This is a story about a very sweet dog, I often see him in my head when I am in need of comfort and the assurance that everything really is okay, to do my best to relax, trust and have some faith that what I am creating will turn out better than I can imagine.
It is autumn, I am sitting in a chilly garage in New Brunswick, Canada. With me, is a lovely woman in her 40’s, her Mum and a jaunty, cheerful Jack Russell. He has just driven with his lovely human from Ottawa. His human is mentally and physically fatigued, is crying, sad, her spirits are low and she is experiencing some culture shock. She has just packed up, moved house, quit her job, split from her husband, driven 985 km and is living with her Mum. She is in very much doubt about her decisions and is really upset about whether bringing the Jack Russell, was the right thing to do. Would he have rather stayed in Ottawa with her husband? [Read more…]
Well, here I am, writing my first blog, in my new house! It is a very delightful experience indeed. I have been in transitional moving chaos for a month now, have been filmed for CBC news and had the amazingly inspiring opportunity to speak twice at the Atlantic Horse Fair to very appreciative crowds. Throughout, the horses have been reminding me to take deep breaths, exhale aaaahs and keep my mind as quiet as possible by focusing on the peace and beauty of my surroundings.
My new home is charming, tiny, cheerful and full of light. I loved it the moment we met. It is full of possibilities and I am appreciative of it’s inspiring effect. The only thing that has been missing in it’s loveliness was a connection to the internet. For three weeks, I have been ferrying my laptop to several locations with wifi and answering business emails, uploading CBC links and fretting about this blog. Sitting in your car seat, in a hotel parking lot is not condusive to a calm demeanour in professionalism and prompt replies to business enquiries! By last Friday, my tranquility and ability to remain focused and organized was fraying into anxiety, doubt and exasperation. As the rural wireless surveyor stood and informed me, that my location was not going to pass inspection for their wireless service, that I must wait three weeks, and then enquire whether internet was even feasible, I sat and cried. After he left, frazzled and having a panic attack that this location may indeed be unsuitable to do business in, a move may be in order, perhaps this had all been a mistake, on and on my mind raced in a frenzy of doubt, mistrust, judgement and criticism of my choices and decisions. Luckily, in the midst of this cloud of despair, I heard my friend Scully say…’Relax, there is a solution.’
So, I tried to relax. Everytime, my mind would speed up with the how’s, what’s and how come’s, Scully would say ‘Reee-LAX!, stretch and exhale’. Interesting indeed. Relaxing is a practise. During my move, I had been noticing, that I kept putting off relaxing into sometime in the future, by saying, ‘When I get this box moved, I’ll be able to relax.‘ Then as soon as the box was moved, I would say, something like this…’Now, after I sweep the floor, clean off the table and get the bathroom painted, I can relax.’ The horses kept reminding me, that it was necessary to relax WHILE I was doing the activity, instead of putting it off. That the act of doing must be relaxing. So, I did do my best to relax and let the internet solution occur, but after a few hours of hemming and hawing, I went to visit Scully in person. I told her, I was ready to blow something up, I was so frustrated. That I was tired and my mood gloomy and could only see the difficulty in the situation. When she pointed out that it was all a bit amusing and that there was a point to it, my reaction was rather curt, serious and impatient.Whatever could be amusing and what possibly could be the point of having to move again and not be able to easily keep up with my business?
‘Well,’ She said.’ Awhile ago, you asked us how you could improve your abilities in focusing and communicating with us more clearly, with less emotional entanglements…remember we suggested you unplug the TV and spend a lot less time on Facebook and surfing the internet? Well, without the internet the last few weeks, you have been forced to do this! It’s been really beneficial for you, the film shoot for CBC and the success of your talks in proof! So it is kind of amusing how it all has come about!’
Then, she turned around, and pushed her bum up to the stall door, stated she was sore from so much jumping in her first clinic of the season and recommended that I continue to relax by giving her some Reiki. After, an hour of standing and receiving some energizing, calming energy myself, my friend Wendy happened by, hearing about the internet frustrations, she made some helpful suggestions. The possibility of a solution occurred. Then, upon my return home another suggestion was on my answering machine! And guess what? That suggestion was the solution! And miracles of miracles, thank you internet guides, here I am writing this blog! So if you are frazzled by a problem, be aware of the action of relaxing, as Scully says, you have to relax and keep relaxing to let the solution occur, but be assured there is one!
