4 July 2015

Wild Women. When Animals Help Us Find Out Who We Are

Wild Women

Wild Women

Maria loves having Chloe and is experiencing, as she has before, the attachment and emotional issues that make the human animal bond so powerful and sometimes so difficult. She wrote about it honestly and movingly on her blog yesterday. These two wild women love one another and have connected very strongly, but Chloe is giving Maria a hard time about being ridden where Maria wants her to go.

This is a new experience for Maria, it is familiar to people with ponies and horses. Maria  encountered a lot of anger and isolation and hurt as a child, she is sensitive to being forced to do things she does not wish to do. She has been told that she must be a leader to the pony and make sure Chloe does what she is asked to do. This is a familiar process with many animals, especially dogs.

In my experience, there is a point in my life with animals – we have surely already been through it with Fate – where you have to make sure that the animal understands that they have to do what they are being told and asked to do. That you are the leader, not the boss – two very different things. This is how they live safely and harmoniously in our world, it is crucial to the relationship we seek to have with them. The challenge is to make this clear in a loving and positive way. For humans, that is always the hard pain, especially when the animal echoes painful and complicated issues and experiences in our own lives.

I am a passionate follower of attachment theory and I learned that our emotional interactions with animals are almost always reflections, even mirrors, of our own lives. Maria is learning it as well.

Maria is a very strong person, and a very sensitive one, it is very difficult for her to force any living thing – human or animal – to do something it doesn't want to do. She has been through that herself, and she experiences coercion as a form of abuse. The very idea of it is painful and troubling to her. For her, the horse has to do with gaining strength and confidence – seeing her astride this animal is inspiring, I do not think I could do it.

So how do you make an animal do something it doesn't want to do, and how do you feel comfortable about doing it when it kicks up so much painful dust?

Ponies, like border collies, can be willful and difficult. I have seen Maria process this kind of pain and abuse and confusion many times, she always comes through it stronger and clearer, she never gives up or gives in. It is the reason we are together, one of the reasons we are so connected.  I can testify to her commitment to finding her strength and moving through the challenges of life. Witnessing her find her voice and come to strength has been one of the most remarkable and powerful experiences of my life.One reason I love her so much is her extraordinary combination of strength and vulnerability and sensitivity, this mix is all over her art, her true voice and identity. It is, in some ways, what her life is about.

We are all made up of different recipes, we are all a brew, different smells and ingredients and flavors. Maria's stew is sensitivity, she and Chloe are in the dance, it can, I know, only have one outcome, even if she isn't yet sure of that.

I have seen and learned that many people talk of change, but very few people change. One of the few things Maria and I argue about all of the time is this question of change. People are always proclaiming themselves changed and healed, but I don't see too many people doing the real work of change. Maria tells me I am too hard on that issue. But to me, real change is not about revelation and intention, it is about long and hard and painful and difficult work. Maria is facing herself, as I try and face myself, and it is awful sometimes, it can hurt so badly.

But her pony is a vehicle for change and understanding, this is what animals do for us, they give us the opportunity to see ourselves, and to grow, and to become better human beings, if we are willing to do the work. She is already doing the work, brushing the pony, grooming her, talking to her, hauling out the saddle and harness, riding through the fields and pastures, coaxing, urging, prodding this animal to do what she is supposed to do, being asked to do. It is, in so many ways, the age old story.

I am outside of this circle, I have no role to play but to watch and encourage, take photos and applaud, sympathiize and listen.

Maria does not write for sympathy, or to get money or help. She does not want help, she wants to understand it and sort it out for herself. She writes out of the timeless struggle of valiant people to face and find themselves and seek to be complete and authentic. I know something she does not know but will soon find out. She will not be having this problem in six months, she will not be mired in the endless recycling of pain and lament that marks the lives of so many people.

You can take it to the bank. She and Chloe will be having many satisfying and exciting rides together, whether the pony wants to go back to the barn or not.  Maria will be all the stronger for it, that is her way. That is the gift of the animals.

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A Timeless Thing

A Timeless Thing

A Timeless Thing

It is exciting to see border collies rushing around after sheep, it can be dramatic and even inspiring. My own personal favorite images are different. Herding sheep is a timeless thing, animals have been helping people care for their animals for thousands of years, working animals are among the most beautiful creations in nature, it is painful for me to see them being driven out of the world by people who do not understand anything about them.

For some animals – border collies for sure – working with people and serving them is their destiny, and they are not really about chasing, they are about sustenance and safety. Fate and the sheep are getting to know and trust one another, slowly and carefully. Some days, the ewes and wethers try and butt her and run her off, that is becoming less frequent. Fate loves to run around, but more than that, she loves to sit with the sheep and watch over, their true purpose.

People love to see the acrobatics and precision of herding trials, but I don't care for them. They are manufactured events to me, there is nothing wrong with them, they are amazing. But now, I see Fate sitting down peacefully next to the sheep while they graze, and the sheep are coming to trust her enough to graze close to her, a sign that they respect the dog and know he or she won't harm them. Sheep are wondrous readers of dogs, put a crazy or aggressive one near them and they will panic and run.

