In the last few days of my father's life, we knew they were the last days. There was no hope, the doctors said. And I cried. The tears flowed down my face and flowed and flowed. I breathed normally, I functioned as one tear after another trickled down my face. They just wouldn't stop. But strangely, I was not choked up, I was at peace for myself. Yes, some of the tears were about the knowledge that these were the last days I was going to spend with my father. But it was time. Somehow my heart had accepted that even before he left. My tears were not for him, my tears were for my mother who sat beside him, so very lost. She never left his side, day or night, in the hospital. I am not even sure she ate. Many decades before, she had left her home, her mother, her father, come to a country with a language she couldn't even speak, to raise a family where her husband was often away for weeks, sometimes in places she was never allowed to know where. She was lonely and, I am sure, sometimes frightened, but she never regretted marrying this man, the man she so adored for a lifetime. The tears were for her.
She saw the tears and didn't understand. And as a caring mother trying to take care of me, she thought that I was weak and not strong, so she decided to lean instead on my sister who she perceived as being stronger because she wasn't crying. I don't think she ever came to understand how strong you can become when you allow yourself to feel with love and compassion. Mind you, I think that was the first time that I ever cried and actually became stronger with each tear I let fall. There was an incredible healing and strength in my love for her at that moment.
I was always one of those who cried a lot .... I cried when I was happy, sad, angry - which made me angrier, hard to have a good fight with tears streaming down your face! But since that day I have learned the strength of the difference, of healing tears. They are merely the manifestation, a sidebar if you like, of the healing process inside when emotions live without judgement. When you allow yourself to be open to what others feel. When compassion lives first in your heart. When empathy means you don't block out pain, because blocking out pain sometimes means blocking out caring and love and compassion. It is through emotion, through compassion that I become stronger and become closer to the person I am meant to be. Susannah, in this month's Torchlight article, gave voice to some of that, and then I found these words below and I understand now what I never understood before, and I wish I could help my mother understand.
"Do not insulate yourself from the pain of the world. Shielding yourself from heartbreak prevents transformation. Let your heart break open, and learn to move in the world with a broken heart. As Gibran says, "Your pain is the medicine by which the physician within heals thyself." When we open ourselves to the pain of the world, we become the medicine that heals the world. This is what Gandhi understood so deeply in his principles of ahimsa and satyagraha. A broken heart becomes an open heart, and genuine transformation begins."
In the moment that was death, my tears became sobs as I watched my mother break down. For a few minutes she was gone, her mind unable to deal with the grief she was experiencing; she could not handle it, and she lost her way. Her mind took her to another time, she did not know where or when she was.
I could have been strong, I could have held in the tears. I could have done so many things but I allowed myself and her, my heart. And if you think I am not crying right now as I write these words, you would be wrong. It is through these tears that I continue to pound away at the keyboard, because with love comes compassion and strength.
Some would say that with love comes grief and pain, but this is somehow different, difficult as it is to understand that pain is not always painful. With my first and last child, childbirth and the process of that moment when your body takes over and you just have to push, was painful - it just hurt. But with my second child, that moment was just as strong and yes, there was pain, but it was different. It felt fantastic and right and wonderful. The pain was what, strangely enough, I would call good pain. Compassion is like that. There can be good and bad pain emotionally. Not all emotion is wrong or weak or harmful. Sometimes emotion is good and wonderful and strong and transformational.
I know the words from Gandhi are true, that we have to open ourselves to the pain to find healing, but I know it is not an easy task. Which is why some of the best, most compassionate, most talented horsemen of this century are not out in the public eye protesting for the horses that they so love.. The pain they see and feel, when they watch the horses, is so painful that they cannot bear witness.
"What you attend to, you become. Your essence is pliable, and ultimately you become that which you most deeply focus your attention upon. You reap what you sow, so choose your actions carefully. If you constantly engage in battles, you become embattled yourself. If you constantly give love, you become love itself."
