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Mindful Monday: Memory, Mindfulness and the Marathon

Remaining compassionate toward others is an exercise in endurance these days. The Armageddon folks are probably having a field day with the earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and such. There does seem to be a lot going on with Mother Earth. And then there are the personal catastrophes.

Mara and Samsara are cyclical, never-ending. Things are always happening to people. I’ll bet each of us knows someone who has recently suffered some loss, some tragedy, some illness or injury that has changes their lives. And as compassionate, mindful people, we jump to offer comfort, support and maybe even a casserole.

When my daughter became catastrophically ill back in 1996, community support kept me from going over the edge. More than a year of assistance from her school, family friends and neighbors, as well as her father’s work acquaintances buoyed us through the dark days. People gave of their time and hearts to a child and her family in grave danger of death in every way. I am grateful to this day.

When a friend in Virginia finally got her very own horse after 30 years of catch riding and leasing, there was a celebration. She hacked out and showed with well-earned pride and a palpable happiness after so many years. Finally she was able to bond with a horse who was truly hers, and vice versa. It was a match made in heaven. Until suddenly the horse died. She was surrounded by love and support as she worked through the loss and grief.

The thing is, I wonder how it is for her now. She hasn’t gotten a new horse. Many months later, I know she is still grieving. No horse, no equestrian life, still catch-riding. I do not have to wonder how it was for me in the ensuing years after the initial catastrophe with my daughter. It went from dreadful to unimaginably worse, with the added burden of managing it alone.

But as with a string of natural disasters, folks get compassion fatigue. Seeing me exhausted and near the edge of insanity, people would recite to me the (they thought) wise analogy of putting the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on your child. Then they wandered off to make sure that their golden, healthy children got to soccer practice on time. I didn’t resent them for that, but I did resent the lameness of their unsolicited advice. If they’d taken the time to look (which was awfully hard when protecting themselves from the pain that comes along with compassion overload), they’d have seen that my arms were too tired to lift the oxygen mask.

The initial frenzy of empathy and assistance for Courtney King-Dye has hit its zenith. From personal experience, I envision the downslope. Attention will wander toward personal matters. Because raising your own family, caring for your own horses, doing your own job, are understandably a priority. And then there is the next big disaster. Novelty renews compassion without fatigue.

Let me share with you from my experience this fact: while attention from others wanders, and the initial danger eases, struggle goes on. Reports of Courtney’s continued and seemingly miraculous progress pile up, and we may feel that it’s OK to turn our attention elsewhere. And it is, to a certain degree. Spreading the compassion around never hurts. But remaining mindful of the evolving struggle of others keeps our hearts open.

In six weeks, six months, a year, Courtney King-Dye will still be battling the aftereffects of her accident. If we care, we will be there to help. But but but, you say, humans don’t have that long of an attention span. Sadly, we don’t. Especially when it’s not us that’s the issue. Two years down the road, I could have certainly used a casserole on the rare nights I left my daughter in the hospital for a few hours rest in my own bed and respite from stale sandwiches from a machine. It would have been nice to have some of that early frenzied assistance paced out so that I didn’t have to clean up after dogs who’d been waiting patiently for my return, or find a way to get the grass mowed after a six-week absence. Courtney and her family will face the same dilemmas.

What can we do to remain mindful of her continuing battles? If we don’t know her personally, then the casserole idea is pretty much out, along with offering to mow the grass and walk her dogs, or exercise her horses. But there is an option I can think of, and it’s a simple one. The Courtney King-Dye Medical Fund eBay Store has been very successful. But predictably, numbers are down.

If you have a Twitter or Facebook account, you can easily help by posting about it. The rewards of offering something for sale (service or goods) are great. Watching as your item is bid on is fun, and it feels good to know you will help defray the costs of care that are not covered by insurance. For those in the equestrian/equine business, offering something for sale is excellent PR/advertising. As everyone who is reading this knows, riding horses does not pay. You can also bid on items. The prices are well below retail. Planning ahead for gifts throughout the year will help not only your own awareness of Courtney’s strivings to regain her life, but also of the good fortune of your loved ones.

Currently the store has 12 Troxel Reliance Dressage helmets (that normally retail for $159.95) up for grabs with a minimum bid of only $50. The helmet safety campaign t-shirts are also now available in the store for $22.75. These were designed with a very catchy slogan “Strap One On – Everyone’s Doing It” by single mom and dressage rider Jeri Bryant of CA in order to help support Courtney.

