Tag Archive for: familiars

hope hardship horses

Hope in the Face of Hardship

Those of you that own a troubled horse may know a particular type of isolation I am familiar with, the type of loneliness that comes when an expert looks down their nose at you and says, “this is too much horse for you” or the kind of despair that comes from finishing yet another clinic in humiliation because your horse was the most explosive, fearful, defiant, you name it beast there and everyone knew it. I can’t tell you how many times people have politely said to me, “Green and green make black and blue,” meaning that a novice owner and untrained horse are a set-up for injury. Some owners of troubled horses decide that because the effort and training is hard that the partnership was just not “meant to be.” These owners sell or give away their horses and hopefully, but not always, find themselves a more calm, obedient mount. Others believe that nothing great comes without blood, sweat, and tears so they shoulder in and work hard to overcome all odds and wow the crowd. I have many talented friends and trainers who have done just this. I also know five times as many horses who are the “discards” still waiting for their chance at greatness. I have one of those discards standing in my pasture. She is one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and I’ve come to know beside her the greatness within. No amount of outside praise or accolades will ever match this brilliance.

Cherokee is my reminder every day of how easy it can be to lose sight of our own inner light. After 6 years and 7 trainers she is still too unpredictable to ride and still sometimes fearful. In a world that values outside measures of success and that idolizes goals, we become addicted to praise and, by default, criticism. We come to fear both, for praise only causes a craving for more praise which requires exhaustive effort and, well, the pain of criticism is an easy one to be habitually phobic of. Our fear causes us to set up a belief system that helps us make decisions when the outcome (praise or criticism) is unknown and adversity arises.

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown outlines the two paths people commonly take when encountering hardship.

  1. “When we experience something that is difficult and requires significant time and effort we are quick to think This is supposed to be easy; it’s not worth the effort, or, This should be easier: it’s only hard and slow because I’m not good at it.” I would like to add that in the new era of spiritual positivity and the chase for happiness many also now see roadblocks in a given path to be a sign from a divine source that this is not the right direction. These believers think It’s only hard and slow because it’s not meant to be. 
  2. Others believe “that everything worthwhile should involve pain and suffering.” Brene uses “never, fun, fast, and easy” to explain this mindset. For spiritual seekers looking to become more aware/conscious/enlightened this can look like I need to learn these lessons and clear these woundings before I can attain this dream; the tougher the lessons the bigger the dream. I would venture to say that in there is also the thought I need to learn these lessons before I am worthy of this dream.

Take a moment to consider: What kind of believer am I? We each have a default setting when hardship arises. What is yours?

Awareness here is the first step. If we can catch the first thought of this is too hard or I have to struggle on before our mind takes off in the whirlwind of drama around either path we can hopefully avoid errant action. This is where we break old patterns of ejecting from one friendship/job/marriage after the next or of suffering through unhappy friendships/jobs/marriages way past their expiration date.

I typically default to the “never, fun, fast, and easy” mindset and have been quick to idolize the “meant to be” mindset because that seems so easy and elegant. I sobbed after riding Cherokee for the first time, it was an overwhelming release. I realized that for once, I felt worthy of her. I wasn’t sure if the countless hours of effort and training for both myself and her had been the ticket or if I’d finally healed to the point of deserving this dream. I had been bracing for so long against the hardships and lessons that it was such a relief to have succeeded.

I only had five more rides on her which didn’t always go so well.  I started to loosen my grip on my vision of a blissful riding connection with her. Then, surprisingly, I fell out of love with her. Sounds harsh I know, but I was willing to be with that truth, albeit I kept it a secret at the time. Then I allowed myself to be with What if it’s not meant to be or What if I will never be good enough? 

Luckily, I understood that neither viewpoint was the truth. Every time I heard myself say I’m ready to quit or Just keep going, I used this as a cue to check in with my core self. Always, the entire six years, the truth has been that she is my horse and I am her human. Call it fate or destiny or karma I don’t care, but I know in every fiber of my being that we are family. That’s just it.

It is in this knowing that I find value every time. I don’t know why we’re supposed to be together or what she has to teach me or me her. It really seems to go beyond all of that. There is just a truth in our togetherness that is unfaltering and that itself has value. Trusting in our relationship and our intrinsic value always takes me out of the praise/criticism addiction and brings me hope in the face of hardship.