So they are paying her a compliment. The true purpose and role of the border collie is not to compete for ribbons, at least not for me, it is to help the sheep find graze, to watch over them, and to bring them home when they need to be safe. That is the timeless role, and I wonder seeing Fate slip gracefully into it, a little more each day. She has a lot of drive, but there is a calmness about her I will work hard to nurture and develop.

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Ringside

Watching, Waiting

Watching, Waiting

Red and Fate were mesmerized by Maria riding Chloe around the pasture where they usually herd sheep. The closeness between these two is especially touching, it seems to deepen all the time. Fate adores Red, Red is completely at ease around her, he accepts being pestered and jumped on and followed around. I think herding together has made them even closer.

I keep changing feelings and strategies and techniques working with the dogs, I love figuring it out. Working the two of them together seems like a better and better idea the more I try it. It gives Fate the confidence she needs at this age, and Red seems to like having her around, he just goes about his business as usual. Karen Thompson told me once that Red was a kind dog, and that is very true, he is a generous and sweet spirit. He loves having a little sister, it seems, I have had  several border collies who would not be gracious about sharing their herding work.

Fate was especially wide-eyed as Maria sailed past on Chloe, she ran along the fence a couple of times and looked like she was very much enjoying the show.

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3 July 2015

Kelly At The Bog. Smile And Keep Going.

Kelly At The Bog

Kelly At The Bog

Kelly is one of the most interesting people I have met in my small town of Cambridge, she is the maestro of the Bog (Foggy Bottom) a popular bar and restaurant a couple of miles from our farm. Most night, Kelly runs the bar and waits tables on the restaurant by herself, she is unfailingly cheerful, competent and  attentive. She never gets angry (or shows it), never panics or loses her cool.

If things get too chaotic at the Bog, Kelly will ask one of her friends to help bus tables or bring the food out. Somehow, she manages to care for everyone at once. Always smiling. "You just got to smile and keep going, no matter what," she says. It is  a good philosophy, a lot of people pay a lot of money to hear that and work to believe it. It is the reality for Kelly.

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El duende: The Wind That Blows The Soul Into You. The Spirit Of Evocation.

The Wind That Blows The Soul Into You

The Wind That Blows The Soul Into You

In her wonderful book Women Who Run With The Wolves, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes that story is far older than the art and science of psychology, and will always be the elder no matter how much time passes.  One of the oldest ways of telling,  she writes, is the passionate trance state, wherein the teller "senses" the audience – be it an audience of one or many – and then enters a state between worlds. A story is "attracted" to the trance-teller and told through her (or him).

The trance-teller calls on El duende,  the wind that blows soul into the faces of listeners. A trance-teller learns to be psychically double-joined through the meditative practice of the story, that is, training oneself to undo roadblocks of self and ego in order to let the voice speak, that the voice that is older than the stones, surely older than the phones and tablets and screens. "When this is done," Estes writes, "the story may take any trail, be turned upside down, be filled with porridge and dumped out for a poor person's feast, be filled with gold for the taking, or chase the listener into the next world. The teller never knows how it will all come out, and that is at least half of the moist magic of the story."

Beautiful words, and I saw myself in them. Maria saw it as well. I am a trance-teller, I am never more at  home than when I am writing a story on my blog or telling a story at a library or bookstore. I never prepared, never think about what I am going to say, in front of an audience, behind a keyboard, I am in a trance, unseen and unknown spirits rise up and guide my lips and mind. My stories may take any trail, be dumped out for a poor person's feast, fall on deaf ears or vanish into the ether, be filled with free gold for the taking, or chase the reader or viewer or listener into another place and time.

I am a story-teller, my stories are not about grammar or spelling, they are not short enough to fill up an Iphone screen. My stories are my life, I have trained myself to bypass the roadblocks of fear, ego and self to find my voice and set it free, and in that mystical process, find myself and set my soul free.

When I tell my stories, I am one with my listeners, we dance together in a light but passionate embrace, we sway back and forth together, I call on El Duende, the wind that blows soul into the faces of my listeners, and when I see their souls rising up to meet mine, I have entered a mystical space of meaning and imagination.

Stories are about emotion.  El duende is the spirit of evocation. It comes from inside of us and shows itself as a physical or emotional response to art. It is what gives us chills, makes us smile or cry as a bodily reaction to an artistic or creative performance that is particularly expressive.

El duende is an earth spirit who helps the artist see the limitations of his or her intelligence,  who brings the artist face-to-face with death, and who helps them create and communicate memorable, sometimes spine-chilling art.

Stories are my life, and my life is my stories. People often tell me they are surprised by my openness, but it is not so simple as that. In so many ways, I am very closed, my life is the boundary of the stories that I tell. Each day I am reminded, in one way or another,  of the limitations of my intelligence, the fragility of my creativity,  the uncertainty of life. I have been face-to-face with death and sometimes I can create and communicate art that touches the souls and hearts of people.

In a way, true creativity is the trance state, no one really knows where El duende it comes from, how long it will stay, where it goes and how it gets there. It is my dream to be the wind that blow the soul into the faces and spirits of readers and listeners.

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