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Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.

Thomas Merton

 

Thomas Merton, who also wrote the book of essays entitled No Man Is An Island, wrote with such clarity and certitude it is hard to argue with the above statement or the one in the title of his short stories.  I have often had a problem trying to defy both of his certainties in my life–living life in intensity rather than balance and in solitary defiance rather than union with all.  I have gotten better as I age, and learn, and read more of the wisdom of people like Merton, but somehow the roots of my old patterns seem to rear their ugly heads just when I think I am dissolving them.  Like in HEADSTANDS. 

Headstands are the symbolic and literal depiction of balance.  If you are out of balance you may be able to hide it in a shoulder stand or even a tree pose but somehow the headstand always knows.  And I am a flunkie of the headstand barometer of balance.  I fall, I flop, I roll out, and crumple up.  Fear, indecision, uncertainty, and lack of personal balance all come falling onto the floor with me and leave me feeling bare.  I am brutally aware of my faltering points in headstand, or rather not-in-headstand, in a way that somehow I can ignore in the world off the mat. 

But the headstand knows–and it towers over me in mockery of what I cannot yet do.  Let go enough to just give over to the unknown.  Find centeredness at my inner core unshakable even when the world topples on its head and flips upside down.  But I am working on it and I breathe and release and try again, lifting off the mat for a moment before crumbling down again. 

I may be floppy and fumbling and anything but graceful but I persist.  And one day, hopefully sooner than later, I will lift off with confidence and equilibrium–proving that even when the world flips 180 degrees I can stand firmly on my head and face it.

 HAVE A WONDEFUL, BALANCED , & CENTERED WEEKEND!

 
“A horse loves freedom, and the weariest old work horse will roll on the ground or break into a lumbering gallop when he is turned loose into the open.”
 
 Gerald Raferty
 
 
Monday mornings at work are always a swirl of mystery, magic, and surprises.  I suppose this is bound to be the case in beginning my work week at a Therapeutic Riding Center.  The facility I run my Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy group out of is a quiet nook of the world on a sandy dirt road edging a canal ravine.  I don’t know if anyone else does this on this particular stretch of street but I find myself glancing down at the murky green waters waiting to see round, black alligator eyes peering up at me.  The center itself is vast acreage lined with white wooden fences and a crisp white barn that houses 16 or so horses.  Monday mornings are reserved just for my group and the cleaning crew, inmates from a local prison facility.  It is an interesting mix of life–horses in stables, convicts driving small tractors, and my little group of trauma survivors working with their equine counterparts.  In its surreality it is quite freeing and outside of social norms and constructs.  We are dancing a dance that is part magic, part illusion, and yet more real than most that life has to offer.  Something in horses brings real to the surface and pushes out all the tedium and strife that are found outside stable gates.  Horses, like yoga, strip life away to its naked essence and allow for us to breathe in the moment and leave everything else behind. 
 
 
This particular Monday morning I was absurdly alert and reflective, still lingering on my 5am wake up, 6am meditation and the lack of television, radio, and all superfluous noise in my life.  My mind was paradoxically more quiet and more active than it normally is on any given Monday.  In that I mean that my brain had omitted a lot of the white noise from conscious thought and in its place was an awakened clarity and sharpness that I guess is the result of having been up for hours and having meditated to start my day.
 
 
Suddenly, I heard a loud thunk and vocal commotion and turned around the side of the barn to see a white mare galloping off through the back of the stalls.  I see a correctional officer, the guardian of the inmates, standing baffled and amused holding the chain latch of the horse’s stall.  “I can’t believe it, she chewed through the damn thing again.  That is the second time she has done that,” he said and kept repeating it as if he could not imagine such tenaciousness in a horse.  An older inmate standing next to me, and dressed in his working blue cotton uniform, looked in my eyes and said, “She just wants that freedom, you can see it in how she’s running.”  He stared after her, mesmerized, as the last bit of her white mane disappeared around the corner and I looked over at him wondering if he knew how profoundly metaphoric his statement had just been.
 
 
Here stood a man who was living in a world that was predominantly caged and in the one place in his week where he was given freedom, space, clean country air, and equine surroundings.  And as he watched this white mare’s dedicated effort to break free of her cage I could feel, in my proximity to him, his understanding of her yearning.  And in them both I saw a moment of magic–connection between human and horse and metaphor from the stables into the world.  It was one of those moments you want to bottle both miraculous, soulful, joyful, and sorrowful.  The smile on the inmate’s face lingered as he turned from the horse and went back to his shovel, back to his work, and back into the mind of a man who understood the yearning to be free. 
 
 
In that moment I shared with both of them, before the white mare was brought back to her stall, I saw a sliver of that man and a glimmer of that horse, and both of their natural longing to be free in the world–the way they once were.  Some days, especially lately, juggling worlds upon worlds, I feel like maybe I am overloaded and completely insane in my juggling efforts.  On days like Monday I am grateful for the world I live in, the life I have, and the honor I feel in being able to work in a way that facilitates moments like these–spontaneous and amazing. 
 


“Fall seven times, stand up eight.”
Japanese Proverb
 

I have spoken about them before but nothing amazes me more than the resilience of an iguana. In the recent frosty cold nights and chilly Florida mornings teetering at temperatures under 50 degrees the iguanas have had some frozen slumbers. Below a certain temperature these amphibious creatures are unable to maintain a body temperature to function and their large scaly figures will freeze where they lay–often meaning that those seeking shelter in a tree will catapult to the ground, frozen, upside-down, but somehow unharmed in their statuesque state.

This unintentional game of red light, green light goes on as long as the temperatures drop at night and the sun returns to the sky to thaw them in the morning hours. And, as if nothing had changed, or any time had passed, the iguanas shake off their frozen slumber and head back out into the world to repeat the cycle again.

