One of our most reliable resources of information and clarity available to us at all times is our body.
Often our trickster-mind or turbulent emotions can confuse and disorientate us. Making choices, knowing our real truth, and behaving congruently can all go out the window at any moment when these two aspects of ourselves are running the show.
However, our body, just like the horses, cannot lie; to ourselves or others.
Our body is incapable of covering up its instinctual needs and wisdom, ensuring our vulnerability is there for all to see. No matter what words we use to convey a different picture, no matter what torrent of thoughts our mind is preoccupied with, no matter what anyone else says to us; our body knows our truth.
What’s more, it displays it in an authentic unabashed manner and in a whole range of different ways - our body language, symptoms, illnesses, accidents and diseases all belie what is really going on inside us, regardless of our attempts to cover this up.
Those of us who partner with horses are more than aware of how horses give us feedback honestly and without censorship. Just like them, our body tries its best to do the same for us every minute of the day. And it’s not just horses either, anyone who lives with animals including dogs and cats knows that they have a tendency to manifest symptoms that can be perplexing at first glance. Yet with an increased degree of self-awareness and willingness to accept their uncensored feedback to us, if we can dare to, we can see these symptoms as reflections of our true inner state and truth too.
Just like Lyra’s daemon Pan, in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, our body-soul-animal reveals our truth even whilst we try desperately to cover it up. Enacting her fears, anger, terror, intuition, dislike and distrust, Pan and the other daemons in these stories enact the feelings, pain, fears and desires of their human-partners.
Mary Oliver in her famous and so very beautiful poem Wild Geese, refers to the body as the “soft animal of your body”, conjuring up this daemon-like relationship, or the sometimes very close relationship we can have with a single animal - dog, cat, horse.
Whilst ploughing on with our plans, busyness or general lack of presence, our close companions will often reveal our true inner depths through becoming ill, lame, colicky, itchy or diseased. Carrying tumours, blockages or persistent immobility which forces us to change the nature of our relationship to them and most often tries to get us to just simply slow down.
When denying the emotion behind a fact of a situation, our cat begins to cough, trying to expel something out of its own body in an attempt to help us dredge up our emotional truth rather than mundane statements about a situation. The feeling associated with the situation we are facing is not yet being acknowledged. We may be about to move home, or end a relationship, yet we are not yet ready to feel the grief and sadness connected to the loss involved.
One of my body’s now recognisable symptoms, which is like my own personal truth-detector, concerns my throat. When I cover up my real feelings about something and say something expected or superficial about something that really carries great meaning to me, and has deep emotion attached to it, I start to cough, my throat tightens and I splutter and can frequently lose the ability to speak. As if my body in that moment completely takes over and reacts quite violently to my desire to swallow back-down my truth. When my heart-ache, real desires and dreams are made facile or when I try to pretend I’m not as powerful as I actually am, my throat closes up and prevents me from getting out my lies.
This has happened with such regularity now that I am sure it is my body trying to help me. Stopping me from continuing along the “I don’t matter” lines, stopping me from denying my dreams and power, stopping me from trying to please the other person rather than be down-right honest about who I am and what I want. When I begin to deny my needs, my real dreams and my power, my body silences me, forcing me to stop, cough and reassess whether what I am saying is worthy of the real me. When it happens now I do indeed stop and ask myself: Am I speaking my absolute truth here or not? I can then connect more fully with my truth and start to align my life with this rather than the platitudes I was trying to voice.
To complicate matters further, I also sense that this happens when I do try to speak my truth. On a number of occasions when being brave enough to say what I think and feel and express my potential, my voice starts to crack and my old habit of silencing myself takes over, trying to make me small and safe again. Untangling which one it is takes patience and vigilance, but I'm getting there; one cough and splutter at a time.
Here are just a few examples of body-honesty:
These are just a handful of ways in which our body pulls on the hand-break and forces us to slow down or stop, to maybe rest, reassess, do some further inner-work or change track completely. With no other choice open to it, your body releases in anyway it can - through the onset of a sudden skin disorder, lameness, chest infection or depression, you are prevented from carrying on as before, even if just temporarily.
In equine facilitated work we refer to using our body as a “sensing device”. Further, our body can act as our own truth-detector, offering us infinite amounts of information if we’re willing to listen to it and change something in response.
Body or somatic-based approaches to psychotherapy and coaching recognise how the body splurge’s our truth, usually in the most embarrassing ways, and so they encourage us to listen to and respond to our body in order to discover our truth, and get the symbolic meaning behind our symptoms. And it turns out that not only can our own body do this for us, but the animals we encounter are also able to do this for us too. With this much readily available feedback to us, our potential for healing and growth is limitless.
Making friends with our body is one of the most important relationships we will ever cultivate in life. And, if like so many you have spent years or even decades ignoring or punishing your body, maybe now is the time to start loving it as much as your children, partner, horse or dog. Maybe now is the time to welcome yourself back home inside your forever present, forever loyal companion; your own soft animal-body. Once you begin to do this, you’ll be amazed at the difference in the people and animals in your life, because as you are more present in your body and therefore in touch with your truth, they can be more at ease in theirs.
© Angela Dunning, 5 January 2016