Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Animal Medicine: Seeing Hidden Emotions June 29, 2010

As one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, my horse Shadow ranks right up there with Jung and my dreams. Horses, like dreams, are nature: they do not lie. People can cover their true feelings with masks, but horses do not know how to make masks. As animals of prey that have survived by being intensely alert and wary, they are easily unsettled by subtle signs of incongruence in people’s behavior. The tiniest gesture — a tentativeness in our stride, a sideways glance, a sudden intake of breath — can trigger prehistoric horsey images of predatory wolves clad in sheep’s clothing and cause them to spook.

One of the most amazing, and frustrating, things about horses is that they naturally mirror our emotions. If we are afraid, they will be afraid. If, beneath a calm exterior, we are irritable or angry, intense, anxious, or excitable, they will behave in accordance with the deeper reality. Shadow was especially good at this. And since I’ve always been good at ignoring uncomfortable feelings, together we were a Jungian analyst’s dream!

For example, the first time Shadow and I took a dressage test, I was vaguely aware of feeling nervous; but because I didn’t like the way that felt, I ignored it. Thirty minutes before my test was to take place, Liz, my trainer, told me to exercise him in the round pen.  This is a training technique where you ask the horse to walk, trot, and canter around you in wide circles. This warms him up, reminds him of cues, bonds him with his trainer, consumes excess energy, and gives the trainer an opportunity to monitor his mood and correct inappropriate behavior. When Shadow started moving along the fence he couldn’t have looked more anxious; his movements were tentative and irregular and his eyes darted wildly from side to side as he looked over the fence to scan the horizon for danger. When I asked him to canter he raced around in the thick sand so quickly and recklessly that I was afraid he would fall and hurt himself.

Worried, I yelled “Whoa” louder and louder, but this only got him more stirred up. I tried rushing to the side of the pen with outstretched arms to stop him, but that only made him turn around and gallop away in the opposite direction. Then suddenly the veil dropped away and I saw the full extent of my own anxiety in his behavior. Immediately I stopped dead still in the center of the ring, closed my eyes, and began to breathe as slowly and deeply from my belly as I could. As I calmed myself, his response was immediate and dramatic. Within two turns around the ring his wild pace slowed to a canter. After a couple more turns he was trotting, a few more and he walked calmly toward me, stopped behind me, and touched his nose to my left shoulder. Whereas before my behavior had convinced him there was something to worry about, now he was equally convinced everything was fine.

This lesson affected me profoundly. Fifteen minutes with Shadow in that round pen brought home something I had not mastered after years of meditation: recognizing negative emotional states and rendering them harmless by returning to my quiet center. This skill is crucial to conflict resolution in everyday relationships. And can you imagine how different the world would be if everyone involved in international relations had a Shadow to show them their shadow?

What lessons has Our Lady of the Beasts taught you through your animal friends?

 

Avatar, Ego, and Cultural Reform March 29, 2010

I loved Avatar’s lavish version of the hero’s journey. Its characters are such exotic examples of the archetypes starring in myths from every nation, generation, and religion. Its new symbols of interconnectedness–the wormy squirmy tentacled pony tails that bond with similar anatomical appendages of bizarre beasts; the electrochemical connections between tree roots that recall ancient Hinduism’s Diamond Net of Indra, Jung’s collective unconscious, and quantum physics’ holographic universe–are so imaginatively resonant. And I never tire of the themes of self-discovery, initiation, revolution, transformation, and redemption.

The human psyche creates culture, so intended or not, there is a psychological dimension to all art. Since I cannot help but view a movie through a psychological lens, (which adds another dimension to the 3D ones already supplied for Avatar), here goes: For me, Avatar is about the difference between the heroic ego that succeeds in its quest because it opens to otherness and change, and the stuck ego that ultimately fails because it refuses to budge. Indulge me for a moment as I engage in a bit of imaginative word play to illustrate my point.

Corporal Jake (Jacob was the Biblical favored son and usurper of his twin brother’s inheritance) Sully is a sullied soldier who is transformed into a heroic Warrior and passionate Lover. The qualities that lead to his redemption and the salvation of the Na’vi are his bravery, his respect for princess Neytiri (who says”nay” to tyranny and is Sully’s equal, savior, and Beloved), and his receptivity to the foreign ways of her culture.

And what about the Na’vi? Like all Native peoples they have long navigated safely through a difficult world by honoring the sacred underlying patterns of life. But because they will not capitulate to the dysfunctional ego mentality which has destroyed Earth, their culture is in danger of extinction. Sound familiar?

Other archetypal themes are represented by the Na’vi’s spiritual leader Mo’at, (an abbreviation of Mother Earth?) a blend of the Jungian archetypes of Queen, Earth Mother, Wisewoman, and Beloved. Then there’s Jake’s mentor, Dr. Grace Augustine (a saintly name if ever there was one), who symbolizes the Queen’s regard for shared authority and individual differences and the Wisewoman’s intuitive intelligence and pursuit of truth.

Finally we have the necessary obstacles every hero must overcome: the self-absorbed and self-serving ego symbolized by Selfridge, corporate administrator of the mining program; and the obsessive Warrior mentality of the head of security, Colonel Miles Quaritch (from quarantine, a place of detention? Or quarrel, an angry dispute? Or quartz, a hard rock?). Cameron’s soulless dark invader, like Lucas’s Darth Vader, has miles to go in his own journey because of his rock-hard rigidity and unrelenting itch to maintain his power regardless of cost.

Brave, heroic ego vs. rigid, fearful ego. Cosmic connectedness vs. personal self-interest. Do the psychological themes of this haunting myth remind anyone else of the conflict surrounding the passage of Health Care Reform?

 

 
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