I was at a group workshop with horses last weekend in the Swiss Alps. It was the first time I ever really spent time with horses.
The workshop facilitator told us to be fully present in the moment while wandering among the horses in the farmyard, and to “follow our feet” (not our heads) for directions.
With a little patience and focus, I managed to sense what my feet were telling me. I took slow, deliberate steps towards a large chestnut-coloured male horse, who was standing still while moving his muzzle around in the grass.
After noting that he had seen me (by the movement of his ears), I allowed him to smell my hand. He acknowledged me and let me caress his forehead and mane for a while. I was happy to be accepted by him, for a horse will tell you if you’re not in your body!
A few minutes later I noticed a delicate white female horse standing at the entrance to the barn. My feet took me over to her. Her name was Eva.
There was something so sweet about her that I just wanted to put my arms around her. I hesitated, not sure if she would accept a hug from a stranger. Instead I said to her, “I could just hug you!”
I began to gently stroke her forehead with my hand. In a moment the facilitator arrived to inform me that Eva doesn’t let anyone touch her forehead, but noticing the horse’s reaction again, she said, “Oh sorry, actually she wants you to caress her there. That’s very unusual!” and then left us alone. I continued to caress Eva while standing quite close and talking to her softly.
A few minutes later I was suddenly overcome with sadness and I began to cry without knowing why. In about 5 minutes the sadness had passed through me and I felt just fine. I had an intuition that Eva the horse had told me her “difficult story” and I had cried for her.
Since I was a child, people have come to me to tell me their “difficult stories” (stories of betrayal, abuse, broken relationships, fighting, victimization, illness, loss,…) and I would feel the emotions with them, almost as if their experiences were my own. I never questioned why people came to me with their stories. It just kept happening and I accepted it as my role. With time, I came to understand that I was helping the storytellers to process their emotions and heal old wounds.
After the workshop was over, I received a text message from my friend who had been in our workshop group. It read, “Horses cannot cry. When they need to release sadness they find a human to cry for them”. The message confirmed my intuition. Eva had transmitted her inner sadness to me so that I could feel and process the emotion for her, and help to release the pain.
Emotions are a universal language, but not everyone speaks this language fluently.
Sadly, many of us have lost connection with our bodies, and with it the ability to read our own emotions and the emotions of others. Although many people today are familiar with the concept of “Emotional Intelligence” which became popular after the release of Daniel Goleman’s book on the subject (1995), many still feel uncomfortable speaking about emotions because it’s so personal, and because expressing emotions can be (if not explicitly then implicitly) taboo in may working environments and even some homes. People also struggle to find the words to adequately communicate about their emotions.
What I learned that weekend from the horses and humans:
- If you don’t know which way to go, listen to your feet!
- The importance of being present in your body when interacting with horses and humans
- The power of emotions (beyond words) to communicate, forge strong connections, understand oneself and others, and facilitate healing.
In the absence of words, we can open our hearts to feel into each other and know what the other is feeling.
As individuals we can choose to become fluent in the language of emotions by listening deeply to the body and trusting in its knowledge and wisdom to guide us. We can create safe spaces to talk about our emotions. Together we can learn to better decipher our emotions and decode their messages.
I believe – and I’m not the only one! – that the language of emotions (empathy) will help us to re-establish the needed balance for ourselves, the horses, and for the planet.
“Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.” Barack Obama
Now it’s your turn!
Get out of your head and into your body:
The next time you go for a walk, let your feet be your guide! Listen and sense into your feet and take it slow.
Become more fluent in the language of emotions:
Close your eyes and place a hand on your heart. Listen deeply into your heart and ask yourself:
- What emotion am I feeling?
- What’s this emotion trying to tell me?
e.g., I’m sad/happy/nervous because…Speak it out loud (uncensored), share it with someone, or write it down.
Accept whatever emotions arise without judgment. There’s no such thing as a “bad” emotion. All emotions are neutral. They’re like couriers carrying important messages for us.
Questions for Reflection or Journaling:
- How well do I speak the language of emotions?
- What role have emotions played in my life?
I hope you enjoyed this article.
Share your comments below or write to me at Allison@voiceforlifecoaching.com
I’d love to hear from you!