We’ve all had experiences that are hard to put into words. Like standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon at dawn and suddenly expanding any prior definition you thought you had of the color red. Words become wimpy. In those moments, it’s as if angels are zapping us with love and beauty juice. We tingle. We tear-up. We feel. In those moments, we become keenly aware that there is much more to this thing called life ... that we are one small part of a much bigger whole.
EFL is experiential-based learning in which trained professionals partner with horses to create opportunities for people to learn about themselves. The workshops use creative arts techniques, meditation, and journaling to anchor the lessons learned with the horses.
Because of the intimate, healing nature of the work done at Equinection, the type of mind-expanding event I described above is somewhat of a daily occurrence. These moments are no less miraculous — just more easily accessed. I think it has to do with working with animals that have such integrity. That’s the foundation of what EFL offers — a chance to nurture our own integrity and authenticity by recognizing and honoring the energy that horses naturally possess … energy that is reflected back to us.
And when we access and work with that energy, we become aware of the deeper meaning behind what those miraculous moments really are — where they come from, and what they are leading us to. It’s hinted at in the name, but I’ll spell it out for you:
Karen Head, Equinection’s owner and executive director, would say, “There is no magic here.” But a lifetime of working and connecting with horses does give her the ability to make the experience feel somewhat magical.
At Equinection, people work with the horses on the ground rather than riding. For anyone who hasn’t worked with horses in this way, this is the part where words become wimpy, but here goes nothin’ …
Horses are hunted in nature. Because of this, they are acutely aware of much more than we are in terms of what’s going on around them. And because, as Karen says, “Horses do not lie,” they mirror our truth back to us on a moment-to-moment basis without judgment.
This offers an opportunity to not only see, but — more important — to feel, our “stuff” … through the challenging, but absolutely worth it, work of creating authentic connection in a safe environment. Horses, by nature, are drawn to such connections, but have an interest in connecting with us only when we are in our truth.
You may find some horseshit at Equinection, but there is no bullshit.
When I’m standing there with a 1,500-pound animal, steeped in whatever feelings I’m having at the time, I have an experience that I can viscerally remember — and consequently gain a better understanding of it ... a better understanding of myself.
One day during the workshop, I had a clear realization about a situation that had confused me since I was a child. At that moment, a horse named Taylor walked all the way across the ring and put his massive head against my chest. No judgment. No scorn. No shame. Just — a reflection, and validation, of my truth.
Yeah, it’s kinda like that.
So. Here’s the thing: our own truth and honesty dictate the level of connection that is possible. That connection is first noticed in the ring with the horse, but it becomes more obvious, along the way, that it actually is fostering connection among ourselves.
I knew I was in for something special this past weekend because, as I said, I had been to Equinection before. After that first workshop, a little over a year ago, I came away knowing that I had just done one of the three best things I’ve ever done for myself. The other two are:
- Admitting I was powerless over alcohol and stepping into an AA meeting room 15 years ago.
- Choosing to be an artist, despite the fear that it was not a “proper job” for an adult.
Put simply, I got sober to have an amazing life. And an essential aspect of that, as the years go on, is the continuing expansion of my reality and spirituality. Growth is a component of good recovery, but it’s not always easy to find ways to facilitate it. My work at Equinection, even 15 years into my recovery, shifted something fundamental in me that was holding back that expansion.
I did that first workshop before I began The Good of the Hive, and I now know that my work with horses was integral in discovering and growing my connection with bees. We are all connected. Separation is an illusion. But it is an illusion that feels very real and can have devastating consequences — whether you are an addict or not. Just ask any bullied teenager.
All I knew about bees, from the time I was a child, was to worry about getting stung. This is the first thought most people have when they come in contact with a bee. But by changing my relationship to that fear, I can now stand in the middle of thousands of honeybees and not only NOT get stung, but feel a wondrous sense of calm and connection with them.
Connection is tender, calm, strong, vulnerable and beautiful … just like a horse. It isn’t a switch that gets flipped — and it most definitely is not something you “make” happen. It is something you get very, very present for and then gently lean into, like a perfect breeze on a hot day.
I believe the root of the struggle for any addict (and maybe all humans) is disconnection. When I was using, I would drink to the point of blacking out because – ironically – it created an internal illusion of connection for me. Alcoholics often describe the feeling of standing in the middle of a crowded room and feeling completely alone. We are not alone in that room; we are simply disconnected from the experience — and from God.
It is simply one of a thousand forms of fear.
When I stand in front of another human being, afraid, confusion grows – and I naturally want to separate. But when I stand in front of a human being and -- scared or not -- focus on connecting with them, the possibilities become endless.
Early on in that first workshop, Karen posed the question, “If we are in recovery, what is it that we are recovering?” At Equinection, I was given the gift, time and again, to tangibly feel connection with a horse so that I could take those experiences with me into life, and recovery, and remember what that sense of connection and belonging feels like -- even when those illusions of disconnection and separateness surround me.
We are all connected.
And I came to realize that those moments of heightened love and beauty are nothing less than God holding up a mirror, saying, “This is what you look like to Me all of the time.”