monthly conversation experiment #3

To use listening as a tool

By JENNIFER CANFIELD of Damascus, PA
Posted 9/2/20

How we listen matters. What sounds do we hear from the natural beauty and tranquility of the Upper Delaware valley? Or as inhabitants of greater metropolitan areas and inner cities? The former …

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monthly conversation experiment #3

To use listening as a tool

Posted

How we listen matters. What sounds do we hear from the natural beauty and tranquility of the Upper Delaware valley? Or as inhabitants of greater metropolitan areas and inner cities? The former experience might bring morning and evening birdsongs, the wind in the trees, streams splashing over rocks, calls of the wild. The latter, rhythms of humanity in a way that excludes most of the natural world. The sounds of the city’s vibrant and chaotic life can be a sharp, sometimes deafening contrast.

Some things can be heard from wherever we are. Things like the sound of a man begging for his life while a fellow human snuffs it out. Things like the cries of protestors begging to be understood when they demand justice and reform. Things like someone asking a fellow citizen to please wear a mask in an unprecedented time of global pandemic. But are we just hearing? Or, are we listening too? And, how do we listen?

How quickly do we judge? When someone engages with us and speaks, are we waiting to respond without digesting their message? Do we check with our inner voice to see how we feel or think before responding? It might be telling us it’s okay to be silent.

My friends generally tolerate my tendency to draw analogies from horse behavior as I apply them to life situations. I am a former certified equine specialist in the field of equine facilitated growth and learning. This is an experiential method that helps people improve self-knowledge and communication skills. Through my role, interpreting equine body language for the mental health professional, I learned the importance of where one places attention. Later, I read a book written by a well-respected cowboy trainer and Aikido Master in which he maintains that each horse comes into our lives to teach us a lesson about ourselves. I tried his theory on myself. Horses can’t speak English or “Cowboy” for that matter, but they do have an often-misunderstood body language. They have an energy field nine times greater than ours, and they can only act the way they feel. We, by contrast, can “act” however we want to appear. When we are not honest with ourselves or horses while in their company, they act out on the dissonance. So, this is where I’ve placed my attention:

What each of my four horses have taught me is worth sharing. And they remind me daily that we all own the same tool. Do I always remember to use it? Probably not. I’m human, not horse.  I’ll translate. Here are their words in order: Clarity…from my best “Bud”, bought at 3, now 22, who gets anxious or elevated when I am not clear with my request. Clarity together with consistency fosters trust. Acceptance…from my remaining mare. Who graciously accepted being bred to a stallion she did not particularly like, then became a wonderful mom. She accepts her life with “the other”, me. Tenacity…from my husband’s horse, who dominates the others, and tried to dominate me. The first horse with whom I consciously decided to “stand my ground” in a non-confrontational way. It paid off and fostered self-confidence. Oh the things we’ve taught each other! Humility…from the horse who came to me as a “does it all, dead broke” ranch gelding.  Only, he was dangerous. And I judged him as a bad actor. I later learned he had been a victim of abuse. While his true spirit was dead, his body was on high alert. Now we’re friends. But only if I don’t bring up anything from his past. Humility, not judging, goes a long way toward fostering compassion and healing.

Until I listened with my heart, and waited, I could not have heard the words they would teach me. That’s the tool I apply to most of life’s situations. It’s my personal work in progress. If only I had more horses. Maybe I could learn some more lessons…just kidding.

I was born with my passion for horses. It has helped me survive in a world I didn’t always and still don’t quite understand. Now more than ever, if you are lucky enough to know your passion, listen to your heart. The ride is priceless.  This I know. How we listen matters.

  

  

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