Living in-relation with horses: awareness

Throughout these posts I’ve been referring to the centrality of awareness to the development of a connection with our horses. So, it seems appropriate now to say a little more about what is involved in this relational state of being and why it is crucial to the process of learning feel.

I think it might be helpful to begin by making a distinction between awareness and self-consciousness. Writer, Annie Dillard, puts it like this:

Consciousness itself does not hinder living in the present. In fact, it is only to a heightened awareness that the great door to the present opens at all….

Self-consciousness, however, does hinder the experience of the present. It is the one instrument that unplugs all the rest. … Self-consciousness is the glimpse of oneself in a storefront window…. (Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek 2007 p 82)

As Dillard insists, it is only when we are living in the present that we are truly alive (p 83), and that glimpse of oneself in a shop window or imagining oneself as if in a movie, distances us from the unfolding presentness of lived experience. In a state of self-consciousness we observe ourselves, or imagine ourselves being observed, with judgement, either approving or critical. ‘Don’t I look good as I’m doing this balanced trot’, or ‘What a mess this is, I’m useless….’ When observing ourselves as an object, we are in a state of separation, abstracted from lived reality, no longer present to or in-relation with the situation before us or, indeed, ourselves. The moment that we objectify ourselves, we lose any flow that we might have been in – we will no longer be in that balanced trot. And, when things are not going so well, if we are not present, we will be unable to address whatever issues are arising. In fact, we are likely to simply distance ourselves further with distracting judgements about ourselves and/or our horse. In short, in a state of self-consciousness we are unable to respond with feel and good timing.

Unself-conscious awareness, on the other hand, involves being fully present, immersed in what we are doing, receptive, open and alive. Rather than being fixated on our self, thinking about what we look like and whether we measure up, we are in-relation with ourselves and our various states. And, instead of the hardness of self-observation, there is a softness in awareness, and a lightness. For example, I might be immersed in a trot and then I ask for a lateral movement which doesn’t seem to work, and I try harder. And then, with a light awareness, it comes to me that I have lost the connection – I have been trying to make something happen and become self-centred. In that moment of awareness and softening and relaxing, I will be back in-relation with my horse, myself, the environment. Then, instead of judging myself for having lost the connection and flow, I can accept what is, and get back into the rhythm of the trot, and try again gently, with a bodily imagining of the horse-and-human lateral movement. Awareness of our state of being, then, involves an ‘unselfing’, a letting go of the self-centred self of self-consciousness, and having trust in connection. (See post on ‘softness’.)

In recent posts, I have been describing the trustworthy holding space provided by us for our horses, and by teachers for students. Developing awareness involves an internalisation of that supportive space provided by teachers – with awareness, we are becoming teacher-and-student, receiving and responding to our own feedback. So, for example, when ‘I’ am in this state of being, Corey is, in a certain sense, with me, participating in that space of ‘internal’ dialogue: My mind is elsewhere. Gently bring it back to Pia. Pia’s attention is on that horse over there, she is needing a little more support. Smoothly pick up a feel on the rein to bring her back to what we are doing together. I’m getting into a bit of a rush here. Slow down, breathe. Becoming aware of my states of disconnection, I can let them go and come back into connection.

By letting go of, for example, perfectionism and frustration, we can instead become curious, and explore possibilities: What happens if I try this? And, in this state of being, we can find mistakes interesting, rather than signs of personal failing. So, in debriefing, reflective sessions, I might ask: How could I have responded differently? This is how learning happens, how we extend ourselves. When difficulties, of any sort, arise, Corey always says: ‘Here’s an opportunity’. The crucial thing here is acceptance of how things are with our horse, with ourselves, with our relationship, here, now. And, as Corey frequently says, ‘it doesn’t matter that you lost the connection, what matters is that you noticed it’.

With thanks to Andrew, Corey, Suzi

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