Tag Archives: Mindful Monday

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 Lwhite@freedomhealthllc.com, 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: Charter for Compassion (Karuna)

Mindful Monday: Charter for Compassion (Karuna)

MINDFUL MONDAY image courtesy growabrain@typepad.com

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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Mindful Monday: The Dedication of Merit

Mindful Monday: The Dedication of Merit

MINDFUL MONDAY image courtesy growabrain@typepad.com

What on earth is she talking about?
What does that have to do with horsemanship?

Don’t click away. Let me explain. Or let me begin and then you can apply this concept to horsemanship. You won’t need my help.

The Dedication of Merit is chanted at the end of meditation or other positive actions with the intention to help all beings become enlightened.

The Wheel of Merit, courtesy of the Metyeyya Foundation (click on image to visit their site)

The Wheel of Merit, courtesy of the Metyeyya Foundation (click on image to visit their site)

Here is one English translation:

By this merit, may all attain omniscience. May it defeat the enemy, wrongdoing. From the stormy waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death, may I free all beings.

When we work so hard, emotionally, phusically, mentally, dedicating our work to a cause that is greater than we are, that encompasses the object of our effort and the entire universe as well, has a grounding, solidifying effect. Though it is not its intended purpose exactly, I am comforted by the dedication of merit I offer at the beginning and end of each work session. It offers the greatest gift to the horses I touch, the lives I encounter, and to my own faltering human form.

I am thinking today as well of Tamara of the Barb Wire, and her efforts with her horses Consolation and Aaruba, as well as her own recent injury and the cause of it. We can so often get swamped by the need to get things done, to solve problems, to cause others to take responsibility for their actions or the lack thereof, that we fail to remember what it is we are working for.

Take a moment and think what it is you are really working for.

At the moment, I am working for my own salvation from anger and victimhood and the continuing positive feedback loop that anger engenders. May my efforts to conquer anger defeat the enemy, wrongdoing. From my own efforts and existence in human form, may all beings find freedom.

In general, I work for the well-being and liberation of all animals through working with horses.

Obviously, I have written here a Buddhist dedication of merit. But there are many ways this might be altered to fit your own intention. Intention is everything, isn’t it? If the Buddhist source version doesn’t ring your bell, then make up your own.

It’s all about being aware of what we do and why we do it.

If you come up with your own personal version of the Dedication of Merit, particularly as it relates to your horse work, please post it here or in your own blog and linkback. I am very interested in reading how mindful horsepeople might interpret this ultimate call to mindfulness.

© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch

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Mindful Monday: On Mistakes

MINDFUL MONDAY image courtesy growabrain@typepad.com

NB: This was set to publish itself yesterday. I must have made a mistake somewhere, because I discovered today that it did not. Timely mistake, timely subject.

Mistakes–we all make them. Things we wish we could undo. Regrets. Minor stuff: giving the wrong cue for a lead or accidentally digging in a spur. Yelling at our kids or spouse when speaking in a softer tone would do just as nicely. Major stuff: losing our temper and whacking a horse with nippers. Yanking hard on the lead when the horse fails to go where you want at the pace you want. Family transgressions we don’t even want to remember. Sometimes we overlook our mistakes, or believe we have been correct in our behavior. Sometimes we are wracked with guilt over them. The Dalai Lama himself has written about how as a young man he aimed his slingshot at a bird. Fortunately, he did not hit it, but he remembers the momentary impulse.

The lucky thing is we have a choice with regard to the mistakes we make: looking back, whether it’s instantly afterward or after some time has elapsed, it’s how we view our mistakes that makes a difference. In our lives and in those of our horses. We can look back with regret and feel guilty and ashamed of what we have done or we can reconcile ourselves with the fact that what we know now helps us make a change for the better. The key to the latter is holding an inner softness, an acceptance of ourselves as fallible human beings. Looking gently and honestly at ourselves. As Pema Chödrön says, “The first step is to dive into the experience of feeling bad. Make friends with that feeling.” Tara Brach (author of Radical Acceptance) echoes this sentiment with this statement: “We cannot be accepting of our experience if our heart has hardened in fear and blame.”

The concept of motivation or intent is most relevant here. Mindful decisions, made with genuine intention to do the right thing rather than take the easy way out should not weigh on us, even if they turn out to feel wrong. A case in point: a friend had her horse euthanized for an episode of colic. A later necropsy revealed euthanasia to have been unnecessary. The colic could have reversed itself with treatment. Her guilt and remorse over this decision was huge. Yet, at the time, under the duress of saving her horse from agonizing pain, she made the best, most informed decision she could. In time, she was able to “make friends” with her mistake, to see that she made it in the best interest of her horse. To allow herself a softness and acceptance of grief over the decision, but to relinquish self-blame and guilt.

Things we do in the heat of the moment, however, without the proper knowledge, forethought or mindful care, are less easy to forgive ourselves for. When I first learned to ride and care for horses, I was taught cowboy horsemanship. I cringe at the terrible things I did to horses in the name of horsemanship. But I have learned to accept them as a part of my experience. I no longer feel guilty about them because I know that the horses hold me blameless and I now know better. Everything is impermanent: even our mistakes.