Here is what Brene Brown has to say about cultivating hopefulness:

“We develop a hopeful mind-set when we understand that some worthy endeavors will be difficult and time consuming and not enjoyable at all. Hope also requires us to understand that just because the process of reaching a goal happens to be fun, fast , and easy doesn’t mean that it has less [or more] value than a difficult goal. If we want to cultivate hopefulness, we have to be willing to be flexible and demonstrate perseverance. Not every goal will look and feel the same. Tolerance for disappointment, determination, and a belief in self are the heart of hope.” (page 66 of The Gifts of Imperfection)

So next time you catch yourself thinking that Spirit has approved your goals by making the path easy, stop to ask your inner self how you feel about the goal. Next time you start thinking that you have too many wounds to heal to be worthy of your dream ask your inner self how you feel about your path. Is this worth doing even if you fail? Remember the outcome will never be how you expect it.

Just yesterday after a quiet play session together I took a moment to stand with my bay mare out in the sunny, snowy pasture. I was in her shadow standing beside her neck as we both faced northeast, the place of rebirth and renewal. I ducked my shoulder under her jowl to wrap my arm around her head and hold the bridge of her nose in my hand. For the very first time, she softened in to my embrace. I felt the loving and gentle pressure of her jaw resting on my shoulder. I immediately understood the tenderness of her gesture and brought my entire awareness to bear. We stood doing nothing else but soaking in each other’s light. This is what love and value look like. Everything else is just an illusion.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.” – Mother Theresa

barn owl gracious wild

“Letting Go” from Gracious Wild

Gracious Wild is primarily about my relationship to two spectacular hawks, but other animals including one defiant barn owl contributed to the story as well. This excerpt from the book Gracious Wild tells about how “Papa Rhett” taught about letting go. I would also say, behind the scenes, that this owl taught me a lot about not caring what other people think. When you have supernatural hearing and sight like he did the truth is always there with you. Why bother trying to figure out another person’s version of the story? He was relentless in stomping out my self-consciousness. I loved this quirky beast and am happy to report that he is still alive and well and representing his kind in front of many audiences a year. Now on to the story…

For days on end there was this unnerving tension between us. I waffled back and forth between my desire for companionship and my complete distrust that anyone would ever want to accompany me along my path of discovery.

With his body language, Rhett seemed to mirror the same experience. One moment he would glare at me and chatter some rubbish, as if to say, “How dare you think you can talk to an owl like me?” The next moment he would take to delicately preening a long flight feather on the end of his wing. His head would gracefully twist sideways as his beak carefully zipped and caressed the barbs of the feather into place. I was swept away in the ballet of the moment until he noticed himself, turned to glare at me, and stomped his foot on the glove.

“Oh yes, that’s right, Rhett, how dare I fall in love with you,” I’d adoringly chuckle. And I did—fall in love with him, that is.

Over time I learned when to sidestep his grumpiness and when to meet it head on. We spent hours in the corridor of green grass that lay between the cages on the property. There he’d fly from my glove to the perch stationed at the far end of the lawn. I’ve been told that owls, for reasons I have yet to speculate on, prefer to fly from the glove to the perch, while hawks prefer the opposite routine. This reversal of roles was healing for me. I had to learn how to communicate to the owl that I was ready. I’ve been told that owls, for reasons I have yet to speculate on, prefer to fly from the glove to the perch, while hawks prefer the opposite routine. This reversal of roles was healing for me. I had to learn how to communicate to the owl that I was ready to let go, rather than beg him and bait him with food to come to me.

This letting go part was easier said than done. It took me weeks of standing with him on the glove, staring at the perch and waiting. The antics I went through to try and convince him to fly were, I’m sure, absolutely hysterical to onlookers. He seemed to gather the most pleasure out of watching me dance, cajole, coax, and whine. Certainly, there must be some key movement or cue that I’m just not doing right or at all, I convinced myself, and continued on with the arm waving and gibberish talking. It’s hard to tell what spirits I cursed or conjured or plain offended, but I just couldn’t get that sticky owl off my glove. This, keep in mind, was the same owl who apparently despised stepping onto my glove at the beginning of every session.