Lendon Gray said yesterday that Courtney is making excellent progress. This is very encouraging, but the road to recovery will be a very long one, with lots of physical therapy and specialized rehab. Run solely by Lyndsey White of SUCCEED for no personal gain, the eBay store aims to hit the $10,000 profit mark before the end of this month. That will go a long way toward helping Courtney in her marathon for recovery.

To contact Lyndsey if you want to offer an item for auction in the eBay store, email, or call (859) 420-1006. You can also find progress reports on Facebook and Twitter.

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Mindful Monday: So Many Days, I Feel Like Lisa

I guess it’s worth pointing out that life and spiritual seeking is a journey. You’re not there.

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Mindful Monday: On Impermanence and Winter Weather

Mindful Monday: On Impermanence and Winter Weather

For many reading today, it’s the depth of winter. Getting out and riding can be difficult, unless you are blessed with a heated indoor arena. I always had a really hard time making myself do more than visiting my horses on the short dark days of winter, particularly when it was raining or snowing. You may even feel guilty that it’s hard, and that the weather and the shortness of days has sometimes prevented you from spending adequate time with your horses. I say, don’t.

Solomon’s message, ❝this too shall pass,❞ or the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence (Pāli: अनिच्चा anicca; Sanskrit: अनित्य anitya), reminds us that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is in a constant state of flux. Nothing, absolutely nothing has a permanent state. I find this a comfort when enduring painful times or even when I’m just plain uncomfortable.

Someday soon, it will be spring. Not only will it be physically easier to get out there and play with horses, but it will also become a kind of instinctive call. Nature will summon us to enjoy the warmth of the sun and share the company of our warm-blooded outdoor friends. It’s a biological, evolutionary imperative for humans. For the time being, for those of us who are daunted by the prospect of entering the dark frozen landscape, no matter the reward outside, it will be a kindness to ourselves to hold in awareness the knowledge that this too shall pass. Instead of feeling guilty or forcing yourself to do something that makes you dreadfully unhappy, consider the following:

• If you hold in your awareness the fact that this time is impermanent, it may be easier for you to get out there in the cold and visit or ride.
• If it is essential that you feed, clean stalls, maintain the facility, then you have no choice. Having no choice is an excellent opportunity for practicing radical acceptance. Reminding yourself that “this too shall pass,” even while fully experiencing each moment, the coldness of your fingers, the dry icy intake of your breath, the damp footing in the aisles, places you in greater contact with the flux of reality.
• If you cannot force yourself to get out there, it is no great disaster. Do not feel guilty. If your horses are lucky enough to be in the company of others and to have the care of hired professionals at a boarding stable, then know that they are receiving the care you have generously arranged for them. They are in their natural company. They are taking care of themselves, and probably welcome the break. You need add nothing more. Take care of yourself.

While you’re waiting for the thaw, here are a few things you can do with your horses if you can’t ride.

1. Groom, groom, groom. I have a friend, Debbie, who has used the bad weather to elevate the grooming her horse Laddie to an art. Not only is Laddie the most beautiful Belgian cross around, but he also gleams with the joy of Debbie’s close contact and touch.

2. Massage. Do bodywork. Find the elusive magic scratching spot. There’s no time like the present to practice what you have been learning in those videos you rented. If you haven’t, get some! Your horse will thank you. He gets plenty of exercise outdoors. Maybe he doesn’t get enough muscle love from you.

3. Perfect that special braid you’ve always wanted your horse to sport. Equine Ink has two excellent posts on braids. Check them out. Do yourself a favor, though: wear some fingerless gloves.

4. Learn to trim your horses’ hooves yourself. This is a long term project requiring lots of education. It’s worth it.

5. Try something totally new. Something you would NEVER try when you are in work. Maybe something you can do right there in the stall. Clicker Train your horse to do a useful trick like lowering his head for the halter or even kneeling for mounting.

Maintaining an awareness of each of those moments, celebrating them even as we are mindful of their impermanence honors our lives and those of our horses. Got any more ideas to help take advantage of the moments we will never experience again this winter?

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Mindful Monday: Is “Woo Woo” A Step Ahead of Science?

Read the article on Beliefnet by Deepak Chopra and let me know what you think.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, “woo woo” is a derogatory reference to almost any form of unconventional thinking, aimed by professional skeptics who are self-appointed vigilantes dedicated to the suppression of curiosity. I get labeled much worse things as regularly as clockwork whenever I disagree with big fry like Richard Dawkins or smaller fry like Michael Shermer, the Scientific American columnist and editor of Skeptic magazine. The latest barrage of name-calling occurred after the two of us had a spirited exchange on Larry King Live last week. Maybe you saw it. I was the one rolling my eyes as Shermer spoke. Sorry about that, a spontaneous reflex of the involuntary nervous system.

