To feel a full untrammeled joy is to walk through the doorway of fear, the dropping away of the anxious worried self felt itself like a death itself, a disappearance, a giving away, seen in the laughter of friendship, the vulnerability of happiness felt suddenly as a strength, a solace and a source, the claiming of our place in the living conversation, the sheer privilege of being in the presence of a mountain, a sky or a familiar face – I am here and you are here and together we make a world.
~ David Whyte
After a couple of days of transformative Eponaquest growth work with the horses and leaving a wheelbarrow full of tears and my own personal manure in the dusty footing of of the Vinculo barn, I was truly ready for something different + replenishing.
We were headed out for our first big ride to a waterfall. We were told to bring our flashlights, which should have been a bit of foreshadowing of the days events. Enrique Molino, our amazing guide who works with Leaves and Lizards, was riding Negro. My nickname for Enrique is Eagle Eye, as he can spot a hummingbird in the jungle from 2 football fields away. A funny and gentle soul, with the heart of a giant, it became clear day one that this man had an incredible and authentic passion for his work.
It would be Negro’s first trip to the waterfall too and I was happy he was with us and grateful I had found the courage to ask for what I needed for my first ride-an steady older horse!
I mounted the small but mighty horse Espartaco who had been my teacher in the arena early that morning, with the familiar knot in my stomach. I have unfortunately developed my own conditioned response to riding since a bareback 180-degree spin and hard fall off dear Annie Two Moons, several years ago. Prior to this fall I was fearless on any horse. Riding had signified, freedom and bliss in my early life. To feel one with a horse was like no other feeling on earth for me. It was actually the ONLY place I felt fearless, so the fall took a toll on my ability to ride with pure joy. Remember, whatever we are feeling, is felt by the horse as well, through their receptivity. We can’t hide it, we’ve got to own it, so before I mounted, I told “Taco,” about my feelings and the fear immediately decreased in size. When we notice a somatic shift, we know we’ve gotten the message. This allows us to reset our body back to The Neutral Zone.
About an hour into our journey, I became aware that my fear had completely dissipated! I was totally at ease, laughing, enjoying the phenomenal scenery and chatting with new friends, as we rode through the magnificent countryside together. This little horse had the most amazing gate and it was super easy to sit his trot. Although small, with skinny legs and small hooves, he was incredibly powerful and sure-footed. I felt completely safe and so grateful that I had an amazing partner for the first riding excursion. As we rode over steep terrain, through mud and across creeks and rivers, I never once worried about my well-being and in that knowing, I was able to let go of the reins and be a true partner, not a controller.
Riding Espartaco, supported me in realizing that I could in fact ride a horse and dare I say it…WELL! It helped me to deepen my understanding that trauma is real and it is cellular. It takes new experiences to retrain our brain and create new neural pathways.
We left the horses to graze the large grassy field while we hiked to the waterfall. I will admit that I had a hard time believing those horses were still going to be there when we returned, as they weren’t hobbled or tied-except the stallion that Shelley was riding for all the reasons you’d expect and we were literally in the middle of the forest. LOL!
We swam in the crystal clear, turquoise water and I jumped off the rock in front of the falls for good measure. And then it was time to head back to the horses. It was now late afternoon, we gathered our horses, continued a conversation that we’d started in the morning about the false self/authentic self and the energy of the group began to shift, as it had become evident that we’d be riding back in the dark. As a sensitive, I’m a BIG feeler, so I was picking up some interesting vibes as they say-and they weren’t pretty. Finally a few members spoke up about their feelings and our facilitators created and held a wonderful container for honest expression-not all of which was joyous about riding in the dark.
Personally, I wasn’t at all concerned, which shocked me. Had this been 10-years earlier, I too would have in the shoes some of my friends were wearing, feeling afraid, vulnerable and trying to control the outcome. No judgment here, I’ve been right there, and I still wrestle with controlling behaviors, but in that particular moment, I felt a kind of excitement, I’d not felt in a long time. Plus, I’d ridden the mighty Espartaco over steep hills, down muddy dales and across fast moving creeks and I had a deep sense my steed would carry me home safely and a strong belief that his eyes and street smarts, were going to be a lot better in that environment than my own. This was going to be the definition of consensual leadership: A shared experience of partnership, where we can dance and tango fluidly and with agility. “Ok Taco, let’s go home!” I said and gave him a loving pat on the neck. I watched Negro from afar, as Enrique who is an incredible horseman, moved with him through the forest.
He did not look like a 3-year old horse-or whatever story I had about what that looked like-he was a grounded, sure-footed, kind hearted horse. Note to self, “Drop the drama and ride that horse tomorrow!”
Twilight turned to darkness, as we rode home to the retreat center. The noises of the jungle became more alive, as the sun set over the horizon. Crickets, frogs, birds and monkeys could be heard in the distance, along with the gentle sounds of horse snorts, hooves and even some human giggles, as we rode the trail home. Our fearless leaders did an amazing job of keeping the group safe and out of panic mode. Sally was in the lead, Debbie in the middle, Shelley holding our group together in the back with the stallion. Enrique and Negro rode the line up and down to check in with us. What struck me too, was the support of this extraordinary group of people. That’s kind of rare in this experience; things can get cutthroat pretty quick when things get tough.
Within this tribe, there was no shaming, no blaming, just a lot of love and support for wherever anyone was in any moment, the entire time we were together. Maybe that’s because of the values we hold in this work. We call those values Authentic Community.
I rode mostly in silence, in absolute awe and gratitude. Lightening bugs flickered for miles around us in the high grasses, like little fairies lighting our way home. It was during the ride home, that I began to see the truth of who I am when I’m not living in my stories of fear and doubt. I felt my Higher Power, my mother’s angel and my guides walking that path “home” with me.
On that night ride home, I began to reconnect with my childlike wonder and as a result I began the journey of returning to my TRUE SELF.