Friday, March 26, 2010

Horse sense

Over the last month and a half I’ve been reading a couple of books about horses. The first one is the Tao of Equus and the second is Riding between the Worlds . Both are by Linda Kohanov. I’ve learned more about horses from these two books than I’ve ever known before. These books aren’t about how to feed and care for horses but rather about how horses are used for therapeutic purposes to help humans work with our emotional issues.

Through her work with horses, Linda has learned how they are able to show humans when we’re out of alignment between our thoughts and our emotions. Horses are prey animals. As such they have evolved a very keen awareness for the presence of predators. They are also pack animals and they have the ability to sense the emotional state of all members of their herd. Since their lives depend upon knowing when danger is approaching, they react immediately to any member expressing fear.


The easiest way to think about what they are responding to is to boil our complicated emotional landscape down to two simple emotions. One is love and the other is fear. At its core this is true for us but we further define each of these in an attempt to rationalize and explain our behavior. Horses don’t need that extra layer of emotional complexity in order to survive. They simply need to know “safe” or “danger” so that they can respond. Since they have few defensive skills, their survival depends primarily upon being able to sense the presence of danger and escape while they can by using their speed and stamina.

When a predator is in the area, horses are able to sense the danger by the energy of the predator. When the horses sense an elevated heart rate or increased hormone levels, they know to take action. This is how they are able to help humans with our emotional issues. When we are out of alignment with our emotions, our energy becomes blocked and that is uncomfortable for horses to be around. When they sense these emotions they will actually begin to enact them to help us notice and release them. By helping us find places where we are out of alignment with the harmonious, free-flowing energy of love they can help us uncover our own emotional truths.

By learning about the history of the horses that Linda works with and understanding the impact that it has had on them she can better understand why certain horses choose to work with certain people and not others. This helps her get an extra layer of insight into the issue that the human is dealing with. For example let’s say that I had been traumatized by being beaten whereas you had been abandoned. I would be far more sensitive to someone with anger issues than you and you would be more sensitive to someone who is emotionally distant or detached. Horses are the same way based upon their individual history.

Through Linda’s study of horses she has learned that horses will mirror emotions for us that we aren’t in alignment with or in denial of. By learning the actions that horses do and the behaviors that they exhibit when they are stressed or relaxed, she can help inform the humans about what the horse is trying to convey. Horses pick up on unexpressed emotions and will mirror them for us to see…if we’re observant. This is just another example of what powerful teachers animals can be for us.


When we say one thing but that isn’t truly what we believe or feel, then we are not in alignment with our emotions and this is uncomfortable for horses to be around. It’s like a wolf wearing a smile trying to fool them into coming closer. When we are honest about what we are truly feeling, even if it is what we label as “negative emotions” then we are “emotionally congruent”. When we are out of alignment with our truth our energies don’t flow smoothly. This situation makes a prey animal very nervous and they respond quickly to it as a perceived threat since their life may depend upon it.

When people casually ask us “how are you today?” we typically go one of a couple of ways with our response. The first is “fine”, “good”, “great” or some quick summary response. On the social level, we know that the question is simply an ice-breaker or way to connect with someone. As such they really don’t want the exact details of how we feel but rather they simply want to engage us in conversation. I learned a long time ago that “I’m great” is an answer that stirs positive emotions and gets the conversation going without interruption. The other route is that we begin sharing all that ails us and often the story behind those ails. This will often lead to the other person’s eyes glazing over or making a quick escape. Eventually we learn that the first route is the way to go and to allows them to ask follow-up questions if they really want to know more about how we feel.

This behavior is one that leads us into becoming emotionally incongruent. Our lives may be in a total state of chaos on many levels, yet our social patterning says to cover it up, put a happy face on it and move on because people don’t really want to hear about it. Soon we’ve even convinced ourselves that “I’m fine” when we are really an emotional wreck. We basically learn to lie to ourselves and that is the start of trouble for us energetically. The key is in learning when a casual response is needed socially and when emotional honesty and integrity is required internally.

