How can something like this happen?
If you are anything like me, you have been wrestling with this question lately – and honestly have been wrestling with it for years, as news reports plague us with stories of violence across the country, and across the world.
I am writing to you, our NL community, and beyond, to those of us who have not been directly affected but are wrestling with ‘what to do’ – this is a time for us to dig into what it means to be a community. What it means to be trauma informed.
What it means to truly connect
The families involved in this latest tragedy and all the violent tragedies that have come before are suffering profoundly – I don’t expect them to do anything but grieve. But as observers, as helpers and healers, it is time for us to hold, and practice, a truth.
Connection is hard, painful even, and it is so so necessary.
It has been one week since the devastating event in Uvalde where over 20 individuals, mostly children, were killed by an armed shooter. While I struggle with my own grief and fear, I see countless others in my community doing the same. Debates have broken out about how to prevent something like this in the future – what actually would work to keep us from having to live this again and again? To keep families like those in Uvalde, Sandy Hook, and frankly, hundreds of other communities, from experiencing the worst losses imaginable?
There are no simple answers
I suspect the solutions are much more nuanced and complex than we all want to admit. When we are afraid, we want clarity, we want to do something. It is normal to feel strongly, to want to take action, to think of ourselves and our safety. Bettina and I wrote about this in our first blog after the shooting.
Unfortunately, nothing is as clear cut and simple as we would like it to be.
But there are, and will be, things we can do – individually and as a community. As a bit of an outsider to Uvalde, I find myself wanting to understand the situation more deeply – it feels like a responsibility to those who are within the community, suffering so acutely. A deeper understanding offers me clarity of purpose when I think about “what can I do?”.
While the logistics of what occurred on May 24th are important of course, I see what happened through a trauma lens.
I believe, without a doubt, that a ripple of trauma is at play when these episodes of devastating violence occur. It breaks my heart, and yet, it also gives me hope. I am broken hearted because understanding how trauma works means that I know, for a fact, that the young man who committed this horrible crime (and the others who have come before him) was in terrible pain – and without any other way of managing his pain, he gave it back to his community.
“The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.”
Stories about the Uvalde shooter are emerging, and they are sad ones.
I sympathize that compassion for this young man may be hard to come by – some of us may be feeling a revulsion, or downright hatred, for a person who could commit such an act. Admittedly I recognize it is very soon after the event to ask you to consider anything else. I do not mean to side-step the overwhelming horrors the children in that elementary school faced, or what the families and community members who survived are now dealing with.
I wonder, though, if we can bear to hold both – the bottomless suffering of those who have lost so much AND the deep suffering of a young man, a child still really, who felt so alone he was motivated to act the way he did.
Can we hold both?
It is a lot to ask. I understand if you are not ready. If this is where you are, it is ok, it is human to feel this way – and I hope you will continue to consider the rest of my letter.
Consider that hating this boy only brings more pain and isolation. More trauma. It does not contain our solution. Consider that connection is what we are made for, it is who we are, and when an individual resorts to violence it is because they felt so little connection that violence seemed the only way forward for them.
“Love me when I least deserve it because that is when I need it the most” (this anonymous quote hangs in Bettina’s office).
The young man in Uvalde was raised partially by his grandparents, as his mother battled heavily with drug addiction. A father or father figure was not mentioned in accounts of his life, though it seems a neighbor tried his best to be a role model. This young man was bullied horribly in school for being different – for having a speech impediment. He was often in fights. He was teased for wearing old, worn clothes. He committed acts of self-harm and threatened aggression toward animals and other humans. He lived through domestic violence, with police making a frequent appearance outside his home he shared with his mother.
This is an old story. It is not just about the young man in Uvalde. It is about all the people across our country, in our very own communities, who suffer from lack of support, lack of connection, lack of love. There is no single person, no single village to blame for it, because disconnect is passed down from generation to generation, and ripples far and wide. Our culture suffers from a profound problem with connection or the soul-crushing lack thereof.
What Can We Learn?
We are a community of trauma professionals, and understanding the humanity inherent in each and every one of us is a significant aspect of calling ourselves “trauma informed”. The science of neurobiology tells us that we are all a blend of nature and nurture, and that our nature is in fact highly influenced by the nurture that occurred in previous generations.
