The icy wind finds its way through the old timbers of the barn, reminding me that it is winter outside. Ruby, the mare who has taught me how to be myself, stands uncomfortably beside my chair. In the extreme wet weather she has developed an abscess in each of both front feet. It is difficult to witness her pain as she attempts to find relief, shifting her weight from one hoof to another. I know that she will soon be well, and in the meantime I am keeping her company while her herd-mates are out in the field.
As I sit, in spite of myself, that old familiar voice begins to whisper. You should have disinfected her feet more regularly. And noticed the symptoms earlier. Perhaps she is not getting the right nutrition. You must do more! You must be better! Self-doubt and recrimination make me unsure of myself, questioning if I have failed her somehow. I jump to my feet and set about sweeping the floor clean (again) and tidying the soft wood-pellet bed I have made for her. Temporarily I satisfy my accuser and make myself feel useful. I notice that although it hurts her to move she has taken a small step away from me, then two. Tension shows around her mouth and guides me to go inwards where I notice that my diaphragm has become tight and I’ve lost any sense of being in my body. I am barely breathing. I put the broom down and return to my chair, finding my seat bones. I rest my awareness on my breath and then on the space between us, reaching for the energetic sense of Ruby which soon brings me calm. We are here and it is as it is.
In the place of my feelings of unworthiness I notice the warmth of love and gratitude which now surrounds us. Ruby sighs and begins to yawn extravagantly, again and again. My own ribs follow her lead and expand as I join her in this moment of release and connection. As I do so her eyelids half close, her sore feet finally become still and she begins to sleep. In the stillness I hear a reassuring voice in my heart. She wants no more from me than my presence. I have done enough for her. I am enough.
How easy it is to lose our ground and succumb to uncertainty and shame. For our heads to become full of destructive chatter. Trust is dissipated in the face of self-effacement, stealing from us what we know to be our truth. After a lifetime of largely unconscious striving – for recognition, approval, progress – it was through the gentle acceptance of my herd that I learned finally to rest. In the stillness which I have grown to know amongst them, the noise of anxiety is quieted and self-love can establish. With them there is no judgement or interpretation. No projection or competition. Their’s is not an unconditional regard however. They require that I am fully present in mind body and spirit, to own my emotional experience and to be kind to myself. When I am compassionate it draws from them a soft and loving attention. They want to be near me. When my inner talk is harsh they pull away, protecting their own hearts from the impact of my negativity.
It is with such grace that horses lead us gently to not only a place of self knowledge but one also where forgiveness is possible and compassion for our own struggles takes the place of contempt. Where our connection with them brings us into a wholesome contact with our very soul. I wrap the warm blanket around my knees. I shall sit here with her for a little longer. This is healing for both of us.