To me this is the epitome of resilience. The iguana may be made frozen and non-functional by life circumstances but they return again to consciousness and mobility ready to forge forward despite the snag of lost time. They come out of their slumber and back to life, not altogether unscathed or undazed but moving forward into the present, into the now.

What a perfect metaphor for trauma and resilience from traumatic experience. We can survive and thrive in the life we were given, work past our stuck points, and frozen moments of existence. Life moves on, we defrost, the chill passes and the sun shines. Iguanas, to me are the ultimate symbol of what is possible in ourselves.

Enjoy the cold, stay warm as you can, and persevere!

“A lovely horse is always an experience…. It is an emotional experience of the kind that is spoiled by words.”

Beryl Markham (British born Kenyan Horse Trainer)

  

In the realm of wordless moving arts, therapy with the aid of horses adds a rich additional component–relationship.  And through that relationship there are an infinite number of metaphors that can be found, cultivated, and mined when being able to work with these mystical creatures in the aid of healing trauma and emotional pain in people’s lives, hearts, and souls. 

There is a deep rupture to the self that trauma induces–we are hesitant to trust the world and the people in it when we have been traumatized.  Our natural fight or flight mechanism is ignited and our impulse is to avoid, isolate, distance from human connection. 

This is why the horse is a powerful ally in rebuilding the capacity for relationship in those who have lost faith in the capacity for the unconditional nature of love and have forgone trusting relationships with others.  A horse does not judge or betray it just is–and as I discussed in the prior post YOGIC EQUUS PART 1 the horse is able to be in the moment and present with us in the most yogic of ways. 

At the same time, if we are not present, honest, true, and confident in the present of our equine companions then we lose the connection between human and horse and we lose our place in the horse’s present moment.  That is to say if we the human cannot be calm and assertive, present and attentive, then the horse will respond by not responding to us.  And in this connection and connection lost is an amazing metaphor for someone, in a therapeutic way, to find where they falter in their relationships, connections, and ability to stay present, conscious, and grounded in life.

The findings of this may be painful, frustrating, angering, and more but in the rich well of emotions and behavioral responses one has to finding a break in their human-horse connection a person might learn more than they ever thought possible about how they relate to the world and the humans in it.  And in the context of human-horse (in a land without judgement or betrayal) a person may learn to heal their wounds, mend the ruptures, and break the patterns that plague their human-human life. 

In a brief amount of time I have learned an unimaginable amount about the human self from people’s interactions in a therapeutic relationship with their horse.  I have learned so much about myself as a person, as a therapist, and as a yogini–about where I am and where I want to go.  I cannot wait to explore further into this rich metaphor of the horse and find where, on the wings of pegasus’ decendents, humans can find new layers of healing–body, mind, and soul. 

  

 

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Victor Frankl



 

I grew up in a Catholic household where following every waistline testing, engorged bellied Thanksgiving came the ritual setting up of Christmas trees, decorating, and beginning the countdown of the Advent season.  As a young girl all that really meant was getting out the calendar covered in glitter and surprises waiting behind every door.  You open a door every day of the Advent season (the month leading up to Christmas) and either candies or pictures would lay in wait behind every door opened, or cardboard cutout removed.  It was magical, scintillating joy that comes only from the simplest of places and requires so little tangibles, only a wealth of imagination and anticipation–of which I had in overabundance as a child. 

 

Today I find so many rich metaphors and symbolism in this past time of Advent.  Advent meaning in any terms, “The coming or arrival, especially of something extremely important.”  As we creep towards the new year and holidays for a variety of faiths and creeds that symbolize new beginnings, rebirths, births, renewal, and change we are all free to celebrate this season of advent, the advent of change in one way or another. 

 

I find myself at a precipice of so many things and at this precipice I find myself assessing so much that is and that which has been in my life the last year or so.  In the advent of change in my own life I find myself pondering the present and looking expectantly towards the future–something like the adult version of my childhood self, wondering what magic awaits me behind the next door I open. 

 

There is a freedom and beauty in this time of year to shed old skins, start fresh with new journeys and to return back, with childhood wonderment, to a place of memory and nostalgia of what holiday seasons and preparations can be. 

 

I hope everyone has filled their bellies and laughed with the ones they loved this Thanksgiving season and that everyone has something they are shedding and something new they are on the precipice of beginning.  Take time to sit in your own advent of change right now.  What is the arrival of something important you are waiting for, the new project, new adventure, new journey you might be about to begin?

 

I began this blog to catalog my journey through yoga school, a tangible and solid goal.  What I have realized is as I have written, as life has meandered on a course part created by me and part formed by that which has happened in my life, things have shifted.  I have realized that, like Advent, this story has taken a more symbolic and metaphoric route.  “Yoga School”, as it were, has become everything–it is my life, my journey, and the yogic path and insights that have imbued my every step. 

 

I owe many a personal revelation to this blog and the ideas that have sprung in the writing of it.  As I creep closer to the time that I will begin my literal yoga school I realize that, that journey is only a small pieces of this larger adventure and misadventure I am on–my yogic education is this whole process, this year of change, this advent season on the precipice of beginning new and wonderful adventures, everything that has come and everything that will come, in and out of a classroom.

 

Happy holidays to everyone and I hope we all can explore together as the year comes to a close the advent of the new that we may all be on the brink of. 

 

 

“Life is a constant Advent season:  we are continually waiting to become, to discover, to complete, to fulfill.  Hope, struggle, fear, expectation and fulfillment are all part of our Advent experience.”

Life Is An Advent Season, Connections, 11-28-1993

 

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