage, and fell right into it. If I had said nothing about his dog, all would have been well. He might even have apologized, I think. But as it was, our better natures were not in charge. On a larger scale, this is how wars start.

I was almost instantly deeply ashamed of my reaction, understandable though it may have been. This is not my normal behavior, as those who know me can attest. I may flash once in a while, but that’s rare, and I’m generally almost as friendly as my dog.

Anyway. This was an important message for me: It really helps me understand more about how we humans get ourselves into the scrapes we do. It’s still going to take a while to process fully, but I’m grateful for the learning.

And Maise and I went on to have a lovely walk—she learned to swim that day, all on her own!—and we met some very nice people and dogs along the way. I’m going to take all this to heart, and be more conscious next time.

 

 

A Dream Visitor

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A couple of nights ago I had a dream that was unmemorable except that Miss Ellie paid me a visit. When we were both younger, I often thought of Ellie as my “soul cat,” because we were so close. She died, at 24, several years ago.

In the dream I was in “my” kitchen, and there she was. At first she seemed nervous, like this was unfamiliar territory to her. But then she settled down. I sat on the floor and she came over to me for a pet. Her little round head and dense fur were so familiar and warm. I have missed that little old cat, a lot.

Then she looked at me. Really looked at me. She was totally there, in the dream, and not just as a symbol of something else. This was Ellie herself, making eye contact with me from the other side. It was a delight, a surprise, and a comfort to see her bright, intelligent little face looking back at me.

It didn’t last long, but it was wonderful to have her with me again, however briefly.

It’s amazing when friends and loved ones come back to visit like that; when the contact is so strong and so personal that you KNOW it’s them and not just a symbol of something. They’re not some image that the unconscious has selected for its own purposes. No, a connection like this one is next door to being with them in the physical life. It has that same energetic solidity, if that makes any sense. It’s just REAL—you can feel them as themselves. In part, it’s the eye contact, I think, that does it for me. Dream images are just that: images, flat and dimensionless despite their activity. You can tell, at least in retrospect, that they’re representations. But when a spirit or soul or whatever comes to visit, their presence is so clear and vital that you are left with no doubt. Well, your rational mind might doubt it, still, but your heart knows the difference.

Anyway. Thank you, Miss Ellie, for coming to see me. I miss you. And yes, I’ll see you again one of these days.

 

Soul-to-Soul Communication?

DSC_0545E-(ZF-1880-86909-1-001)I had such an amazing experience with Galahad this afternoon—we were (as usual) hanging out at the back of my car. He had been munching his hay and looking at “stuff” going on around us, and I’d been just randomly grooming at him, stroking him, and admiring his fuzziness. Then I sat down on the tailgate.

After a while he turned his head toward me and suddenly he was just THERE—so extraordinarily vivid and present to me—impossible to explain, but he was HUGE and REAL in a way that has only happened once or twice before. Wow!!!!

In the few moments that it lasted, I was able to ask him how he feels about me: He loves me, in the way that horses do, so different from the way humans love but just as strong.

I could sense his enormous patience with me, despite the fact that he doesn’t understand why uncomplicated things are so difficult for humans to grasp.20190117_144757

And I asked him if he actually likes being touched (since I had this amazing channel to actually find out!). When I asked that (all of this through my tears, as you can imagine), he turned his head toward me and touched my hand. Yes, he loves to be touched—but only if I’m not doing it as a task. My tendency is to “groom him” because he “needs” grooming, and not for the pure joy of touching him. It’s the loving touch, the friendly contact, that he enjoys.

The feeling faded quickly, but I will never forget it. Wow…. What a blessing!

Part of why I’m sharing this is because I really believe that these kinds of experiences are available to ALL of us! The key seems to be listening to what’s going on in the horse AND in ourselves. That, and NOT doubting ourselves—we may not know the “why” of some feeling or sensation, but we need to notice it and acknowledge it.

It feels very much related to the way I’ve talked about experiencing the imaginal world, in the sense of requiring the same attention, the same willingness to allow these things to be true. And it comes with the same caveats: We need to be aware of how our own deepest desires, and our need to explain things, can actually cloud our experience, and so we can watch for the feeling of surprise, for example. I’ve talked at length about this in the “Brian Is Real” series, here.

It’s a rare and fleeting experience, and doesn’t happen just because we want it so badly—but it happens. At least that’s been my experience. We can ALL do this!!!

