The World of Our Making
Morgan and her horse Captain were standing in the barn aisle as he got clipped and ready for training and showing. Soon Anne came by--her horse, Ace, was up next. They laughed and talked, texted, and smiled . . . .
I was standing in Dorian's stall with him, massaging his stifle where inside, a deep muscle tear was healing, slowly but surely. Then came his light treatment as Captain and Ace got on their cozy blankets and went out to play.
Morgan and Anne chatted happily. Soon they'd be out to the indoor arena and a dressage lesson, then on to showing--Morgan in Florida, Anne and Ace to their next eventing event.
I couldn't recall the last time Dorian and I had gotten to ride. The wide world beyond the trails and the deep, quiet of the woods is always so restorative to us both, yet it had been months since we'd been out together.
A a wave of sadness washed over me. I have good days and bad days in the long rehab with my boy. This was not one of the former! It's sometimes hard to continue Dorian's rehab day after day, one day dragging into the next as I massage, do passive leg movements with him, curry the caked-on mud off . . . This wasn't the joyous experience I'd hoped for as the year wound down.
A new decade was in sight with its optimism and hopefulness, but all I could see was more plodding around and around the indoor arena, as step by step, Dorian's slow progress continued.
I've been hearing the word "high-jacked" a lot lately. Bessel Van Der Kolk, professor of psychiatry at Boston University's medical school and founder of the trauma center in Brookline, Massachusetts, notes that because trauma survivors don't "own" themselves, they aren't able to separate from external events and thoughtfully observe, rather than react, to them. Among other things, he advocates somatic work to help his patients return, literally, to their bodies, and so to their mental control and ability to respond rather than react.
"Your fundamental nature is pure, conscious, peaceful, radiant, loving, and wise, and it is joined in mysterious ways with the ultimate underpinnings of reality, by whatever name we give that." Rick Hanson, Ph.d
My experience with Dorian, though not as consequential as some others, is a good example of how we get side-tracked--or "high-jacked"--taken out of our centered authenticity, of residing in the here and now, present in our bodies and minds. That, as my small example reminded me, never ends well.
Being inauthentic--a state so often out of our awareness-- can leave us feeling depleted and exhausted, rather than buoyant, calm, and forward-looking.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., in concert with Richard Mendius, M.D., wrote an enlightening book called Buddha's Brain: the Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, in which they explore brain functioning and how we can, literally, rewire our brains to form more productive and happy lives. Hanson speaks about how only a "small fraction" of what we see comes from the external world. "The rest," he notes, "comes from internal memory stores and perceptual-processing modules (Raichle 2006).
In other words, we make the world we inhabit. And if we make it, we can change it. We can replace the negative, non-productive stories we tell ourselves with new ones, true ones, ones promotive of happiness.
As usual, the universe gave me another chance to respond with more authenticity.
A few days after my "poor me" experience in Dorian's stall, and just after winding up our walking, backing up, and side-passing exercise session in the indoor arena, I headed out to the pasture with Dorian and Lily to graze and recharge.
Dorian wasn't hungry, it seemed. My first warning sign. Then he started pawing the ground, dropping and rolling, moaning, and laying his sweet head in the dying grass.
Any of you who know horses, can sense what was happening. Dorian, who has never had a tummy ache and who'd rather eat than do anything at all, was colicking.
Horses can die from colic.
I headed him back to the outdoor stall where he spends his days and he dropped to the straw.
So, I had a choice. I walked Dorian back up to the barn where he's stalled at night. I didn't have any banamine and Dorian was in no mood to walk up and down the barn aisle, both remedies I'd used on horses back at the Thoroughbred rescue.
When we relax, we will see a reflection of our psyches in the horses’ behavior. . . . Whatever emotional state humans bring to horses, they reflect it right back. Psychotherapist Patricia Elliott Rothchild
I did have a choice about what I was seeing, thinking, and what I could say to Dorian. I, too, sank down in the stall with him, and tried to get a clearer view of what we were presented with. I gazed out back behind his stall to the pasture where Lucy quietly grazed and beyond, where the last-green leaves still clung to the trees . . . I recalled a glorious fall day we'd ridden out to the trails . . . I took a deep, slow breath and refused to give in to the picture before me.
As I grew calm, I saw Dorian responded, too, taking a deep inhale and rising to his feet. I decided to wait on calling the vet, since he'd so readily responded positively.
I know the universe does not deliver to us pain and trials over and over without respite. I know there is healing, restoration, and joy. I know this, because I've seen it and proved it for myself and in the lives of clients and students. Dorian and I have, together, confronted and healed trauma in ourselves as well as injury and fear amounting to terror. We've come out of it all whole and at liberty. Our life together has been a good proving ground, so I knew this challenge, too, would be overcome.
As usual, I talked and sang quietly to Dorian. I insisted that we had been drawn together to experience happiness, growth, and joy, not for sorrow and pain.
This went on for a few hours! But as each moment passed, and as my conviction, calmness, and clarity increased, my sweet boy began getting up and periodically coming over to nuzzle me. Then he'd plop down again and seem to succumb to pain. I relentlessly insisted on what I knew to be true. I literally saw through the fearful picture before me, refusing to give in to the brain-wired, dangerous outcome the world would try to present to my thought.
We all have to stand against the prevailing winds of what the culture is telling us.[People of consequence] make deep, unshakable connections to something outside themselves.” David Brooks, political commentator, author of The Road to Character
After two hours, Dorian got up, shook himself all over, nodded his head emphatically, and went over to his hay and started eating. The danger had passed. His eyes were bright, his ears flat back to Scout's inquisitive nose through the stall bars, and he gave me the ok to go on my way.
And the next time I saw Anne and Morgan, I took great happiness in their progress and connection to their accomplished, beautiful horses, and was very grateful for my own relationship with Dorian.
When we're genuinely ourselves, our thought is naturally and generously extended to others. Brene Brown, researcher and author, refers to the neuro- and evolutionary-science associated with the need to belong. In evolutionary terms, not belonging to the tribe could mean death. In contemporary culture, we've seen its life-threatening consequences.
To me, the first and most profound "belonging" we must cultivate is to ourselves--it's an essential part of effective leadership, whether we're leading others or leading ourselves.
None of us have to be "high-jacked" by our own past experience or by the world's conception of who we are or what our life or prospects are. We do have dominion over our bodies, our thoughts, and the world we choose to inhabit.
It's a new decade. Let's make a new world, too.