Last week I attended my second Epona workshop ever. Two years ago, when I plunged into the Epona world of authenticity and emotion for the first time, the experience blew me away and left me a changed person. Although I had been around horses nearly all my life, their capacity to know my deepest secrets caught me by surprise. I was awed by their emotional intelligence.
Going into this second experience, called Accessing Authenticity, was very different. This time I would attend the workshop with Melissa, my best friend. I also wanted to believe I had evolved emotionally in the past two years. But, I also knew that whatever my expectations were, they would pale in comparison to the reality. I was right. I may have been prepared for the wisdom horses have to offer, but their uncanny ability to look into my heart and see what nobody, even myself, had not seen before still does not seize to amaze me.
Perhaps the most revealing of sessions happened with Bramble, a white pony that I felt drawn to from the first time I saw her. It wasn’t her outer appearance that interested me (although she was very cute!), but rather this feeling that she had a message for me. So, when we could choose the horse for our reflective round pen session, the choice was really not mine, but Bramble’s.
I have to mention that last time I did reflective work with a horse in the frame work of an Epona course, my biggest problem was the interference of my head. Most of us have this problem; our thoughts and rational thinking get in the way of what our body and soul is trying to tell us. It is not the easiest task to shut this “voice of reason” off. In fact, it is what Linda Kohanov calls The False Self that often runs our life, giving us no time or space to really feel who we are. Social conditioning, self-judgment, assumptions of others, our need to seek approval, our critical and controlling beliefs are all different ways for the False Self to interfere with our intuition, our Authentic Self.
With this in mind I approached the round pen; I was determined to shut off my False Self and give room to whatever was to come, no matter how irrational or confusing this information may be. The object of the exercise was to treat all emotions, images, words or whatever else appeared as valuable information. This was not about succeeding or achieving a set goal; this was about being in the moment and really listening.
Standing outside the round pen and facing away from Bramble, I started with a body scan. Silently, with closed eyes and my arms hanging loosely on my sides, I “scanned” my body for feelings of pressure, pain, heat, cold – any sensation really. I was immediately drawn to the feeling of pressure around my throat and chest. It was not a painful feeling, but rather felt as if I had a heavy blanket wrapped around me, pressing on the front of my shoulders. Through this pressure I could feel my heart beating in my chest; a strong, clear rhythm, as if standing there required physical effort. I asked myself what was the message behind this feeling and received a picture of myself holding a large ball. When I focused on that image, I could feel my heart beat dissipate into the rest of my body, still pulsating, but with less vigor. This was a sign that I had understood the message my body was trying to tell me. Without questioning this perhaps confusing information I ordinarily would have dismissed as “stupid” or “weird” (A ball? Makes no sense. Why was I holding it? etc.), I turned around and looked at Bramble. She was standing in the round pen, staring at me intently with her ears forward. I closed my eyes again, opening my mind to any other images or messages that would come from the horse.
Immediately, as if I was watching a powerful dream, I had a vision of a very small door. It was in the middle of a stone wall far, far away. I had a strong feeling I was supposed to go through the door, but I could see it was closed. I silently asked Bramble what this meant, could she possibly help me? When I opened my eyes again to look at her, I knew she had the key to this door.
Rosie, the facilitator, asked me what was going on. I filled her in. She nodded and said:
“Do you feel like you need more information on what this is about or do you feel ready to go into the round pen?”
This is the brilliance of being part of the Epona method. I’m fairly sure nothing I said could have fazed Rosie. I had told her about my images about the ball and the door, and in any other context this would have made no sense whatsoever. Imagine trying to explain this to a stranger; I would have sounded crazy. And perhaps you, too, now reading it, are thinking I have lost my marbles once and for all. But it all felt natural. I was confident and relaxed going into the round pen.
I walked over to Bramble and gave her a horse-human handshake, extending the back of my hand out for her to touch. Then I stepped back, closing my eyes. Immediately I was taken back to the image of the door. I asked Bramble what I should do with the door, did she have the key?
“No, no key,” she answered, “The door is already open.”
And she was right, for in that moment I saw the whole wall split open. Suddenly I realized that I was holding the ball again, it was enormous and my hands barely reached around it to steady it on my chest. But now I saw it was not a ball after all, it was the Earth; I had the entire world in my arms. I held onto it tight as I stepped through the wall, towards light.