And I’ve been wondering if maybe this is how non-human animals perceive the world. And I wonder if our rational mind, and our spoken/written language, may be some kind of impediment to this way of communication. I have no answer to that, but I am starting to believe that maybe it’s true.

Interesting. I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts….

 

[Cross-posted on The Alchemical Horse]

 

 

Fox

resized_20190110_125626_7123A week or two ago, a friend messaged me about a troubling dream. I suggested we get together and talk about it at the barn, horses in hand. Horses are always helpful, if for no other reason than that their presence helps diffuse tension about sharing potentially difficult topics.

After a lengthy chat (it was a VERY interesting dream!), we were on our way back down the lane toward the barn.

Right across from Midnight’s old paddock, my friend spotted a fox crossing the pasture away from us. It disappeared pretty quickly behind the shed. While it’s not exactly rare to see a fox out there, it’s certainly not a common occurrence—a few times a year, I’d say.

We had been talking about metaphors in dreams and waking life, so we laughed and wondered what the fox’s message was. And then I said something like, “Well, if we see another fox today, we’ll know FOR SURE that we need to pay attention!” Neither of us thought any  more about it.

As I was standing with Galahad by the car half an hour or so later, the barn owner came running over with his cell phone out and said, “I had to show you what I just saw!” On his phone was a picture of—you guessed it—a fox, an old one from the looks of it, sunning himself on a warm cement slab near one of the cabins near the office. He’d stopped to take a picture, and the fox had just sat there and looked at him.

My jaw about dropped…. A fox?! Another fox? The fox we had seen was younger, and headed across the pasture away from the barn.

So I asked him to text me the photo, which he did promptly. And his text was the message, “Wonder what the fox is saying?” Wow…..

I hadn’t said anything to him about my conversation with my friend. So of course Galahad and I ran over to tell her about it, and her jaw landed on the floor also. I mean, it was another of those situations where it’s just impossible to calculate the odds….

Have I figured out what the Fox’s message is? Well, not for sure. But one part of it is certainly, “Yes! We’re right here, watching and listening and helping and loving you!” I am so grateful!

Delicious grass, delicious life

20180817_105926Though I’ve been somewhat limited in what I can do the last seven or eight months, there’s still been plenty of horse time. Galahad and I have continued our adventures in relationship-building, and it’s been wonderful. I have so much to un-learn, including how I interpret his behavior. I’m really beginning to understand that everything he does when we’re together is a way of trying to communicate with me. He’s not “bad,” “difficult,” or “stubborn.” Those are just interpretations I’ve put on him. He just has a good sense of himself and a great and patient willingness to keep trying to communicate until I finally “get” it.

I’m always humbled by his patience. But something happened the other day that really shocked me.

We had done a little bit of work in the small indoor arena, then we went for a walk down the lane past where Midnight used to live. I let him graze there while I just hung out enjoying the beautiful day. We’ve had a stretch of cooler weather, and that morning it was in the mid-70s. The grass was damp and there was a bit of a breeze blowing from behind me toward my horse, keeping things especially pleasant. It was pretty amazing for mid-August in Missouri!

I wasn’t thinking about anything much at all, but I gradually became aware that the grasses smelled unusually strong and sweet. I watched as Galahad picked through them to find the tastiest ones, and I could tell them apart by their fragrance. At first I didn’t think much about it, but just wondered why I hadn’t noticed this before. It just seemed so natural. Of course, grass smells wonderful after it’s mowed, but this grass hadn’t been mowed for at least a month. Neither had the adjoining pasture. And the wind was coming from behind me. It did seem a little strange to find myself salivating at the fragrance from the grass that Galahad was most interested in. It smelled kind of like it does in a pastry shop when they’re baking croissants or cookies.

I put him back in his pasture after an hour or so, and headed home in a state of contemplation. As I was driving up the road out of the valley where the ranch is located, I looked at the beautiful trees and foliage and asked God how She/He made things so incredibly beautiful. The realization came that we—Nature and humans—are made for each other, so of course we see it as beautiful when we really look.

The Knowing went on to say that in fact, we are one and the same, we and Nature, and we humans have as much beauty inside us as the trees, rocks, rivers, and animals. We only need to realize that, and begin to see that beauty in each and every one of ourselves—human, animal, plant, mineral…. Then the whole world changes. I had the sudden awareness of that Oneness—it was much like the worldview in the movie “Avatar.” It was a strange, wonderful, and fleeting experience. Wow….

