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.
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.
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.
NB: I posted a version of this some Mondays ago, and was horrified to discover that I’d left some notes to myself in the final version. So if you think you’ve seen this post before, you may well have. It probably left you scratching your head. This one, I sincerely hope, is free of bungling and moronic errors.
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