Horsey Therapist

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Pain brings focus

I think Mark Rashid is a remarkable person and teacher, and I am inspired through him to become a better person myself. What I especially like about him and try to develop more in myself is the consistency he offers across the board to horses and to people.

There are times when I have found it much easier to offer softness to the horses in my life. Whenever I realize I am having trouble remaining soft around people, I take that as a strong indication I have some inner work to do. Because my intention is there for my own clearing and cleansing, whatever it takes to become the best for my horses, those opportunities arise, and sometimes in surprising places.

Recently I injured my shoulder in Aikido class. I go to Aikido in order to become softer, more balanced, and better at blending with and directing whatever comes my way. Why did I injure myself? Many thoughts have run through my mind and the most compelling one is the thought that I am ready to really know my shoulder. Not just use it, not just notice when it aches after stacking 400 bales of hay, not just taking a breath and letting the shoulders fall to their normal resting place after I realize I'm holding them up and feeling defensive and worried about something.

Today my right shoulder is my meditation. Anytime I forget and move unconsciously with that shoulder, PAIN! Instant and sharp. What better teacher for me who otherwise might not bother to pay attention...

My point is that I have adopted a way of life of inquiry -- sometimes the inquiry is external to myself, and sometimes internal. I find that what I have learned about horse's survival instinct applies 100% to us humans -- when we are threatened we run, and if we cannot run, we defend. What is different is that humans have developed very complex ways to defend. Imagine if we simply bite or kicked when we felt threatened and trapped! How simple life might be!

But we don't. I will leave it to anybody who wants to figure out for themselves just what 'we' do to defend ourselves. I suggest there is a special mix of defenses that each person has developed to get through the minutes, hours, days, weeks, years of living with some larger or smaller sense of threat. It is always my hope that people find their way quickly to letting go of defenses. And always my understanding that we, just like horses, act -- when threatened -- in our own best interests despite the possible consequences to others. That is why I did not get mad when my favorite horse kicked me. He didn't do it TO ME, he simple did it.

I do look forward to a level of awareness that will allow me to learn some of these important lessons without such physical pain -- if that is possible!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I can't get my head around this...

This notion of defending myself seems foreign, remote, bizarre. Yet that is one core facet of Aikido. It is not an offensive martial arts, it is solely defensive. The increasing awareness of vulnerability in face of attack appalls me. Whether by nature or by influence, I freeze when attacked.

Well, that is no longer true. Through practice in the dojo, I am learning to protect myself from the onslaught of hands, arms, and weapons. I am grateful for the advanced control of my practice partners, both in their abilities to stop before hurting me, and in their abilities to successfully defend themselves when I am too strong. Or perhaps when I am adequately strong!

Why does this bother me so -- this need to defend myself, to protect from a deadly strike from an opponent -- that is part of learning Aikido? I want to believe I live in a safe, supportive world. A world where everyone harbors friendly intentions. A world where vulnerability is honored and hurting others is avoided at all costs. A world where my email signature quote (quoting myself) rings true: "It's our nature to get along."

That is a dream world though. Do I risk death of this body by choosing the structure and content of that dream world to the exclusion of embracing also the dream world where people act on harmful impulses? Some would say that both are dream worlds. I have liked to think that if I fully believe in a world of peacefulness, that is what I will draw to myself and hence live in the safety of attracting only those supportive people and experiences.

So when I experience some strife, is that my fault? Am I faulty somewhere inside myself for some unconscious belief that allows for hurtful experiences?

In fact, the more I have practiced defensiveness and the activities that will more likely result in the ongoing life of my body should I be attacked, the easier it is to defend from psychological intrusions. I have less and less tolerance for and increasing quickness to defend myself from unwelcome energy coming my way. As long as I remain soft as I defend myself -- from scary fists or fantasies -- my growing capacity to defend myself is a good thing. A very good thing.

