As a teenager, I boarded my horse for a time at a ranch in Alberta. One of the income streams for this ranch was to collect and sell pregnant mares’ urine. I don’t know much about this industry but apparently there are applications for it in cosmetics and medication.
The memories of the atrocities I witnessed at this ranch still haunt me. Sometimes they resurface and pierce through my defenses. But for the most part, I have kept them locked down deep in my mind for fear that the pain, shame and guilt would consume me...and kill me.
I have hardened to them.
Hardening (conditioning) is a coping mechanism of the mind involved in ego-building that supports our survival. Resilience and endurance are developed, like a tough shell. The harsher the living conditions, the thicker and harder the shell. This process allows us humans and other sentient beings to survive into adulthood...often despite very tough conditions. This shell, which dissociates and dulls the senses (touch, taste, smell, sight and sound), keeps us alive but at the cost of growth and maturation. We can’t be in both protection and growth modes at the same time. It is the difference between surviving and thriving.
Beyond surviving childhood, once we are adults, we have to find a way to open our mind and our senses again (literally come back to our senses), break free of our limited survival beliefs, and journey back into our hearts. We have to find a way to restore our sense of wholeness. If not, we continue to be walled off from each other and life. We feel disconnected and threatened. And when we feel disconnected and threatened (survival of the fittest), life loses its meaning and we perpetuate abuse, to ourselves and others.
As a teen, I could feel how violent and traumatic the treatment of the horses was. It was so painful and I didn’t want to feel that pain. I felt powerless to transform my pain and the situation for the horses. Those working at the ranch were the living heritage of centuries of hardening...surviving...and were operating as if they were immune to the suffering. So was I. It was years later that I realized that we were all suffering deep down under our shells.
When we suffer for long enough, living in a culture where many others are suffering too, we become numb (protecting ourselves with shells of righteousness, resentment, judgement, blame, apathy and depression), and it even becomes possible to live in a world where beautiful and intelligent animals are intentionally impregnated and stand, crippled, on a cement floor for months on end, with minimal water and food, trying to grow their babies, hooked up to urine collection tanks... so we can apply products to our skin to treat our hot flashes (ironically, due to our hardening process).
We can’t feel AND survive in a world like this, so our feelings get the boot. Fear (the survival emotion) becomes normalized and anesthetizes us. We become deadened to pain, but also to pleasure. At some point, we may wonder what the purpose of living is.
This is actually a magical, pivotal moment.
When we have the courage and support to face and move through our suppressed feelings of shame, pain and guilt, we begin to awaken and crack open our unconscious shells of fear. We begin to love. And life is full of these moments...
And it's happening very frequently now...
Individually and collectively, humanity is waking up...slowly. And through the grace of forgiveness, we are falling back in love with ourselves and each other. No one said it would be easy. The vulnerability in opening up does NOT FEEL GOOD. It feels uncomfortable. Often terrifying. It FEELS. Which we have been conditioned to believe is dangerous and wrong.
Over the past year, I have had the pleasure and honour of sharing time with Tina Marie Barnes and her small herd of Medicine Horses (http://www.medicinehorses.ca/). I recently attended a workshop Tina was offering on a form of communication she has developed called MareSpeak©.
One of the first things Tina talked about was how many “pounds of pressure” any given horse has been trained to endure over the course of its life. This concept resonated with me as a way of delineating the hardening process. My description below is about the weight of conditioning on horses, but behaviour modification is the same process whether on us or our animals.
How many “pounds of pressure” are on a horse being led around by a trainer? This has to do with how much pressure needs to be applied to the rope and halter before the horse senses it and stops. Or how much pulling or “encouragement” (whips, spurs, etc) the horse needs to move forward and go. How sensitive is he? How much of his movement comes from an authentic and intuitive desire to move for the pleasure of moving? How much comes from the fear of pain if he doesn't move? How much pleasure and pain does he feel? How much fear?
Many horses have been inadvertently and unnecessarily trained to endure thousands of pounds of pressure... by those of us who have endured a lot of pressure ourselves, have hardened to it, and have accepted it as “normal”. It is common to beat a horse with a crop to get it to move, but NOT normal.
As I’ve discovered with anything equine (or animal) related, these inherently sensitive, honest and compassionate creatures patiently keep inviting us back into our own inherently compassionate, wild hearts. They remind us to remember who we really are. They invite us to grow beyond our fear and trust life.
As Tina listened to the horse she was working with and spoke to him through her intentions, her thoughts, her energy body and her heart, she mimicked the language a mare (mother) would use with her foal (baby). I watched as this horse softened, relaxed and journeyed back into his heart...the pounds of pressure lifting until Tina could “hear” him clearly and he could respond to her thoughts alone. In less than an hour, I watched and felt him forgive...all of it. Simultaneously, I moved into my heart.
From this remembering place in my heart I feel forgiveness for those (all of us) who abuse and manipulate animals for profit or pleasure. I can feel and empathize with the weight of the pounds of pressure they (we) are under. I can feel my shame...and know that it won't kill me. I can feel and empathize with their (our) shame, their (our) pain and their (our) shells of protection. And most importantly, I forgive myself for my complicity in this tragedy. There is no us and them. There is oneness. Horses know this.
To forgive is not to forget. And it is not to allow what is wrong. It is to continue to open our mind and come back to our senses...through our inherently loving heart. It is to continue loving through our conditioned mind to the soul of ALL sentient beings...to who we truly are in our deepest hearts. It is to continue loving, through fear, especially when it feels hardest to open and love.
If I'm really honest, I can feel hatred towards people that abuse horses. Hate is a fearful, powerfully violent force of mental strength. When I hate, I am a violent abuser. And because I can also feel hatred toward the part of me that is abusive and feels hate, I want to manipulate my thoughts instead to "I hate it when people abuse horses" (taking the pressure off of the people that abuse and directing it to the act of abusing).
To feel hate (which requires feeling) is actually a vulnerable state and it's one that we have many judgements about. It feels uncomfortable and we are likely to do just about anything to distance, disconnect or distract myself from feeling this or any other uncomfortable feeling. Distancing, disconnecting and distracting are insidious forms of fear that have become our "normal" coping mechanisms. And they all perpetuate fear and abuse.
Love is the antidote to fear.
To love the person who abuses horses and to love myself for my abusive, violent thoughts...this is harder. And it's the only way back into my heart. Forgiveness is the path.
Love is who horses really are. They know it and somewhere deep down I have always known this too. And felt it. So have you.
All of us currently on the planet today are the living memory of every brutal and devastating act of fear, judgement and violence that has taken place throughout history. We’re still re-enacting this pain. It’s animating our thoughts, our words and our actions. It’s in our DNA. Each of us, through our personal and collective experiences and stories, is enduring varying pounds of pressure. Pounds of pressure can look like health conditions, abusive relationships, violations of mother earth, addiction and substance abuse, poverty, crime, political corruption, hate, violence and war.
But this isn’t all that we are.
We are also seeking and finding ways to unburden ourselves and each other...to find forgiveness. Our DNA is changing. We are remembering that we are not victims of fear and conditioning. We are healing and growing. We are forgiving ourselves and each other for forgetting.
We are remembering who we really are.