We are the outcome of our relationships, our environments, and our support systems over the generations and most acutely, during our own developmental years. To arrive at age 18 being a violent “loner” with an unstable home life and an aggressive thirst for vengeance is not a fluke, but a result of layers and layers of wounding. This is not just in Uvalde, this is everywhere.
No one is immune from pain so deep we lash out. It feels like a heavy responsibility, but a necessary one, to remember that each and every one of us could become cruel under the right circumstances.
We are human.
This young man was human.
To cast him out into any other category does us all a disservice. There is no “us” and the cruel/evil/murderous “them”. There is only “we”.
When we reject someone in pain, when we hate him, we exacerbate the very problem that created him.
How Can Adverse Childhood Experiences Help Us Connect?
I understand if you are not ready to hear what I am trying to say. It is a hard truth. It asks us to feel deeply, and rise above our survival instincts. Again, listen to your body––allow yourself to grieve and feel it all – anger, rage, sadness––when you are ready, maybe you can revisit this conversation with me. If your body tells you that you are ready for this discussion I ask that you allow me to offer a little more, to help us sink a little more into understanding.
Let’s take a look at a simple measure, that of the Adverse Childhood Experiences survey. This measure looks exclusively at home life, and has 10 measures. For each adverse childhood experience, an individual receives a score of one. The closer to 10 adverse childhood experiences a person is, the more dire their adulthood experience can be – including significant physical and mental health issues.
The 10 ACEs are defined as the following childhood experiences:
– Physical, sexual or verbal abuse
– Physical or emotional neglect
– Separation or divorce
– A family member with mental illness
– A family member addicted to drugs or alcohol
– A family member who is in prison
– Witnessing a parent being abused
Based on the accounts of the Uvalde shooter’s life leading up to the shooting, and looking at the quiz questions to measure the number of ACEs possible in his home life, it is safe to estimate that this young man experienced at least 7 of 10 ACEs. (For reference, a score of 6 or higher is said to take at least 20 years off your life, not to mention cause marked difficulties in daily living).
For the possible childhood experiences considered “adverse” and damaging, he experienced at least 70% of them.
It is also important to note that the ACEs cover a range of adverse experiences within one’s own home, but do not include community based experiences a youth can experience like bullying at school, the general stress and risks of poverty, lack of a support system/friendships outside the home, lack of support within the school system (the young man in Uvalde skipped frequently and was not on track to graduate with his peers), and the myriad unsupervised online encounters that are possible.
ACEs also do not cover the wider struggles our country is facing culturally and politically. Our country is divided, angry, and wanting to place blame somewhere. It has also become common practice to shame others for not living up to certain expectations. There is a far-reaching disconnect between us on a grand scale.
Trauma Isn’t Always Obvious
There are multiple facets of trauma that we could consider, the ACEs being one of them that is easiest to wrap our brains around, perhaps. But when we consider the subtler neurological development and attachment development aspects of trauma (which we discuss at length in our trainings, especially the Fundamentals of NL), there are likely many other ways this young man’s brain and body were traumatized.
We can only speculate at this point, so I won’t go beyond a general wondering – but based on the little history we have now, we might hypothesize that the intrauterine experience and early childhood experiences of this young man may have contained significant amounts of stress, or at least numerous deviations from the optimal. His brain and body may very likely have been primed for survival, with muscled up and disorganized lower regions of the brain. Survival is inherently selfish, and sees threat at every turn.
This can happen to any of us
With the amount of conflict he experienced in his home life, later followed by the amount of distress he experienced in his peer groups – I truly wonder if connection, and relationships in general, mostly set off alarm bells throughout his system, feeling like threats rather than safety.
I will stop there, as I do not wish to speculate further about the story of a young man I didn’t really know – who was in so much pain, who was so alone, he turned to inflict devastating pain on others. Now his trauma has been passed on to the families of Uvalde – so many more ACEs to add to the list. Parents, teachers, families, neighbors, will never be the same, perhaps for generations to come.
As hard as it can be to find, being trauma informed means I can catch enough of a glimpse of this man’s world, and the lens through which he saw this world, that I will not call him evil. I will not call him “other”. I will grieve him as I do the children and the ones whom he killed. I will grieve the isolation, the fear, the pain, that everyone in that community, and countless communities across the country, are feeling.