I wonder if I were attacked today, would I have a defensive instinct on the surface, ready to act rather than my previous freeze behavior? I have been attacked in the past. Mugged in NYC many decades ago. SCARY! When I think back to that, I wonder if I would defend myself had I known some Aikido? I was attacked by someone I knew -- that attack I'm certain I would fight off had I developed the thinking I have today -- I am worth protecting.

This concept that I am worth protecting came to me via the world of horses. Who has spent time around horses and not been pushed over, stepped on, knocked to the ground? I automatically admire anyone who never has, as they are living in a state of awareness and certainty that precludes those collisions with horses that end in human distress.

I could say those collisions start with human distress -- a condition too many of us take for granted. The subtle, chronic distress commonly acknowledged as busy mind, distracted, caught up in thoughts about the past and the future... I suspect that my time practicing Aikido is like house cleaning -- getting to some dark corners of my inner world where dust bunnies of distress have lain undisturbed for eons. This would bring meaning to why I can feel so upset while being open to the lessons of Aikido -- a cleansing, expansive upset, not a stuck, resistant upset.

Saturday, March 08, 2008


I highly recommend George Leonard's book, Mastery. It is his writing that had me thinking about how homeostasis keeps me stuck.

Homeostasis is designed to keep things stuck, keep things the same as they have been. The Oxford American Dictionary says homeostasis is the "maintenance of relatively stable conditions in a system (such as blood temperature in a body) by internal processes that counteract any departure from the normal."

This is all fine and dandy, except when "the normal" is hurtful, limiting, ineffective, disruptive, counterproductive.

I am reading this book because a friend sent it to me, urging me to read it. She and I share two passionate interests: horsemanship and Aikido.

I am seeking to undermine my tendency to undermine some of my better urges. I have used the word 'procrastination' lavishly in the past couple of months since I participated in a Time Management seminar. To quote Mark Rashid, "We get good at what we practice." I practice procrastination frequently. Therefore I am especially good at it.

The conflict arises when I want to do other things with my time. Things like practice Aikido, trim the twenty-four horse hooves out back, write an article promoting equine facilitated mental health (EFMH), eat lunch.

Reading about homeostasis has given me a new understanding of my procrastination behaviors. I can label them now and laugh at them. I can talk about them with RNB instead of feeling ashamed. I can separate myself from the behaviors and look for other choices.

It starts with acknowledging the importance of procrastination as an expression of homeostasis. On a survival instinct level, I want to keep things as they have been -- relatively quiet, living a relatively anonymous lifestyle, sharing a little here and there when conditions feel safe. Living with some pride in my accomplishments, my awareness, my strength, but not seeking much more.

Thinking about feeling safe and procrastination has also been fruitful. Homeostasis is a safety feature, designed to keep a system intact and functioning. Procrastination is another way of saying I'd rather do something safe than try something new. I would rather listen to another book on tape when I'm driving than resume my efforts of learning to yodel. I would rather try to get past Level 21 of that computer game than work more on that EFMH article I started the other day.

What does safety have to do these choices? Pursuing yodeling means facing the reality of how much I have learned to date. It means accepting that I have not grown up yodeling and cannot throw a yodel willy nilly into any song I am singing. It means listening to those who can yodel and wanting to yodel like them and be willing to practice, practice, practice, to practice even when I am on an interminable plateau of progress, to practice for the sake of practice rather than the purpose of achieving a goal.

The same applies to Aikido, to promoting my professional interests, and perhaps -- when the weather changes and I no longer have the real excuse of unsafe footing -- to my resumption of riding my own horses here at home.

Sobering thoughts. I would like to see myself transform toward some steady practice habits rather than the stuttering in action approach to learning. Maybe this approaching Spring Equinox is prompting an Annual Review of Self. Perhaps this review is stimulated by reading Mastery and by listening to The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

Whatever is behind it, I enjoy stepping into my life with more gusto, staying closer to my personal goals. In fact, I will head out in a few minutes -- despite the cold and windy weather -- and split wood for the furnace.