I just returned from a visit to a remote area of British Columbia to find wild horses and while catching up on my email, read a great article about what we humans can learn from horses. Written by brain surgeon Dr. Allen Hamilton, it covers so many concepts in relatively few words including human evolution, neuroscience, and spirituality. You can read the article at this link: http://bit.ly/1lEPY5I. Not being a brain surgeon, I still struggle to communicate to people, who haven’t experienced equine facilitated coaching, what we can learn from horses because it is so multidimensional. Dr. Hamilton does a masterful job here and in his book Zen Mind Zen Horse.
Much of the discourse these days in the world of Organizational Development is about mindfulness, communication, and leadership, topics that are fundamental to the work equine practitioners do with horses every day. What makes the connection between horses and these areas of concern so instructive? I don’t know that there is a single answer but Dr. Hamilton describes some of the reasons extremely well. “Horses immerse us in an energetic context, beyond reason but within the reach of emotion. They provide us with detailed feedback about how adept (or clumsy) we are at feeling energy and moving it. We learn from our equine partners how to clear our minds.” It is in the clearing of our minds that the magic starts to happen; it is where we begin to experience ourselves as whole and connected to other. This mind clearing does not happen unless we seek it; it is what we come to in the process of meditation and other mindfulness practices.
What is fundamental to any state of mind or body is what is happening with our energetic selves. Whether we are aware of it or not, our bodies are made up of energy that is synchronous with our emotional state and is perceptible to others. The energetic body is an emerging area of scientific research, some of it made possible by new and powerful imaging tools and techniques such as fMRI. What in the sixties was referred to as one’s “aura” or “vibe” turns out to be based in scientific fact. We are all energetic beings that emit information invisibly to each other – invisible but not unperceived. That unspoken and hard-to-describe “vibe” is a function of energy being transmitted and received by parts of our bodies that don’t process language and thus make it difficult for us to articulate and comprehend. When we are living an experience dominated by the left hemisphere we are less capable of being aware of energy and the communication of information via the energetic field.
This is an area where equus again excels. Over millions of years of evolution their very survival has depended, not on verbal language – for they are a relatively silent species – but on being able to see and read energy and intention and on being able to communicate with each other instantaneously by way of energy and body language. The work that we do as equine practitioners, in part, is to assist in the creation of self awareness and to enable learning from the feedback available to us in the communication with horses.
The expedition from which I just returned was to the Chilcotin region of British Columbia to find one of the few herds of wild horses left in Canada, if not the world. We spent several days in a remote part of the globe where there is no utility power, no logging, no mining, and no paved roads. I was curious to see what differences there might be between wild and “domesticated” horses. We were able to find and see some of these beautiful creatures but only at a distance. Based on their body language, their experience of humans is that we are to be avoided at all costs. (Can’t say I blame them.) It was fascinating to see them become aware of our presence; as we approached there was always a point at which they would raise their heads, and scan us intently for a few moments. It was clear that they were taking a reading of us individually and as a group. Where a band had spread out to graze, the stallion would appear, the ranks would close, they would move into formation to protect the foals, and then, if we did not move away, they would take off at a pace seemingly related to the level of threat that they perceived. We never got close enough to touch them but it certainly felt like I was communicating with them non-verbally.
One of the things that was amazing about seeing them was that they all looked so healthy. There were many foals with each band, as well as yearlings. We heard stories from the local people about their habits, about how difficult it is to catch them, and how they are prized for being so hardy and resilient. What I could see from their behaviour was exactly the same equine body language that one sees with city horses – the same wariness in the eyes, the signalling with the ears and tails, as well as the intent awareness and constant reading of us and the environment. The difference was in the complete disinterest in connection with us. They live a life that is independent of human activity – no need for shoes, for grain, for hay, for treats, or for connection with two-legged beings. The health they exhibited included the health of living in harmony with their environment and their very nature. They evolved from and for this life of near constant grazing and nomadic movement.
What did I learn from my experience with wild horses? A bookful of learning that someday I hope to write. In brief though I reconnected with the energy of the wild places, of the more primitive life from which we all come but from which we are so disconnected now, of the importance of the herd, of the tangible reality of non-verbal communication, of the necessity for strong leadership, and of the power of the herd.
If you are interested in getting detailed feedback about yourself and exploring non-verbal and unconscious communication, check out the workshop that is coming up in September. http://bit.ly/1oBGxy5