“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”― Joseph Campbell
Horse Crazy Part I: How to Build a Wall October 13, 2015
Meeting the Mistress of the Forest August 11, 2015
Once I read about a horse that lived in the same pasture for over 30 years, eating the same old tired grass, trying to find shade in the noonday heat under the same scrawny tree. After many years of neglect, the fence that separated this pasture from a lush, grassy meadow studded with beautiful leafy trees crumbled and eventually fell. Stepping over the fallen wood would have been a very simple matter for the horse, yet it stood at the border where it had always stood, looking longingly over at the grass as it had always looked.
I feel so sorry for that horse. It had become so accustomed to its old boundaries that it never noticed when they were outworn. I wish someone from the other side had called it over so it could have spent its final years grazing in a greener, fresher, infinitely more satisfying space.
Many of us have felt our spirits quicken through glimpses of something ineffable in the mist beyond normal awareness and longed to pursue it. But concerns about the judgment of others and habitual assumptions about what we think we should be thinking and doing are not easy to recognize or change. Moreover, the daily demands of life are so compelling that we usually defer our journey into the deeply alluring recesses of the forest until another day.
What are we to do if we do not want to end up like that horse? Luckily we humans have a special someone who beckons to us from beyond our outworn boundaries: she is the wisdom of the Deep Feminine traditionally called Sophia. But to hear her call we need to turn off the constant flow of words and listen with our hearts and bodies.
The promptings that come from this inner being are so faintly heard at first, however strong on their own plane, that we tend to disregard them as trivial. This is the tragedy of man. The voices that so often mislead him into pain-bringing courses–his passion, his ego, and blind intellect–are loud and clamant. The whisper that guides him aright and to God is timid and soft. Paul Brunton (22-1-201)
Her voice is very soft; her call, though compelling, is quiet. She speaks to us in urges, needs, wishes, emotions, feelings, yearnings, questions about the meaning and purpose of our life, attractions to people, ideas and activities, synchronicities, physical symptoms, accidents, instincts, nature, meaningful insights, joyful experiences, bursts of unexpected pleasure, creative ideas, images, symbols, dreams: all the things we have learned to ignore so we can perform with utmost efficiency in the rat race of daily life.
The message in her communiques seems so subversive that we have learned to ignore it too. Do not fear the unknown, she says when we are tempted to risk exploring the wilderness of our souls. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Do not be content with the half life that comes from avoiding your fears. Feel your fears, enjoy your pleasures, experience your life with all your being. Open yourself and go deeper, for great treasures lie buried in your depths.
Following Sophia does not result in a quick fix, but if we will go boldly and persevere, the mansion doors to the eternal sacred that lies within will open unto us. The inhabitant of that mansion is the Self, our inner Beloved. Made of equal parts masculine and feminine energy, (Animus and Anima, in Jungian terms), the Self is often symbolized by the King and Queen. Here in the West we project our King onto the distant Sky God and remain relatively ignorant of his feminine partner, Sophia, the Mistress of the Forest who is as close to us as our own breath and blood. Thus do we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn from her wisdom and cross over into her sacred space.
So how, exactly, are you different from that old horse?
How has the Mistress of the Forest been speaking to you lately? What is she saying?
Image credits: Google Free Images
Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
Animal Healers August 6, 2014
A couple of years ago I babysat a precious golden retriever puppy for three days so my son and his wife could surprise their sons with her on Christmas morning. During that time she developed some digestive issues and by Christmas day she was in obvious distress, needing to be let out of the house every fifteen minutes or so. Was it my fault? Had she eaten a poisonous plant in our yard or swallowed something she couldn’t pass? The thought that I might be responsible was agonizing and I wondered for the umpteenth time why we get so attached to animals and experience some of our greatest joys and deepest sorrows because of them.
Certainly mammals have body structures, nervous systems, organs, instinctual needs, and even DNA very similar to ours. So when they’re sick, wounded or in pain, we know how they feel. Moreover, although most animals can try to flee from danger, there are always forces—including humans and Nature herself—that are far more powerful. Knowing our own fears and vulnerability, we can relate to that aspect of animals too.
Then there’s the unconditional love some animals give us. It’s so comforting when your dog follows you around, your cat purrs contentedly in your lap, or your horse comes running at your approach. You feel known, appreciated, valued. A happy, thriving pet reminds you that you can be loving, nurturing and morally responsible. We crave these good feelings and love the animals who elicit them, so it’s only natural that we get emotional when they suffer or die.
Repression and projection have something to do with the magical relationship we have with animals too. All of us deny some of our unwanted qualities and project them onto people and animals. For example, I once knew a tough-minded woman who showed no emotion when talking about her own difficult circumstances, yet she cried easily at the thought of abused animals. To her it felt safe to sympathize with the pain and helplessness of a dog or cat, but she was unwilling to feel her own pain.
