I met and talked to a horse the other day and it got me thinking…This horse was introduced to me with a little background story.  His manager drew my attention to the fact that as we approached with a halter he was slowly walking/sneaking away, and then she told me that he used to be quite social but after a very serious injury and following complicated infections which resulted in an extended stay at a veterinary rehab center.  Horses as with most prey/herd animals are extremely quick to make associations.  This is a survival mechanism, i.e. if you walk by a bush on the plains and a lion jumps out at you, you  very quickly associate walking by that bush with a threat to your life.  In relation to this horse’s experience, his injury rehab existence was most likely living in containment, isolated from his home and herd,  being in a lot of pain, and human contact meaning more pain, stomach aches from medication, and being sedated which for an animal that survives because of it’s keen senses, is debilitating.  As I approached him to make introductions I felt that he was willing and thoughtful but just a bit reserved and shy.  I told him that I was so sorry for his experience and that I was happy to meet him anyways.  Horses like empathy, in fact they thrive on it as herd/prey animals and are very sensitive to energy and limbic communication.  An amazing woman I know that runs an equine facilitated learning program calls them 1,200 lb biofeedback mechanisms.  He thought about what I said for a moment then it settled with them and he licked his lips and chewed, comfortable that he was seen and safe.

As I started to brush him I was giving him a pep talk along the lines of even though we have scars or are wounded sometimes there are still good and positive experiences and relationships to be had and to that we can’t close ourselves off to them.  I was coming from a place of relating to him having experienced some trauma too.  What I felt in his quiet presence really shifted my perspective.   I felt that he was open and willing to show up for people and work, and wanted to please, but had been- on a deep level- altered by his experience and there was no going back, his paradigm/reality/how he perceived the world had changed and there was pain there.    I started the pep talk again about how sometimes we can grieve for what was before big events that shape us, but he was not holding onto the pain, and he was not grieving for what used to be, he was simply different.  Any good experiences and relationships going forward were being built and related to from where he was right now.  This horse happened to be named Tuxedo and I caught the irony of the idea of being dressed up and looking fine on the outside while inside something is altered.

Being in his quiet, horsey presence, my pep talks seemed so superfluous.  It made me think of how we react to someone going through a negative experience, grief, confusion, trauma, or an unsettling time in life.  When someone has an altering experience or loss (a job, a relationships, a death), they’re the same being who had not previously experienced this, and that can be disturbing both for them and the people around them. It’s common to want to talk them (or ourselves) or try to push them into a better place with positivity or cheer.   We may think they need to change their attitude or remember everything good they have going for them.  While ultimately the outcome may be positive shifts and growth, it’s not something that can be forced or a place you can jump to.  The thing that struck me as I was pep talking Tuxedo) was his complete lack of resistance about where he was.  Yes he wanted to show up and please, but was not quite in a place to engage on a deeper more joyful level and there was no resistance to that. There was no trying to make it something it was not. That acceptance and lack of resistance is something very sincere about animals that human being struggle with.  It’s common to try to force something to be something else- a feeling, a relationship, and experience, a person struggling we try to fit it into something we think it should be, a better, more acceptable mental construct.   But this quiet acceptance was the starting place and the only way to build something else.  Tuxedo didn’t need a pep talk, sympathy, or to be coddled.  He just needed acceptance and to be included…maybe some kindness.

My take away from this interaction was that it’s not for us to determine the pace that someone else (or even we ourselves) processes things in their life. In a culture obsessed with positive thinking, manifesting success and greatness, and improving ourselves, it’s good to be aware and reminded that we don’t have to talk them/ourselves into a better place, a better attitude, or a better version of themselves. Sometimes friends do need our perspective (and vice versa) and an attitude shift around things that happen in life, but I’m talking about something on a deeper level. It’s OK to accept someone as they are with kindness without being their therapist and without giving up on the hope that someday that person can be in a better place. Forcing something may give superficial results but may impede real change.  You can only start from where you are. And when you think of how exhausting it can be to constantly fake things or act like you’re further along than you are then it becomes clear just how precious that gift of acceptance really is.

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