A glimpse of one of the cards from our upcoming Horse Wisdom deck
A breath of wind sets Darma's memorial wind spinner twirling, and I recall how sensitive she was to any change in her environment. It was a year ago today that she transitioned. I still remark on the neighborhood noises or activities that in the last few years would trigger her into fight or flight. I have spent this last year trying to reframe those sounds and sights as a positive reminder of her. They remind me to look and listen for a moment through my inner horse ears.
In the last few years when Darma's post traumatic stress became a frequent challenge, I was always looking out the window for where and how she was. She was like a weather vane for the landscape, telling me what was going on in her inner and outer environment. However, this vigilance had a high price. It became instilled in my own psyche, and I became post traumatic myself, anticipating that my day to day life would be disrupted by Darma's panic attacks.
Darma watching for signs of danger
In 2020 I had learned through the excellent course, the Trust Technique ® with James French, that in trying to anticipate the need to help her through her fears, I was inadvertently programming myself, and therefore also her, with my own stress, so we were in a feedback loop. My learning of how to hold a meditative state with and for myself and for her, in order to find peace, was one of the profound gifts of that time.
Darma hadn't always been anxious, and neither had I. But in the words of Tolkien from The Lord of the Rings, "aging it seems, had caught up with us". Our beautiful years of a life on our farm with a menagerie of animals included unforeseen challenges both in our animals' health, and our own. Being in physical bodies wasn't always easy.
In February of 2022, many of these feelings and experiences came into a grand conjunction of intensity. In the midst of all of that, I had the opportunity to manifest a dream come true; a publisher contracted us to create the horse wisdom card deck and guidebook that my friend Sandra Wallin and I had been working on for years. Despite how exciting this news was, it was equally daunting, as even with just over a year to the deadline, the schedule demanded that I create a new work of art every two weeks, which seemed impossible even in peaceful times, but that year it often felt like we were under siege.
When Darma suddenly passed in October at the age of 29, her loss settled deep into my soul. After a short time I picked up my pastels again. My grieving would need to be in motion. I didn't have the luxury of time for reflection. My heart felt empty with the loss of her, but at the same time I was relieved for her to be at peace. Darma ~ 1993 ~ 2022 blog
Five months later, I felt it was time to create Darma's card for the deck. I found I wanted to paint her. It was a way of connecting with her again. It is probably no surprise that I am usually too busy painting other people's horses to find time to paint my own. Darma was no exception. The only other work of art I had created of her "Darma's Reflection" was in 2007 for the book and card set, the Way of the Horse by Linda Kohanov. Appropriately named "Darma's Reflection" it showed an image of Darma reflected in her own eye. Now it was time for another kind of reflection a glimpse of her resilient self as revealed through her life experiences.
As I wrote and re-wrote her card essay, and envisioned the composition for her work of art. I came closer to identifying some of the aspects of what she had taught me and others, and what she and I both learned during her life and and including the day of her passing. One of these was the concept of surrender.
I began to research the meaning of the word Darma; a name given to her as a filly destined to be a racehorse. I'm sure upon incarnation she must have chosen the name for herself, for the concepts of dharma are as complex as Darma herself, and the metaphors are unmistakable. See Wikipedia
I also learned that her name was not a misspelling of the word as I had originally thought, as sometimes the word is spelled without the "h".
I was creating her painting for the card deck, but I knew it was a work of art that would be extremely personal to me. A painting of her Soul Essence. She was more than her suffering, but her suffering informed her strength and wisdom.
In recent years she had been unable to fully rest or sleep due to her constant vigilance and her fused knee from her racing career, so she always slept while standing. Therefore I painted her in the most peaceful pose and place I could imagine. A memory from years past of her sleeping deeply while living with her herd, when she mentally, emotionally, and physically felt her safest.
In a painting I usually work from background to foreground, creating the subject last. As I laid down the vivid colors of chalk for the background colors, the pond, and the lily pad, and then her reflection, upside down, revealed itself. It was then that I realized that in the reflection the lily was coming out of Darma's head like a white sparkling crown. When I began to draw her, the strokes of my fingers on the soft paper was like touching her in all the familiar places, I knew every inch of her down to her ermine marked hoof. Drawing her closed eye was the most precious.
In her reflection I intentionally portrayed her knee in the position it would have been at rest if she hadn't ever been injured. A friend later remarked that she didn't see her eye as closed but rather looking down peacefully at her own reflection.
In life, Darma always appeared to me in reflections. In her own eye, in any window in her vicinity, sometimes in my bathroom mirror, or in a miraculous juxtaposition of windows reflecting windows. Even after death, I visualized her eyes in the double reflected candle flames in my window.
The sacred water lily represents the Buddhist properties of rebirth as we emerge and grow through the mud of our mundane selves, to open our petals into the light. Showing us the potential of the purity and enlightenment that can come through experience. The dragonfly is a welcome reminder of the power of transformation.
Many of you have read my chronicles of Darma's path, so on Darma's Angelversary I wanted to share her painting with you.
"Darma's Path" ~ Pastel
This artwork is the first of the cards to be unveiled
from the upcoming Fall 2024 release of the new
horse wisdom deck and guidebook by Kim McElroy and Sandra Wallin
Now that she is truly at rest in her heavenly home, I am beginning to reconcile her loss. Yet I remain an earthling, traveling my own path of learning. After navigating the pendulum between life and death for so many years, a significant part of me has forgotten how to be at ease. Now that our other two horses have also passed, for the first time in the last two decades I am learning what it's like to release my care-giving role. It is an odd sensation to even ask the question, 'what do I do today?' For the last 23 years, that question was always a given; take care of the animals needs, our own needs, some important and fulfilling work tasks, and then there was rarely time left for pleasure or personal growth. Now I have a wealth of time, and I am finding my way back to innocence and play.
It is amazing how many layers there are to the creative process, for it wasn't until I completed the painting that I realized another reason why the art was so meaningful to me. The lily pads and pond weren't merely metaphors, but a reality from our past with Darma. They represent the pond at Still Haven, our small rental property where Rod and I lived for together for the first time. Darma was at odds in the horse boarding situations we had tried for her, so we built a tiny paddock and a stall and brought Darma there to live with us. The pond was the beautiful center of the property, a central element around which we created a haven for us all, and a prelude to the sanctuary we later created here at SkyeLandeSea. On that property was where we had our first experiences of joy together, where Darma felt safe enough to reveal her true self. When she and I first began to know what it meant to be a horse and a human who loved each other.
I know Darma is present and she will feel our hearts as we wish her well. She isn't gone, she just stepped sideways into the light.