At the time I didn’t know if anyone else noticed this about her, but it was painfully obvious to me. From where did this insight come? Personal experience. When my parents divorced I cried my heart out. But when my father died three months later I didn’t shed a tear. I was so traumatized that I shut down emotionally so I wouldn’t hurt any more. Denying pain became so important to me that I even refused novocaine when I went to the dentist! For years I couldn’t cry for myself but I could use up a box of tissues watching an animal movie. I still can!
Animals mirror our unconscious, instinctual selves. This is why we love our pets so much. As they are vulnerable, so are we. As they suffer, so do we. We know how they feel, they seem to know how we feel. We think we understand them; they seem to understand who we really are. We know we have unlovable shadows, yet they love us anyway. We see their instinctual shadows, and we love them anyway. Because they trust and depend on us we do not take their devotion or suffering lightly. We deal with it as best we can, and we know we are better for having made the effort. In the process of learning compassion for them, we discover that we are as deserving of love as they are.
Over the years Miss Lottie, a sensuous Siamese cat; Peri, a perky little chihuahua/terrier mix; Shadow, an elegant, high-strung thoroughbred gelding; and Bear, a handsome and gentle golden retriever, have been my teachers, therapists and healers. Training and caring for them taught me patience and respect for the ways of others. Their simple joy in being alive taught me greater awareness and appreciation for my body and the life in it. Their love and devotion to me helped me feel and express more tenderness and love to everyone, including myself. And the copious tears I shed at their deaths softened my heart and taught me more compassion for others who suffer loss.
By the way, Isabella, or Izzy as Matt’s family called their new puppy, was fine the next day. Apparently her problem was caused by the rawhide puppy treats I gave her to keep her from chewing on my kitchen cabinets. I felt terrible about it, but she kept loving me anyway. And now that she’s come to live with me for the summer, I remember something I forgot after Bear died. Being with her makes me feel better about myself. It’s a mysterious thing, this healing power of animals, but it’s real. And I’m deeply grateful for it.
Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
The Thanksgiving Gift of Two-Way Partnership November 26, 2013
My Thanksgiving gift for you is a video about a very special young woman who can neither hear nor speak yet has an extraordinary gift of communication. Stacy Westfall is a bona fide horse whisperer who communicates with her body, heart and soul. Before you see her in action I want to tell you something about human-horse relationships.
Most people think working with horses is a one-way form of communication: the human does the training and the horse does the listening and learning so it can serve the human’s needs. Most riders and trainers love horses very much and train them with kindness and patience; others believe they need to “break” horses with bullying and brute force. Either type can achieve great success…from the perspective of the human ego.
But the truly inspiring horse whisperers like Stacy step out of their egos and into the horse’s perspective because they want partnerships that are as satisfying to the horse as the human. They don’t have special powers the rest of us lack. Their secret is quite simple. They let themselves be trained by horses. They appreciate and respect the otherness of horses—their desire to please us, their willingness to serve us—so they take the time to learn and use horse language. Horses are exactly the same in reverse. They are “human whisperers” who appreciate and respect our otherness, are acutely sensitive to our emotional nuances, try to learn our language, and let themselves be trained by us because they want satisfying relationships too.
The horse whisperer/human whisperer relationship is the best example of two-way partnership I know. You’ll see it going on between the horse and human in this video. Look for Stacy’s signals: hand pats and rubs, heel nudges, turning her head in the direction she wants her horse to take, shifting her body weight. Then watch for Baby Doll’s signals to her. Throughout the performance his mouth is licking and chewing, licking and chewing. Know what this means in horse language? He’s telling her he’s thoroughly bonded with her and is doing his absolute best to please her.
Watch his ears. When he’s alert and focused he points them forward. This tells Stacy he’s paying attention and ready to go. When she gives a signal he swivels one ear back toward her. He’s listening. When she asks him to do something that requires extra concentration and exertion, like spinning in circles or running backwards, he flattens them on his neck, indicating his agitation and determination.
Watch his tail. When he’s relaxed his tail is relaxed. When he’s asked to move sideways or kneel, his tail switches back and forth with increased intensity. And when he’s getting excited and probably a bit annoyed about the truly difficult things, he whips it up and down with some attitude. But he does what Stacy asks him to, then he licks and chews and pops his ears back to alert and all is well again. He does this for the same reason you push through your annoyance to do the tough exercises your trainer or aerobics instructor asks of you. Because this partnership is important to you, you’re grateful for it, you want to do your best, and it feels good when you do.
The best way I know to show gratitude to our loved ones this Thanksgiving is to be a human whisperer: To pay attention what they’re asking of us, learn the nuances of their communication styles, push through our annoyance, and try our best to be a good partner. May you allow yourself to be trained by your loved ones this Thanksgiving. Enjoy the video.