And, I also have hope – because I know there are thousands of us out there working tirelessly to prevent and heal trauma Every. Single. Day.
I know this community in particular, of Natural LIfemanship professionals, understands that trauma is a beast, but one that can be prevented and healed. So, we grieve. And then we roll up our sleeves and go back out into the world to do what we can, here and now. This will likely mean policy change, holding leaders accountable, and a dedication and perseverance to penetrate the helplessness and apathy that occur on a grand scale.
And, we do what we can in the small choices we make every day.
We connect with those who need connection. We reach out when we need connection. We don’t look away. We don’t pretend the answers are simple. We don’t let fear drive us. We take a deep breath. We let fear and grief move through our bodies. And then we remember that healing takes place in the context of a healthy relationship…and we know how to do that.
The hard truth, the utterly simple and yet excruciatingly difficult truth is that we prevent things like mass shootings, suicides, and violence by being the village that loves the child.
To honestly call ourselves trauma-informed, we must find our way to embodying this truth.
I only wish this particular child had been surrounded by the amazing hearts and minds that I know belong to this astounding Natural Lifemanship community. Maybe then he would have felt the warmth of his community that he truly needed, rather than pass on the pain, like so many others.
I feel hope because I know you all are out there. I feel renewed passion in our mission here at Natural Lifemanship. Pain may be inevitable in life, but the lasting effects of trauma can be tempered. Connection prevents and heals pain over and over again. It is not always easy – in fact, loving through fear, grief, and anger may be the most difficult thing we do. But we can do it.
This is something we can control.
Sitting with you in grief, and holding onto hope.
If you feel called to learn more about how to help people heal from the effects of toxic stress and trauma, join our amazing community of helpers and healers.
Natural Lifemanship is composed of people just like you, who want to make this world a better place —a world where connection and the value of healthy relationships is seen and felt in everything we do!
We are so pleased to announce that our Natural Lifemanship team has been published again!
A lovely new resource is now available for a variety of practitioners – Nourished: Horses, Animals & Nature in Counselling, Psychotherapy & Mental Health, edited by Meg Kirby, is out now!
Not only do we share our lives with nature and animals, they are an integral and influential part of our well-being. Within the pages of Nourished is wisdom collected from respected professionals across the globe (of whom we are honored to be a part!) on how we can intentionally incorporate the natural and animal world into mental health, wellness, and personal growth.
Working With Horses to Develop Secure Attachment
Natural Lifemanship’s CEO and co-founder Bettina Shultz-Jobe and I are thrilled to have contributed a chapter in Nourished titled “Working With Horses to Develop Secure Attachment”. In this chapter we offer theory as well as a case study discussing how attachment wounds can be brought into awareness, gently explored, and healed through authentic engagement with equines.
We ventured not only into the cognitive aspects of attachment, but the embodied ones as well – for much of our relational patterns are held in the body. As this NL community knows, being in relationship with horses is a unique opportunity to transform ways of being, even when deeply held in the unconscious body.
If you are a practitioner in the field of equine assisted services, this is a chapter, and a book, not to be missed!
Psst…when you order the book through the links in this article, we earn a small affiliate commission. This transparency is important to us, but since we contributed to the book, you know we recommend it whole-heartedly!
By Kate Naylor and Bettina Shultz-Jobe
Natural Lifemanship is a training and mentoring institute focused on the science and healing of trauma. We see trauma each and every day, and yet, we will never get used to it.
We are heartsick over the deaths of so many people in Uvalde, TX this week. It is all too easy to imagine the complete and utter despair of the families that are left to pick up the pieces. A devastated community is reeling. As mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, siblings, and chosen family ourselves, we at NL have struggled to absorb the news.
To withdraw, to feel helpless, to hide from the scary reality of our world would certainly make sense – and we will all do it at times. It is simply a part of being human and experiencing deep grief and fear.
We all crave safety and when that sense of safety feels out of our reach, the brain and body go into a survival mode. We will all need to be gentle with ourselves.
Granting space for grief
The truth is, the reason we as an organization haven’t said anything publicly about Uvalde yet is because most of us have been grieving, crying our own tears, and at a loss for words. When we encountered the words of the San Antonio Mennonite Church from 2020 we were reminded of why.