And that is when I understood what Bramble was trying to help me understand. For some months now I have been planning a move to Finland. Despite this move being a choice that I made with my husband, I have been extremely anxious about the decision. Should we have decided to go to California instead (this is where we lived before Switzerland)? Are we taking a risk going to Finland? What if it doesn’t work? What was there really in Finland for me? In the midst of the logistics of the move, the concrete, everyday tasks, I had not allowed myself to truly reflect on my true emotions concerning the move.
I was filled with a strong sense of knowing, which I cannot even begin to describe, as words have their limitations. I realized I had lived in Switzerland for six years, but had never truly been happy there. Why? This question has gone unanswered until that very moment in the round pen. I have met many wonderful people in Switzerland, people whom have made a definite impact on my life. But, despite these friendships, I feel strongly disconnected from the world around me. This probably partly stems from the fact that during my years in Switzerland, I have gone through some major changes in my life, searching for the right path with horses and myself as a person. In other words, I feel separate and detached.
Moving to Finland is an opportunity to change this. In Finland I will be welcomed by a group of close friends, but also a larger network of like-minded people with whom I have connected long distance over the years. For the first time since I left California six years ago, I have the opportunity to be part of a true community; to be supported and accepted as who I am. The realization of this was profound and I felt like a weight was lifted off my chest. Hope for the future was restored. In fact, as my eyes were still closed, I saw the enormous globe I had been holding slowly sink into my chest, as if I was swallowing Mother Earth itself. And isn’t this true? Community is not something outside of us, but rather an internal phenomenon that we cherish and that connects us to others. Instead of seeing myself as someone roaming the earth looking for answers, I needed to embrace the world within.
I had been squatting down on the ground, but now I stood up and opened my eyes. Bramble was looking at me quizzically with her wise, beautiful eyes. I stepped to her side and said a silent thank you. She touched me with her nose and the air was filled with gratitude. Then she walked to the gate as if to say “my work is done.” Which it was.
I left the round pen with a newly found peace. Life would be alright, I would be alright. Why had I not seen this all before? I had been so focused on getting myself, my horse, my family to Finland, that I had not taken the time to stop and realize what moving back to my home country really meant to me. When I returned to my chair and recapped the round pen experience to Rosie and Melissa, I became very emotional, but in a good way. The tears that surfaced were tears of relief and joy and hope, tears I should have shed a long time ago, instead of bottling them deep inside.
Intuition is perhaps the most important piece of our genetic makeup. Unfortunately it is usually the first piece we lose, when life gets the best of us. Most people ignore their intuition. Actually, most people wouldn’t even recognize their intuition, even if it hit them in the head (which is often does…). Animals, such as horses, operate in the world using their intuition, their sixth sense of “knowing”. Often I think that our ability to speak is what stifles our innate knowing of what we need, what is right for us and only us. The great French writer, Gustave Flaubert, wrote about this in his first novel, Madame Bovary, when he said that “…the truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; the human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the starts.”
I left England and the Epona course with a better sense of knowing. I felt more at peace than I had for a long time, more in my body rather than in my head. So often, especially in a time of turmoil, my head takes over and I am plunged into a destructive pattern of frantic thinking. I am not saying thinking is a bad thing, but enough is enough. Sometimes I need to stop and take tally of what I really feel and where those feelings are coming from. What are those feelings telling me? What is the message my intuition is sending me? What does my heart desire?
I believe that if we open ourselves to life, life will flow freely into our bodies and we will be able to feel the present moment more deeply. Yes, this can be scary at time as often there are emotions within us that are not comfortable. But each emotion is a pool of information and if we learn to treat our feelings as messages from our heart, our lives could have so much more meaning.
I thank Bramble and all the horses in the world for not giving up on us humans. You seem to always be ready to help us the moment we are ready to receive the help. I don’t think I can ever understand this gift you have, but I know that I will admire it forever.
By Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clear blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - -
over and over announcing you place
in the family of things.
To learn more about Rosie and her courses, go to http://horsesasteachers.co.uk/
To learn more about Epona, go to http://www.taoofequus.com/