One day recently, sitting in the Blue Ridge Mountain cabin in Virginia where my husband and I go to retreat and write, something (I consider it to be the “still small voice”) prompted me to look up from my work and out the picture window. “Don’t be afraid,” the voice said as I gazed at the distant blue ridges. “Trust what you sense and allow yourself to feel it.” I moved the computer aside and walked outside onto the grass. Everything around me took on a shimmering quality of aliveness. The trees, the plants, the grass, the sky, the air, and even the rocks, all seemed to be vibrating, albeit subtly, with a presence permeating it all. For a moment I panicked, alarmed at this sudden shift in awareness. Then I realized: The life force is everywhere.
This is not a book I intended to write. Its contents include personal experiences that I never planned to share publically. I earn my living as a scholar, studying and writing about bioethics, and the implications of emerging technologies for humanity and the earth. My work environment is a university engineering school, where the focus is on that which can be detected, observed, measured, predicted, replicated, designed, and built, using tested formulas and proven equations of the scientific method. It is an institution oriented around concrete understandings of the material world. In contrast to that, much of what I’ve written here is unfathomable. But when prompted to write about these experiences by one I consider to be a wise being, I said yes; so here is the sequel to When the Horses Whisper.
This book recounts elements of my life that continue to move and change me in profound ways. Many of the experiences described here have altered my sense of what life is, what God is, and who I am as a human being. I hope what I have written will hearten those who read it, because we are living in particularly trying times, with dramatically changing outer conditions on the planet, and the inner “great turning” of human consciousness. For much of my life I was oriented somewhere “out there,” absorbed with otherworldly, religious ideologies. During the teenage years I became a born-again Christian, focused on a Heavenly Father who I would get to be with again one day, albeit somewhere other than on Earth. In my twenties I worshipped at the feet of a yogic guru, in hopes of achieving enlightenment so that at least after death I would not have to reincarnate on Earth again. In my thirties I joined the Society of Friends (becoming a Quaker), removing the need for an intermediary between myself and God, and finding guidance and inspiration through silent worship in community. I was actively engaged and finding fulfillment in these varied pursuits, but I was also negotiating a profound disconnection between my spirit and my carnal self. I thought, but I struggled to feel. I spoke eloquently, but had little access to the authentic emotions beneath my words. I seem to have obliterated many unpleasant memories.
Experiencing my body as somewhat superfluous, as other than my “real” self, it served my soul as a mere vessel, a temporary home for the part of me that was more eternal, and supposedly more precious. It was as if my soul hovered primarily around and in my head and brain, but was never fully embodied in and as my whole bodily self. It wasn’t until my forties, when I grew increasingly unwell, that I became conscious of this disjointed state. Eventually I came to realize that I’d abandoned my bodily self in childhood, something my body had been trying to tell me all along. In living a fast-track, upwardly-mobile professional life, earning academic degrees, seeking career accomplishments, and taking care of my family, I’d been oblivious to my body’s signals.
By all accounts my life was a success. I was a professionally accomplished woman, spiritually centered and aware, happily married with wonderful child, living in a lovely home. Yet, something deep inside of me was shutting down. Frightening, sudden panic attacks happened with increasing frequency, interfering with my ability to function. Soon I was at a loss to what I truly felt, and to an authentic sense of myself. In a state of rapid deterioration, it became apparent that my physical health, as well as my emotional and psychological wellbeing, would require that something change. But I didn’t know what: I used massage, sand trays, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, mindfulness practices, crystals and other “grounding” modalities, and prayer, to try to recover a whole and balanced sense of being alive. Eventually I did begin to feel better and to “find my way back home.”
It was in my 50s, when I began communicating with horses (as recounted in the book, When the Horses Whisper), that the most profound shifts began to occur. That is when the heart center of my body opened, bringing greater awareness of my own and others’ feelings. My solar plexus activated, clarifying my core beliefs and heightening my perceptual capacities. My skin sensitized and I discovered what it means to be touched; and my lower chakras bloomed, leading me into amazing expressions of creativity, and a loving, powerful sexuality. Something unexpected was also happening: I was moving from an otherworldly spiritual orientation to directly experiencing the life force in myself, in other people, and in plants and animals. This inner growth, as it turns out, was part of a larger unfolding; gifts have come to me in recent years that have illuminated this often-clouded path.
Part I of Waking to Beauty recounts elements of my spiritual journey from early childhood encounters with unseen beings, to the profound sense of interconnectedness that has recently emerged. The content is largely autobiographical in order to provide a contextual framework for the evolution of my intuitive and perceptual abilities. Some of the stories may be mystifying, and possibly alarming, though I don’t write with that intention. Rather, my hope is that others will find inspiration and comfort in what’s here. When people learn about my ability to communicate with horses, they often ask me whether I have other unusual abilities. They (and I, also for that matter) would like to understand where such a capacity comes from. Is it something one is born with, a “gift” that is revealed at a certain point in life, or perhaps an innate capacity that all human beings have, but one that only some will come to recognize? I do not have an answer to that question. I am, however, able to mpoint to elements of my life journey that may be illuminating.
Part II of Waking to Beauty picks up where When the Horses Whisper left off, with teachings and lessons I’ve learned through my continuing communications with horses. The equine species has helped me to sense and hear differently, and to trust what I glean from my body, and from the “still small voice” of intuition from within me. In sharing stories of this, my personal evolution of consciousness, the hope is that others will be encouraged to trust their own unfolding, and to gain the faith and courage they may need as they undergo their own life journeys.
I write this introduction from a porch in Costa Rica, looking out at Arenal, an active andesitic stratovolcano. Plumes of steam are rising from its crater. Through almost two decades of observing this great geological being, including hearing it “breathing” in rhythmic releases of volcanic gas, I have come to see Arenal as a metaphor for humanity. We, too, are made of materials from stars; we, too, receive energy from the depths of Earth, as channels for the uprising flows of the life force.
In The Desire and Importance of Failing, the poet Rumi wrote:
“Every part of the cosmos draws toward its mate. The ground keeps talking to the body, saying, ‘Come back! It’s better for you down here where you came from.’”
For Rumi this draw represents a conflict between the longing of the soul, and Earth’s call. The poem continues,
“We’re like four different birds, that each had one leg tied in with the other birds.
A flopping bouquet of birds!
Death releases the binding, and they fly off,
but before that, their pulling is our pain.
Consider how the soul must be, in the midst of these tensions, feeling its own exalted pull.”
Rumi exhorts us to, “Remember what the soul wants, because in that, eternity is wanting our souls!” I know of what he speaks, because for so long I struggled with that “exalted pull” of my soul. Now I question myself, and I question my species, too. Is the pain that is the human condition truly a conflict between the compelling, competing calls of heaven and earth? Perhaps the real problem is in the false dichotomies of our larger belief systems: God as separate from Earth; humans as separate from other animals; spirit as separate from body. In fact, I am beginning to wonder, if we ignore the pull of the earth in its asking us to “come back,” in favor of the pull of the soul, what happens to us then? While it is has long been clear to me that our souls live on after bodily death, what matters is that we are alive now. Maybe it is God, or perhaps it is the Tao, but the life force I perceive as in everything and being everywhere, has always been right here with us on Earth.