Nicole asked me to create a Soul essence painting for her horse Okie who worked with her in her equine assisted learning work with people. Since she had rescued him he had struggled with digestive health issues and colic. Her quest to help him heal was a big part of her life with him. Little did we know that his message would be leading us to Shangri La.
I entered into a shamanic journey with Okie, expressing a desire to connect with him and to have him show me in pictures what images or symbols could express who he has been, who he is, and who he will be. I decided to start in a place I had been to before in my meditations. It is a place in the woods where there is a pool and small waterfall. Often I walk into the pool to go into the Lower World. Just as I wondered if I should do that, Okie walked up to me in his physical horse form. He gently touched my right hand with his nose and he began to lead me off into a trail deeper into the woods. The woods were full of tall trees, shaded underneath with very little undergrowth.
As he led and I followed I became aware of how fluid his movements were. I was aware of his gait, and his hooves stirring up the dust. We arrived at the edge of a circular clearing; a meadow surrounded by trees. I assumed at first that something was to happen here and that we were to go into the center. But he stopped at the edge so I stood on his right side and I waited. I heard a breeze in the trees and the trees sounded like they were whispering. I looked down at the ground at our feet and I noticed in minute detail the little ants in the grass. I was aware of my own feet and Okie’s hooves. Then my gaze traveled up Okie’s legs and I focused on him standing there next to me. He was in profile to me and stood at ease. I noticed how the light played on him – lighting up each little hair in his coat, and mane. I was intensely aware of every detail and physical reality of him. I noted this as a dramatic contrast to the journeys with spirit horses which often appear to me as if the horses are images or forms, or colors of horses, but not detailed in physical form like this.
There was something about looking at his body that drew me in – as if I was to see something there revealed but at first I couldn’t see it. I looked around again – this time noting the bark on the trees – everything in such beautiful detail.
I looked again at his body – at the barrel of his body from shoulders to rump. Something was there – something important… something that was to be revealed that almost felt like a movie projector waiting to begin. I waited and relaxed my trying. Then gradually I began to see an image form in his body as if I was looking at a movie screen. There appeared a range of mountains – craggy, forbidding, snowy mountains… yet inside the mountain range I could also simultaneously perceive a hidden oasis – and suddenly the concept came to me –Shangri La. I began to realize that Okie was showing me his essence – that he is both the forbidding, seemingly insurmountable mountains, yet he is also capable of imparting and embodying the blissful peace of mind, body, and spirit that is Shangri La.
My impression was that these two concepts can convey his beingness at any given moment; that in order to understand him, one must be aware that he has these two natures within him. The metaphoric message for humans, was that when one is encountering challenging mountains, it is possible for us to find a path through the mountains if we pursue it with perseverance and courage. To the initiate who finds the one hidden pathway through these mountains – the blissful place is there waiting, but always hidden from view. This place and essence is precious, rare, and holy, and filled with profound and powerful healing energy.
I then saw an image of Okie and Nicole traveling the hidden pathway together as if they knew the way – and my impression was that the two of them could traverse this path of him together – that when Nicole finds the way through Okie’s natural Mountain self – the part of him that is about survival, physical stamina, and which sometimes challenges them both with the mysterious twists and turns of his steep trails and passes, that they can find the Shangri La together, and enter the place higher consciousness in each of them. That even his health concerns are symbolized by this difficult path, yet in that journey he holds the unconditional awareness of both the travail and the peace.
As I allowed myself to experience Shangri La with them, my entire body was filled with a sense of heightened energy and incredible well being. I bathed in this feeling for quite some time. I began to realize that if one could see all beings as embodying both these places; if we could unconditionally accept the mysterious twists and turns of the nature of others without judgment but with awareness, we could learn to be so much more patient, knowing that Shangri La is always possible.
As the drumming of my journey signaled the call back – Okie and I came back from the mountains to stand again together at the edge of the meadow. We both turned and began to run back together to the fast drumbeat calling us back to ourselves. I felt such joy as we ran and I expressed my gratitude to him. I then began to feel myself returning to my body and I knew he had gone off into his own.
This was all very amazing to me when I re-read Nicole’s Portrait Questionnaire in which she stated,
“He takes things seriously and he has an incredible work ethic. There is no trail too long, no canter too fast, no exercise to hard for him to give it a try. When he lets his guard down I feel I am part of a special moment. I am allowed into that sacred space that he keeps well protected for the most part. I get a glimpse here and there, and get to experience those divine little moments”
My Own Lessons
If I myself could understand that this frame of mind what I seek with my horses in my own ways, and that we can also enter that place of Shangri La together. If I could accept the challenge and not dwell on the difficulty of the mountain paths or what people often call “resistance” in horses, but rather see the horses as protecting what is holy within them. To understand that this gift is only offered freely to those humans who have perseverance, and who are trustworthy, and full of respect. What a worthy quest that would be…
Creating “The Quest”
I remembered watching an old black and white movie called “Lost Horizon” about a team of explorers finding Shangri La. I believe it was black and white until they entered Shangri La and then the movie changed to color. I was always struck by the mystery of that movie.
I began researching Shangi La and learned that it is believed to be located in the Kunlun Mountain range at the northern border of the Tibetan plateau. I found some photographs of Kunlun mountain that were inspiring to me. The cloud formation at the top of the mountain gave me the feeling I could create another world revealed through the mists.
I then searched randomly online and ran across an image of a place that was very inspiring and made me feel like it could be Shangri La.
I drew a spirit sketch of Okie’s right side – with his head curved down in a gentle arc. Into this I placed the mountains and clouds leading up to the beautiful meadows. The image of Nicole and Okie was ideal for placing into the clouds – they have ascended through the difficult mountain passes and are about to enter Shangri La.
At first I could not fathom what I was going to do with the right side of the painting – for I had focused the landscapes as I had seen them in the vision – as Okie’s body from the shoulders back. I started with the lower part below his face, and suddenly I was inspired to paint an image I had seen similar to an artist’s rendition of Kunlun Mountain – more abstract. Then I felt that a sunrise would be appropriate, and that evolved beautifully into a cloudscape fantasy.
“Kunlun Mountain was regarded as the mythical center of the Taoist cosmos… The mountain is actually an ancient representation of the self–a reflection in miniature of the divine wholeness of Tao.”
~ Lorie Eve Dechar, Five Spirits: Alchemical Acupuncture for Psychological and Spiritual Healing
Myths and Mystery
Kunlun Mountain has long been thought of as a Taoist paradise by the Chinese, a sacred place shrouded in mystery. It is said to be home to the most important Taoist goddess, Xi Wang Mu, Queen Mother of the West, along with other gods and human immortals. Legend holds that the Jade Palace of Huang-Di, the mythical Yellow Emperor and originator of Chinese culture was found nestled in the wilds of Kunlun. Medicinal and magical healing herbs and mushrooms flourish here, inextricably linking the mountain to Chinese medicine, health and longevity.