Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Adjusting the Scales

You live with your thoughts – so be careful what they are. – Eva Arrington

In hatred as in love, we grow like the thing we brood upon. What we loathe, we graft into our very soul. – Mary Renault

A few weeks ago I met a woman who is a professional western trainer and a big believer in certain natural horsemanship methods. When she realized I was into horses, she immediately wanted to know my approach to riding and horses in general. I chose my words carefully, as it is sometimes hard to explain what I “do” with my horse in comparison to what others do.

After listening to my account, she said: “Ah, that’s good, at least you are not one of those crazy people who push their horse beyond its limits. I’m into the John Lyons method, he’s amazing. So kind to horses and never uses too much pressure; never demands too much.”

I nodded. I’m not that familiar with John Lyons, apart from knowing that he is a natural horsemanship trainer and applies similar methods than other such trainers; training a horse using operant conditioning through pressure and release i.e. negative reinforcement. I used to pursue these methods myself, but have since started exploring something I would describe as conscious horse – human interaction. However, I acknowledge the value any method that aims to be kind can have in encouraging people to think about animal welfare. In any case, I have decided to keep an open mind to what people have to say about their way of doing things – whatever that is.

The woman talked highly about the gentle ways of this method and the patience it required. I liked the words the woman was using: kind, gentle, patient so I asked her questions, to find out exactly what she was all about. When she realized I was interested, she plunged deeper into her analysis of horsemanship in general. She was obviously looking for validation for her way of being with horses. It didn’t take too long for her to start talking about what other people did.

“Oh, there is this woman at our barn, she is so stupid. The things she does to her horse in the name of training. I hate her.”

I hate her. I cringed at the strong statement. Hate is a powerful emotion. The more I listened to the woman, the more anger poured over me, but it wasn’t mine, it was hers. She couldn’t stand this or that person; she hated this trainer or that trainer. So and so was abusive and therefore stupid. What happened to kind, gentle and patient? I have witnesses a lot of abuse towards horses in the past six years I have lived in Switzerland, but I can’t say I have ever hated anyone for it. After about 40 minutes of talking to the woman, I simply had to get away. I felt drained, tired. Was this what horses felt around her, too? The amount of negative energy this woman projected on me, was wearing me down.

I thought about my New Year’s Resolution: to try to observe, rather than evaluate. This woman was definitely making evaluations rather than observations, but I can’t say I was doing any better. What had started as an attempt to learn more about the woman’s beliefs, ended up in me judging her judging others.

What is it with negative energy? I don’t know if you have noticed, but it is everywhere, circulating our planet faster than any known weather pattern, pushing itself into every nook and cranny it possibly can. And I’m not just talking about the horse world, but the world in general.

Humans are negative by nature. We seem to produce negative energy like it is a life source. We take pleasure in wallowing in misery, ours or other peoples. We make it our business to judge others for what they do, without really knowing why they do it. It is so easy to look at others and ridicule them, bad mouth them. It makes us feel better, more worthy. Because isn’t that was this is all about: feeling worthy, feeling superior?

And what are the direct and indirect effects of this negativity we seem to spread around without a second thought? - Massive.

Exactly a year ago in January my small Jack Russell was attacked by a runaway dog much larger than herself. She was nearly killed, ripped to pieces by this male dog which had absolutely no reason to attack my tiny female dog with such ferociousness. And yet it did. Two hours prior this attack, the dog and his female companion had run away from their owner and had since roamed the woods, moving further and further away from home. When my dog and I had the unfortunate luck to run across the pair, they were both acting strangely hostile.

Later, while my vet was patching up my dog, we discussed the incident. He was appalled. Just the day before he had witnessed another small dog die from injuries sustained in a similar situation. The man was very sad to tell me that this was his daily bread, patching up dogs injured in senseless fights. He had been a vet for almost twenty years, and he said that the situation was getting worse; more and more dogs out of control, more and more aggressiveness and hostility in animals formerly known as man’s best friend.

I went home stunned. What was going on? Something the vet had said rung in my ears as I nursed my dog back to life: “Unhappy humans create unhappy animals.”

I knew this was true, hadn’t I see the same equation over and over again in the horse world, wasn’t that once part of my daily bread, patching up the relationships gone bad between horse and human? “Show me your horse and I’ll tell you who you are” is something I like to say to people when explaining the way animals reflect not only our behavior, but our most inner being. Horses show us who we are. But if horses (and other domestic animals) are direct reflections of who we are, what does the current emotional and psychological state of animals around us tell us about our society as a whole?

