Tag Archives: Tara Brach
Hope For Haiti Now

Hope For Haiti Now

Whenever disaster strikes, there is the rush to aid. Someone dies, and remaining loved ones are showered with attention from friends and family. An auto accident produces offers of assistance in the form of casseroles, rides to the doctor’s office, errands run. Natural disasters like the recent earthquake in Haiti create a huge flurry of activity in the form on international aid and reconstruction.

Until, that is, people reach a kind of empathy overload. It’s a natural part of the human psychology to harden a little bit, to have their empathy less and less stimulated by the triggering event. This is the same mechanism that makes pornography so dangerous and even, some would say, our ability to turn away from cruel horsemanship practices like LDR and soring. In these cases, it’s obviously not empathy that gets overloaded, but the appetite for stimulus that gets satisfied in the same way. There is the mental need to move on to increasing foci.

I have experienced this phenomenon so many times I can’t count. I know it intimately. We as a family have had more than our share, more than the share of several families, of sudden disaster. Early on, there were a great outpouring of kindness and offers of assistance. In fact, I don’t know if I could have made it through my daughter’s first grade year without the assistance of the entire lower school of the Princeton Day School. But as the tragedies continued, I found folks to become more and more inured. Whether it was a case of “there before the grace of you go I,” or whether we as a family revealed to them the truth that you can’t really protect your child, I don’t know. All I do know is it became easier and easier for them to make an initial offer and then to turn away. To protect themselves.

This brings me (finally!) to the point of this post.

Elisha Goldstien, PhD iis offering downloads of his ebook, A Mindful Dialogue: A Path Toward Working With Stress, Pain and Difficult Emotions for $9.99, with 100% of the proceeds going to the organization Hope for Haiti Now, which donates to The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, Oxfam America, Partners in Health, Red Cross, UNICEF, United Nations World Food Programme, and Yele Haiti Foundation. Whether this will still mean hope for Haiti in ten years, time will tell, but even as you read this, empathetic minds are wandering, and pocketbooks are dwindling.

The reason I have chosen to donate through Elisha Goldstein is that learning mindful coping mechanisms can only increase and sustain my source of empathy for others (horses included). I develop myself as a being while coming to the aid of others.

Here’s a description of the ebook:

A Mindful Dialogue was written to be a companion through life when dealing with stress, pain and difficult emotions. Through 24 interviews with leaders in the field such as Jack Kornfield, Dan Siegel, Sharon Salzberg, Tara Brach, Jeff Brantley, Zindel Segal and Others and 23 short explorations of simple quotes from leaders such as Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, Rumi, Hafiz, Pema Chodron and others, you’ll uncover a mindful path toward working with the stress, pain and difficult emotions in daily life.

That’s quite a list of contributors. I’ll be please to throw my little hat in with their very big ones and add to the continuing aid for Haitians, who have so little right now.

May the quest for compassion by one individual inform the greater empathy of all.

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Verse Thursday + Completely Un-Horse-Related Ramblings of a Buddhist Nature

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness
Comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!…

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


I lost my home internet connection while I was at the hospital. My best buddy Chris moved out of the guest house and took the internet with him. During my recuperation-that-is-not (more about which later), I had a tough time getting new internet installed. I lacked both the gumption and the funds.

So here I am now, back online.

Just in case you’re interested, let me tell you the story of my back surgery (“hysteria ensues”)….
All went well and according to plan. The surgeon told me there was major impingement on the left sciatic nerve. I still don’t have feeling in many parts of my left leg and foot, and much pain remains. I am told that will come in time.
The day after the surgery I was up and around and thought I had my old life back, no problem. I was elated.

Then the next day, doom.

The pain returned, full force, possibly worse than before the surgery. And it seemed to have made friends with my right side as well. What’s most disturbing is that now my right leg is terribly painful. I’m worried that what remains of the surgically altered disk has shifted too far to the right, now jumping all over my right sciatic nerve. I returned on a panic trip to the surgeon who told me there was nothing to worry about and that if the pain persisted until March, he’d do another scan. I was momentarily appeased. Long enough to get all the way home with a prescription of narcotics.

Then it hit me: another month of living like this? (panic!) Functional and relatively pain-free only when dosed up with drugs? Stuck at home alone with no contact with the outside world? I’ve been doing that since November. How much more can a person take? (the panic spreads!)

So here I sit, loaded with self-pity and Vicodin. Or rather I should say, sitting for twenty minutes, walking around the house for forty, lying down for a nap, repeat. All. Day. Long. For what seems like forever.

Before the surgery, I accepted my lot. It had been coming for a long time. I had time to deal with it and became intimate with its development, the way my body and my life changed along with the pain and the decreased mobility. Plus, I honestly believed there would be an end to it. I had ultimate faith in the results of surgery.

Now, I feel betrayed. I was supposed to be fixed, like the Bionic Woman! The day after surgery, I was supposed to be able to fox-hunt first field! I was supposed to be able to run the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler and win! (No one says expectations have to be reasonable) But seriously, my expectations were that I would be relatively pain free and mobile. I could make my own bed. Clean my own house. Pick up my dogs and cats. I could drive to my physical therapy without being under the influence of narcotics (isn’t this illegal?) and get slowly better and better. Maybe eventually, contrary to what the surgeon told me, I could ride again. The degree of arthritis and number of bone spurs he found in my spine, evidence of an athletic life lived without caution…these things may have come back to haunt me like the punch-drunkenness of an old boxer.

Sooner or later, every human being encounters something like this. We all go through the same thing, right? I’m wondering how others deal with the pain and disappointment. Please let me know if you have a better plan for me and humankind.

So here’s what I’m thinking….I am in effect publishing here a kind of auto-therapeutic essay. Stop here if you’re not interested in essentially Buddhist psychology. I won’t hold it against you.
Read more…

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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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