I grew up in the Detroit area and you have to look a few generations back to find any rural folks. My uncle Lenny and I are the only members of the extended family with an interest in farm/ranch life and animal husbandry. And it’s always been a bit of a puzzle to me how we ended up so passionate about this lifestyle. A few years ago, I was back in Detroit for a visit and I had the opportunity to chat with him about our common interests.
Why do we love the land and the animals? With a whole family of city dwellers and suburbanites, how did the two of us come to a passion for this life?
We talked about it at length but we didn’t find any answers. I would like to say that I dropped it and left the question alone but my human mind is not quite that flexible! I’m a thinker….also known as an obsesser. I chew on thoughts and questions like an impossible piece of jerky that you’re teeth will never get through. I keep chewing anyway. So you can imagine, I was particularly pleased when, many months later, I heard from Lenny.
Though it seemed odd to hear from him, Lenny’s message arrived at exactly the right time. He had finally found an answer to our question.
Here is what he said: “The animals are always honest.”
We have constructed a human culture in which we have allowed ourselves to be numb to our own truths. It can be as innocent and seemingly harmless as feeling hungry but not taking a second helping of food because we think it might be rude or someone might judge us. But it can dig deeper like decades of laughing and smiling when your parent teases you even though it is actually hurting your heart. We are too often dishonest with others by pretending. We act one way but we are really feeling or thinking another. And here’s the most perplexing part: we all keep doing it despite the suffering and symptoms it creates. Humans have an implicit agreement with each other. This is how we will live and relate.
When you spend a lot of time with other mammals, horses in particular, you begin to understand that you cannot operate with this internal dishonesty, lack of awareness, or phony behavior. Horses give each other honest feedback about their individual needs and the needs of the herd. And they give that feedback every day, all day. Being honest and real is necessary to the health and survival of the herd. Their lives literally depend on it. So when we are faking it, like we tend to do, the horses can see right through it. Thank goodness….
The animals are always honest. And they keep us honest. If we let this lesson into our hearts, we can choose a more genuine way of being from one moment to the next. After we go through the incredible cognitive and emotional wrestling match with ourselves, it’s a relief and a lot less work to accept what is real and lead our lives from there.
This article was previously published at www.thecircleupexperience.com on November 23, 2015.
Beth Killough and Susan McCusker are the co-founders of The Circle Up Experience. They work with horses to help humans reclaim personal leadership and transform their own herds. You can read more about their work here, or find them on Facebook.