Some things in life you never forget and they pass through your mind on your memory train periodically. I woke up this morning thinking about one of those things and it is a story I would like to tell again because each time I remember it takes on a deeper meaning.
Several years ago I took a group of women to Chile to work with my friend, medicine woman, Luzclara in the mountains of the Andes. We went into the mountains on horseback and set up camp in a beautiful setting where we would live for a week. There were many amazing ceremonies that we did that were very special but one stands out the most for me because it was a personal ceremony just for me, orchestrated by something higher. It was an initiation into a part of myself that I feel is still taking hold of me.
One afternoon we mounted our horses for a long ride high into the mountains, through a small stream to a cave where we would eat lunch. There were about a dozen horses including our guides who were as familiar with this journey as the horse who had walked it many times. The paths were well-worn as they threaded up the mountainside and only wide enough for one horse to pass. The valley floor was thousands of feet below us from what I could tell when I chanced to take a look.
I am afraid of heights so I tried to focus on the path and not the long fall that would result if my horse took a wrong step. I felt precarious and vulnerable, holding my breath, as I often do when I am afraid. Here I was leading a group of women who also had never been to the Andes and I was not being fearless, as I am told leaders should be. It wasn’t the first time I felt this way nor would it be the last.
Horses are amazing in their ability to sense the emotions of those around them. They are so psychic that a therapy has been developed using horses to assist in personal development. “Equine-Assisted Therapy provides a metaphoric experience with horses to promote emotional growth. This experiential therapy teaches people about themselves, allows recognition of dysfunctional patterns of behavior, and helps define healthy relationships. Horses are typically non-judgmental and have no expectations or motives. Therefore, a patient can practice congruency without the perceived fear of rejection. The horse assists in making patients aware of their emotional state as the horse responds in reaction to their behavior. Through working with the horse, patients can gain insight into their feelings, behaviors, patterns, congruency, boundaries, and stumbling blocks to recovery. The process can be a very effective adjunct to treatment. ”
There are many physiological and psychological benefits documented in people during interactions with animals and horses in particular. These include lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased beta-endorphin levels, decreased stress levels, reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension and anxiety, improved social functioning, and increased feelings of empowerment, trust, patience and self-esteem.
Here I was high in the Andes on the back of a horse I was just beginning to connect with about to have another myself mirrored to me though his eyes. The horse was not afraid, he had been on this path many times but he was picking up my fear. My fear at that point was multi-leveled and included what would the people I was leading think of me if they knew I was afraid, I could see on some of their faces that they were also afraid and I felt it was my job as leader to somehow make them feel safe. How could I do that if I was afraid. The other fear that was gripping me was what it be like if I tumbled thousands of feet to my death if the horse made a wrong move.
For the most part fear is not useful because it is usually a response to a story we are making up in our mind that is not based on reality. In reality it didn’t matter what other people thought of me and it was OK to be afraid. I also wasn’t tumbling to my death thousands of feet below and the likelihood of that happening was slim because we were in the presence of several skilled male riders who lived in the mountains.
We had been on the path for a few hours and had hit many passages where the horse had to slide to navigate. My heart races right now just thinking about it as it did when it was happening. Now we were on a fairly narrow and flat path that had little slope. Suddenly my horse stood up on its hind legs! Interestingly an unusual calm came over me and my fear dissolved. I felt as though nothing mattered. It was OK if we tumbled thousands of feet to our death and it was OK if we didn’t. This time I was able to look down the side of the mountain to the valley below. It was a long way.
The horses hooves came down, hit the ground and he reared up a second time and still I felt the calm presence as if angels where watching over me. His hooves came down again and on the third rear up, he turned to face the opposite direction. Now I am facing the group of women who are all wide-eyed and I am calm.
I hear the sound of horses hooves and within a minute or so a horse is at my side on the mountain side, and one on the cliff side, calming my horse. Once again we were all on our way to lunch and everyone had a new sense of safety having seen what happened to me and how protected we were from danger.
Luzclara said it was an initiation and like most initiations the understanding comes over time. It was an initiation in trusting that everything was as it should be no matter what the outcome was. It was about letting go of fear and going to that calm center where all is well. I realized that had I gone into fear that most likely would have sent me and the horse over the edge to our death. Fear is like that in all situations that it is injected into.
I now had a deeper understanding that there is a place that resides in me that is beyond me. A calm place where mystery resides and magic happens and I can go there any time because now I know where it is.
As I was leaving Chile on our return trip we had an opportunity to go to the market. Much to my surprise I found this carving, which looked just like the horse I had been riding, standing in my power pose. When I look at it I am reminded of my power, presence and innate trust that I can let go and all is well.