Animal Medicine: Acquiring Power and Success April 30, 2013
One of the most valuable lessons I learned from my horse Shadow related to the healthy development of my attitudes toward power and success. I love it that when the time came for me to address these issues, without any conscious awareness of the full import of what I was doing, I chose the animal whose essence is power to be my teacher.
Horses have the physical energy and motivation necessary to acquire worldly power, but they are also symbols of soul power. Jung asserted that horses express the magic side of Man, ‘the mother within us’, or intuitive understanding; and native teachers and healers Jamie Sams and David Carson tell us that “In shamanic practices throughout the world, Horse enables shamans to fly through the air and reach heaven.” Every power issue involves both of these dimensions, for it is by meeting and overcoming challenges in the physical world that we empower our souls; conversely, the achievement of soul power leads to successful living.
In most herds of horses one can observe both kinds of power. Explosive as lightning and disruptive as hurricanes, some horses use their physical power aggressively to dominate and get their way. Through kicking, biting, and harassing any horses in the vicinity, they protect their chosen territory and ensure that they are always first in line for water, hay, grain, or the choicest new grass. But there are other horses that use their power in calmer, wiser ways. Without making a big deal of things, they simply go after what they want as peacefully, consistently, and relentlessly as a gently flowing stream. Mark Rashid, author of Horses Never Lie, calls these horses passive leaders and reports seeing one who was new to the herd decide to eat at a feed trough where the most dominant horse and two of his cronies were eating.
In a tremendous display of energy, the dominant horse tore after the new horse with ears laid back and teeth bared, chasing it fifty feet or so away from the trough. The new horse trotted away quietly and then, when the dominant horse resumed eating, came right back to the trough to try again. After half an hour of this behavior, the dominant horse was so exhausted he finally gave up and the new one walked right up and started eating from his trough, something few other members of the herd had ever dared to do. Rashid reports that in no time at all several horses began to follow the new horse around in acknowledgment of its unusual power.
When I bought Shadow I had no idea I had power issues, but he showed me just how shrouded in shadows this area of my soul was. Through him I saw my confusion about the positive and negative aspects of power and discovered a strong tendency to surrender my power to avoid conflict and keep peace. Shadow made it very clear to me that this was not a good thing. If I could not assert myself through means that gained his trust and respect, I was giving him tacit permission to test his power in ways that could become increasingly dangerous to me and detrimental to our relationship. This lesson was particularly difficult for me, but over time I learned that 1) there are positive and negative ways to satisfy the natural drive for power and success, 2) it’s okay to stand up for myself honestly, 3) it’s healthy to ask for and go after what I need, and 4) a calm, quiet, and persistent approach will eventually produce positive results.
Who knew what power lurks in Our Lady of the Beasts? Who knows how sweet and gentle power and success can be? The Shadow knows!
Memories of Childhood Dreams March 5, 2013
I was born in Michigan. My mother was a nurse, my father was a policeman, and I had an older brother named Jimmy. When I was four, Daddy and Mama sold our Victorian cottage, hitched a trailer to the back of our car, and we headed south. That first year we lived near Tampa. The only thing I remember about the Temple Trailer Park is that it was situated beside an icy cold natural sulphur spring where I learned how to swim. A year later Daddy found a job as a highway patrolman and at the end of the summer we arrived at Mitchell’s Trailer Park in a wooded area of Tallahassee. Daddy parked our trailer under a mossy oak tree beside a deep drainage ditch whose sides were webbed with tree roots. I had never seen a ditch or a tree that big and everything about our new forest home seemed magical to me.
Our dark green trailer had a life-sized Indian head at the top where the curved front wall met the roof. To me he was a friendly guardian warrior. Our new home was too small for a bathtub, so Mama would bathe me in the big sink in the community wash house. With the help of the trailer park handy man, Daddy built a screened porch and put in bunk beds for Jimmy and me. I loved sleeping out there. The nights were cool and you could hear crickets, tree frogs and hoot owls. In the mornings the birds began chirping at first light. On windy nights it sounded like the trees were humming, and when it rained we fell asleep to the rat-a-tat-tat of rain drops and acorns drumming on the tin roof.
Mama got a job working nights at the hospital. She slept during the day while Daddy was at work and Jimmy was at school, so I entertained myself. I got so accustomed to being alone that once when a little girl asked me to come out and play, I wouldn’t go. She bit my hand and ran away! I couldn’t imagine what her problem was. Another time I folded several pieces of typing paper into a book. Since I didn’t know how to write, I drew pictures. First, I drew myself waking up in bed. Then I was sitting on the potty, then eating a bowl of oatmeal at the kitchen table. By the fourth page I couldn’t think of anything else to draw. I found this very frustrating. Filling a book with the thoughts and images inside my head seemed like a beautiful, impossible dream.