“There are not adequate words of consolation or outrage.
There are not ideas or concepts or explanations.
So first we have to go ancient.
We have to go into the ancient old prayers in a language we don’t know
We have to go to ancient truths and trust our mortal and mourning hearts there.
It begins with tears.”
Do you remember the webinar Bettina and Kathleen gave on the concept of embodiment? Here it is if you missed it. In this conversation, the big take home message was that in order for us to fully grapple with something as profound as grief we must allow space for both being and doing. One without the other is incomplete, we are incomplete.
Honoring liminal moments
Once again, we find ourselves in a moment when the way forward isn’t either/or, it is both/and. We need significant contemplation and deep feeling; AND then our actions can be informed by our embodied experience.
In these liminal moments – this “great inbetween” where the tragedy has already happened, but the impact is only beginning to be fully realized – we have a responsibility as healers and trauma informed professionals to pause.
This doesn’t mean we don’t take action – we know we have a responsibility to say and do something, and we have clients who need the support that we offer. However, action without intention can do more harm than good.
Grief is a powerful motivator for action – but if we jump into action before we truly allow ourselves to grieve, to avoid the recognition that pain is the inevitable bedfellow to love, then we move into action from a place of survival. At times a selfish place, it is reactionary and lacks the well of compassion and humility needed for truly seeing the complexity of our own internal experience, as well as the complexity of others.
Pausing allows us to feel what is arising for us in our shock and sadness. When we feel deeply but cannot move into action eventually, our feelings remain stagnant and unproductive. In fact, this thwarted action can become trauma stored in the body.
You are not alone
We love our NL community, and we remember that moments of utter darkness offer us something, if we can bear to accept it. When others are suffering, we can offer connection and remind them that they are not alone. When we are suffering, we can seek connection and remember that we too, are not alone.
It is a simple, yet profound, gift. It is thoughts and prayers, deeply felt, plus action that is fully embodied.
Some wounds cannot be fully healed, but connection can be like a salve, making wounds more bearable – we do not have to carry the experience of grieving alone.
Do not look away
At a time like this, we are reminded of Brené Brown, and her words about suffering, pain, and the power of human connection.
“My mom taught us to never look away from people’s pain.
The lesson was simple:
Don’t look away. Don’t look down.
Don’t pretend not to see hurt.
Look people in the eye.
Even when their pain is overwhelming.
And, when you’re in pain,
find the people who can look you in the eye.
We need to know we’re not alone – especially when we’re hurting.
This lesson is one of the greatest gifts of my life.” BB
This is, of course, not always easy. But remember that connection exists on a spectrum, and we each have kindness to offer in some form. When helplessness creeps in, remember that small acts of kindness (a meal, a hug, a listening ear) done intentionally, make an impact. NL trainer and co-founder of Pecan Creek Ranch, Rebecca Hubbbard, has written an important children’s book about this called, Kindness in a Scary World, that we highly recommend for children and adults alike.
As trauma informed professionals, it is important for us to remember that we must find connection and care for ourselves so that we can offer connection and care to others.
The ripple effect of our own healing
Because we are a community of trauma professionals – we will be holding the hands of those who suffer, who grieve, who fight back despair. It is a very real and tangible experience for those of us who do this work every day.
Offering connection is our human responsibility, and even more so as trauma professionals – we are called on to help shoulder the burden of suffering. This is something we can do, even when the world is a scary place. And when we take action from a place of thoughtful, intentional self-awareness and self-connection – we are doing something profound for others, and for ourselves.
As hard as it is to accept, as our respected colleague, Dr. Veronica Lac, Executive Director of The HERD Institute®, articulates so clearly in her poem, we are indeed in the same room where this pain is happening. We cannot look away.
In the Room Where It Happens
I never want to be in the room where it happens.
These tragedies that keep replaying.
Again, and again.
I never want to hear the screams of terror, grief, and anger in the aftermath
of these atrocities that keep repeating. Again, and again.
I never want to feel the anguish and fear of the first responders who rush to the scene,
nor of the teachers acting as human shields,
nor of the parents whose precious children
are in the room where it happens.
No one wants to be in the room where it happens.
But we all are.
