As you can see, it is a foggy and rather soggy morning here. Fog is a fitting image for my thoughts today.
My blog has been a bit quiet lately. After a year or so of being fully committed to writing twice a week I found I ran out of words. Not ideas, just the words to describe them. As my attention shifted to teaching live workshops the horses helped me remember how crazy we humans can make ourselves, trying to meet self imposed deadlines, constantly on the run. I teach using Argentine Tango as a metaphor. Argentine Tango is an improvisational dance that is infinitely creative. A creative dance incorporates pauses, sometimes improbably long pauses…
In fact, there are Tango leaders known for not getting up to dance at a Milonga unless the song moves them. Some get up to dance but do not move until there is something in the song that moves them. For a long time I wrote twice a week as a way to develop my skill as a writer and create a discipline around writing. Now I feel like those Tangeros, waiting until I feel moved enough by something for the words to come.
Ironically, words themselves have me pondering this week. The famous dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham, said, ‘the body says what words cannot’. Horses teach us to let go of words and focus on the language of the body – gesture, emotional content, and movement. The things we convey when we interact on this level are complete, instantaneous and unmistakable, far more efficient than words.
Sometimes I think language is a burden more than an asset to human communication and connection. We get so hung up on words. Half the time we get so involved in speaking we forget to involve our body and our senses. No wonder horses often struggle to know what we mean, our body language is not so finely tuned as it could be. We spend so little time moving in ways that express how we feel that we get self-conscious about non-verbal self-expression (now that is a mouthful!)
What do words have that body language does not? The same word can have different meanings in different cultures. The same word can mean different things to different people. People often re-define words according to personal experience until their meaning has little to do with the dictionary definition. Some words that have multiple uses get narrowed down and are only associated with one usage that carries a strong emotional charge. The body language behind the words, their context, those are the things that give them meaning. Body language, our ability to feel and sense the meaning behind the words, is universal.
The world of words is not easy to navigate. As a teacher I always run the risk of triggering an emotional response in people. As a teacher interested in getting people to make use of their senses and feel more the risk is even greater. The energy and support of a clinic group allows for things to get stirred up. I often hear it said that words have power. Yes they do. Words have the power to inspire, to intimidate, to educate, to shame, to empower, and to challenge.
Ultimately words only have the power we give them.
One of my favorite self-help programs is called The Presence Process. A book written by Michael Brown, it takes you through daily readings and exercises designed to help you navigate what you feel. What a gift to someone as sensitive as I am! Among his many gems is this one, ‘don’t shoot the messenger’. When someone says or does something that makes us feel uncomfortable, rather than lash out at the person or get upset because they triggered us, he suggests we instead thank them for bringing the uncomfortable feeling or emotion to our attention. Once we are aware we can take that uncomfortable sensation and explore it to discover its source.
Such a simple exercise and yet the act of owning how I feel, little by little, put the power back in my own hands. Words no longer have the power they once did to squash me, shame me, shut me down, embarrass me or make me feel uncomfortable. I enjoy paying attention to how I feel when I read things people write. Sometimes I like reading things that challenge my perceptions and make me feel uncomfortable. Some days I am not in the mood and I might not read those words. When I attend a workshop, and even when I teach with other people I respect, I may not agree with everything I hear. I often think I would use different words to describe the same concept. How boring would life be if we all use the same words and concepts? Life is meant to be diverse, challenging, creative and marvelous.
My life has not been easy. Has anyone really had an easy life? When I was a kid I never felt I fit in anywhere, I still feel that way most of the time. The only thing in my life that made sense was horses, dogs and cats. But, if it had been easy I would never have found the tools I found to help myself find a way to be a healthy, balanced person capable of going out into the world and sharing my gifts. We are given adversity so we become stronger, resilient, and so that things like words no longer have the power to squash us! I still may not feel like I fit in but I am comfortable in my own skin and comfortable that my differences are what I have to offer to the world.
‘The body says what words cannot.’ Martha Graham really nailed it with that one. Horses do not rely on words. They read body language. The more we learn to convey and receive what is said with our whole body and whole heart the less chance for misinterpretation or misunderstanding. Oh, there will always be things that trigger us but take heart because this to shall pass. Revel in the diversity of ideas and experience, and thank the messengers that challenge you. Words and ideas only have power if we give it to them!
Next time you feel uncomfortable with what someone says or the words they choose, take a moment to feel deeper. See if you can use all of your senses to grasp their intentions. Words are, at best, imprecise ways to describe our experience. If we step out of our intellect and back into our bodily experience we may find we have more in common than we ever imagined.