This past week I had a revelatory experience, recasting my past in a way that is still reverberating through me.
Sunday, for the Summer Solstice, I found a few hours in an unusually busy week to go up to Howard Prairie for the 20th Annual World Peace and Prayer Day sponsored by Red Earth Descendants and held here in our Valley for the first time. The Adoption Ceremony was slated for Sunday morning, providing healing and prayers for families separated from one another over the past many decades through policies of adoption and forced boarding school.
As I listened to the stories told, I remembered that I had first been introduced to them over 20 years ago in connection with designing the book We Have The Right To Exist by Wub-e-ke-niew, which detailed the ravages of these practices on the emotional lives of his people. And even earlier, I designed a book Dear Birthmother which led the revolution in opening closed adoption records so that adopted children could find their birth parents. Once more, I rehearsed that I did not have direct experience of this phenomenon, but felt compassion and tears for what I was hearing.
With a sudden shock, however, a new realization came to me. I grew up in Oklahoma where my mother as a young child saw homeless, suffering children on the streets, and she made a lifelong commitment to do something to help them. She became a social worker and helped found Oklahoma’s state child welfare services. I knew that she was involved in adoptions, but it was only last Sunday that it dawned on me that she must have been involved in the kind of adoptions that were the subject of this ceremony. She must have handled the placement of Native American infants into white families in the 1930s and again in the late 50s and 60s when she returned to her work.
The Native American adoption issue suddenly fell directly into my lap. I felt an upsurge of feeling to do atonement for my family’s part in that. As the ceremony proceeded, people were invited to come into the circle who shared any kind of relationship to these adoptions, so I joined them.
As the ceremony proceeded with singing and drums and two sparrowhawks circling above, I realized for the first time that my own calling to horses was rooted in a disconnection of my own that pervaded my childhood, perhaps not as painfully as the disconnection of adoption, but nonetheless significant. I grew up in a rather “plain vanilla” middle class lifestyle, bearing a sameness to the American lifestyle we saw on TV, and secure and stable in many ways. However, it was lacking in vital community and the colors of rich ceremony and spiritual life, leading to an ignorance of the implications of such practices as Native American adoptions.
For the first time, I saw very clearly that my early fascination with horses was an effort to reconnect to this something that was missing in the cultural milieu of my childhood, where just underneath the surface of things there was great suffering going on. Horses became my ambassadors to the richness and resources of the natural world and beyond, for finding ways to attend to these woundings. Horses anchored me in a profound search which now manifests itself in the work of Riding Beyond and my other teaching. It is a work that responds to our desperate need to reconnect to something more, in particular our earth mother, if we are to create sustainable ways of being for future generations.
This is a cultural evolution that manifests all around us in many ways. I heard echoes of it today on the news about the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in support of same-sex marriage, giving credence and recognition to vital, loving connections between people. Additionally, I find that, at its best, social media supports and nurtures this reconnection, too.
In the ceremony last Sunday, we knelt on a buffalo robe and were blessed by Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a self-proclaimed “horse person”, so powerfully appropriate for me. The tobacco that we offered I touched to my heart and the turquoise horse pendant I was wearing, dedicating myself and all those with whom I interact, plant, animal, all of this earth, to the work that reconnects.
And more: I’ve been completely fascinated by the unfolding work that we are doing in Riding Beyond.
In some ways it is not unique, because it is part of the larger world of equine assisted activities and therapies where horses are evolving into active co-facilitators, co-therapists, and partners. This happens in ways that continually create little fireworks of joy and wonder within the hearts of everyone involved, clients, volunteers, all of us. I see this with Mystic, who continues to develop increasingly intuitive, precise, and elegant ways of relating to those of us around her, ways that seem to evoke just what we each one needs to experience for his or her own life journey.
This is what the work that reconnects looks like, just a few days ago, demonstrating Mystic’s talent for her work:
I am showing three experienced horse people who wish to be volunteers how we greet Mystic by approaching her from the front and slightly to the side, stopping if she looks away and waiting for her to re-invite my approach, extending my hand for her to reach out and touch it with her muzzle. Then since she does not turn away, I step closer and she touches my chin with her muzzle and then my chest and extends her neck and head into a full-hearted “kiss” that she sometimes offers me. Murmurs and exclamations accompany this extraordinary gesture, from the other three, and I tell them that we can never anticipate just how she might greet anyone, even me, hoping to allay disappointment.
Next person steps forward to greet her and Mystic nuzzles her chin as well, but she notices this young woman’s slight hesitance and so proceeds to touch her gently in several places across her shoulders and chest. There is a kind of wonder emerging for us, in the delicate and appropriate connections being made.
Next person, Mystic immediately places her head on the young woman’s left shoulder and then steps forward so that her head and neck continue on over the woman’s shoulder, and her muzzle moves down the woman’s middle back and gently pushes her into position so that she can rest her muzzle on the woman’s lower back and give her a hug against her shoulder for a few seconds. In astonishment the woman steps back and says “I’ve NEVER been hugged like that by a horse!’
Finally, the last woman steps slowly forward, limping a bit with her two replaced knees and one replaced hip and femur that was shattered and repaired years ago. When she and Mystic greet one another, Mystic does not nuzzle her but instead steps several steps forward, so that the woman is standing at her side. I tell her that Mystic is placing herself instead of walking away from her, which is how she’s interpreting her behavior. Sure enough, within seconds as this woman scratches her back and shoulders, seeking just the right place, Mystic curls her head around and very lightly touches her, starting at her hip and going down to her knee, being very careful not to push her off balance. In gratitude the woman feels fully seen by this extremely precise touching of the most compromised part of her body, feeling they are connecting and making one another’s acquaintance in a profoundly personal and moving way.
This is typical of what happens in the first individual session of Riding Beyond and unfolds even moreso in the activities of later sessions.
During these next few days as July 3 approaches and we complete our crowd funding campaign, please help us keep this work growing into the future:
CLICK HERE http://igg.me/at/ridingbeyond2
Or if you prefer, write a check to the Way Foundation for a tax deductible donation and send it to: Riding Beyond, c/o Trish Broersma, PO Box 1281, Ashland OR 97520. Also, Paypal is available for credit card donations, below.
Your gifts are tax deductible through The Way Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization EIN 93-1198272