Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Animal Medicine: Seeing Hidden Emotions March 1, 2016

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, sad or excitable, they will behave in accordance with the deeper reality. Shadow was especially good at this. And since I’ve always been especially good at ignoring my uncomfortable feelings, together we were a Jungian analyst’s dream and a horse trainer’s nightmare!

The first time Shadow and I took a dressage test, I was vaguely aware of feeling a tad 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 technique where you stand in the center of the pen and 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.

I’d done this many times in the smaller pen at the stable where he lived, but he was a very young, high-strung thoroughbred and I still wasn’t very confident about his trustworthiness or my ability to handle him.  Moreover, I’d never ridden him in a horse show before. An added stressor was that we were both in a strange new setting and I was very aware that people were watching us out of curiosity.  In short, I was still a rank amateur in horse training, and here I was on stage.  I had every right to feel anxious, but I simply refused to admit it.

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.

My sweet Shadow. He's no longer with us now. He died of colic just before his 8th birthday.

My sweet Shadow died of colic ten years ago, just before his 8th birthday.

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 from my eyes and I saw the full extent of my anxiety in his behavior.  Praying this would work, 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. Two more and he was trotting. A minute later 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 pen brought home something I had not mastered after years of meditation: recognizing my negative emotional states and rendering them harmless by returning to my quiet center. This skill is crucial to conflict resolution in everyday relationships, yet how many of us have acquired it? 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?

Image Credit: Top: Google Images. Bottom:  My photograph.

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.

 

Animal Medicine: Developing Body Awareness April 19, 2013

When it comes to body awareness, my horse Shadow was a genius. In this respect, he was the opposite of my conscious, cerebral self, which tends to be so inner directed and one-track minded that I can be oblivious to what’s going on in my body and the world around me. Have you ever known someone who can be feeling vaguely uncomfortable for hours before realizing she’s cold, or hungry, or has a headache? Or who can be standing directly in front of the object she’s looking for and simply not see it? That’s me. Or it was me before Shadow.

Lots of people are like this. The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Inventory says I’m a very strong intuitive, which means that my sensory awareness is equally weak. My desire to shed some light on this shadowy area of my being was one of the main reasons I bought Shadow, for I knew that training and learning to ride him well would be a demanding mental and physical challenge with the potential to bring more awareness and balance to my personality.

One day shortly after I bought him we spent about forty-five minutes in a large fenced arena doing ground exercises meant to generate mutual respect and bonding. When we were finished I took off his halter and let him loose to explore the arena on his own while I went over to the gate to talk to Sissy, the owner of the stable. As Shadow ambled away, the sky, which was gray when we started, grew more threatening, the wind picked up, and I heard rumblings of thunder in the distance. When I had bought Shadow he had a lumpy rash on his back which comes from rain that sits too long on the skin; so, as an inexperienced and over-protective new owner, I was more anxious than necessary about keeping him dry.

Suddenly I felt a rain drop. Startled and worried that a downpour would soon follow, I said to Sissy, “Oh, oh, I need to get Shadow,” and turned in his direction. From the far corner of the arena he lifted his head and pointed his ears at me. And then, to my astonishment, he walked directly toward me. When he reached my side he stood stock still and ducked his head to make it easier for me to put on his halter. I did, and we walked quietly to his stall.

I was stunned. I felt as if he had read my mind and for a moment was convinced I had a brilliant telepathic horse on my hands! Actually, as any horse owner knows, horses do at times appear to be extremely telepathic; but I don’t think this is the whole explanation for what he did. I think all our bonding activities that day had caused him to accept me as his leader — an alpha mare, if you will — and made him acutely sensitive to my every movement.

Even though he had his back turned to me and was nibbling at grass sprouting through the fence, this expert reader of body language was keeping an eye on me. When I reacted to the rain drop, my body must have changed from a posture that spoke of casual relaxation to one of alarmed alertness. Seeing that something was wrong, he was drawn to me in the same way a fearful child seeks the comfort of a trusted parent in a tense situation.

I’ll never be as aware of my body or physical matter as I am of my inner life. It’s just the way I’m made, and that’s okay with me. But thanks to Shadow, I’m much more conscious of my body’s messages to myself and others.  Unfortunately, I’m still a lousy finder!

You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at this Amazon link and at Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Animal Medicine: Developing Body Awareness July 6, 2010

When it comes to body awareness, my horse Shadow was a genius. In this respect, he was the opposite of my conscious, cerebral self, which tends to be so inner directed and one-track minded that I can be oblivious to what’s going on in my body and the world around me. Have you ever known someone who can be feeling vaguely uncomfortable for hours before realizing she’s cold, or hungry, or has a headache? Or who can be standing directly in front of the object she’s looking for and simply not see it? That’s me. Or it was me before Shadow.

Lots of people are like this. The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Inventory says I’m a very strong intuitive, which means that my sensory awareness is equally weak. My desire to shed some light on this shadowy area of my being was one of the main reasons I bought Shadow, for I knew that training and learning to ride him well would be a demanding mental and physical challenge with the potential to bring more awareness and balance to my personality.

One day shortly after I bought him we spent about forty-five minutes in a large fenced arena doing ground exercises meant to generate mutual respect and bonding. When we were finished I took off his halter and let him loose to explore the arena on his own while I went over to the gate to talk to Sissy, the owner of the stable. As Shadow ambled away, the sky, which was gray when we started, grew more threatening, the wind picked up, and I heard rumblings of thunder in the distance. When I had bought Shadow he had a lumpy rash on his back which comes from rain that sits too long on the skin; so, as an inexperienced and over-protective new owner, I was more anxious than necessary about keeping him dry.

Suddenly I felt a rain drop. Startled and worried that a downpour would soon follow, I said to Sissy, “Oh, oh, I need to get Shadow,” and turned in his direction. From the far corner of the arena he lifted his head and pointed his ears at me. And then, to my astonishment, he walked directly toward me. When he reached my side he stood stock still and ducked his head to make it easier for me to put on his halter. I did, and we walked quietly to his stall.

I was stunned. I felt as if he had read my mind and for a moment was convinced I had a brilliant telepathic horse on my hands! Actually, as any horse owner knows, horses do at times appear to be extremely telepathic; but I don’t think this is the whole explanation for what he did. I think all our bonding activities that day had caused him to accept me as his leader — an alpha mare, if you will — and made him acutely sensitive to my every movement.

Even though he had his back turned to me and was nibbling at grass sprouting through the fence, this expert reader of body language was keeping an eye on me. When I reacted to the rain drop, my body must have changed from a posture that spoke of casual relaxation to one of alarmed alertness. Seeing that something was wrong, he was drawn to me in the same way a fearful child seeks the comfort of a trusted parent in a tense situation.

I’ll never be as aware of my body or physical matter as I am of my inner life. It’s just the way I’m made, and that’s okay with me. But thanks to Shadow, I’m much more conscious of my body’s messages to myself and others.  Unfortunately, I’m still a lousy finder!

 

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?

 

 
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