I sometimes have difficulty with new-age gurus like Chopra. And guys like Eckhart Tolle positively make my skin crawl. Repackaging and marketing ancient wisdom as if it were his idea is at best a copyright violation, at worst, a fraudulent way to make millions. There are those who say it’s a great idea to bring this knowledge to the masses stripped of its cultural and religious trappings, and as such it is more accessible. I understand that. But there is a downside, and that it the skin-crawling part, that I can’t quite get over. No ancient ever became a wealthy celebrity, did they? What was the B.C equivalent of Oprah? These are different times, I know. Yet I can’t imagine Lao Tsu marketing $200 audio books.

This could be at the heart of Michael Shermer’s objection, though, like me, he can’t seem to put his finger on it. Lucky him, he has the scientific knowledge to front his objection, even when he can’t manage it effectively.

For the time being, Chopra has challenged Shermer to a reasoned debate, reminding him of this statement:

“Nobody understands how decisions are made or how imagination is set free. What consciousness consists of, or how it should be defined, is equally puzzling. Despite the marvelous success of neuroscience in the past century, we seem as far from understanding cognitive processes as we were a century ago.”

That isn’t a quote from “one of those people who believe in spirituality, ghosts, and so on.” It’s from Sir John Maddox, former editor-in-chief of the renowned scientific journal Nature, writing in 1999. I can’t wait for Shermer to call him an idiot and a moron. Don’t worry, he won’t. He’ll find an artful way of slithering to higher ground where all the other skeptics are huddled.

Part of the “mission” of this blog is to research and discover ways in which science is now demonstrating the efficacy of touch as a treatment and teaching modality. It has been fascinating to watch as study after study reveals the lightbulb going off, lending scientific credence to what bodywork practitioners have intuitively known for decades. Since the new religion is effectively science, this credence is of utmost value. When “woo woo” and the new “religion” of science  concur, we are in for a revolution.

I’m curious to know what you think.

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Mindful Monday: Don't Just Do Something, Sit There!

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There.

You’ve probably heard someone say this, or maybe even said it yourself. But it was Sylvia Boorstein whose turn of phrase reintroduced us to the idea that just being, instead of doing, might help provide solutions to some of the problems we create for ourselves today: the frenetic striving for perfection, the avoidance of uncomfortable truths, etc. The gift of this concept came as the title of one of Boorsteins books, a kind of guide to creating your own meditation retreat.

As a representation of one of the main concepts of Buddhism, Boorstein’s exhortation is truth-in-a-nutshell.

Since humans generally do not see things in the most uncomplicated way possible, we often exhaust ourselves making up our own version of reality on a platform of our individual histories, fears, memories etc. We frighten or discourage ourselves before we even get going. It is believed that animals do not burden themselves with such destructively creative forms of perception.

Mindfulness is seeing things as they actually are, not as we imagine them to be….Pleasant and unpleasant experiences, the Buddha explained, the joys and pains of everyday life, are not the problem. The yearning and despising—the imperative in the mind that things be different—the extra tension in the mind that disappears when things are seen clearly and understood fully, is what the Buddha called suffering. Mindfulness—the relaxed, non-clinging, non-aversive awareness of present experience—is a skill that, like any other skill, requires developing.

Years ago, Boorstein developed a kind of do-it-yourself mindfulness retreat for people who weren’t yet ready or able to take the plunge and visit a mindfulness center. I love this idea of setting aside time to care for our selves in a kind of constructive restfulness. Not only for the mind, but also for the body as we ride.

As we ride???? Yes!

Sally Swift employed ideokinesis (the use of imagery to effect changes in the body) very creatively in Centered Riding®. Riders can use the tool of ideokinesis to imagine an active resting state in the saddle.

Active resting? Yes again!

Try this first at home. For five or ten minutes, lie down on your back on the floor. Don’t drift off into the mind-numbing daydreams you might be tempted to allow. Put your arms by your side, palms up or down, whichever is comfortable. If you need a towel under your knees or a pillow under your neck for comfort, get one. Imagine gravity as the active entity it is. Watch it work on your body as it helps your muscles release tension. During the process of release, notice any areas of tension that have become patterns in your body. You will recognize those spots where gravity has to work harder. Send messages of gratitude to those areas, for they will be your teachers. Also, send gratitude to gravity for assisting you in releasing them. You may find that you have to be very clear in giving suggestions to your body to assist gravity in its task: “allow my neck to be free of tension,” or “I’m noticing the rise and fall of my breath, but this makes me breathe faster.” The most important thing about active resting is doing nothing. Don’t just do something, lie there. Do not cling to any idea of what you must accomplish during the exercise, even if it is relaxation. You might find that this is even more refreshing than a short nap.

