watercolor by sylvia smith
The day I changed my life, Tal started getting well.
Moments after finishing this post which has been a struggle for me to write, I looked out into the pasture from my second-story barn studio. Tal was standing up the hill about the distance of a long city block away from me. It was the closing of the day and the sun was getting drowsy but still had one last beam left as it was nodding off to sleep. It just happened to be cast across the pasture like a spotlight on Tal as he was happily grazing. The white in his coat shown so brilliantly against the soft golden background, I actually squinted my eyes. He seemed to be glowing from within, or perhaps angels had tiptoed into the pasture while I was writing, and secretly dusted him with luminous magic from their own world.
Wisdom From the Four-Legged Shaman
For months, the youngest in the herd but not in spirit, Tal, had suffered laminitis with conventional and alternative treatments not working. Undaunted, he had been giving me spiritual tools all along but as I tried to use them, I fumbled again and again without understanding. He had continuously told me to go to the homeplace spiritually. For the most part I was able to do it with a degree of comfort having experienced it for years when I allow myself to linger in a good feeling that feels like coming home within, but little did I know that this time, he meant literally as well.
Secondly, he said to embrace my heart desires. I had been swinging like a pendulum to extremes. He spoke firmly that I was to embrace, not suppress, nor on the opposite swing to “let go” in some kind of smug and pious surrender. My desires were to be accessible, free flowing, fulfilling, a natural expression of who I am, and to be shared. There was an urgency about it.
And the third thing, baffling to me at the time, he emphasized, simultaneously and with the same sense of timeliness, to become acquainted with my divine self. I could speak the language, but he was calling me to something more.
I had clumsily tried to take to heart each one of Tal’s directives individually with limited results. Naively trying to explore them separately, I hadn’t realized that all three were an integral part of one another. I ultimately discovered that those deep heart desires, and those transcendent, other-worldly feelings of the homeplace that Tal had repetitively nudged in my direction, were in fact expressions and experiences of my divine self. All along I had been acquainted but hadn’t known it.
The Underground Labyrinth
It is now that I’m seeing the wisdom of it all. This has been a very calculated and organized learning process. From my vantage point at the time, however, I felt as though I was in a tortuous and chaotic underground labyrinth trying to find my way out but seemingly circling back to where I’d started. There were hints and clues along the way that didn’t seem significant at the time, but deep down I knew they were. I would put them in my mental carrying bag only to have them fall somewhere to the bottom out of sight and no longer useful to me.
My goal was to find my way out of the dark and endless underground maze. I had thought, feeling quite noble about my task, that the way out was by solving Tal’s continuing laminitis. To do that I needed to find the right whatever it was.
While all this was going on underground, strangely I was watching myself in this dilemma from a place of numbness above. I seemed to be out of my body hovering as I watched matter-of-factly my endless struggle day after day with Tal’s physical condition and my efforts to reconcile it with a multitude of spiritual shifts. I knew I had a choice and would ultimately make it, but didn’t yet know what it was. I observed myself grabbing incessantly at each possibility that might be the answer to Tal’s ongoing physical issue, but nothing provided the healing I longed for us to experience.
Finding the Way Home
One day I finally got it. It wasn’t about Tal. It was not about finding the solution for him. It was about me. I hadn’t been able to understand Tal’s directives to me because of my own entrenchments. I’d been giving myself away to friends I cared about because I wanted so much to accommodate them. This meant my life had become fragmented, and that was depriving me of my lifeblood which is being with the horses and being with nature, and as I was to finally learn, being with my divine self. The time had come.
Unknowingly, the door opened for me to finally recognize that other self. It happened after I met head on with this lifestyle that I had been living the past two years trying desperately and innocently to make conflicting aspects of my life work together. In my frustration, I had been slowly, and without awareness, detaching from what was meaningful to me in my everyday life in order to make other parts of my life work and to accommodate those I love. I was becoming lost to myself and living in a somewhat sedated emotional hell as I searched for the wrong solution and overlooked the underlying problem which was the abandonment of my divine self.
On that day, something finally clicked for me and I decided then and there to fulfill the cry of my heart by rearranging my life. That I did. In the middle of an accommodating “commitment” to a dear friend, I literally turned the car around and drove home. The moment I made the decision, I felt a sense of peace and inner strength well up inside of me. On my trip homeward, I noticed I was free of the rigid body that had become the norm for me in these past months as I was racked by concern for Tal. Instead I felt a deep knowing within that he would be all right. I drove home peacefully with all the unsettling voices and noises of this long journey at last quiet. I was headed home both literally and in my heart.
I was not disappointed. As I drove to the barn, Tal was standing straight and tall as if a burden had been lifted, holding his chest out and his head high over the fence with intense interest in what was going on in the rest of the world. He had suddenly come out of himself as I had come into mine. That was the beginning of Tal’s dramatic and ongoing healing. Everyday from then on his improvements were the background music for the dance of my heart,… and his.
When I made the choice to listen to and live my heart’s desires, I no longer had to ask Tal how to get to know my divine self. She had been there all along, I had just forgotten while courting ego remnants. When I reconnected with the lifestyle that works for me or rather, I should say, the lifestyle that works for her, there she was waiting, and what a beautiful reunion. I finally understood what it meant to embrace desire. It was the luring voice of my divine self calling me to my homeplace. Those seemingly fragmented messages that Tal had been giving me for weeks, came together in an implosion that lifted me out of the cold and dank labyrinth of hopeless despair and placed me in a pulsating and rich adventure of my unfolding life mystery.
With Tal’s immediate shift in health, I could never have predicted that the weeks and even months of agony would be so quickly reversed by one important action which became the culmination of a very long journey, and the beginning of a new. Instead of anguish, I now feel joy when I come to the barn. I see him watching for me, and responding to my call. And I watch for him. Each day Tal has improved noticeably. He is finally moving more fluently, eating well, staying at a good weight, and very alert. He is full of lighthearted playfulness, often throwing his large, black Roman head in a carefree figure eight with its own symbolism I haven’t yet pursued. It’s as if he is simply saying, “Let’s get on with it. I’m ready to take flight. Are ya comin’?”
After finding my way home,I started having involuntary experiences of recalling my past, mostly pleasant, but not all. They washed over me unsolicited and uninhibited. For days I lived in a nostalgic state, and still do, a profusion of memories surfacing out of my control. Memories that came as snapshot flashes, only glimpses but with strong feelings that seemed more important than the actual event. Most feelings were now familiar to me as that comfortable homeplace that Tal had continued to encourage nonstop through these grueling weeks. Memories that were spiritual but I hadn’t recognized as such when I was younger were now linking past with present. Memories that held beautiful feelings but created pain because of loss now became alive with reconnection. I had been experiencing my divine self for years and had not realized it, and now with the remembering, my feelings were finding their home as past and present merged and integrated.
The honeymoon had started. I was having a reunion with my childhood flame, my divine self. The feelings of contentment, peace, joy greeted me each day. I thrilled at dappled sunlight, the cry of the red tail hawk, the struggling pink dahlia in my garden, the reflection in my front door window of white daisies, wild dandelions and fluttering butterflies, and with Tal as he continued to come more fully into health.
Perhaps it wasn’t surrender after all. Perhaps it was the sweetness of embrace. Putting arms and heart around that which has always been there.
In the midst of my being immersed in a soft euphoria, this poem arrived in my mailbox from a friend who I’m sure has been smuggled into my life by celestial beings to be my patron saint. What she brought to me through the words of Mary Oliver could have been my whole blog post, punctuated only by “and Tal started getting well!”
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!
each voice cried
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left the voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Journey Into Surrender, Parts 1-7