____V. Lac, May 2022
We want to know, what do you need in order to keep going? What do you need in order to not look away? How will you sit with your pain, so that you are better able to take action that comes from a place of service and connection?
Recently, I was watching the inspiring Netflix series Queer Eye, a heartwarming reality show that focuses on supporting people in reconnecting with themselves. This year Queer Eye filmed in my hometown, Austin Texas! Double joy!
Not only did I get to see humans being good to humans, but they were my dear Austin humans!
Imagine my excitement when on episode 7, “Snow White in Central Texas”, the Queer Eye team introduced us to an incredibly selfless woman named Jaime who runs an animal rescue, “Safe in Austin” – and lo and behold, one of the wonderful opportunities presented to her in the episode was a chance to participate in Equine Assisted Learning with a Natural Lifemanship trained professional! Let me explain.
About the cast of Queer Eye
On Queer Eye there are five cast members, each responsible for a different aspect of the makeover process. One of the cast members, Karamo Brown, a former social worker, always helps the guest of honor get in touch with the emotional aspects of the makeover.
In this episode, Karamo took Jaime to a resort called Miraval, for rest and relaxation, as well as an equine experience with the talented Leigh Wright! Leigh has been learning with Natural Lifemanship since 2019 and her understanding of our approach is made clear in her facilitation of Jaime’s session.
A quick recap of what Natural Lifemanship does
At NL, we teach professionals a principle-based approach to Equine Assisted Services, based on the science of relationships, that can be integrated into their work with clients.
At the beginning of her session, Jaime was introduced to several horses and encouraged to feel into choosing which horse she wanted to work with. This is an approach NL advocates for, as it allows a real connection to begin to unfold between horse and human that is fully of their own making. Rather than Leigh choosing a horse for Jaime, Jaime got to experience the emotional process of choosing for herself.
Once chosen, Jaime and her horse entered a round pen in order for both to move freely while the two got to know each other.
Freedom of movement is so important for both the horse’s and Jaime’s regulation, as well as a part of freedom of choice – a fundamental principle of Natural Lifemanship.
Jaime and the horse both needed to be able to move into and out of proximity of one another in order to take care of themselves, regulate, and make choices. Jaime described how in her life she cared for everyone else, often putting herself last. Leigh encouraged Jaime to practice “making a request”.
What makes this unique to NL?
In Natural Lifemanship, making a request is the crux of the work. While it is enjoyable and often soothing to be near a horse and ask for very little (except perhaps allowing petting!), it is when we decide to make a clear request that vulnerability enters the equation. This is when we begin to really feel the sensations and emotions of what it means to be in a relationship.
When we ask for something, we are allowing the other to have an impact on us, we are communicating a need, and have to wait for the response. To do so, without assuming control of the whole dynamic, can feel daunting and bring up powerful feelings.
As I watched Jaime navigate this truth for herself, I was struck by how impactful this moment can be. Leigh offered kind and empathic support, while also observing Jaime’s difficulties to bring them into her awareness. As they continued, Leigh also suggested that Jaime might try asking for space – using the word “detachment”. Considering what I learned earlier in the episode about Jaime taking on the weight of the world and leaving her own care at the absolute bottom of her list – I thought this was another powerful insight from Leigh.
Diving deeper into “connected detachment”
Jaime really did not want to ask for “detachment” – the word coined by Natural Lifemanship to describe the aspect of a relationship that requires some structure and separation, while still maintaining an internal sense of connection (rather than constant nurture and physical closeness).
Detachment is often difficult for people (and horses!) because when we create space between us, we have to trust that our connection can still be strong. Jaime bravely practiced this in her session, and with Leigh’s warm support, she was able to ask for space and still maintain a connection! Confidence lit a smile on Jaime’s face afterwards!
In this small amount of time together, Jaime felt, in her body, what it meant to make a request of others and ask for space when needed – all without hurting the relationship she had begun with her horse. It was eye-opening for her. A beginning, of course, but a good beginning!
While Leigh has studied other models and uses her own blend of approaches, her integration of Natural Lifemanship principles into her work was a pleasure to see.
Way to go, Leigh!!!