It was only then that I realized what had happened between me and Galahad that morning: My gracious horse had shared his world and his senses with me, and I had, for that brief time, experienced Nature as humans almost never do any longer.

But I believe that it’s our birthright, as children of Nature, as part of Nature, to share experiences with others in this way. This is how our ancestral hunters knew the habits of the Swimmers and the Four-leggeds who were willing to feed us with their bodies; it’s how our ancestral gatherers and healers knew which plants could feed us or heal our illnesses and wounds. We in these days are so isolated and cut off from Nature that most of us no longer even understand that these kinds of experiences are possible. But they are possible, and I believe they are becoming more common.

Let’s pray that enough of us realize our kinship before it’s too late.

 

Cross-posted on The Alchemical Horse.

 

Another long silence

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It’s been months since I wrote anything at all—really, not since Midnight died back at the end of March, and quite a long time before that. The chronic pain has been acting up worse than it ever has, since just before Christmas last year. That’s a long siege. The medication I finally tried in desperation saps what energy the pain doesn’t, and leaves me a bit muddled and foggy. Very difficult, under those circumstances, to write anything coherent even if something does occur to me.

The last month or two, though, things have been looking up. I’m learning so much about the pain and how to have some influence over it—definitely not control, but influence. It’s a complicated beast, for sure, and tied in to both physical and psychological factors that will still take a lot of study and empathy to figure out. But I am hopeful, most days.

So, my dear readers (and I have heard from more than a few who actually miss my posts!), there will be more coming very soon. I have three in the works at the moment, and hope to get at least a short one up tomorrow.

Thanks for reading—your support really helps in the dark days.

 

Farewell, Midnight Dancer

2013-04-30 MidnightOn the 31st of March, a phone call, the kind you never want to get, roused me from the comfort of my Saturday-morning coffee in bed. Midnight was down in his paddock and couldn’t get up.

 The day before he had been prancing around like a youngster, and the evening before he had eaten his dinner with relish, as he always did. He had a great time enjoying one of the first spring-like days we’d had—sunny, warm, windy, cool. 

As near as we can tell from the timing, that cold Saturday morning he had gone out to roll in the dirt like he always did before breakfast, but his body just wouldn’t cooperate to get him back up. The staff found him when they went to feed him.

 In part the problem was his elbow, the one that was broken several years ago. That leg never regained its full strength. But it wasn’t just that. His swayback had been getting noticeably worse in the past year, and I think he just didn’t have the muscle power there, either, to get himself up off the ground.

 By the time I got the message (I’m not Midnight’s actual owner) it had been about an hour since they found him and realized he was in trouble. By the time I got to the barn, they had been pushing him, pulling him, dragging him around, turning him over, and fighting to save him for nearly two.

 Midders, though he had been working with the vet, barn staff, and his owners, was exhausted—it was clear from his eyes. He was glad to see me, and gently lipped the end of my scarf and sniffed my hand. He and I go way back, and I’ve nursed him through many an illness and injury. But this one felt different.

 After a couple more tries, Midnight just quit. There was discussion of bringing in the local, wonderful large-animal rescue team, which has an a-frame and a winch; but in the end, the decision all of us came to was to let this old guy go with some dignity. I stayed with him to the end, hoping to offer some comfort. He passed so peacefully….

It’s always such a terrible and awe-full decision to put an animal down. This one was no different. But to all of us, it felt right somehow.

 Midnight had a warrior’s spirit. We might have gotten him up on his feet that morning, and he could have overcome this incident. But then what? What would have happened the next cold morning when he tried to roll? And the next? Though no healthy animal ever dies willingly, I believe in my heart that this valiant fellow, like any warrior, would rather have gone out in battle, whole and fighting, than have crept off into death toothless and frail from some forgotten spot by the hearth….. This was the end he would have preferred.

 He has visited me since his passing, and all I can feel from him is joy….

 Bless you, Midders. You are sorely missed, but everyone who knew you is grateful for your presence in their life.

 

 

“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

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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 [but see my note, below—this is important!]. 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.

 

[Note: I do not for an instant believe that this hawk was “willing to die” for any reason whatsoever. The way my student stated it is a pretty “New-Age” perspective, and not one that I subscribe to. What I do believe is that there are resonances within the Universe that allow us to perceive certain events as meaningful coincidences—synchronicities—which can enhance our ability to understand ourselves and our lives.]

(Cross-posted from The Alchemical Horse.)

So this happened on Saturday….