As I made an attempt to escape the woman who was infatuated with John Lyons and who seemed to hate pretty much everyone who had anything to do with horses and didn’t do it her way, I stopped myself. Who was I kidding? Running away from her negative energy was no solution. In fact, I would probably drag part of it with me and project it onto some other unsuspecting bystander like myself as soon as I was out of the woman’s sight. Instead, I should do what horses do; project it back in a clear way, to demonstrate that this was not alright. Maybe something positive could come out of all this negative?

The world may be filled with negative energy, but on the same token, there is a growing movement for all things positive. It may have started as a new age idea, but soon, to balance out the chemistry of the universe, it took on a life of its own. This is why for example Eckhart Tolle has sold millions of copies of his books. There is a collective initiative for change, hence the reason I write this blog, for starters!

Eckhart Tolle’s message is simple; to transcend our ego-based state of consciousness. Sounds great, but in real life is everything but easy. Our ego is quite strong and it can have a death grip on our psyche. It takes a lot to change who you are and become the person you want to be. Especially when it means letting go of the competitive and critical being we have become.

I know, I’m starting to sound like a psychologist, to say the least. But as I am trying to understand my own tendencies to judge and criticize, I am discovering the source of the negative energy within. It truly lies in the heart of feeling unworthy; it is being bred in a place where I am certain I am not enough, yet I know better. This dichotomy boggles the mind. We think we know it all (compared to others, who are not as enlightened as we are), but at the same time we are insecure about what we know and do.

Again, I look to horses for the answers. My horse, Little Love, is by no stretch of imagination a sociable horse when it comes to people, after all, her experiences of people have not always been very pleasant. She doesn’t, however, hold this against anyone. When she meets a new person, she quietly and politely observes the human. Her demeanor is neutral; until the person proves his intentions. And even when there is negative energy projected on her, she holds her stoic neutrality, unless her personal space is grossly evaded. In that case, she demonstrates her opinion clearly, only to return to the neutral equilibrium. I believe she can do this, because her life is centered the right way, she knows what is important (which would be this very moment) and not many things can rock that balance.

Perhaps that is what it is about; balance. Maybe we all need to adjust the scales in our lives or discover the real center; maybe we have just focused too much on the things that are not so important and wasted energy on things that belong on the fringes, like worrying too much about being perfect or about what others do and say. We like to scrutinize everything under a microscope instead of looking out into the horizon with soft eyes, taking in the big picture, seeing not only the what is going wrong, but all the things that are going right at the same time.

Why not let go of trying to be perfect, even if just for a second? Why not stop the inner critic before he talks?  Why not travel in the dark for a while and feel your way around, instead of always having to know where you are going (and where others should be going)?

What is the worst thing that could happen?


No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit. - Helen Keller


  1. Very interesting and thoughtful post - I'll have to think more about what you've said.

  2. Oh boy - "stop the inner critic before he talks" - that's a tough one, but you're right - so important. Don't they call Satan the accuser? - worming his way into your mind and telling you you're not worth anything. And of course, because there IS always something to find fault with in oneself, it's hard to "stop him before he talks." But I'm going to renew my efforts to do just that, with your inspiration!

    By the way, although John Lyons can be abused like any other method, I've been to one of his clinics, and his own horses are friendly and confident and cheerful - which has to be a good sign, eh? Plus he says intelligent things like: You should never criticize your horse or call him bad names, e.g. "stupid" or "lazy" etc.

  3. This is so true and so familiar. I think I feel most unworthy when I catch myself judging others.

  4. I believe that one great factor feeding the negativity is fear.

    There is an old saying which goes something along the lines "a pessimist won't ever be disappointed" and there must be some truth in it - what I mean is that even without realising it we are restricted with fear. One of the biggest must be a fear of disappointment or even more: disappointing others i.e. putting it the other way: fear of mistakes.

    It is also so much easier to find fault than build on the positive. Hating and critizing others (without trying to come up with solutions and improvements) is so much easier and safer than doing something yourself. Let alone do something as first (thinking now about the lady you were discussing with).

    I believe all this also affects to the energy we are reflecting to others - humans are animals so we do react and feel the energy just like dogs and horses.