You can integrate the NL approach into your life and practice
What we teach at NL is not a specific series of techniques or activities or interventions. Learning Natural Lifemanship means learning principles and the science of relationships so that you can integrate it into your practice in the way that best serves you and your clients.
Want to learn more about Natural Lifemanship and the principles used in Queer Eye? We would love to connect with you! Registration for the Fundamentals of Natural Lifemanship opens soon!
Thank you, Leigh, for your poignant demonstration of an Equine Assisted Learning session!
Thank you, Queer Eye, for bringing the power of Equine Assisted Activities to the public!
Want to support the incredible work of Safe in Austin?
Please visit their donations page.
“Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk”
“Practice what you preach”
“Say what you mean and mean what you say”
“Actions speak louder than words”
“Put your money where your mouth is”
Idioms about the importance of being congruent in both speech and behavior abound.
Our spoken words, no matter how sincerely we mean them, become untrustworthy when they are not supported by our actions.
Similarly, our actions feel incongruent and insincere when they are not consistent with our intention and motives. We have all been on the receiving end of an interaction that appeared or seemed intended to be helpful or friendly, but instead felt empty at best and manipulative or exploitative at worst. Both our actions and our words, no matter how well intentioned, can leave us feeling confused and disconnected from each other if they are not congruent with our internal state of being, and can result in relational rupture.
Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “embody” in this way: to be an expression of or give a tangible or visible form to (an idea, quality, or feeling).
Embodiment entails a sense of internalizing and integrating a way of being in the world that moves beyond our way of doing or behaving. Beyond acting as guidelines for behavior, embodied principles and beliefs become woven into the fabric of our identity and sense of self, and flow naturally into the ways in which we connect with self and others, both human and animal, and the larger world, including nature and our conceptualization of the divine.
We can sense the difference when someone is “acting kind” as opposed to “being kind.” Kind acts can be done for a variety of both honorable or self-serving motives. However, experiencing true kindness from someone who embodies the truth of their character in serving and caring for others because this is who they are engages our limbic system in an entirely different way and offers a rich relational opportunity for connection on a level so deep and healing that it is felt at a cellular level.
This kind of connection requires genuine presence, being in this moment and being with yourself and the one who is in front of you. We try in various ways to derive “being” from “doing,” but “doing” actually flows from our “being.”
WHO we are shows up in WHAT we do and HOW we do it.
A society of task managers
In our task-focused, accomplishment-driven society, our obsession with productivity and output leaves little room for the rich, satisfying, deeply healing experiences of connection that are only possible when we slow down and focus our complete attention on this interaction at this moment with this being, whether horse or human.
When I work with a client in the round pen who is asking for their horse’s attention while preoccupied with the outcome, so focused on the task of getting the horse to look at them, or turn and walk to them that they have reduced the interaction to a project whose success is measured by achieving a certain behavior, the principle of embodied connection is completely lost in the transactional nature of this exchange.
When the client shifts to a more genuine, present state, connecting with their deep longing to be seen and felt and valued, and sees and feels and values their horse as well, the change in energy is palpable. The quality and depth of the connection available in this type of relational exchange defies language, as it is felt on a somatic level between the two as an energetic exchange.
Embodiment requires breathing and processing space. . .
As a trauma survivor, I learned to “behave” appropriately in relational interactions by accurately assessing expectations and how to meet them in order to avoid rejection and abandonment. When I was first introduced to the Natural Lifemanship model of Trauma Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, I approached it the way I did everything I wanted to learn about: in a cognitive manner. I studied the model, memorized the principles and then practiced applying them in the round pen with horses in a task-focused, outcome driven way.
It soon became clear to me that I could ask a horse to attach and detach from me without any true connection whatsoever. I did not feel the warmth in my chest, or energetic exchange between myself and my horse that other people described when their horse connected with them. I spent hours in the round pen practicing making requests for interaction and felt despair about ever moving beyond the behavioral stage of it “looking right” without it ever “feeling right.”
Then I took the Natural Lifemanship Intensive Training, which focuses even more on embodying the relational principles of this model. I learned that the healing work we do with humans and horses is a way of “being” in the world, not only a way of “doing.” Embodiment requires breathing and processing space, which is why Natural Lifemanship trainings are designed in a combined video and live learning format that offers not only plenty of time to learn and master essential principles but also skilled and knowledgeable instructors to guide your learning by giving personalized feedback on the specific ways to practice these principles.
