There is a total freedom in never having to be self conscious around the animals. It makes us their equal.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I am going to share with you some pictures I took today of the therapeutic riding establishment where I get to volunteer.
I’m not sure there have been many times in my life when I have had this feeling of being in the right place doing the right thing at the right time.
I felt that way about art therapy graduate school in 1989, but have learned in these past 20 years that what I thought I was accomplishing and what actually came of my efforts were nearly divergent realities. Yet again, in some ways I have come full circle back to the place I was before I ever made the decision to “become an art therapist.” That place exactly BEFORE the decision was made. That place where I was on the verge of a realization that would, I thought, alter the direction my life would take. That place or realizing I was in love with the creative process.
I had spent a fall quarter at the local college where I lived taking art classes – drawing and clay – while I asked myself a question. “Do I want to focus on making my own art or do I want to study art therapy so I can help others make their own art?” I realize the two processes are not on an either/or scale. But I knew once I answered this question I would alter where I placed my focus.
I realized that finished products were not my concern. Once something was ‘made’ I was not much interested in it. I just wanted to make something else. Something different. I liked the ‘something more’ stage. I liked the essential involvement with the process of making things. I recognized for myself what the terms ‘flow’ and ‘optimal experience’ in part describes.
Now I understand that the me of 20 years ago was still young enough to be living in a linear world. I thought that making a choice and doing one thing versus doing something different meant that change would happen to me and I would become a different person as a result of the new direction (graduate school, becoming a nationally registered art therapist) I was choosing for myself.
I realize tonight as I write this that nothing really changed. Time has gone by. I have traveled thousands of miles, aged in the process. My children have grown and left home and have their own lives to live. But, I am still the same person I was on that New Year’s even in 1988 that I chose from my secret box of art therapy graduate catalogs the one I was going to apply for.
But through it all, through all of the experiences that I’ve had in the interim, I am still the same person that I was, graduate school or no graduate school. Art therapist or not art therapist. All those experiences did was make me more the person that I already was. Not different, just more.
I bring this up today because I am realizing that something else is happening to me. I look at it this way. No matter what comes down the road in the way of opportunity or not in regard to this new ‘change,’ I am not going to change as a consequence. I might get to be more of myself through pursuing opportunities that I have never been in a position to pursue before.
But all that is happening is that the door of my heart is opening wider. The door is in me, is me. I am in here looking out this door. What I am seeing is something I’ve never seen before, not in the way I realized it today. Simply put, I am falling in love with horses. And because I am me, and because I already know I walked around a 20 year circle and realize now that all that’s important I already had – my love of creativity – one that I know I had at two years old (another story) – I know today if I can hold onto this that my love of horses has been a part of me always. Like a perfect candle inside of me. Untarnished, undamaged, untouched, just waiting for life to bring me to the point where this candle could be lit and radiate.
This brings tears to my eyes. Love is like that. There’s no logic or reason to love. It just IS. It doesn’t need words.
I could feel sort of silly discovering in this one day of today what many people know as a fact so simply. But for me, I had to feel it first before I knew what it was. What it is.
I come home from my weekly 5 hour session of volunteering for CANTER, a therapeutic equine experience for special children, and I look at my beta fish differently. Somehow the life force of the horses has wakened something within me. Those thousand pound animals of beauty and grace, of mystery and intrigue, of passion for their own lives and for their kind, of willingness to include me, to include humans as a part of their world, has sparked a calmness inside of me that I have felt so rarely in my life.
At that same point of calmness I feel with them the strongest force of being alive in the moment. That comes in part from being a mother, and from knowing the awesome power these animals have, and knowing how responsible we adults are who put these most vulnerable small children up on their broad and beautiful backs.
Anything can happen. Instantly. I have to be more awake, more present, more cautious than I have ever been before. Yet at the same time I have to be more willing to risk, to be with another life, not a human life, but an equal grand life.