The beautiful thing about horses is that they don’t have our social filters nor our human judgments. They don’t like or dislike us because of what we have done, the clothes we wear or the people we know. In essence we are either friend or foe to them. If they can’t feel safe around us they won’t come around us. They are so innately attuned to their environment because their lives depend upon it. This isn’t learned behavior for them rather it is the survival instinct protecting them. They don’t waste time thinking about past interactions with us, they simply respond to what is happening in the present.


As humans we are riddled with judgments on ourselves and others and so we rely on surface appearances and memory to decide who we will interact with. For most of us we are so disconnected from our bodies due to our emotional wounds that we no longer feel anything. This leads us to become so emotionally incongruent that we don’t even know it. Yet because we too have senses beyond the five physical senses, we pick up on this incongruent state in others at a very subtle level. If we are disconnected from our bodies however we probably won’t notice it consciously but at some level we are left feeling uncomfortable around those who are so out of alignment with their own truth.

If left unchecked, eventually this emotional incongruency will manifest as physical dis-ease. The more we deny the existence of our emotional truth, the more disconnected from our bodies we become and the more we lie to ourselves. This denial begins to bring sadness into our hearts and minds and can ultimately lead to depression. Remember that our brains will manifest whatever we put our awareness upon. The more we focus on the sadness within, the more chemicals our brains will release to create that internal state (which is the deeper, energetic cause of the hormonal imbalance that is labeled as “depression”). Likewise, when we focus on our joy and happiness, they will also grow and expand.


So how do we begin to recognize when we are emotionally incongruent and work to bring ourselves back into alignment? The simple answer is to become more and more honest with ourselves. Since most of us aren’t able to go to equine facilities to work with horses in a manner that lets us immediately see when we are out of alignment, we have to find ways to do it from within. Simply put, we have to be willing to be fully and completely honest about the emotions we are feeling and more importantly about the ones that we are denying that we feel.

Most of us grew up being told that it wasn’t okay to express or show our emotions. When we were sad, someone was shoving tissues at us and telling us not to cry. When something bothered us, we were told not to complain. When we become excited, we’re told to calm down. This is all social conditioning which moves us away from being authentically connected to what our emotions are telling us. Noticing, honoring and owning our emotions, especially those that we label as negative, is the only path to emotional freedom.

As I talked about in an earlier post (Energy of emotions - June 2009 ), emotions are just energy that moves through our bodies. These emotions are neither good nor bad but rather should simply be viewed as data. To begin to see emotions as data, we have to develop a bit of emotional distance. First there is the emotion which arises and second is our response to that. Rather than respond to any and every emotion as it arises, we first have to simply become aware of the emotion but not respond from that emotional place. Even if we can’t label or define the emotion, just being aware that you “feel something” is a great starting point. Think about the difference between saying “I am angry” and “I feel anger”. In the first one you have already become the emotion. In the latter one you just have the awareness of the emotion (data) and so you can choose to respond more consciously to the source of your anger.

Emotions are felt within the body and so to feel them we have to be “in the body”, grounded and centered. Techniques for accomplishing this are given in “The Basics” series at Once these Basics are in place then our task is to notice those times when we feel off-center or ungrounded. Our natural state is one of peace and tranquility where nothing bothers us mentally, emotionally or physically. Many people will read that statement and wonder how that is possible to feel peaceful with all the things they have to do and all the turmoil that they feel inside. This is a peaceful state that is achieved through meditation (Connecting with the inner Divine - July 2009), Yoga and is also the same one that you feel in those few moments after you awaken and before all the inner dialogue begins flooding in. Our true nature is one of peace but the physical world distracts us from that inner harmony.


I’ll be posting more information on this process soon in “The Awakening” series and that will include techniques for uncovering and working with old stored emotions to release them. Until then, I invite you to begin to notice your response to “how are you doing?” Notice who it is asking, what the scenario is and what your immediate response is. Nothing needs to change but we can’t change what we aren’t aware of so for now just hold your awareness on what thoughts and feelings arise when you are asked that question.

Are you really “Fine”?


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