Horses do experience grief. When one of their herd members die, they mourn for them. They understand that death is a natural reality of living, and often celebrate their fellow horse’s passing. At the same time, physically and mentally they do miss the lost member, experiencing emotions of sadness and loss, which can make them stiff, moody, lethargic, solitary, unaffectionate, and sometimes, depressed. The horses themselves suggested these acupressure points to help them to relax naturally and recover from the loss of a loved one. Acupressure has been around for over 3,000 years. It is a natural and easy tool to use with horses. All you have to do, is apply some pressure, using your thumb, 3rd finger, knuckles or palms on a point which is mapped out below. Press on these points letting the horse guide you, if the horse leans in, continue as long as you like. If you feel like briskly rubbing in the area surrounding the point, do so. This will improve circulation and cheers the horse up. If the horse moves away, continue on to another point. Do a few when you are spending time with your horse. Humming and singing, while you do the points, also has a cheering affect. The horses would appreciate this immensely and thank you, now, in advance!
Sing, v.i. Carol, chant, lilt, troll, yodel, warble ____, v.t. Carol, chant, intone, cantillate, warble, hum, hymn, celebrate in song. Troll, v.t. 1. Send about, circulate, pass round. 2. Sing loudly.3. Angle with a trolling line; allure, entice, lure, draw on.____, v.i. 1. Sing a catch or round.
In 2001, I sat a 14 day Meditation retreat in Nepal. It was a grounding practise necessary for me to clear my mind and focus my awareness on my breath and a peaceful clear mind, we sat meditating for 10 hours a day, and had to remain completely still for an hour, 3 times a day. While practising with my Meditation teacher a few weeks later, he pointed out that I was rather serious about meditating, instead of sitting for an hour, I was now to laugh for 30 minutes, smile for 10, dance and move for 20 and sing throughout. These are all considered meditating, so these exercises in focusing my awareness have been my practise since. Today the horses would like me to share some of my experiences of singing. They LOVE when we sing and rue the day that humans became so self conscious of making sounds vocally. To them any singing, whistling, clicking, etc are lovely and are merely us moving energy and air throughout our bodies using sound. Self consciousness to them is just our mind riding us and it’s voice is severe, judgemental and critical. They would much prefer if we rode our minds, instead of it riding us. So as you move through your day today, pay attention to sounds around you, let them focus your attention and awareness on relaxing, breathing and enjoying yourself and being present.Add some sounds of your own, some humming, singing or sounding. Sing to your dogs, they love it….you may feel silly, but according to the horses’ that’s the point!
So, here is an experience that happened in the summer of 2010 at Free Spirit Stables in Nova Scotia, Canada.
At the request of my friend Donna and her daughter Alicia, I am visiting a horse rescue center. I am in a rather dark barn, leaning on a stall wall, with mud up to my shins, whispering to a horse. She’s so sweet, she has been stuck in this dark stall for months, unable to make physical contact with her Mum and the other horses or go outside into the light. She has never had a halter on.
For the first two years of her life, she lived outside with her Mum. She had never, ever been inside a man made structure. Although neglected, she experienced freedom and as close to wild as a horse can get these days. Upon arriving at the rescue center, she broke through all the electric fences, not knowing what they were and experiencing fear and anxiety, she got quite spooked. Without any means to lead her, getting her safely back to the barn took considerable time, effort and energy for the humans. For this little horse in her perspective she ran as she naturally would do, then got shocked from some wire and then got chased for hours.
To keep her safe, a stall had been haphazardly built within the barn for her, there was a huge gap, between her and the other horses. Until she could get a halter on, she was stuck and experiencing loneliness. Donna and Shelby, the owner of the stables wanted me to ask the horses if they have any suggestions in getting the halter on this baby, so that she can go outside and enjoy the air and have physical contact with them again.
The horses ask me to sing to the horse, that by singing I will gain rapport with her and encourage her to develop trust in humans again. So I sing a song that comes naturally to me, to calm spirits and relax animals.
After singing this a few times, the horses ask for a song in particular. “Can you sing KUMBAYA please?”
