Learn to Listen with Your Whole Body

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“Learn to sit still, to wait until your dust has settled, and your air has become clear. Wait for deep stillness. Then, start.”[1]

Every so often you meet a horse you connect to with your whole heart.  There is a sense you belong together. Rio and I just clicked. He was sound, easy and we loved each other.

The more we got to know each other, the more I began to feel something was off.  He did funny things when I asked him to go to the right and did even funnier things if I asked him to canter to the right.  It just didn’t feel good, it felt like he was struggling.  His right front foot and shoulder kept drawing my attention. I started taking lessons again to get other sets of eyes observing us.  No one saw anything wrong with his right front leg and I ultimately dismissed my own sense as my imagination. Everyone else told me it was a behavioral or training problem, a problem with me not being fully committed and allowing him to challenge me.

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Rio and I at a clinic in 2014.

Since he was never lame I didn’t feel I had enough for a vet to look at so I let it go and found ways to work him through the funny things he did going right.  A year into this approach, he did go lame on his right front.  It was likely something that was there all along.  It is a serious, chronic problem that we’ll be dealing with for the rest of his life.  I cannot express how much I wish I had listened to him.  I realize now that the funny things he did were his way of communicating with me that he had a problem he needed me to recognize.  Rio was not the first lesson, or even the most painful lesson I have learned about listening to this form of direct communication, but I hope he will be the last!

My path has been fraught with many painful lessons stemming from prioritizing someone else’s expertise over my own inner knowing.  It is not easy to stand against knowledgeable, trained, professionals and disagree with nothing beyond instinct and gut feeling to back you up.  I am learning to listen, with the help of the living, breathing world around me, to those whispers of communication.  I am learning to let those whispers be my guide and to add the insight from the experts to my own perception.  In turn, this creates a bigger picture without dismissing what is being communicated to me directly by the being in question.

The trick is to allow ourselves permission to step outside the linear, rule based, perfectionist mode most of us have learned.  This paradigm convinces us that we don’t know enough to know what’s going on. Furthermore, if we try something outside our area of expertise or training, we may make a mistake.  We are trained to think of a mistake as a bad thing, something with dire consequences.  Really, we are trained to be perfectionists, terrified of getting the wrong answer.  Our entire educational system robs us of a sense of free will and confidence in our own inner guidance and wisdom.  We lose access to our endless well of creativity, however, it doesn’t mean we can’t regain it!

Whether you know it or not, you do it all the time on a subconscious level.  When you meet a new person, or a new horse, massive amounts of information are being processed and sifted to determine what pieces are relevant enough to be brought into your conscious awareness.  Every being we encounter, every environment we enter, has a feeling tone to it that we assess automatically.

What we feel guides us.  Is the person we just met open to a handshake, a hug or do they prefer no physical contact?  Is the horse we just met defensive and guarded, or inviting us in for a head rub?  Do we feel comfortable enough in a room to sit in the middle of the auditorium or are we seating ourselves close to the nearest exit?  Do we cross the street to avoid passing too close to the person walking toward us with their pit bull, or do we walk past them and say ‘hi’?  Thousands of bits of information are entering through our sensory system to help us make split second decisions about all kinds of things.  For most of us these things happen outside our conscious awareness.  We respond instinctively and don’t give it a second thought.

There is so much richness available when we work consciously with this ‘sixth sense’. When we allow ourselves to experience the feeling tones of the world around us we drop back into our bodies, we can stop second guessing ourselves and access creative solutions to any problem we face. It’s easy enough to re-awaken your capacity to access this endless well of creativity, this capacity to be in direct communication with the world around you. All you have to do is begin to ask the question: how does this room feel?  How is this feeling different from the last room I was in?  How does this horse feel compared to that horse?

This is not asking the horse, “how do you feel”, as in assessing his emotional state.  This is asking our own body sensory system to begin to distinguish between the feeling evoked by one horse vs. another – how does this horse, right now, resonate or vibrate within my own being?  For example, the coffee mug sitting beside my computer – it’s my favorite pottery mug, it has its own life force that feels warm and inviting, its glossy rounded surface is perfect for wrapping my hands around the warm mug – it makes me feel warm all over. It has a different feeling than the Himalayan salt candle holder sitting next to it – which feels cold and crisp and ancient, very much alive.  As we learn to let the feeling of things in our world wash over us, we begin to open the doors to perception on ever deeper levels. [2]

Images evoke this feeling sense in us all the time.

Yesterday, I took two geldings who are new to my place out for a hand walk around the pasture.  Their pasture abuts my neighbor who has a small group of cattle living on her field for the winter.  These two horses have not lived in the company of other herbivores and they are quite terrified of them.  I led them out across the pasture, turning south as we neared the western boundary of the property.  Right away I could feel them hesitate as they realized we were walking towards the dangerous, horse eating cattle who lay basking in the sun, prone bodies scattered across the field.  This was a physical sensation, they were no longer eagerly walking with me, they were lagging behind, focused on the cows. So even they continued to follow me, I could physically feel their hesitation.

