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.

 

The Thanksgiving Gift of Two-Way Partnership November 26, 2013

Queen of the Night and King of the Day:  A Partnership Made in Heaven

Queen of the Night and King of the Day: A Partnership Made in Heaven

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.

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

 

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!

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

 

Animal Medicine: Acquiring Power and Success July 3, 2010

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!

 

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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