20140107160844 (7)It’s a simple, unimportant event, really. Last Saturday a battered truck stopped on the street outside the house and one of the two fellows got out, came up the walk, and rang the doorbell. They were selling firewood and mulch—a common thing this time of year here in our middle-class subdivision.

I told him we didn’t need any—our fireplace has been broken for over a decade, and our flowerbeds require a whole lot more than mulch to set them to rights. They are overgrown with weedy wildflowers, tree saplings, and honeysuckle that will require digging out. “Well, let’s take a look,” said “Mike,” walking into the yard. Landscaping, it turns out, is his passion. He said he’s done some work for a few of our neighbors.

Mike seemed like a good enough sort: short, stocky, middle-aged, pleasant, well spoken. In Texas we’d call him a good ol’ boy, no different than thousands of other men. Certainly no alarm bells went off in my head. He obviously knew a bit about the landscaping trade. He knew about edging, about how hard it is to dig up a walnut sprout, what kinds of mulch were the best. He offered to give us a bid on rehabbing the front yard. It’s something my partner and I have been thinking about doing, so I followed him around while he talked about what he’d like to do.

Stopping under one of our bald cypress trees, he asked if there was anything in that bed that we wanted to keep. I leaned over to point out a big blue hosta hiding among the weeds.

“Hold on just a minute,” said Mike. “You have something in your hair.” And he reached over and very gently removed a leaf.

I froze. My mind was racing, but I did not move, or even breathe. “Wow. I really don’t like this!” said my mind. My body said, “Be still. Let him do what he needs to. Then we can move.” So I stood there as he slowly withdrew his hand and showed me the leaf.

I stood up then, and we continued our ramble around the front yard as though nothing had happened. And apparently, nothing had. He gave me the quote and his phone number, and I promised to call and let him know.

Hours later, I still couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was furiously angry. I wanted to punch him, to claw his face. But he hadn’t really done anything, another part of me argued. He was actually a very nice fellow. He’d said, just before getting back into the truck, “You girls can count on me to do right by you.” Nothing wrong with that! So why all this anger?

Worst of all, though, was the burning sense of shame that brought on floods of tears. Why, oh why had I just stood there and let him do that? Why didn’t I say anything, or at the very least, move away? Why on earth did I not react at all—just as though the incident hadn’t happened?

I’m 66 years old, and this isn’t my first rodeo, after all. I don’t get catcalls any longer when I walk down the street (thank goodness!), but stuff like this goes on all the time. But after all those years and all those experiences, with all that I know, and with all the conversations going on right now about sexual harassment and male privilege and the patriarchy—and I wrote my dissertation on patriarchal silencing of women, for goodness sake!—after all that, all I managed to do was freeze there while this man so blatantly invaded my personal space?!

I was shocked and ashamed. SO ashamed. Wow.

Well, I tried two things in response to this incident. First, I thought I’d blog about it. That didn’t happen. I just couldn’t do it. And second, I tried to forget about it. I tried really hard all weekend, but that didn’t work, either.

Then in this morning’s email a link to an article showed up, and that article contained links to two more articles that absolutely explain my reaction, and why I’ve always just frozen in place any time anything ugly like this (or much, much worse) happened to me. It’s a neurological thing called “the assault response” or “tonic immobility.” In animals, it’s been seen during encounters with predators; in humans, it’s been documented in response to situations that evoke extreme fear. Associated with this response is a dulling of emotional response.

That explains why I didn’t move the other day—why I almost never “fight back” when touched inappropriately. Fear is at the basis of it—mortal fear, whether justified in the moment or not—and that makes sense based on my experiences with my dad as a tiny child. While he undoubtedly loved me, Dad was in many ways pretty brutal in his behavior.

Anyway.

Now that I can quit blaming myself, other questions surface. The big one is why on earth would Mike have felt compelled—or entitled—to touch me in such an oddly intimate fashion? (“Intimate?” you say. Yeah. You had to be there, but yeah.) Why would he feel entitled to touch ANY woman whom he didn’t know? Different if, say, a branch were crashing down on me, or some other physical mishap seemed likely. But a leaf in my hair? Nope. No way.

Dunno, folks. But this stuff is so incredibly deep-seated in ourselves and in our culture. I have no suggestions at the moment on how to make it stop. When someone like myself who knows what’s going on and who talks such a good line fails, when the chips are down and it really counts, then I just don’t know what to say.

It makes me so darn sad….