To read more about my experiences early on with Natural Lifemanship read here.
The secret to success
Malcolm Gladwell popularized the “10,000 hour rule” in his book, Outliers, based on a research study that found it takes about 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of complex skills and materials like playing the violin or learning computer programming. A surprising nuance in this discovery revealed that it is not simply the amount of hours spent practicing but how you practice and who guides you in deciding what to focus on during that practice time that determines the level of success achieved. This idea of “deliberate practice” under the guidance of a skilled teacher who is able to assess each student individually and outline specific steps to help them improve then tailors the time spent to focus on what would be most helpful for that student’s growth and development.
How you use your practice time and who guides you is what matters most.
I spent hours in the round pen doing the same thing over and over, getting the same results, until I received the personalized attention and guidance I specifically needed to let go of my task driven focus and learned to embrace and embody the principles and nuances of true, heart-felt connection. I discovered the power of presence from trainers who embodied this with and for me so I could hone in on what was missing in my learning and start practicing in a way that actually led to transformational change.
How the NL Intensive training can help you embody connection
The Intensive Training is set up to enhance your learning with guidance and support specifically tailored to the areas you want and need to grow. It helped me refine my understanding of connection in relationship and led to powerful shifts in my perspective on my relationship with self and others, both horse and human.
This is a powerful opportunity to take the next step in your journey of personal and professional growth!
Practice Embodied Connection at Home
To practice feeling a sense of embodiment through connection, try taking a walk with a trusted person. Orient to your environment and do some mindfulness and grounding to become fully present in your body as you walk beside each other. Then start to notice if you can fall “in sync” with your partner, matching their stride by sensing their movement without looking at them.
Take turns lengthening your stride, speeding up and slowing down, and changing direction. Can you feel these shifts without looking at your partner’s legs or body with your eyes? Can you sense the energetic exchange between the two of you as you become entrained in your motion and your connection deepens through this rhythmic shared movement? Be playful with it! You can also try this with your horse or dog.
Want to learn more? Attend our upcoming webinar on embodiment and sign up for the Natural Lifemanship Intensive Training! Keep growing and learning with us.
We look forward to seeing you!
Outside my window, I hear Abilene take three deep horse breaths. She is sunning her mud-caked body at the very spot where Annie stood 48 hours ago experiencing the discomfort of the unknown ailment to which she succumbed hours later. The story of that day replays vividly in my mind, although that is not the story I wish to tell right now. She died in the trailer on the way to the vet, and this story begins once Tim and I brought her body back to my place to rest in the trailer overnight so that Abilene could say her goodbyes.
The night Annie passed we got a good amount of rain. Abilene stayed with Annie’s body at the trailer for much of the night it seems. My housemate and I went out several times to check on her throughout the night, and she was always by the trailer. Sometimes poking her nose in and sniffing Annie, sometimes standing a few feet away attentively looking at her still body. Sometimes when we would walk up in the pitch black night, she would quickly come up to us only to turn away and return to the trailer once recognizing that we were not Annie.
That night the pain and shock of Annie’s passing was all consuming. It surrounded me even as it swallowed me from within. It poured forth from my body as though the very ground of being opened up beneath me and gravity took care of the rest. I now rest on a subterranean ledge quite a bit further down, getting my bearings. I’m so thankful for Abilene – for her presence in this space we share.
Grief, I’m noticing, has different textures. There is the resounding, thunderous experience of loss – immediate, vibratory – much like being suspended in the hollow of a drum as it’s forcefully struck. All that exists is the vibration, and it plays you through and through. In this texture of grief my body experiences only the loss – the pain of separation – the awareness of absence. Nothing else exists. This was my immediate experience. There was no way to talk or even think in the clamor. There were some escape hatches I could see in the haze of the moment – the illusory promise of distractions of various sorts – but I fell for none of them. Didn’t want to be distracted because this now is my experience of Annie. Even an experience of her acute and sudden absence, painful and overwhelming as it is, is better than no experience. This is grief number one. Raw, immediate, kinetic.
