Voice in the Round Pen

Charlie and Galahad 2 (3)The last year or so I’ve been working especially hard on my relationship with Galahad (with the help of the amazing Paulette Clark of Ribbleton Attunement).

It’s become really clear to others, not just to me, that our relationship and our communication is quite special—we are in partnership, Galahad and I, and have basically no problem understanding each other. Sometimes he even trains me, not the other way around, without my being aware of it at first.

But all that good stuff evaporates as soon as we set foot inside any training space. Most often, Galahad either ignores me completely or goes sullen and obedient. The joy we experience together on the outside just isn’t there. Now, I’ve watched Frédéric Pignon (even participated in one of his clinics last year!) and Paulette herself with their horses, so I know that it is possible for a horse and human to enjoy playing and working together at liberty—free of tack, coercion, and “obedience”—in a way that satisfies both spirits. That’s what I want for me and my big horse. But how?

Yesterday I finally figured out what’s going on—I haven’t yet figured out how to fix it, but at least I know where I need to focus. And guess what? It’s not Galahad. It’s me. Big surprise there, huh?

Two things happened yesterday. First, I had a pretty typical experience with Galahad in the round pen. (We don’t do “round penning” in the traditional sense. It’s just a convenient, enclosed space where I can turn him loose.) All I wanted for him to do was walk with me, on the lead line, and then move in a circle around me at a walk. Easy, right? But we were in a training setting. Our minds were in “that place.”

I knew I didn’t have his full attention—there was a lot going on nearby, with horses moving, people talking, cars going past. Galahad figured those things were way more important and interesting than what I had in mind. I knew he wasn’t looking forward to anything we were likely to do in that setting. I didn’t feel like any kind of leader at that point—I was just a taskmaster, trying to make my horse do something.

So let’s look at that again: All *I wanted* him to do was walk with me. *I thought* that it *should* be pretty easy for him to just walk…but he was not interested in me, only in watching the horses being moved around. Did I stop to ask him any questions? Did I ask him, my equine friend and partner, how he felt about anything at all? No.

It felt terrible, but I kept trying to get him to do what I wanted. Our frustration just built until finally I tapped him on his heinie a bit harder than necessary, and he jumped forward, resentfully, and did what I asked. Obedience. No joy at all.

Wow.

That got MY attention. What an uncomfortable realization it was, but very useful. Made me pretty sad. Galahad got LOTS of cookies back in the pasture, believe me!

Later in the day, someone in a Facebook group asked if any of us knew what our life purpose is. This was my response:

I’m lucky–I have a very clear sense of purpose (though it wasn’t easy to get to that point!). The simplified version is that I’m here to learn about and share the art of truly LISTENING to others–that can also be described as being a WITNESS to others. It’s about allowing other sentient beings their voice, especially those who have, in effect, had their voices ripped from them. Along the way, I’m regaining MY voice, and Galahad is regaining his.

Finally, while I was out in the yard tying up piles of Johnson grass for pickup next week, I realized the connection between these events, and the learning that’s there for me. It formed as a question:

If I, with the will, the experience, and a fair bit of insight and self-knowledge still can’t hear my horse and give him a voice in the round pen or the arena because I can’t get out of “trainer’s mind” and give up my need for control, how on earth is our culture going to make the changes necessary to give all of us our voices back? If I can’t truly listen, how can I expect that anyone else can, either?

And that’s a critical question at the moment, isn’t it? How can we change something that’s so deeply rooted as the need to control our environment and the other beings who share it? And there’s another piece of this that I don’t quite understand yet. Read my first sentence again: “The last year or so I’ve been working especially hard on my relationship….” The need to work hard on something that involves relaxing into relationship with another sentient being and just listening. Hmmm…. That’s related, somehow, to control, isn’t it?

I’ll keep you posted as Galahad and I try to figure all this out in our tiny piece of the Universe.

 

[Check out Ribbleton Attunement here: https://www.ribbleton.com/  I can’t recommend it highly enough!]

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 It’s an Alchemical Life.

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, and 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.

.

 

[Cross-posted on It’s an Alchemical Life.]

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 Are Doing Now”

20171202_165026 (2)I had a kind of revelation the other day, after posting “This is what we do at sunset.” 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….

 

 

This Is What We Do At Sunset

24232056_10213164801708926_2901769623883996780_n (2)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.

The nearly full moon rose as I watched.

“This is what we do at sunset.”

Hawk

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Red-Shouldered Hawk, Florida; photo from Wikimedia.

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.]