One summer day Daddy took me for a walk down the dirt road beside the trailer park. The drainage ditches on either side were rimmed with colorful wildflowers and he taught me their names. Snapdragon. Lantana. Japanese honeysuckle. When he stopped beside a wood fence I climbed up, looked over the top, and fell in love! It was a stable yard. I had never seen a horse before and thought these were the most beautiful creatures I’d ever seen. When I saw people riding them I wanted to ride too, so Daddy paid a quarter for a lesson. While the lady cinched up the saddle, the brown and white pony took a deep breath to balloon his belly. When he let it out the girth loosened up. At first this was fine, but when he trotted the saddle began a slow slide down his right side and before long I was on the ground! I thought this was a great adventure. That’s the day my dream of having a horse of my own was born.
A few days later all I could think about was how much I wanted to ride that pony. I couldn’t find a quarter, so since Mama was asleep I borrowed one from a lady in a nearby trailer. Then I walked to the stable and had a fine ride. When the lady told my parents about my visit, I couldn’t understand why they seemed worried. I was rather proud of my creative solution! They gave me a quarter to pay back the lady, told me to apologize for borrowing money, and said I was never to do it again. I didn’t.
My life has changed in many ways since then, but some things haven’t changed at all. I still love trees and the patterns of roots and the magic and mystery of forests. I love the way Native Americans respect and protect nature. I love the night, the sounds of wind and rain. I love being alone. I love writing books. I love flowers and horses and new adventures. And when a dream feels really, really important to me, I pursue it until I make it happen.
My wish for you is that you’ll remember who you are and what you love, and that you’ll be able to pursue your dreams until you make them happen.
Dream Symbols of the Beloved: Part II August 31, 2012
My friends, My family is with me in the mountains to celebrate summer’s last hurrah! Writing two posts a week takes more time than I have right now, so I’m republishing this post from two summers ago. It’s one of my favorites—and one of my readers’ favorites as well. Enjoy. I look forward to your comments. Have a happy Labor Day!
I’ve just arrived at my soul’s home in the mountains of North Carolina where I will spend the remainder of the summer. I’ve often wondered why I love this place so dearly, why it makes me feel so loved and connected and alive and grateful for my life. My answer came last night and this morning as I read your comments to my last post (Dream Symbols of the Beloved) and did a bit more research.
I’m at my desk looking out an east-facing window. The morning sun enters my backyard late because it has to rise above the mountain before its rays filter down through a thick tree canopy. Most of what I see is in shade but a patch of sun has highlighted the brilliant silver threads of a spider web between two branches of a buckeye tree. Grandmother Spider is busily checking connections, tightening threads, and hunting for tasty morsels that got trapped during the night.
This morning I opened Aion, Volume 9, ii, of Jung’s Collected Works, to re-read his section on symbols of the Self. In paragraph #356 he writes about animal symbolism. He says, “The commonest of these images in modern dreams are, in my experience, the elephant, horse, bull, bear, white and black birds, fishes, and snakes. Occasionally one comes across tortoises, snails, spiders, and beetles. The principal plant symbols are the flower and the tree. Of all the inorganic products, the commonest are the mountain and lake.” Spiders. Mountains. Trees.
When I entered the gravel road last night my arrival was heralded by a cawing black crow who flapped off toward the house. The first thing I did was feed the rainbow trout in our pond. Black birds. Fish. Lake. (Do you think a pond counts?) Then I walked around the garden to check out the flowers. My treasured peonies are already spent, but the pink New Dawn roses and purple clematis are a-riot on the trellis, the hydrangeas look like giant blue and white powder puffs, the hostas are sending up tall bud-laden spikes, the astilbe have myriad pointed white cotton candy tufts, the golden daylilies are in full bloom, and there’s a huge mound of pink petunias by the kitchen door. I don’t garden in Florida. It’s just too hot. But here I can have my flowers. Flowers.
Below Bear Pond and Shadow Brook there’s a small pasture and stable where my horse, Shadow, used to spend his summers. I’ve always had a thing for horses. And Shadow, well, he’s a subject for another post. Horses. By the way, bears are the theme of this mountain home. They’re all over the house. But that’s another story too. Bears.
Speaking of bears, every summer for ten years I’ve come here with my sweet friend, a handsome golden retriever whose name was Bear. He passed on last August, but his ashes are in a white box with a label that says “Bear Raffa: Forever Faithful” in the cabinet four feet to the right of where I sit. I cried when I entered the house without him last night. But this morning when I was still in that borderland between sleeping and waking, I heard his joyous bark. Twice. He’s glad I’m back. I’m glad I’m back.
Do I need any further reminders from the Beloved of how loved I am and why I love this place so? Not really, but such is the nature of the Self that I’ll probably continue to get them every day anyway. And night, too. Sweet dreams of the Beloved, my friends.