Sunday, October 25, 2009
It rained and rained yesterday. Then, it rained some more. The horses chose to stay in the barn all day. Siete was like a kid who was bored and looking for trouble. I never bothered to put the halters on or open the gate to the pasture. I would wait until it stopped raining for a few minutes to run out to give the girls more hay. Each time I did, another deluge would begin just as I got to their stalls, and I would end up soaking wet by the time I got back to the house.
So, on the third time that the skies opened up on me, I decided to just hang out with the horses and pick their feet. Silk was glad for my company, as usual. She’s been really anxious the last couple of days, staring into the woods like there’s something out there that might try to get her. I can’t see anything, but she’s acted like this before. I know it will pass eventually, and for now, I just try to give her a little extra attention to reassure her that everything is okay.
Siete let me pick out her front left foot, but as I reached for the front right, she grabbed my jacket and tried to bite me. I threw my arms up over my head, said “Quit!” in my deepest most I-mean-it-no-kidding voice, and stepped into her space, making her back up. She put her head down, but she was still thinking about challenging me.
That’s the point at which I tried something I’d read about called “The Three Breaths Practice”. Ezra Bayda, a Buddhist meditation teacher from San Diego, writes about it in his book, “Zen Heart”. It’s very simple. When something goes wrong, you simply stop, and for three breaths, stay completely present in the moment. You feel what your body is doing, not changing anything, just bringing your awareness to the overall feeling of being in this place at this exact time.
He points out that often, the resistance we are feeling and trying to avoid is making our difficult experiences even more difficult. Sometimes, what we are resisting are only deeply entrenched thoughts and strong physical reactions."The more often we enter into and feel these moments of discomfort, the more we understand that it’s more painful to push away the experience than it is to actually feel it.” Bayda explains.
So, I took my three breaths, while Siete pinned her ears and stood braced for what I was going to do next. And by the end of the third breath, I felt different. My mind wasn’t racing through all the options of what I should do to punish her for trying to bite me, and freaking out about whether this was a big new behavior problem that was only going to get worse. I noticed that my body was way too tense, so before breath number three, I loosened everything up. Then, I just stepped over and picked up her hoof and cleaned it like I normally would. Everything inside me was calm and yet alert, observing what would happen next. Nothing happened. Siete stood watching me until I left the stall, and she started eating her hay. Walking away, I made sure I didn’t take the incident with me and chew on it. I just let it go.
This morning, I asked Siete to step back and wait while I put the flake of hay in her stall. When I told her it was okay to eat, she came forward with her head lowered, not the least bit aggressive. I thought about how we all have our grumpy moments where we lash out, only people usually use their words and tone of voice. I resolved to try this three breaths thing again next time one of my two-legged family members gets mad at me. If I snap back out of fear or frustration or a need to control, it only escalates. If I don’t instantly react, it creates a space that allows each of us an opportunity to consider the consequences. Even though she doesn’t actually live inside my house, Siete is doing a pretty good job of mirroring and leading me through some relevant life lessons.