Eventually, though, my persistence paid off and, paradoxically, I was able to let go. Letting go didn’t just entail that I release his leash, point, and say “perch,” because I’d done that dozens of times before with no results. This was an entirely different way of working in the world. Like magic, as I turned to face the perch on this occasion I felt the cells in my body relax and tingle. As I opened my fingers to release my hold on his tether I felt energy lift up through my hand. As I raised my right hand to point to the perch I felt my intent and focus carry me to the perch, and without hesitation Rhett’s stare locked in on his destination and he lifted off. I stood, jaw dropped, and watched him glide like an angel inches above the blades of grass. Then with a whimsical flutter of the tips of his wings he lifted up and lighted quietly on the perch. Every time he left my glove from that moment forward, I had the same transcendental experience. In this way, my friend by default supported me in holding on to the lessons Thalia had brought me. By teaching me how to let go, Papa Rhett was teaching me how to consistently embrace the unknown and live in the moment.

Click here to learn more about Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks

Mustang Mare Horse

On Immediate Results and Real Consequences

Do you ever have the experience of immediate response from your environment? Do you know what it feels like have something shift so quickly that you’re overwhelmed with the results?

In the course of the last 24 hours my reality has been completely shattered and then repaired to its beautiful self. Some of you may know of the challenges I’ve faced with my 17 year old bay mustang mare. She used to be absolutely terrified of humans, and nothing in the human world, let alone riding, was simple or even possible with her. People don’t believe that now when they see how calm she is, how willing, connected and intelligent she is. Cherokee has been in my life for six years and I have invested hundreds of hours into the relationship. We had a brief riding career a couple of years ago until I ended up ungraciously on the ground twice. Neither of us are very good at working through anxieties over riding. So, we continue on on the ground, online and at liberty. She follows me around a grassy pasture now as I do chores. She comes to greet me and our visitors with enthusiasm and curiosity in her expression. She walks, free of ropes, by my side on our 38 acres. Still I want more.

So, when I had a vet offer to treat her state of mind with herbs, the temptation was too great. What if we could “cure” the last vestige of tension left in her heart? What if this was the “key” to being able to ride her? Wouldn’t this be phenomenal? Once again, I repeat an old mistake. So many times experts promised that if we just do these few things over and over or for this amount of time or repetitions that she’ll come around. So many times I’ve succumbed to the juicy quick fix that doesn’t involve me. Still I couldn’t resist.

We started her on the herbs four days ago. A few reports from my family members came that she was acting different. I saw it but was preoccupied. Then on day three (yesterday) when I had time to engage, I found a terrifyingly different horse. She regressed, literally, all the way back to five or six years ago. She was a fire-breathing dragon that jumped at my every move. Every muscle in her body was erect. Her eyes were as hard and black as stone, and there was no light left in them. Just like that, I lost my horse. All of a sudden our relationship was gone. I was absolutely crushed. Of course, we took her off the herbs.

I lost sleep over wondering if I’d ever get my best friend back. Would I have to start all over again? Could I really, really go through it all again? This morning she still shied from me, snorted and tensed up as I walked past her. She was wishing for me to leave. Then, just like that, it all went away. Tonight she slipped back into her current day skin as if yesterday had never happened.

As we stood in the pasture side-by-side calmly watching a cinnamon colored black bear wander across our property I felt safe with her. She watched the bear with quiet curiosity. All was serene. Really, it sounds absurd, but it’s true. Bear is about turning inward and knowing the answer is within the vastness of my being while staying open to the unknown outcome. Gosh this horse has been a test. How willing am I REALLY to listen to my own guidance and to trust that I am enough? This isn’t some fairytale, this is the truth, the hard truth with real consequences. Today I am so overwhelmingly grateful that the real consequences, the real answers were so extreme and so immediate. It’s not everyday we have the opportunity to correct our course so drastically and come out unscathed. This too is a gift and I am thankful.

lil bit horse shamanism

Little Bits at a Time

In our Journey Circle today we talked about how trauma can be repeated throughout our lives. For example, I broke my left femur when I was 11 years old and I can’t say how many times I’ve re-injured my left knee or hip since then. Today, I shared how I see these kinds of patterns repeated in the lives of rescue horses. No matter how many owners the horses have in their lives, the story is the same. Some horses starve, are “rescued” and then starved by the people that rescued them, and I’m not talking one cycle of this, but repeated cycles. Other horses attract owners that aren’t experienced enough for them, and the horse gets passed on to one owner and then the next because they are considered “too dangerous”. Really the horse never has the chance to connect with humans and learn how to be around them. It is no fault of their own.

