One of the most wonderful gifts of being an artist is the way my work in the world is so vividly experienced by people I’ll never meet. Because my work is a tangible, visible medium, it can travel and be seen and felt by countless strangers, and I have discovered that because my work is intended to have healing qualities, each person who is touched by the art seems to have a vivid memory of the experience.
Much of my art over the years has been created with an intention of portraying a concept. But I also create commissioned portraits of horses for their owner. Some of the portraits are realistic and some are stylized, but they all have one thing in common. My creations seek to connect with the spirit of the horse, either living or on the other side. Some of my portraits are what I call “soul essence” portraits, and these are more than a work of art, they are a complex vision of symbolic elements that conveys the horse’s purpose in their person’s life.
Sometimes, a portrait takes on a life of its own beyond the story of the horse and their person. The portrait becomes a work of art that means something to another, or many others. Then the horse takes on another role of life, and that is, to become a symbol of their kind and the lessons they have to teach us all. Melisande or “Mel” for short, was just such a horse. Mel was an Arabian mare dearly loved by her owner Sharon, who offered her a home in retirement, after her many homes and many years spent as a show horse gathering glory for her riders. With Sharon she had a chance to just be herself, and find out who that self was. When the toll taken on Mel’s body from her years of service made it clear she was ready to cross the Rainbow Bridge, Sharon helped her make that choice with dignity and ease. A year later, Sharon asked me to paint Mel’s spirit in an Essential Soul Essence Portrait. Instead of just a pretty picture, Sharon wanted me to intuitively express her essence, just as in life, in her portrait; Sharon once again invited Mel to speak for herself.
Usually when I begin the process of beginning a Soul Essence Portrait, I do a meditation to ask for the message from the horse. Mel didn’t need to wait for my prompting. She appeared in my mind one morning. As I was awakening I felt the presence of a horse. In my mind’s eye she galloped up to me and I saw hoof prints in the dirt, and then I realized it was Mel because I had been thinking about her portrait.
I asked if there was something she could share for her soul essence portrait for Sharon. I then saw an image of Mel and Sharon facing each other. In between them was a bowl. It seemed to be a ceremony of sharing the bowl – each sipping from it.
I asked if there was a cultural reference to the bowl symbol and the feeling was Japanese or Asian. I saw a big shining brass gong. Then the perspective of the vision changed to where Mel was facing me as if I was Sharon sharing the bowl with her. Mel’s deep eyes were looking into me/Sharon with compassion and love. The feeling felt like the gesture of bowing in the greeting “Namaste” a Buddhist greeting translated as “The Divine in me bows to the Divine in you”. Reflected in the liquid in the bowl was a written the Chinese characters for the concept of Namaste. I saw a purple shawl around Mel’s shoulders. It felt like she was a wise teacher – but humble, and that everything Sharon might see in her, she was also seeing in Sharon.
A healer friend told me that in the Japanese tradition the roles of Master/Student are also called “Teacher/Learner”.The Master and the Student are considered to have the same wisdom, and the master learns as much from the student as the student does from the master. The feeling was that if Sharon was to look at this portrait of Mel, she and Mel would be looking at each other and each would be saying/feeling the same thing –“Namaste you are my Teacher – I am a Learner….”
I researched some of the symbolism of the images Mel had shown me and Sharon and I found the elements to have significant meaning both for Sharon’s story of Mel and their relationship, and also for the aspects of what horses offer humanity as a whole. All this from a horse named Melisande whose name means “animal strength.”
I shared Namaste with fans of my e-Inspiration emails, and I invited them to participate in a “group poetry” experience by sharing their thoughts on what the message of Namaste is. A flood of emails began pouring into my inbox. The responses were so meaningful and so universal, that I was inspired to create a series of illustrated pages with the words from participants worldwide which formed an inspiring message of the profound gifts that horses offer us.
The journey of Namaste continued when I received an email from a fan and friend from Portugal named Ian Rowcliffe. Ian teaches English to children in the presence of his horses as the motivation and inspiration to learn language in a new way by expressing contextual and complex feelings and thoughts rather than merely route learning. Ian praised the group poem I had posted and he asked my permission to use the poem in his teaching. He later sent a web link to share what Namaste had inspired. I watched with tears in my eyes as I beheld Portuguese children reading the poem aloud to the horses! I couldn’t imagine a more profound way for me to hear that poem out loud.
Those of us who do healing work with horses know about the effects they have on us. There is a quality to all healing that goes beyond our own insights, expanding into a ripple effect which continues outward to all beings that share our lives or cross our paths. Little do we know what we can create when our hearts are filled with Namaste.