This past weekend I participated in an equine facilitated workshop at Hippocrene Spring in Shingle Springs, CA. This was my first introductory workshop to a program based on the Epona approach to facilitate healing through horse-human relationships. I am considering this course for my own enrichment and consciousness expansion, and to learn how I can help others do so as well.
Now, I have to say, some of what the Epona program is about is very “woo woo”, at least to me. If you’ve read “The Tao of Equus” by Linda Linda Kohanov, and if your belief system is based on recognizing and acknowledging observable phenomena as reality, like I’ve been trained to do, then what Linda is proposing is, well, rather esoteric and beyond the physical realm. Such as, in the Epona exercise called Reflective Listening, horses speak to you from the subconscious and help to direct your life in more positive ways or they give you messages in which you can use to enhance your life. I just had to experience this myself and see if it really is something that has meaning to me and perhaps could have meaning to others as well. The Hippocrene Springs workshop facilitated by Cathryn Cleric and two newly graduating facilitators helped me realize that maybe the “woo woo” is not really as esoteric as I think.
I read recently on a One Bodhi Tree blog written by Heather Daniels, that equanimity is the ability to remain open minded, to be present in the moment and remaining non-judgmental even in circumstances where my own internal logic is being challenged. When I approached this workshop, I made the decision that if I were to learn from my experiences, then I must embrace equanimity. What a wonderful way to exercise my fledgling Buddhist practice!
The Reflective Listening exercise started with me picking a horse who I wanted to be my partner in reflection. I struggled in my choice between 2 horses, but decided to pick a mare who was in my opinion too pushy and seemed to be just too much “in your face”. Her name is Harlequin, Harle for short. Once Harle was in the working pen, I was asked what question I had to ask of Harle. I decided to ask whether I could effectively be a helper for horses. This question was rephrased to an inquiry of “How can I be more effective to help horses.” The next step was a Body Scan which is used to bring awareness to your whole body – focus sense and feelings and get “out of your mind” so you can think with your heart. This is a practice not unfamiliar to me as I’ve experienced it in yoga and meditative practices.
When I entered the pen with Harle I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what I was going to do or what she should do. I felt very connected to my equanimity of being in the here and now, being non-judgmental and remaining open minded as I experienced this reflection with Harle. The body scan put me in a receptive frame of mind. I did not think about how Linda Linda Kohanov approaches or interprets her reflections with horses, I was just there with this lovely mare doing our reflective thing.
As I focused on my question, of “How can I be more effective to help horses” Harle started doing what Harle normally seems to do, at least with new people. She walked right up rather assertively and proceeded to push me aside with her head. She had no concerns about invading my most vulnerable boundary. I ignored my physically conditioned impulse to be assertive and push her away from me, and instead kept focused on my question to her and helping her to keep her head a little away from me by wiping her eyes which were covered with annoying flies. She would start to soften her head and I could feel her push release, and then I slowly stroked her neck and walked away. We did this for awhile, back and forth, her assertive approaches became softer as I, listening to her through her actions and some sense of energy emitting from her, became softer as well. It wasn’t long until Harle and I had made some very deep connection. I felt our energies kind of merge. I’m not sure how to explain the feeling, except that I felt that I belonged somewhere near this horse. I would walk around her, she would softly move off and then return, getting softer and more connected on each turn. And then at one point she turned her rear to me as if to say, “a nice stroke on the buttocks would feel good and you can stroke and pull my tail as well”. At this point, I had total trust what Harle was presenting and she ended up with a nice butt rub and tail pull.
At the beginning of this exercise, the words that were coming into my head were obviously coming from a high-level mental mind-speak. I was grasping for words to try to explain what I was feeling from Harle. After a short while as I became more focused on the moment, more aware of being non-judgmental and opening my mind to what was happening, I found that the feelings she presented started to put words into my mind that came from a deeper level – she was demand that I chill out, soften up, be less aggressive, be more accepting of her as she is. As we communicated in this way for awhile, the words that appeared to me changed to those of acceptance and invitation, trust, relief, comfort and love and they were coming more and more from a deeper part of my consciousness. It was no longer a struggle for me to think, because I was now feeling the experience as was Harle.
Putting this experience to words is so nearly impossible but the experience was profound and I truly believe that this demonstrated clearly to me that communicating with another creature is possible. The power of equanimity from the heart allowed this to happen – keeping our minds open to the moment, feeling no judgment and being completely in the moment to experience what is. Now how about doing this with all sentient beings?