Around the coast of Ireland and Britain there are countless stories of seal people. Often called selkies, they are usually said to be able to cast off their skins on land to take the appearance of humans. In many versions of these stories, a human falls in love with one of these beings, and although the feelings are returned, the human never quite plays fair. In order to keep their new love on land, they take the seal skin and hide it away, so that their lover is also their prisoner. These stories have an inevitable ending which I'm sure you can guess. Yes, one day the skin is found, and the selkie returns to the sea.
"Seals on the Rocks Farallon Islands" Albert Bierstadt (1830 - 1902)
Other selkie tales may concern seals who help humans who are in some kind of trouble (perhaps the human has spared a selkie's life in the past) or they may be about selkies who approach humans for help. One of my favourite of these stories tells of the adventure of a seal fisherman among the selkies, and is told by Tom Muir in this video.
I spent many years among "horse whisperers". The things I learned certainly deepened my thinking, and not just about horses. Bridging the horse/human divide - mentally, emotionally or spiritually is an immense challenge, and it's interesting how attracted we humans are to that challenge - whether it's horses or house pets, or even selkies. The man who many people consider to be the father of the natural horsemanship movement, was a fellow called Tom Dorrance. In one sense, you might call him a wise old cowboy, but his Zen-like approach to horses went a long way beyond spit and sawdust. It was an approach that he was known for extending to his human associates and students, too. Stories of how he simply set people up to see a lesson in something, then left them to figure it out, are legendary. I'll let you get a feel for Tom with a couple of quotes.
Tom's words are not easy to fathom. That's probably why he didn't write books. Most of the people who learned from Tom did it by watching, by doing, and most of all by some mysterious art of feeling what Tom was about. It was really only when some of these people, with a little more charisma, with more interest in words, began to take the message to the masses that the study of natural horsemanship became something people intentionally undertook.
The horse's need for self-preservation is deeply basic. It is fear of predators (and humans are innately predators, like it or not) which causes them to do all those inconvenient things like run away with their riders, shy in traffic or buck people off. Tom Dorrance, however, peeled away a layer that is still ignored by too many - the horse's need for mental self preservation and for spiritual self preservation, and that being herd animals, if we are to work with them under those terms, this includes a need to be together with us. Many people in the natural horsemanship movement believe that this brand of thinking could save humanity, and I'm not sure that they are overstating their case.
What the lesson of the selkie and the horse whisperer both teach us is the need for feeling togetherness, and that togetherness needs to be perceived as fair by both parties. Ultimately, it's not enough for me to say "I hid your seal skin because we loved each other" or "I trained you by a consistent set of rules, which were fair rules". If the other party doesn't feel fairness, it wasn't really togetherness. Anytime we are trying to initiate a relationship we need to meet the other party a lot more than halfway. We need to go most of the way. If that doesn't make sense, maybe the following little exercise I learned from a student of Tom's will.
Most people are looking to feel comfortable. Perceived common ground is what gives them comfort. Especially common ground of spirit, and of energy. Go somewhere where you can shake hands with a bunch of people. Some of them will crush your rings into useless scrap metal, some will have a touch like a wet paper towel, others will hold onto your hand just a bit too long for decency. Don't meet them halfway. Meet them all the way, if you can. Feel your way into what they are offering, and return it, and they will feel that you are together for that moment. You will be much more likely to have their trust, their interest, whatever.
Of course, you may recognise this exercise from an Aikido class or a workshop on sales techniques - it gets around. It may spark your interest, or it may spark in you a feeling that you would be giving up your authenticity if you shook hands in any way but your way, but consider this: if you can feel together with another being for a moment, you will be enriched. That, in itself, should be reason enough to do it, but there's more, because by feeling together you also create the opportunity to lead them to a better place -- perhaps toward that middle ground where you will feel safer, too. Just be aware - they may have places they want to take you, too.
I sometimes do readings for people about their relationships with their animal friends, and it's interesting that they always seem to end up being about meeting the animal on it's own ground, where true togetherness is gained. Next time you are trying to create some rapport with another being, why not give this approach a try?
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Wild Child, another piece I wrote linking horses and water from a different angle.