Animal experts, including Linda Tellington-Jones and Temple Grandin, assure us that animals live only in the present moment. Despite what Disney would have us believe, guilt and grudge-bearing are exclusively human traits. We anthropomorphize our animals when we feel guilt about our mistakes or believe that, for example, a horse is out to get us. Buddhist thought shores up this idea by saying that it is only those us us who have been blessed by a human birth are haunted by images and occurrences of the past, and who separate ourselves from intimate contact with now, this moment, by discursive thought and our judgment of it. Evidence suggests that animals do not.¹ Anthropomorphism is evidence of deep love for our animals. So are guilt and worry about them. But really, they harken back to our own ego, our desire to make our animals “just like us.”

In terms of making mistakes with our animals, feeling that they are “just like us” limits our ability to deal with them realistically, and to deal with our feelings about any errors we may have made. Holding on to our mistakes instead of finding that soft spot in ourselves, accepting that we are human and will err, allows us to move forward and make every moment new, as animals do. Fresh clarity and new opportunities for communication and bonding arise when we let go of our feelings that we have let our horses down. Or that someone in the past has abused out horse.

Right now, it’s just this horse, this person. Two open hearts. Nothing else is necessary.

¹ For those who tend to hold on to even their horses’ previous trauma, because it manifests itself in today’s behavior, experts remind us that it’s not the actual trauma or the memory of the trauma that the horse is holding on to. Any related behavior is a conditioned response to similar stimuli.

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Mindful Monday: Mirror Neurons and How Our Horses Reflect Our State of Mind

Mindful Monday: Mirror Neurons and How Our Horses Reflect Our State of Mind

MINDFUL MONDAY image courtesy growabrain@typepad.com

In Soap Making for Horses I wrote,
I have only a hazy, and ill-defined idea of that shifting point in space where spirituality and horsemanship collide. If I can keep my eye on that bullseye, that’s what I want to write about.

Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience.
It isn’t more complicated than that.
It is opening to or recieving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is,
without either clinging to it or rejecting it.

—Sylvia Boorstein

I might add that the space between thought/perception and action is the fertile ground for awareness. Unfortunately, it is also a heavily manure-laden field ripe for the planting of a whole crop of impulsive thought. In that millisecond (less for passionate, impetuous people like me), lies the choice to accept or reject the thought/perception/experience or to deny its very existence. Once judgement of any kind occurs, the gloriously empty space of mindfulness chokes with discursive thought like kudzu.

Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much
as your own unguarded thoughts. 

—The Buddha

Any time spent with horses reveals to us our inner thoughts. The mere fact that horses don’t talk back lends to them a mirror-like quality. They don’t talk back. They reflect back what they perceive.

When we look in a mirror, we don’t really see ourselves as we really are (what’s that?). We see an image doctored up by literally millions of composite experiences, feelings, judgements, and “stories” we tell ourselves about ourselves. This is why we feel so odd when looking at photos of ourselves. It never really looks like us, does it? In our expert opinion (who’s not an expert on themselves?) there’s always something a little off. What’s off is that the mirror is strangled by the kudzu of our judgements. We don’t even know we make them, but we do. A zillion times a day.

In so doing, we fail to take advantage of the best mindfulness mirror on the planet. The horse.

One of the most interesting practitioners out there for revealing how the horse mirrors the human is Wyatt Webb from Miraval Resort’s Equine Experience Intensive. Wyatt Webb is the bestselling author of It’s Not About the Horse: It’s about Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt, Five Steps for Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt: Journey Into Present-Moment Time and What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do: Common Horse Sense.

The horse will simply mirror you,” Wyatt emphasizes. “If your communication is confused, if you get frustrated or you’re timid, or if you easily lose your focus as leader of the task, the horse instantly reflects what is going on. Once you understand your own strengths and weaknesses, you can then transfer these insights to your human relationships and maybe improve the way you handle different areas of your life.”

Loosely translated from the brilliant if sometimes impenetrable scientific prose of Sandra Blakeslee on mirror neurons.

Empathy allows us to feel the emotions of others, to identify and understand their feelings and motives and see things from their perspective. How we generate empathy remains a subject of intense debate in cognitive science. Some scientists now believe they may have finally discovered its root. We’re all essentially mind readers, they say.
In 1996, three neuroscientists were probing the brain of a macaque monkey when they stumbled across a curious cluster of cells in the premotor cortex, an area of the brain responsible for planning movements. The cluster of cells fired not only when the monkey performed an action, but likewise when the monkey saw the same action performed by someone else. The cells responded the same way whether the monkey reached out to grasp a peanut, or merely watched in envy as another monkey or a human did
Because the cells reflected the actions that the monkey observed in others, the neuroscientists named them “mirror neurons.”

Later experiments confirmed the existence of mirror neurons in humans and revealed another surprise. In addition to mirroring actions, the cells reflected sensations and emotions.

“Mirror neurons suggest that we pretend to be in another person’s mental shoes,” says Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the University of California , Los Angeles School of Medicine. “In fact, with mirror neurons we do not have to pretend, we practically are in another person’s mind.”

Since their discovery, mirror neurons have been implicated in a broad range of phenomena, including certain mental disorders. Mirror neurons may help cognitive scientists explain how children develop a theory of mind (ToM), which is a child’s understanding that others have minds similar to their own. Doing so may help shed light on autism, in which this type of understanding is often missing.

How does an understanding of Mirror Neurons help us as horsepeople?

It helps us understand exactly what is happening when we spend time with our horses. By what is being mirrored back to us we see a reflection of ourselves and what we need to change to become “whole” and positive again. A horse’s negative behavior often signals pain, the fear of pain, or distress at training methods. However, when a horse objects strenuously to a request or is just generally “in a bad mood,” take a look in that mirror mirror on the wall and see who’s the most positive of all. Maybe it’s not you.

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