And then there is the pain of memory. It has a different quality and it lives in a different place. It’s less like a sound and vibration, and more like a storyboard. It is a string of images – snapshots tied to my heart, which tugs them like kites as it softens and constricts, softens and constricts. Images of Annie and the memory of her warm, sweet breath, her head on my shoulder, her neck stretching up so that I could scratch under her chin, her asking for butt rubs, her curiosity and gentleness and sometimes impatience, especially at mealtime. These images swell up in waves of moans and tears – stuck in the throat and then bubbling out of the silence. This is the pain of the past. The pain of remembering. The pain of the stories we compose and relive, again and again. I am deeply thankful that Abilene, at least I assume, does not have to experience this kind of grief. I’m pretty sure it’s mostly the first kind she experiences, but I guess I don’t really know.
Finally, there’s a third kind – closely related to the second. It’s future grief. Future grief is like past grief but instead of being triggered by memories or images of what was, it is prompted by the discovery and the rediscovery of what-will-no-longer-be, or variably, of what-could-have-been had past events unfolded differently. Expectations and hopes do not come with expiration dates. And yet, they expire. Just like that. Hope has an open quality and when it expires due to loss, it produces a grief for the un-lived future. This is experienced in the eyes and the face, wrinkling with tension as though straining toward a distant horizon in which one finds no trace or shadow of the departed.
I guess future grief is the most lonely kind of grief. Past grief isn’t lonely because I will always have the memories of the time and space and connection Annie and I actually, physically shared. There is a fullness there. Present grief is more fluid. The vibration of loss is not always present. It gives way to other connections in the here and now. The thunderous, wordless kind of loss – the grief of the present – overtakes you but flows right on past so long as you don’t resist it or avoid it. Thankfully, the present is the present.
One must make a conscious choice to stay with the grief of the present and to honor the grief of the past – the grief of the “what is” transfiguring into the “what was”. It is worthy of enshrining. Annie lives in a golden place within my heart. This is that enduring sense of connection with detachment. She is not physically here but she lives very much alive within me. I will treasure this. Visit this place daily. Allow the waves of this type of grief to swell and crash in my heart without resistance. I think the best offering we can place on this altar is gratitude.
Gratitude is protective against the rages of the one kind of grief we must choose to let go – and that is the grief of the future. This kind of grief can keep us stuck. We cannot fully live without hope. Nor can we live fully if we dwell in a world of what-ifs. Hopelessness is a kind of suicide. Of course, we experience it at times but we mustn’t enshrine it, or revisit it too often, I think. It’s like a riptide or quicksand. If we find ourselves in it, we’ve gotta get out. Friends, present connections, mindfulness of the present, and meaningful, intentional gratitude – these keep us from drowning and perishing in the grief of the un-lived future.
I’m thankful for my wonderful, supportive friends, both two-legged and four-legged. I’m thankful for the Christmas break and the time to digest and metabolize this trauma. I’m thankful for dear, sweet, resilient Abilene, who is already teaching me so much about what it means to “surthrive”. And I’m so, so very thankful for Annie, who blessed me in countless ways with her beautiful presence in my life for over a year, over two actually. I am where I am because of her.
The Three Kinds of Grief Video
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Abilene the past couple days. This evening just before sunset I found her in the front standing on the exact spot where the trailer had been parked. She saw me coming and walked toward me. I sat with her under the cedar tree where she and Annie liked to sleep. We silently stayed there, gazing out toward that spot and taking in all that remains. I wonder if Abilene sensed Annie’s presence as I did, ever so lightly.
Thank you sweet girl. I miss you so much. My heart is yours. May you run free in the green pasture of my heart, always.
Interested in learning more from Laura?
Laura shared this blog at the start of our 2021 conference in a workshop called The Somatic Experience of Grief and Love. Check out the conference replays here.
She will also be teaching an upcoming workshop called Where Feet May Fail: Finding Connection in the Dark Night of the Soul.
The conference replays act as a stepping stone into ongoing workshops and powerful conversations centered around life, love, loss, and death. They will equip you with the tools for finding light in the darkest of times.
Join us as we journey through conversations centered around love and loss (of all kinds), and participate in “Grief, Love, and Life”, a series of experiential workshops that will take place throughout the rest of the year.
Each workshop is designed to build upon your foundational experience from the recorded conversations. Learn more here! We look forward to walking this path with you!