When I lived at the horse rescue a horse named Little Bit (we called her “Bits” for short) and my mare, Cherokee, were the very, very best of friends. This meant I got to know Bits very well. You see, my horse Cherokee used to be incredibly hard to catch and while I was out in the pasture taking the time it takes to catch Cherokee, Bits would follow me around, cuddle with me, and nuzzle me. Whatever rejection I felt from Cherokee was soothed by Bits’ constant presence.

Cherokee’s “Crew” from left to right: Ginger Snap, Cherokee, Star, and Little Bit. All now have forever homes.

I became so enamored with Bits that I ventured to take the relationship further by haltering her and taking her out of the pasture. That was a disaster. She’d try to run me over, bolt, and do whatever it took to get back to her herd. I was keenly aware of how far she had to go. With enough of a project in Cherokee, I never could commit to giving Bits the education she so desperately needed. So instead, I advocated for her. In fact, I worked to start an entire training program at the rescue with Bits in mind. When we had the program running I assigned her to the best trainers we had. To my chagrin she still wasn’t able to find a home. To my delight the training program continued on after I left.

Ever since moving from the rescue I’ve followed Bits’ progress and inquired about her health. For two long years she’s been in and out of training and despite the hurdle of a mild lameness issue and the relocation of her primary trainer she’s made steady progress. I had a couple opportunities to visit her in that time and she always remembered me. She’d come up to me like she always did and bury her head in my chest. It brought tears to my eyes. She was such an amazing friend to me.

This evening I learned that Bits finally has been able to move on from her past and find a great home. It’s a reminder that although we do unconsciously repeat ugly patterns in our lives that we can shift them. It may not happen as quickly as we’d like and we won’t be able to do it ourselves. We need to trust that the right people will cross our paths to help guide us along. We need to work hard, very hard, and persevere.

Today with her guidance, I remember that change happens in little “Bits” at a time and my heart swells with the memory of those warm nuzzles forward.

animal communication

Do They Speak English?

Being in the world of animal welfare as a shamanic practitioner I commonly get asked the question, “Can you talk to the horse and help him understand?”

From a shamanic point of view, the animals do not speak our language. Historically, it was the job of the shaman to learn how to speak the language of the land, the animals, the elements, and the ancestors. The shaman communed with these spirits and surrendered to their cosmic view, so she could work with them on behalf of her tribe. She learned how to communicate in metaphor and story, empathy and wonder.

Many superstitions did and still do surround the telling of the shamanic experience because shaman understood that in the telling the power may be lost. Some cultures forbid the unveiling of one’s power animal while others believe that sharing the name of one’s spirit guide can cause illness. Shaman often would act out their journeys for the whole tribe but refuse to narrate the same to anyone. The shaman was both leader and hermit. This traditional way of being must have weighed heavily on the healer, but carries some important lessons.

The spirit world is not polarized. There is no right or wrong, up or down, inside or out. It is all one. In contrast, our language is inherently polarized. Think of how many times a day you use the word “good”. When I embark on a shamanic journey I am entering into a rich, multi-layered experience that is felt and loved. I put the experience into words as a way to remember so that I can revisit the learning over and over again for deeper levels of understanding. I do this knowing that even my own words read to myself change the experience. I am taking pure white light and shining it through a faceted crystal so that I may follow the rays of color back through the crystal and into the light.

Now, consider this process in relation to another living, breathing autonomous being. When I journey to them or for them I am in the spirit world. This allows me to empathize their experience with more clarity, but I am still a human connected in part to my experience of being human. Now if I take what I experience as them during the journey and translate it into human language I am twice removed from the actual form. I am twice removed from the truth that is that being’s experience. And the being is twice removed from me.

From this standpoint, all that is being had is a hopelessly garbled conversation. Like a foreigner trying to order dinner I will first try to select a dish I think I would like from a menu I can’t read. Then, with much difficulty, gesturing and mispronunciation I will ask the waiter to confirm that I have made a good choice. Not satisfied with his answer I will order it anyway. He has the chef make what he makes everyday and what arrives on my plate is no where near what I would have guessed.

healing animal communication

The Healing That’s Offered

The piece on “Do They Speak English?” leaves the reader with a new question: “If the shaman cannot help a horse understand what can they do?”

Domestic animals live in a world full of human agenda. Before the time of domestication, animals operated solely on their own will. Now we force them into trailers and kennels. We demand they be quiet when asked. We expect them to give solace and comfort to our tired souls. In all of this work, all of this submission, they can become weary and ill.