    I am working on mine every day: trying to consciously mold my thoughts to help the positive feelings to grow to let them boost the positive energy and to let that show. Whenever I succeed I get immediate response from my dogs and horse. The humans are sometimes more challenging :o)

  5. Very thought provoking, and mirroring my current state of mind at this point in time.

    I have a pony who has come to me of his own choice, he is a very intelligent fellow and has a big need to change the world! However he is not well and we are currently detoxing him. He shows his discomfort by being very anti social, will threaten to bite if he is touched, if one continues to 'pester' him he will try to push past you and will threaten to kick.

    While I an treating him with detox herbs, I am spending a lot of time talking to him, scratching wherever he is comfortable to let me scratch him without feeling threatened, and just generally telling him how much we love him and how beautiful he is. He has a choice to move away or to stand and be scratched.

    I am certain that this pony will become very loving and social, and that it won't be long before he will seek us out to interact, rather than running away and being constantly grumpy, each day I am seeing a change as he feels better. The less pressure we put on him, the more relaxed he becomes. Today I was able to put my arms around his neck for a cuddle and scratch without him pulling a face and snaking his neck. He is taking some big steps, and it all comes back to love and trust.

  6. Shelby in CaliforniaFebruary 9, 2011 at 7:50 AM

    You can have a million people projecting negative energy, wallowing in the mire of it, and just a handful of people projecting positive energy will overcome the negative vibrations emittied by those millions of people. Positive energy is so powerful, that's why we feel so good when someone or something shines their appreciation on us. It also causes us to return the favor. Horses are accutely aware of this, and we see it every time we interact with them. Horses are drawn to things of benefit, and move away from things that are not of benefit. It's that simple. Katariina, what a wonderful post today, so much to think about. Thank you for your awesome insight.

  7. LOVE all the insights, each one of them adding to the theme. When I started writing this blog post, I didn't really know where it was going, but slowly I could see the red thread starting to form. I still think I wasn't able to quite put my thoughts together in words, as I, too, had the same feeling as Kate i.e. "I'll have to think more about it", but then decided to post anyway, to see what came out of it.

    So many of your comments add to what I had to say. Like June said: "there IS always something to find fault with in oneself". We are not perfect, but we have to accept that in ourselves and in each other. We are all works in progress.

    JEN-SKA pretty much summed up my feelings by saying: "I feel most unworthy when I catch myself judging others." Exactly!

    VL: "One great factor feeding the negativity is fear... One of the biggest must be a fear of disappointment or even more: disappointing others" I think fear drives a lot of our unwanted actions and is especially connected with horses. Many people who are actually dealing with horses on a daily basis have fear (fear or failure, but also fear of the horses themselves), but don't admit to it, so they cover it up with other means... this is something I have been thinking about a lot and one day want to write more about (once I get my head around it :-)

    Mandy: " it all comes back to love and trust." Yes, yes yes! Good luck with the pony, sounds like you are on the right track. I loved the insight: "The less pressure we put on him, the more relaxed he becomes" This I have learned with Little Love, my horse. It is so rewarding to see the changes happening before your eyes. Truly a lesson in the power of love.

    Shelby: " Positive energy is so powerful" This is TRUE. We must always try to remember this, since that is what will change the world in the end. A small group of positively thinking people can make such a huge difference! I think this is one reason horses are in our lives, to show us the power of positive energy. I would like to make it my mission to pass that lesson forward to as many humans as possible!

    Thank you all for making me think even more, I love each and every angle, as they all add more to the subject.


  8. "Many people who are actually dealing with horses on a daily basis have fear (fear or failure, but also fear of the horses themselves), but don't admit to it, so they cover it up with other means..."

    I think this starts from the very beginning of being with horses. "Don't show your fear, you are the boss!" So with this constantly in mind, it builds in us. So I think many people don't even recognise their fear, it has become a "normal" feeling around horses.

  9. Another interesting post. I used to have a colleague and friend who was VERY negative! Hubby could always tell when I had been around her...I would also project this negativity. He finally said, "You need to stop being friends with this woman!" She died a few years ago of cancer. Now I wonder if the cancer made her that way? And, yes, our horses do recognize our emotions and the emotions of others! Thank you again for a very thoughtful post!

  10. You have wonderful observations! I can't wait to read more. You and I think alike!