To Suffer or Not To Suffer:
That is the Question
Many of us suffer because of something that happened in the past that landed us where we are today. We spend a lot of time thinking, “If only I hadn’t done X.” Or, “If only Y had happened, I would be happy now.” My own favorite “if-only story” runs something like this: “If only I had been more assertive, I wouldn’t have sold myself short. I would have ended that relationship, pursued that career, enjoyed my life more. Instead, I was a good girl.”
We also suffer by worrying about something we fear might happen in the future. “What if that medical test comes back positive?” “What if he/she leaves me?” “What if I make the wrong decision about Z?”
One of the key ingredients for being present is feeling safe, safe in a relationship with someone who is nonjudgmental, who has no agenda about what we should or shouldn’t do, and who is receptive to who we are right in this moment. If we’re lucky, we have a coach, good friend, or therapist who can create this safe environment for us, one in which we can remember who we are and explore choices that come from deep within our being.
When we are present, we can also access and listen to all of our wisdom, which we often feel in our bodies. It’s what we call “intuition” or “instinct.” I’m sure you’ve already experienced this yourself. How many times have you been in a situation that was hair-raising, or you had a gut reaction about something, or you suffered a broken heart? Our language acknowledges that we live in the world as “embodied beings.”
A Wee Bit of Neuroscience
In addition to what we normally think of as our brains (that gray blob in our heads), we have complex neural networks—or brains—in our hearts and guts. These other neurological centers can often be better navigators through change than the brains in our heads. That particular brain evolved to gather data. It’s a complex system, and it has a tendency to
Experiencing our world with our whole bodies actually “re-wires” our brains by creating new neural pathways. It's how we learn. Just talking about something uses only certain aspects of our brains (mostly reason and language). We need to have all our senses engaged, our whole bodies involved, and receive input from our hearts and guts in order to really shift existing patterns, beliefs, etc. These old patterns and beliefs are things that may be keeping us from making the changes we want in our lives, to experience life from our own deep wisdom.
Can you imagine what that would feel like? To put down some baggage you really don’t need to carry any longer? To change your story from “If Only” and “What If” to “I Am?”
How Can a Horse Help?
Remember I said that change can only be made in the present, when we feel safe? Horses live in the present moment. And we can experience it and feel safe with them because a horse is a living being who is nonjudgmental with no agenda. Horses help us reconnect with our forgotten sources of energy and information, because that's how they experience their world: from their hearts and guts, as well as their brains. They can help us expand our awareness of these other sources too.
Horses are masters at reading body language. As social animals, they are constantly aware of the energy and body language of their herd-mates and anything else in their environment. As prey animals, their lives may depend on sensing a threat from a predator who may be acting innocently enough but is actually planning on eating them for lunch. And detecting this energy allows them to escape to safety. Horses also know “who’s who” in the herd, who to follow, who to challenge. They communicate all this awareness nonverbally with a particular stance, or movement of the ears or tail, or position of the head.
Like horses, we are social animals--though as predators, we’re often more focused on one thing than we are aware of our surrounding environment. And we usually depend only on our eyes and our verbal language without realizing that we are also sending and receiving other messages through our body language and energy. Often what someone is saying may not match up with their behavior or an unspoken “vibe” they’re giving off. We can often sense this in others, but we may not realize how we ourselves are not “in sync.” Maybe we too are living a divided life—showing one “false self” to the world while keeping our “true self” safely hidden from the judgment of others, in order to comply with someone else’s agenda. Maybe this is keeping us from realizing our dreams.
How much energy does it take to hide your true self, to be someone different to the outside world? To make decisions that don’t reflect your true desires?
In an equine-assisted coaching session, we spend time with a horse, just hanging out in the present moment. Watching, sensing, feeling. No judgment, no agenda. Our bodies respond to this, because it’s what our bodies already know how to do—we just don’t usually let them. We keep asking out bodies to travel in time, reliving things that aren’t happening now or that may never happen. When we share presence with a horse, our brains begin to “re-wire” and we can take this new experience of feeling present back into to our daily lives.
Sometimes the horse can reflect back to us when we’re not showing up as whole beings. A horse may respond to something in us we thought was hidden, or that we’ve even forgotten about ourselves. We may have an experience of trusting our gut reaction, or feeling our heart open. When we feel this in our bodies, we again “re-wire” our brains to listen to other ways of knowing. And then we can use this knowing to help us make the choices that will result in change, change that will potentially end the cycle of suffering.
When we feel present and safe, with the help of either an equine coach or a human coach, we can listen to all of our wisdom and make the choices that let us live our lives as the beautiful, undivided souls that we already are.
Donna Bunten © 2017