By nature, the shamanic practitioner works from a place of no personal agenda. To conduct healing, the shaman must surrender to and direct the spirits in equal parts. It’s in the surrender that agenda must be shed. The direction given is not respected unless the agenda is released. Agenda is polarized and the spirit world is not. Mother Nature is not malicious or kind in her power. Her power just is. The spirits work in the same way.

There are many paths to healing. Each has it’s own merit, but in shamanic work the path is tailored to the patient’s truth. In this way, the animal is allowed the opportunity to regain their sense of self which is a healing on its own. The animal is treated as an autonomous being valued for who they are outside of their relationship with humans. The healing is offered to them to do with as they please. This may be the first time in their entire lives that they realize the opportunity to manifest their desires. Do they want to stay and support their human? Would they rather languish in disease? Will they stay disconnected? Are they up to the task before them?

Self realization is a powerful healing, but disperses in the first wind of the civilized world without some shoring up. This is where the next piece of the work comes into play. The shaman brings forth energy that until this point has been unavailable to the patient. Since domestic animals have so little control over their physical environment, pieces of their essence are easily lost. Their personal power is forfeited. The brilliant light of their will grows dim. The shaman seeks out this essence and brings it back into the sphere of the patient’s conscious control. In this work, the desires of the animal may shift to reflect who they truly are at the core of their being.

There are as many benefits of shamanic healing for animals as stars in the sky, and what I’ve laid out here is the groundwork. I encourage you to explore the field further. This is our opportunity to offer back the unconditional love our furry friends are so courageously infamous for.

horse leadership

On Leadership

I find it an interesting synchronicity that at this time in my life I find my perspective of leadership turned on its head. In the over 2 years I’ve known my mustang mare she has been the lead mare of her shifting herd of 15-18 mares. She has shouldered the role so gracefully that life in the pasture has been ordered but playfully choatic, friendly with a sound level of ownership. She rarely, if ever, exerts her power over the others and has been willing to let many a discretion slide. My mare is not a micro-manager or one to delegate tasks, she lets each horse fall into their natural role in the herd, and shares her time with each regardless of rank. She has continually demonstrated that leadership is not about brute force, shear power, or outright enchantment, all of which she has in excess, but about sound quiet confidence.

Now, in the last few months I’ve watched another, smaller but quicker, mustang throw the herd into a jumble and bully my mare out of her position. I’ve realized how desperately I’ve clung to Cherokee’s identity as a leader, and I’ve had to go through my own path of transformation to reframe our relationship.

Relationships are tricky, especially those we have with our animals. So frequently I see that an animal’s illness, spiritual, emotional, mental or physical, is strongly tied to the human’s circumstances. We regularly project our own stuff onto our furry friends. We commonly ask them to excuse our faults. We pursue a mirror of our strengths. This is the natural order of things. To be in relationship is to connect and share our energy, love, and life.

The problem arises when the bond we share becomes static. This stunts the growth and transformation that is primary to every living being’s path. When this happens with the humans in our lives we begin to either voice or hear a good deal of grumbling which, when not heeded, turns to outright defiance and the severing of ties. Our furry companions cannot explain to us what the problem is with language, so we start to see other symptoms. Misbehavior and noncompliance are the first signs. Physical illness or violence are the last stage.

In the case of my mare and myself, I saw immediately that the shift in her role and my strong reaction to it required a big adjustment. I could have chosen to wallow in pity and spend my hours wishing for her to regain face. Instead, I saw an opportunity. Here was my chance to direct all her freed time and energy into our work together. Since she didn’t have a herd to watch over all day, I could provide Cherokee with more play sessions to ponder and I could visit at odd times. The weather this winter has been awefully cold, but I bundled up and went out. She met me in the middle by adjusting to the strange environment of the indoor arena. We’ve had some absolutely outstanding days together and now more than ever we look forward to making contact in a new way.

Many times I’ve pursued a position of leadership in my herd of two, but never would I have wanted Cherokee to have to give up her own. I still don’t know for certain that she had to relinquish her role in her herd to accept me as her leader, but something tells me that the opportunity arose for her and she took it. Maybe she’s thinking the same of me?

Feel like evaluating your own relationship with your furry friend… Here are some great questions to get you going:

1. What roles do my animal and myself play in our relationship together?
2. How have these roles shifted over time?
3. What role(s) would I like to work towards in my relationship with my animal?
4. How might our relationship change if I shifted into those roles?
5. How can I honor who my animal is in their life apart from our relationship?