KUMBAYA…mhmmmmm, oh dear….for some reason this song makes me gringe…it reminds me of being incredibly uncomfortable and self conscious as an adolescent at summer camp, when trying to be like everyone else was confusing, lonely and anxiety inducing. Mhmmm….but this little horse is so sweet and deserving of relaxing, getting the halter on and getting outside, so that she can get some sun on her body…so I lean over the makeshift fence and haltingly, whisper the words to the song….
“Louder, please…” The horses request.
Mhmmm, I glance over my shoulder, there are lots of people in the barn now…strangers who have gathered, curious about me and what I do….I am experiencing extreme self consciousness now…sing louder in front of a crowd? AND sing a song that makes me gringe… Mhmmmm… Taking a deep breath and clearing my throat, I hesitantly raise the volume of my singing….
“Sing louder please…” The horses say.
Darn! Okay…deep breath…exhale…and away we go…round after round of Kumbaya, as loudly as we can. Then, it becomes clear to me that Donna is the human the horse trusts enough to get her halter trained. Now, according to Donna, she is NOT a horse person. She likes them and everything, but it is her daughter who is passionate about them and has horse in her blood. She knows nothing about the tack, training or handling of horses. She receives the information about being the halter trainer with some disbelief, trepidation and fear. She doesn’t even know what a halter is or how it even goes on the horse. There must be someone else she suggests. But according to the horses, Donna is the one, they suggest she goes in the makeshift stall, sings Kumbaya and eventually the horse will be calm enough for a human to place something over her head.
There are many more questions for other horses, so as a group we leave this little horse, and move off to the paddock. Soon, I am ready to leave, say my goodbyes and get in my car. Before I can leave, Donna knocks on the window and jumps into the passenger seat of the car. She thanks me profusely for coming out to visit, saying that I probably had no idea how helpful the information I got was for everyone involved at the center. Then, suddenly she switches gear and in the middle of “how wonderful it was, how great….” She spluttered out loudly “How BLEEPING weird it was! ” To her surprise and delight, she has fallen in love with this lovely little horse, coming out to visit her, even when her daughter isn’t around. She likes to touch her and brings her treats. There is definitely a special bond between them it’s like she was friends with this horse before. She can’t explain it, she enjoys it, but is puzzled by the whole thing. Now, what she is finding super weird about what just happened is…. so weird in fact, that it is causing her to swear…is that as a child she used to sing to herself when she felt anxious, alone or afraid…the song she ALWAYS sang to herself was KUMBAYA! “How amazing and weird is that?!!!!!” She says with wonderment and bewilderment in her voice, still a bit freaked out by it, she asks. “How did the horses know that?”
To be honest, I was amazed and a bit weirded out myself. How DID the horses know that?AND what if my self consciousness about singing loudly in front of strangers had got the better of me? What if my judgement of the ‘coolness’ of a song had prevented me from singing it? Donna would not have heard the song, which calmer her, eased her anxiety and brought her peace.
Yesterday, I was speaking with my inspiringly creative friend about relaxing and letting go of that critical voice that as artist’s we were trained to listen too. She too went to the Nova Scotia of Art & Design. We had a group critique each week. As a group we were expected to look at a piece and find what was out of balance, not in harmony and what we could fix in our own work and others. This was supposed to help us create works of art. For me, this training developed a way of looking at everything, myself, my life and became especially exasperating when I was practicing art. Instead of experiencing the fun, freedom and adventure that drawing provides me, an inner, not so friendly, never pleased, inflexible voice, would question each action, drawing or mark, chastising me into constantly focusing on what I had to fix, change or improve. For some periods of time, I would get so upset, disheartened and depressed by this way of perceiving doing my favourite thing of all time, I would just stop. Sometimes for monthes and monthes.
It has taken me years to be mindful and aware of this perception. That to change a habit like this, that I have to practice a new habit, Praise. That there is nothing to fix. That it’s the experience of drawing that is important, not what I will do with it when I’m finished or if it looks exactly like the thing I am drawing. The horses continuously remind me that after each and every task, to immediately find the five things I did to the best of my ability. Once, after my very first riding lesson, when I was finding fault with my inexperience, they laughingly reminded me that I was still breathing and had at least stayed on! They point out that praising ourselves at every opportunity while we are doing the task is equally important. To ingrain the new habit by repeating to ourselves very good, very good, yeah… throughout the day. Horses pretty much consider most of us humans perfect as we are. They’d like us to realize this too! They say that focusing on what we do well, accepting ourselves as who we are in the moment and throwing that critical strict faultfinding voice out for good, helps us to relax into our natural balance, natural talents and abilities. And most of all they are saying, it relaxes us so that we just naturally are doing our best and can ENJOY it!