With practice, you will begin to develop more awareness of your body and its relation to the earth. “Well what do you know? It’s not my body’s job to resist gravity! I can allow my body to move within the earth’s gravitational field without undue stress on my muscles! All I have to do is allow it!”

Remember that the path of least resistance is always available to you, because it will be important when you try this exercise in the saddle.

Now that you have set up the conditions for awareness of your body in space and maintaining a space of least resistance, you can try this active rest in the saddle. Your horse will be thrilled. At first you may worry about this idea of some kind of floppy-muscled Zen session in the saddle: is it safe? Think about the last time you stopped getting in your horse’s way, and your muscles stopped competing with his to get the job done. There was a much better flow, wasn’t there? That’s what this exercise is all about. You can set up an active resting retreat in the saddle anytime you want.

Make sure you are in an enclosed area, such as a fenced arena or round pen, just in case anything goes wrong, or your horse is really fresh or extra delighted to be liberated from the constraints of your muscular control.
Swing yourself into the saddle, make sure to give your horse a good rub on the neck, and explain to him what you are doing. This is important.
Keep your eyes open (you’d be nuts to close them!!!). Be aware of your surroundings but try not to focus on any one thing. Hear the sounds around you but don’t listen. Alertness without that laser-like focus of the straight-line, left-brain thinker is the goal. You can do it. It’s only a few minutes’ worth.
Remove your feet from the stirrups, let go your vice grip on the reins, and practice the same non-doing that you tried at home. If you are willing to let go of any desired outcome, you will feel gravity work to join you and your horse together as one being.
Being physically together without an agenda, allowing the stress of your muscles’ resistance to gravity (and to the horse) to melt away. Remember those resistant muscles in the active resting exercise at home on the floor? Recognize them now, give them the extra attention they deserve, and your will feel your horse do the same.
Notice what you feel beneath you. Has the horse’s back come up beneath the saddle to meet you? Perhaps it has shrunk away? Does his breathing match your own or is it slower?
In time, each of you will learn to allow your bodies to stop resisting one another. Your mutual awareness can flourish and grow in this space.

Active resting can be expanded to include riding, as in the practice of walking meditation. But that’s a post for another day.

The active resting retreat is a useful tool because the rider is setting up conditions where insights are likely to arise. In this intimate encounter with your horse, you rely on perception rather than action, receiving rather than sending. It’s like becoming a child all over again. Bringing a “beginner’s mind” to being with your horse can awaken us to a fuller, wiser understanding of what riding him really is.

© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch and Kim Cox Carneal

NB Thanks to Debra Crampton who wrote Nothing Doing in this month’s Centered Riding eBulletin for giving me the impetus to finish this this post (started many months ago) as well as the term, ideokinesis, which I add to my working vocabulary with delight. It’s interesting to note that the “Construcive Rest,” “Active Rest,” and other techniques for generating attentive stillness do not trace back simply to the Alexander Technique or to any school of Ideokinesis, but to Buddhist meditation techniques as described by the historical Buddha more than 2,500 years ago.

I learned of Sylvia Boorstein’s DIY Meditation Retreat concept in a recorded interview at Shamhala Sunspace.

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Mindful Monday: Charter for Compassion (Karuna)

Mindful Monday: Charter for Compassion (Karuna)

MINDFUL MONDAY image courtesy

I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working on a document/concept exploring a set of universal rights for horses for an international organization for horses’ welfare. This is in its nascent stages and I’m constantly thinking, “how should this be communicated? How can I write this so that it is compelling, emotionally accessible and easy to implement worldwide?”

Wonder and it shall be delivered!

Into my inbox last week popped a flawless example of how to enumerate the absolute compassionate approach to other beings. Compassion (karuna in Sanskrit and Pali) is the foundation of mindful living and Buddhist practice. How timely then that this wonderful link should arrive just as I approach this task with new vigor.

The Charter for Compassion

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect. It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others – even our enemies – is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings, even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity.
It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

PLEASE AFFIRM THE CHARTER by clicking on this link and signing your name.


See also Toward An Equine Bill of Rights and The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare A sold Foundation for an Equine Bill of Rights

© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch and Kim Cox Carneal

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