I used to think my heart was the horse in this scenario — and me its patient trainer? Ha. I recently came to re-think my take on equine therapy as metaphor for self-discovery. Consider Martha Beck’s description of Koelle Simpson working with a nervous horse:
- Koelle puts the horse into a round pen.
- She signals the horse to run away by squarely facing the animal, locking eyes, and raising her arms with her fingers extended as in a wave.
- The horse runs away — around and around in a circle.
- Koelle follows the horse, walking in a smaller circle, always behind him.
- The horse starts to calm because
- running’s burnt away much of the adrenaline-type hormones, and
- the horse notices that Koelle is even and reliable in her behavior. He sees she’s not attacking — Koelle actually sent him AWAY and has not been lunging or heading directly at him as she evenly walks an arc pattern. He also sees she’s unafraid. These are indications of not only safety but also good leadership traits.
- The horse signals interest in Koelle by locking an ear onto her, licking his lips, and bobbing his head.
- At this point, Koelle turns, walks away, and stands still with her back to the horse, looking down. She becomes — embodies – a wordless, timeless calm.
- The horse “joins up” — he walks over and lays his head on Koelle’s shoulder. He knickers, relaxed. She ambles, he follows, and their walk together is supremely peaceful for them both.
Who is more like a large, scared (though fundamentally loving) prey animal:
My heart OR my socially-and-egoically-identified conscious persona?
Who is more like a steady, trustworthy, benevolent guide?
When I reread the previous steps, substituting me for the horse and my heart for the whisperer, something clicks.
I think of all the circular enclosures my heart’s guided me into over the years: marriage, parenting, careers. Heck LIFE is one giant round pen where we can run in circles as we please — never really getting anywhere — ’til we connect with our hearts.
I also recall moments where my heart locked eyes with me and waved. Whoa.
I turned and ran. And ran.
Luckily, the heart is steady — always there, just in our peripheral vision — which gives us the confidence to show interest in its deeper, richer, vast ways. This is when the heart shows true, delicate care of us and our human fears. If it came at us full blast, we’d be off again, running in circles, so the heart steps to the side and waits for us.
It’s our hearts that do the whispering.
I’m a whisperee. All these methods for connecting with my heart — and my endeavors to create the safest space and choose the most effective tools to help my clients hear their own hearts — aren’t me or my client being “trainers.” It’s us showing interest in heart.
These practices allow us “horses” to notice the heart’s skill, kindness, loyalty, and grace. We cast a sideways look, cock an ear, lick our lips, and eventually nod our heads.
Once we see what’s going on and understand that our hearts are here — waiting — it’s not an act of courage or tremendous effort to rest our heads on our hearts and follow them anywhere. It’s a sweet relief.