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Moving Mountains

Moving Mountains

The Man who moves mountains begins by moving carry away stones.  ~ Confucious

Obstacles can loom large in front of a person and feel overwhelming.  It may be too that it appears that a vast range of mountains is holding you back.  I have been there too.  You can feel hemmed in and pulled down, with your choices and options barely visible for the fog.  It can zap a person’s energy and well, quite frankly, mess with your mind.  

I recently responded to a Facebook post by a person reaching out for support and encouragement while confessing to dealing with anxiety and depression and venting about a lack of understanding by some people close to her.  I responded by saying that to me depression is like climbing a mountain, day after day, in waist-deep mud.  As a person who has dealt with depression, I remember this experience well, you are very aware that this same mud while weighing you down, has the capacity to suck you under.  It is a fight… and a mountain….and an obstacle that looms before you.   Even though I am not depressed now and have been successful in living depression free for several years, I am always on the alert for any indication it may be back.   I say this with awareness and not dread.  It is just a fact of life that I will likely always need to be on guard to watch out for its return.  I take deliberate actions to stay on top of it.  I suspect I always will need to do this.  One can not have lived with depression and anxiety for a huge chunk of their life and not do some kind self-checks to make sure it’s not back.  Depression and anxiety can be sneaky in that they kind of creep up on you and before you know it you are waist deep in the mud. 

Prior to treatment, I was depressed but unaware I was depressed.  I know that sounds impossible… but if you are young and/or not self-aware, it is entirely possible to live and semi-function and never know you are depressed.  Depression doesn’t present that same way in everyone.  If you have lived depressed for most of your life and have not had treatment, you may not know life can be any different.  I have the added experience of working in the mental health field in a crisis center and see patients who are in deep.   The anxiety can literally feel like electricity running thru your body while the depression paralyzes you from moving.  Or it can be projected outward by way of rage and acting out.  Either way, it has the capacity to numb you from your body.  This disconnect from your body compounds the problem.  This is the mind/body connection piece that horses are so helpful but first a visual and story for you demonstrating being ‘in your body’ vs. disconnected.

Fawn, the chihuahua.

I recently acquired a sweet, tiny chihuahua adult female that was used as a breeding dog in a puppy mill.  She loved nothing better than to curl up on my couch and snuggle down into some fuzzy, soft blankets.  She was quite timid and very undemanding.  She would make her already small body as small as possible and seem to almost disappear.  She seemed to sleep an inordinate amount of time but she was healthy and I was told she craved a quiet, low stimulation house (like me!!).   We had a quiet winter getting to know each other and frankly, I just loved her and she me!  She would quiver and shake if there were so much as 1 more person around.  She also would not, under any circumstances go outside while it was cold, wet or windy.  I kind of expected that and used puppy pads in the house so accommodated her in that way.

Brave, adventuresome Fawn! 

Fast forward to our first warm spring day.  I put a small leash on Fawn and tried to take her outside.  The slight weight of the thin leash was enough that she didn’t want to move so I took her outside without it.  We have a big yard and she was protected just so you don’t worry.  🙂

Confident chihuahua

So now she is outside, in the warmth, sun and invigorating smells and sights of nature.  It took her a few moments but was transformed into a brave, curious, adventuresome dog!  Her whole body posture and presence did a 180-degree change.  Whereas in the house she was meek, mousy, and cowering, outside her tail, ears and head went up, her eyes brightened, her nose testing the scents and she was 100% present and grounded in her body and environment!  She began acting like a dog!  It was so fun to see!  I do not know what here prior experience was with indoors vs outdoors but her body language and sense of herself is fairly telling and a beautiful illustration of being ‘in your body’ and grounded vs not.  I can’t help but think how healing it is for her to experience the alive feeling of nature and being able to express and act as a healthy, active dog!

Alert, engaged, interested and grounded.

I feel like this is what horses can bring to us humans if we allow them to.  It is difficult if not dangerous to be around horses and not be grounded and body awareness.  I explored this mind-body connection and groundedness in this blog here.  I can credit my Arab mare Abbey teaching me to be grounded and body aware many years ago when she was a young, green broke horse.  I soon learned that to calm HER I needed to breathe and have relaxed muscles with a deep seat.  It became a self-preservation thing because if I felt anxious or my mind wandered she would spook right out from under me! 

I saw the reverse happen too.  When I was able to relax MY body, I had a calming effect on her.  I use this skill now in my work as a mental health tech in a crisis center.  I am often the first person they see in our unit.  You can bet many come in with high anxiety and/or a short fuse.  I make it a point to talk slowly, calmly and to not hold tension in my face or body.  When I see signs of tension escalating, I become even more deliberate in speaking softly, slowly and being a calm, non-threatening presence.  My goal is to project a calm presence but not give the impression I am a pushover.  A calm, grounded leader, not surprisingly, works well with kids AND horses! 

backlit horse with saddle

In this article, How Taming the Mind is Like Riding a Horse from Mindful Magazine, they write about a loop of reactivity.  When you are able to feel the changes in your body due to emotions and stress, not bottle it up, and analyze the emotions with awareness but also with a bit of detachment, you can stop the automatic reaction and choose an appropriate response.  Mindful also shares this advice:

How our body feels and our emotional state affect how we think, thoughts lead to more thoughts, on and on. Awareness of that pattern, and actively choosing to step out of the cycle, makes a world of difference. Since it’s far easier to settle ourselves when mildly stressed than after fight or flight takes over, body awareness can help.

Chestnut horse with soft eyes

Horses help me connect to my body, release muscle tension and ‘anxiety’ and ground myself in the present moment as I connect with the horse and manage myself (body and mind) so that I can be that calm leader he needs.  The effects of doing this while with the horses carry over and give me that good, grounded, stress relieving, mood-boosting lift for some time afterward.  I find the positive response I see in my horse also reinforces this good feeling.  On my best days, I connect with the horse and am successful in moving forward in what we do together.  I find the combination of calm assertiveness and success with pushing our comfort zones to be an excellent therapy!  In this process, mountains are moved….by carrying a small stone at a time.  

“Whatever we call it, is my belief that making a true connection with the horse becomes very difficult, if not downright impossible, if we aren’t first connected in some way with ourselves. We also need to keep in mind that the connection we’re talking about here isn’t missing in us. For most, it has just been misplaced and simply needs to be rediscovered.” Mark Rashid

Some resources you may enjoy.  

Overcoming fears and obstacles. 

A Kinship With All Life

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Riding Home – The Power of Horses to Heal

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