“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. 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.)

Galahad and the Beanstalk

for galahad and the beanstalkMost of us have had dreams that were so intense and amazing that the images stay with us for years. These dreams, as well as waking images and experiences that share that same haunting quality, are often referred to as “numinous” in the Jungian sense. Numinous experiences are ineffable, spiritual, impossible to describe. They evoke a sense of awe, mystery, importance, and, often, fear.

I experienced a numinous dream this past summer:

When I dropped off to sleep this evening, the movie “Jane Eyre” was playing in the background—so it’s no surprise that the dreamscape is the English countryside. There’s a centuries-old barn, and my Galahad is stabled there. I am with him in his stall. I don’t see him, but he moves his shoulder nearer to me and I feel his breath on my face and hands as he breathes me in.

Then I’m outside. I look up and see a vine hanging down. It’s got delicate, dark green leaves and tiny purple flowers—very beautiful. It’s just hanging from the sky, and as I follow it up with my eyes, it becomes clearer, and I can see that it goes up forever. I wonder if it will fall if I pull on it, but it doesn’t. Then I wonder if I can climb it—so I try, and the vine easily and naturally hugs my foot and leg to help me. I start to climb up, knowing I will be able to climb as high as I would like! Then I remember sweet Galahad and his warm physicality, and I hop down off the vine.

Very strange—but lovely, warm., satisfying….

A few days later, I figured out why the dream felt so “familiar” to me—I remembered another hugely important dream that I more than a decade ago, at a time when I was casting about for the next step in my life journey:

I am coming out, it seems, from “underground,” somewhere I’ve been with friends, perhaps a restaurant. I walk out into the edge of the woods along a road. My attention is caught by the early morning sun slanting through and illuminating the mist in shimmering patches rising from the ground. I move closer, spellbound. Each tiny hair on each fuzzy leaf is so clear, the drops of mist so sharp—I can see it all, feel it all. I am awestruck and I realize that I am one of the few who can see such things, or see that way. I look up and find myself at the base of a mighty tree—tall, so tall I can’t see the top, and huge. It is split into two huge trunks; lichens and other strange plants have taken root here and there. I can see it all with such clarity, and can feel the bark beneath my fingers. I look up and up, becoming more breathless and awestruck with each second. It occurs to me that I could climb that tree—all I have to do is scamper up it like a squirrel! I can actually feel my tiny claws gripping the bark as I go up a few feet, but I am afraid. Awe and yearning well up in me and I can’t move, only look and cry out to the Being I call Grandmother for help: “What does this mean?” I wake slowly, reluctant to let the vision go.

These two dreams seem to mark stages in my understanding of my Soul’s path in this lifetime.

The “Tree of Life” dream is the most powerful and numinous that I have ever had. At the time, it helped me to begin to realize both the fear-filled paralysis I was suffering as I tried to figure out what to do with my life after a layoff from my career as a research botanist. It also brought to my attention the gifts I have been granted, as one who can move relatively freely between the imaginal and the waking worlds.

In the “Galahad and the Beanstalk” dream, the dream-I is curious about the beautiful celestial vine, and I begin to climb it without fear—I know that “I will be able to climb as far as I would like!” As in the first dream, though, I stop before going very far. But this time is very different: I stop not from fear but from love of my horse, and a deep knowledge that my path lies not in “heaven” (in my personal symbology, heaven represents the refined, spiritual, “mental” plane) but in the world, in connection with Nature and Horse. My path leads not upward toward Spirit and Samadhi, but downward and inward toward the deeper, embodied, feminine knowing of Soul.

In the months since this dream, I have become more certain of the message of the second dream, and of the rightness of the direction it suggests. My soul craves not the denial of or escape from my embodied state, but the full embrace of embodiment, of deep connection with the Earth and all her creatures.

This sense hints at a darker, moister, more “feminine” path; and yet it is not “passive and receptive,” as the Feminine is so often defined. But what might this mean? Exploration of the Feminine (in Jung’s sense) through interaction with my horses feels right to me: My interaction with them, and the community I’ve found since beginning my work with them, calls to the depths of my being. So even though I still can’t see more than a step or two ahead, I will trust and follow where my soul leads!

Cross-posted on The Alchemical Horse.