These animals let me touch them. They listen to me, they show me with their every action how close they are without separation to and with all life flowing with them every instant. From them I am learning to watch my beta fish live its life as a fish. I watch all the turtle things my little turtle is busy doing with every breath it takes. I watch my cats live in their cat place, in their cat bodies, doing cat things. My bird is happy every instant of its life doing bird things. I watch my friend’s dog when I have him with me on the weekends feeling dog feelings, walking the dog walk, sleeping curled up in his safe and soft dog bed dreaming dog dreams.
It makes me less afraid to be alive, to be human, perhaps to learn from them how to be in a body that demands only that I be here doing my version of people things like a bug does bug things or a horse does horse things.
I was stricken at birth by the thunder bolt of being my deranged mother’s child. Every fiber of my entire being had to develop and grow under her threat and torture. Chaos and confusion. No place for Linda to be Linda in the world. I am growing down into myself around these horses. Growing down into the world as James Hillman describes in his book “The Soul’s Code.”
This growing into one’s self, into one’s body as a self, all the growing we are supposed to be doing as infants, did not happen normally for me. As a result later on, and ongoing, being a person in a body has been a strange and foreign experience for me. Being with the horses feels like being given a chance. Being given a chance to be more honestly and completely myself in the moment than I have perhaps ever been.
Some people, my sister C. included, have always felt this way, I believe, around dogs. Not me. I suffer from dissociative identity disorder without the identities. I asked a shrink if such a thing were possible and he told me, “Absolutely, yes.” Nobody knows, but mostly I feel like a billion fragments of broken sugar-glass from a shattered vase, falling, always falling.
Never do the pieces come to rest after falling. Nor do I remember what I was like before the breaking began. I was always falling apart before I could be put together. My mother made sure of that. She had the uncanny and nearly superhuman ability to cut Linda off at every pass, to keep Linda from ever becoming Linda so nobody would know I was a person and not merely a projection of her own mind – her broken and damaged mind that she wore more closely on the outside of herself than she did on her insides. She had an externalized mind, and I was her projection of everything wrong, everything bad, everything evil.
These therapeutic Canter horses, these older, marvelously trained but still horses horses, don’t know these things about me. They don’t care. They only remember what horses remember and I am only in their universe for these few hours I get to spend with them weekly.
Will I ever have a horse of my own? Only if a miracle happens. I am quite sure of that. But I suspect that miracles can and do happen. I am alive today. With so many people’s help my cancer is somewhere else other than obviously killing me right now. Maybe I can live long enough and a miracle can happen and I would be able to have the means to be at peace with a horse as much as I need to be. Which, I assure you, is a LOT!
Some of us have to act like we can take most things for granted like other people can. But the truth is a different matter. Children who are battered and abused, especially those who have no allies and who have suffered from the moment they were born in so many ways – living without love, without being cherished, without being able to grow into the person they were meant to become – grow into adults who are then expected to fit in and to participate in the world of the grown ups as if they belong there and know just what to do. But we don’t.
Perhaps there are degrees of damage and loss for everyone, parts of themselves that never had a chance to truly catch up to the place we would all hope to be by this age or another. I think an important quality that being in a creative space and being with the horses have in common is that these instances of life are not actually in the ‘usual’ flow of time passing that we keep ourselves in nearly all the time except when sleeping.
But these experiences are not in a ‘zoned out’ place, either. Not like we can be at other times (i.e. at times when we are driving, watching TV, pigging out on junk food, etc.). Times we are creating, times with the thousand pound horses, are times that we are more awake and aware and alive than we usually are.
And these times, wherever and however we healthily get them, are healing and make us happy. (I will have more to say about how the brain grows its happy center in other sections.) I will just say here that for people who were severely abused during the first year of life are especially unlikely to have a happy brain. So whenever we do feel happy later on, those experiences carry perhaps far more weight, value and importance to us than what any ‘normal’ person could begin to imagine.