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  • Sharon Cabana, MA, LMFT

Horses are Storm Dancers: A Meditation on Staying Present

During a particularly tumultuous time in my life, I felt as if I were overwhelmed by a storm. All around me were the signs of chaos--life swept upward, my foundations ripped up from the tree roots, and a howling wind with the voice of a banshee warning of change. I was drowning on dry land, unable to see my way through the storm.

My spiritual teacher asked me, “What can you do in the storm?”

I replied, “Well, you can get swept up in it and carried away with it.” I paused and thought about it for a minute and then continued, “Or you can stand still while the storm rages around you.” (Here I thought I had an “ah-ha” moment, but he never let me get away with those. Not really anyway.)

He nodded and fell quiet a moment. “You forgot one thing,” he said.

I frowned, not liking that. “I did? What?”

He smiled. “You can also dance in the rain.”

Storms come into all our lives. Home storms. Family storms. Work storms. There are big storms that sweep through our lives like hurricanes, flattening the land so that the only choice is to begin again or move on to someplace new. There are winter storms that make us feel isolated and cold, blizzards of emotional snow that bury and blind us. There are the storms of summer that roll about in the clouds and slowly grumble and groan their way to us. The storms of life wax and wane with the seasons. When these storms come, our choices are much the same as they were back then for me: get swept up, stand still, or dance.

When we get swept up in storms, which happens to all of us (including me, despite my best efforts), we often feel a sense of anxiety or that things are out-of-control. Anxiety keeps us living in the future or the past. It takes you away from the present as you worry about everything that has already happened or into the future where all the “what if’s” lead us to catastrophic thinking and sleepless, ruminating nights. We are separated from our internal sense of groundedness and thrown into the external chaos of the storm.

Horses, on the other hand, react differently to storms. Oh sure, they can spook and practically crab-crawl across an arena. They will also run with the herd to keep everyone safe. You can watch any number of online videos of this! Even in those spooks, though, horses are living in that moment, responding to any number of stimuli (plastic bags being one of the worst offenders I’ve seen). Horses don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow. They have now, and now is good enough.

To ride a horse is to have a constant conversation with them, learning to read each other’s signals and work together for the desired result. Each moment is full of communication. In order to communicate effectively, I can’t be worrying about what just happened or what will. I have to work with my horse. I have to be with my horse. This is perhaps one of the greatest gifts that horses give us. The capacity to simply be.

This isn’t to say that horses won’t respond to previous trauma. Of course they will. But as with all trauma responses, the past becomes the present. It is our job as healers to help put time back into place for both horses and clients.

So, what about the third option? How does a horse dance in the rain?

When we live in the moment, and stand still in the storm, the sense of peace we feel can open the possibility to feel something else. In loss, for example, there is also deep and abiding love. In chaos, there is gratitude for the things that remain stable, for the trees whose roots run too deep for storms to pull up. There can be, in the midst of some of our toughest times, moments of the greatest joy. Like horses, we too, can roll in the mud and run in the rain.

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