It all began when I decided to take a weekend workshop, called Discover Your Inner Wisdom to learn more about equine experiential learning. I had been drawn to it for years and finally decided to take the plunge. The logical side of me remained slightly skeptical. Was this horse work a legitimate healing modality or simply another fad? I decided to stay open to the experience. Maybe the horses could teach me something about myself.
I showed up at the farm early in the morning to meet the facilitators and five participants. Right away, I felt thrown off by the shamanistic flavour of the meeting room, the sweat lodge outside, and the buffalo head mounted on the wall. It all seemed too New Agey for my liking. What was I doing here? My senses were on high alert, and I began judging the facilitators’ every move. As we introduced ourselves, I learned that I was the only one with horse experience and that one lady was absolutely terrified of horses. I started thinking that maybe this work would only benefit people without horse experience. The methods didn’t seem like they’d work for me, because it felt too basic to be learning about horses like a beginner. I knew how to lead a horse. I knew how to be with a horse. I knew what horses were capable of. Or so I thought.
That’s when I met Paris. We did an exercise called Reflective Round Pen. When it was my turn, I announced that my intention was to get into a relationship with a man. I was ready to find a boyfriend. I was tired of being single! As my facilitator, Andre led me through a body scan, I noticed the butterflies in my stomach and some serious shoulder pain. Andre asked me how intense my pain was on a scale of one to ten. I said “Seven.” He then asked me whether my shoulders had a message for me. Immediately, I heard the words “Let go.” Then he told me to turn towards Paris, my partner horse, and state my heart’s desire for the session, which was to let go of what was holding me back from being in a relationship.
I entered the round pen, confident and ready to connect with Paris. As I walked up to her, inching my way towards her, she kept moving farther and farther away. Now, all my shame and insecurities began to surface. Oh my God, what are people going to think? I’m the only person here with horse experience, and I can’t get the horse to come to me or connect with me. In fact, Paris seemed repulsed by me. I kept trying to get close to her, but it wasn’t working. I felt more stupid with every passing moment. My insides were in a knot. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed that I couldn’t get this horse to like me. Then, something inside me urged me to simply pause. And as I paused, sitting with all the discomfort, I received an insight.
What Paris was showing me was, alarmingly, a long-held pattern: I was always trying to get people to like me. Not only was this a huge insight into my desire to find a man, it was also something I did with all the people in my life. I wanted everyone to like me and to instantly connect with me. Paris taught me that I didn’t have to connect with everyone. I certainly didn’t like everyone I met, so why did everyone have to like me?
I began to process feelings that had been running my life for years. I had been chasing men that weren’t right for me. I had been doing everything to get them to like me when they clearly weren’t interested. I was wasting time going after things that didn’t feel right and wallowing in misery about being constantly rejected rather than looking for connections that did feel good and that did work. I could see this pattern not only with men but also with my clients, my family, my friends, and my colleagues. My actions were about doing things to get people to like me rather than being true to myself and just being me.
Paris’ response of walking away from me and not connecting to me also made me realize that it didn’t matter what people thought about me. It didn’t matter if I was the horse expert and couldn’t connect with a horse. Not always connecting, and feeling vulnerable about it, was a natural part of life. I learned that vulnerability was the source of my power. Everyone’s power, in fact. I didn’t have to be perfect at everything. Being imperfect —asking for help, not feeling a connection, or admitting weakness—was what made me human. It was hard for me to wrap my head around this at first, because it was the opposite of what I was taught to believe: that vulnerability is a weakness, not a strength. But I didn’t have to maintain a façade any longer. I left the session with a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.
On the second day of the workshop, I partnered with Thor, a stunning black Percheron gelding. My new intention was to explore a way of being that would attract a relationship. I entered the round pen alone, and sat on a chair in the middle of the pen. I focused on my own feelings, not on what Thor was doing. I got up and walked around when I felt like it, and I didn’t try to have a connection with him. I just breathed. Thor became interested in my every move and even came up to me on several occasions throughout the session. When I sat down in the centre of the round pen, he rested his head on my heart. All I had to do was breathe and be me.
I developed a new awareness at the cellular level, so profound that I could feel it in my bones. I felt lighter, at peace, calm, and like I had more space in my mind. I stopped being overly nice and accommodating with clients. I stopped trying to get every man to like me and started asking myself what was important to me, what felt good regardless of what other people were saying or doing. What others did or thought was really none of my business.
I knew this was my life's work.
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