Animal Medicine: Acquiring Power and Success


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!
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14 Responses

  1. On occasions I have dreamed of a great black horse that chases and menaces me, relentlessly. It’s a stallion, aggressive and strong and very determined to trample me. I guess this is a message!

    1. That would be my guess! The question is, what is the message about? My posts from May 22 and May 25, 2012 are about a black stallion in my dreams. Perhaps a re-read of those might shed some light on what your black stallion wants from you and why you’re running away from him. Does he truly want to hurt you, or might he just want you to stop running, turn around, and give him some attention? I’m wondering if some active imagination with him along these lines might provide some insights. Perhaps you could ask him want he wants and record his answers?

      1. Another thought about this, Viv. I’m told that the Senoi Indians used to train their children from early ages to turn around and face the thing that menaced them in their dreams. If you can do it in a dream, you can also do it in waking life because the courage and consciousness it takes is transforming.

  2. Thanks, Jean. Your messages re:
    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,
    4) a calm, quiet, and persistent approach will eventually produce positive results. came at a helpful synchronistic moment. I’m grateful : )

    1. I’m so glad! Seeing synchronistically instead of literally reveals a whole new world of lessons, teachers, direction and meaning, doesn’t it? There are reasons why our symbols feel so important to us. They are!

    1. This is a tough persona for many well-intentioned women and some men as well to identify and overcome. This is partly because it appears to be so praiseworthy on the surface that few notice how the private personality beneath the social mask can gradually acquire a self-pitying, manipulative, self-righteous, and/or angry martyr shadow. And as you note, it’s passed on to children until someone grows conscious enough to break the chain.

  3. Hi Jeanie, I really enjoyed reading your post too, thank you for sharing more animal medicine with us. Your horse Shadow (I just love his name!) sounds wonderful. Today I have a little story of my own…a few days ago in my garden, quite out of the blue, I watched a large female Sparrowhawk (bird of prey) kill and feast upon a wood pigeon. I stood with my face pressed against the window transfixed until I could bear it no longer and ran out into the garden, only to watch the bird of prey pick up the pigeon and fly off with it – it was an incredible sight to behold and the image still lingers.
    Sadly the pigeon (I feel) was one of a pair of lovers that had been frequenting my garden for years. Each night around their usual mating time (on the same branch, on the same tree, every night), despite the obvious evidence of many feathers scattered below, I have been watching the remaining bird sit and hear them call to their lover, wait for about 15 minutes before flying off.
    How long will they continue to return I wonder? What could this scene mean symbolically I wonder? Days later and I still feel a little sad about it. A poem in the making for sure. The ‘kill’ was such a vicious, brutal display of power, at the time it really shocked me, especially as the pigeon put up almost no resistance and yet…it is love that is left lingering, love that seems stronger than death…as I watch the remaining bird return and return again. Thank you for reading, Blessings, Deborah.

    1. Thank you for this very thought-provoking story, Deborah. This instinctual, predatory power “over” that so many humans adopt without ever questioning it is why the word “power” usually carries a negative connotation. We don’t want to believe it, but every human animal has a latent predatory instinct that can be activated, and often is, especially in people who themselves have been habitually victimized by it.
      Perhaps one lesson for those of us who witness these things in the animal world (as surely we all have) is to examine our lives to see if, how, and when this potential is activated in us. It could be something as simple as not noticing or feeling empathy for people who suffer, or secretly feeling somehow superior or self-congratulatory that we are not in their circumstances. I’ve seen more blatant forms of “power over” attitudes in self-righteous men and women who feel no sympathy for girls and women who are the victims of rape and other forms of abuse, blaming them instead of the perpetrators. The message could be to wake up to the predators in our cultures who victimize the less powerful in myriad ways, and to be more intentional about using our unique gifts to put an end to such practices in the systems within which we have influence and power.

      1. Another thought occurs to me Deborah. Although we’ve all seen things like you saw, not everyone is as bothered by them as you are. Some people might find this easy to forget, whereas you did not. What I’m wondering is if those who are more deeply moved by events like this might be more powerfully called to do something about them. Perhaps they have special gifts or attitudes or life experiences that make them more aware and sensitive and well-equipped to do something about them. I’m thinking about the Buddha, who, on his first visit outside the palace walls within which he had been so lovingly and carefully protected from the suffering of the world, was profoundly shocked and so moved by the sight of all the suffering people that he dedicated his entire life to alleviating suffering. Just a thought….

  4. Thank you for your most generous reply Jeanie, it is greatly appreciated. I found myself nodding in agreement with all that you have written and have reflected much today on that ‘image’…an image I realise that now feels very old inside of me, one that travelled with me I feel into this life, (perhaps) it is one that called me into the therapy profession 16 years ago. I think i’m going to be reviewing the image for some more time yet – hopefully I will be able to ‘heal the sacred divide’ on this one! It’s wonderful and so helpful to find new ways of looking, thank you for that.

    1. And thank you, Deborah, for sharing your experience here in such a rich, authentic way. It caused me to reflect more on this issue too and I appreciate that opportunity! I had a similar experience about 40 years ago that affected me so profoundly that I began to journal and take my inner life far more seriously than I had before. Powerful emotion, whether in dreams or waking life, always carries an important message for us and always presents an opportunity for healing.

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