Today, the horses, actually one horse in particular, my friend Red would like me to recount an experience we shared. Often in my job, I have to ask a horse about their history…it helps explain behavioural issues that may be occurring. Listening to their experiences of abuse and mistreatment are something I must deal with on regular basis.
Fortuneately, the horses themselves have taught me a great deal about dealing with my reaction to my fellow human beings who are abusive. It has always amazed me that horses and animals, still love humans, are willing to trust us and have great compassion, after experiencing severe abuse. Their resilience, spirit and matter of fact attitude inspires me each day to approach this issue in the same manner. Red, in particular has taught me well, she is a Buddha of a horse, sometimes bossy and stubborn, but always generous in sharing her wisdom and experience.
I was visiting with her one day, doing an acupressure treatment on her back.
There were two horses in the barn who had arrived within the last year, who had been abused. Hit repeatedly with pitchforks and other metal objects. A woman who had helped rehabilitate these horses was also in the barn, cleaning out their stalls, she was in a foul, impatient mood. As she was mucking out the stalls, she kept brandishing the pitchfork at these horses, coming very close to hitting them. As I saw them cowering and becoming more and more agitated, my reaction was one of anger and judgement of the women’s actions. After several minutes of witnessing this, I had a very strong desire to storm over and quite forcefully tell the women off, stop her, soothe the horses and point out that what she was doing was wreaking havoc on the hours we had spent encouraging the horses to trust again and that she was doing the exact same thing as their previous abusive owners.
As my temper was ready to erupt and as I began to move in her direction…already ready to say something…I heard Red say…In her own indomitable way…
“Be silent. Stand still and mind your own business.”
Shocked, I looked at Red and demanded that she explain….this woman was doing damage to these horses, abusing and scaring them…it was up to me to make her aware of what she was doing and make her stop….
“Your reaction is full of anger and judgement…you were about to go say something in a very unkind tone to point out that her actions are wrong….you were about to use an abusive tone…you were just about to abuse her….she has just experience abuse at home by her husband. You were just about to continue the cycle. Be compassionate instead…send healing and love to this woman, this will help, not telling her off, anger against anger only leads to more anger. Be mindful and react with peace.”
It took me a few minutes to let go of my anger and actually listen to Red. Then I experienced an AHA moment, of course everything she said was true, I was fully aware that I had just been prevented from using abusive language towards someone who was only practicing what she knew in her environment, what she had been taught, what she herself was experiencing.
This experience has stayed with me, I often have an instant reaction to abusive people and want to condemn them and ostracize them…Luckily before I react, I still here Red’s words…’Be silent, stand still and mind your own business.’ Which I do, which gives me a moment to regroup and do my best to react with kindness, compassion and awareness.
Relax and breath…. Was just with a friend, who stopped in on her way home from the airport. She had picked up her cats from the cat hotel and had them in their carrier. Mumbai and Lillian, got out of the carrier and had a good sniff, stretch and fell asleep after getting some love and attention. As our visit came to an end, my friend opened the door to the carrier and sighed…”getting them in the carrier is really difficult….Lillian goes wild, she claws, scratches me and howls….” As I was watching her get ready to retrieve the cats, I noticed her body language, she was starting to breath shallowly and was tensing her whole body. Mumbai mentioned this…he pointed out that when she picked them up, she was holding her breath and this gave Lillian the impression that something unpleasant and uncomfortable was occurring, and she reacted by trying to get away. I translated for him and recommended doing some deep breaths…inhaling and exhaling an aaaah sound….to do this in preparation, while she picked the cats up, while she held them and while placing them in the carrier…she did and for the first time, Lillian cooperated in the process getting in easily and quietly.
Horses are the same, some rely on our breathing as a cue in how to respond to a situation. Often horses who are hard to load, will get right on when we breath deeply, evenly and calmly. Try it and see what happens!