Suddenly, on a whole-body level, I felt fear crawling up my back, overwhelming my senses.  This is an example of how developing my natural ability to allow the feeling tones of the world wash over me has practical application. This was not my fear, this was the horses reacting to the increasing proximity of the cattle. Responding to that fear in that moment, I guided our small herd left and circled back away from the cows until I felt them walking freely, felt the fear abate.  We continued our circle and started back toward the cows.  This time they did not hesitate, they continued to walk with me and the overwhelming fear never returned.  Without any fuss or ‘training’ we moved through a threshold moment for these horses without any fuss at all.

This is one of many ways accessing this kind of perception is so useful.  Make no mistake, those horses knew I felt their fear and responded to it.  And I responded in a way that let them know I was listening and they weren’t wrong for having those feelings.  I never turned it into a lesson in obedience or into a challenge to push them over their fear threshold.  We worked together to find a mutually workable solution that helped build their confidence…in themselves, in me and in the cows.  Nothing to fear here.

It is indescribably fun to be in direct communication with my horses, to allow them to guide me in discovering what works best for them.  You can start developing your own abilities to do this today.  Start paying more attention to how everything you encounter feels.  Start building your own library of felt sensations and your mind/body will automatically begin to bring these subtle things into your conscious awarenes)s.   We are capable of receiving and processing so much more information than we realize.

Every single person has access to endless wells of creativity – the kind of creativity that allows us to realize solutions to any situation on a moment-to-moment basis.  We are born with the capacity to live in direct communication and connection with the living world around us.  From plants to non-human animals to technology and beyond, when we are in ‘the zone’ we are able to creatively problem solve beyond what we have learned or been taught.

[1] Hugh Milne, The Heart of Listening: A Visionary Approach to Craniosacral Work (North Atlantic Books, 1995), p. 2

[2] Stephen Harrod Buhner, Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm: Beyond the Doors of Perception into the Dreaming of Earth (Bear & Company, 2014), p. 28-44

Photo Credits:  Tanya Pearce of Redhawk Photography (www.redhawkphotos.com)

To read more about my adventures with dancing Tango and horses visit my other blog at Tango with Horses

12 thoughts on “Learn to Listen with Your Whole Body

  1. Andrea, I love this simple explanation of listening to the feelings of horses and reacting to it enough to let them know you heard them so that they, in turn, trusted you. I hope I have a chance to experience this and react properly soon.

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  2. Thank you Andrea. Your article is so timely for me – and I could feel the influence of Buhner in your writing. In fact, you have inspired me to return to reading that book again 😊

    Your main theme, that of reconnecting with the sensory apparatus that is created by our whole body, not just the ears or the eyes but the whole thing, so so resonated with me. I feel I’m at the beginning of this process so it was so encouraging and inspiring to read your account of your adventures and discoveries in this area.

    Like you, I feel that THIS is the way forward for me. For many years my default way to process and understanding things has been mostly through logical analysis.

    Or so I thought. For you are quite correct, we form impressions about people, places and situations much more instinctively and immediately. Later we might rationalise the ‘logical’ steps or the ‘reasons’ we came to certain decisions or judgements. But in truth, most of this processing is, at least initially, quite unconscious.

    The invitation you was given me is to become aware of how often this happens each day. Doing so will give me the opportunity to become consciously aware of that feedback. So the gift you leave me with is the chance to have a choice about allowing myself to accesses those sensations, feelings and impressions. I love your idea of building up a kind of ‘database’ of such things.

    This could all appear overwhelming if it weren’t for your pragmatic solution of using a simple comparison; how does THIS horse feel compared to last horse?

    That’s both simple and brilliant which is, in my eyes, the mark of genius!

    Great article. Thanks so much for sharing this with us 😊❤️

    Steve

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Steve. Yes, it can be overwhelming when we start to feel again. I have to credit Stephen Buhner with the idea of asking how one thing feels vs. another. It is a stroke of genius. He also suggested being aware that this is not about the emotions attached to the feelings – those emotions and our memories can sure be overwhelming and bog us down. I have never been steered wrong by staying with the felt perceptions that occur in my body.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I so connect with this article. I have an amazing equine chiropractor friend who has taught me to listen to the horses. I was with her recently when we had just finished adjusting a horse. She had the owner walk the horse away and I heard him say his hip still wasn’t right. I watched his steps and realized he was ever so slightly twisting his hind leg as he walked. I pointed this out to her, saying his hip was twisting slightly. She asked for the horse to come back and adjusted the hip one more time. The result was amazing, the owner reports he is a “new horse”. I am so thankful for this friend, she has opened my “ears” to hear the horses!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Dance Lessons and Horses | Tango with Horses

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