The following is a chapter in a new book called NOT DOING, by Diana Renner and Steven D'Souza. My chapter is called PRESENCE and shares a story about my own personal experience of learning about myself by being with the horses. I think it illustrates the tension we all feel to 'do' and how this causes us to overlook the innate power in just 'being'. I am filled with gratitude to Diana for being interested enough in my story to include this in her book , a sequel to the equally powerful book called "NOT KNOWING".
“a moment of complete presence, beyond striving,beyond mere acceptance, beyond the desire to escape or fix anything or plunge ahead,a moment of pure being.”
John Kabat-Zinn, Coming to Our Senses
It was a beautiful sunny day when Jackie Smith approached the horses in the paddock on a friend’s farm in rural New South Wales, Australia. The farm had a herd of five horses, including a wild horse called Trinity, who had a history of bucking when being ridden. A trainer and consultant in Equine Assisted Learning – an experiential, relational way of learning about yourself through horses – Jackie had gone along that day to connect with Trinity. What happened was much more extraordinary.
Jackie went up to the horses, which were grazing, with halter and lead rope, thinking, “I’ve got to do something with Trinity.” In her mind, she had set herself a to-do task. Trinity sensed this pressure from Jackie and every time Jackie reached toward her, the horse moved away, finding safety among the other horses. This prompted Jackie to reflect on her own motives. Rather than rushing, she opted to sit quietly by the creek, enjoying her surroundings. Another horse, Moon, had been overworked by a previous owner who rode him into the ground.
Within the pecking order of the herd, he had been ostracized, constantly pushed away. While Jackie had been so intent on reaching Trinity, Moon had been stressed and tense with fear, hiding under a tree away from her and the other horses.
Within ten minutes of sitting by the creek, Jackie started to tune in to the environment and the horses. She noticed the wild flowers, the flow of the creek, the sway of the branches, the hesitance of the horses, the shivering of the mane. As Jackie became present, the behaviour of the five horses started to change, especially that of Moon. One by one, the horses walked towards her, standing close. They stood there, not grazing, just standing in relaxed stillness. Moon was with them and they made no attempt to push him away.
Moon then walked out from under the tree to a grassy patch near Jackie and lay down on the ground. “This is a vulnerable position for a horse; as prey animals, they are hyper-vigilant to being eaten and their survival instinct is to bolt, to shy away, kick, or rear up. Lying on the ground only happens when there is no threat. Moon was being vulnerable and the other horses were not even twitching.”
Jackie says, “It was a graceful moment. A pure moment of Not Doing. There was something going on that was bigger than all of us. We all tuned in to a place of safety, getting our needs met without interference. It was very nourishing for all of us. I felt I’d done so much just by becoming present.” An unexpected outcome of her visit.
“Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.”
Adapted by John Rutter from ancient Gaelic runes
Jackie’s perceptive awareness of her environment, without the need to do anything, paradoxically created a positive, inclusive space for everyone. If we can let the mud settle, we can become present to the current, sensing the flow, keenly aware of the forces at work. Presence is a way to engage with, tap into, and benefit from our environment. Being present to ourselves enables us to understand our needs in a deep and authentic way. When we pay attention to how we live and interact with the world and people around us, we can connect to what is important to us.
Reference: Not Doing, by Diana Renner and Steven D'Souza, LID Publishing Ltd, 2018