While we might want to believe that it doesn't matter how the final result is brought about, whether from a negative activism or a powerful compassion, that is not true. It is how we get there, the underlying intention, emotions and desires that in the end will shape our world in more ways than we know.
While it is easy to demonize others, that process in itself can lead us towards never achieving our goals of change and transformation. Those that are demonized will in turn either lash out, if not at us, then at the horse. At best, they turn a deaf ear, as they cannot help but feel defensive, as would we. It is not enough to force them to comply to some arbitrary rules unwillingly, as we cannot protect the horse from over harsh hands or some new training method being supported a year from now, nor can we protect the horse from what people do in their own training barn. We need to reach out and somehow help others find their own compassion.
Mother Theresa responded, when asked why she did not attend an anti-war demonstration, " When you have a pro-peace rally I will be there."
Pro-peace versus anti-war. It can be difficult to understand what differentiates the two. If we are anti-war are we not pro-peace, if we are anti-rollkur are we not pro..... pro what?
The concept of spiritual activism demands that this is for something, not against something. It is the bringing forward of something beautiful. It must be for the horse, not against anyone. We cannot create out of despair, anger, or destruction a thing of beauty and of truth.
We also have to find a way to allow the negative energy to pass through us without harming us. It has to pass through, not leaving tendrils of mistrust and angst in our own souls. Otherwise these tendrils will fester and grow until this darkness continues on inside of us. We must stand up, with compassion, with our love of the horse being much more important and stronger than any darkness that tries to take up residence in our soul. Otherwise we become what we are so focused on, we become embattled, we become embittered, we become as damaged as those we hope to change.
When we ask for compassion of others, how can we expect them to feel, let alone display compassion if they do not see it in us first? That is why all of our actions must be based first and foremost on the concepts of compassion, as the action that we take must reflect our spirit and the beauty we are trying to create.
Insert - A Vision of the Future
Against the backdrop of the inky sky, black and dark navy blue, a single voice rises and soars into the sky, easy to hear against the quiet vigil of those holding the flickering candles, whipped by the wind, each candle representing a flame of the soul that each is a part of. For a few moments there is respectful silence from the crowd as they bow their heads and close their eyes to better hear the beautiful melody as it enters not only their ears, but into their hearts. One voice quietly joins with the first, and then one more and it is not long before all the voices join in, as they have been joined through vast distances through their love of the horse. The song that by now is so familiar to them. One single soul found their spiritual healing against the despair and pain of rollkur in writing the precious melody and words and with dignity and some fear, had first sung it so many months ago in love and support of the horse. Her/his song that began as a quiet whisper, her/his voice too timid at first to give voice to the song in so public a stage. But strength gained as she/he kept watching. Refusing to look away. The longer she/he looked, the louder the voice became, as the voice tried to express the pain/compassion/love that filled the soul. Her/his fear of standing out, of being center stage to all the thousands of eyes present, disappeared as their soul was filled with the compassion/love/pain of the horse that she/he saw in front of her/him. Transformed into being a stronger person. The first time was the most difficult, but the song begged to be released. Soon others took the song as their own and now, today, it soars into the black night as the many voices that had never met before joined together as if they had always been one, as of course they always had been. And in that magical moment these desperate strangers truly felt that. As their voices joined, they felt what they had always known, somewhere inside, that they had never been alone. That all these strangers here, were friends. That all these people were just like them. They cared and loved enough to be here together.
It is in this interconnectedness that we build together, each of us bringing something unique, and each of us building up the strength of the other. The sum of us can do what not one of us can do alone. In your spirit, your soul, you can find what you must do.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We together are the whole, the sum. You are one part of a whole. You are the one who wrote or will write the song; you are the one who brought the drum; you are the one who made the posters; you are the one who started the blog that started it all; you are the one who cannot make it to the WEG that night but who wrote to everyone you knew, from official to sponsor, asking them that they too look into their hearts, so you are there too.
We are the parts of a greater whole. We are together. In love and truth, in the effort of changing ourselves, of becoming more loving and hence stronger, we begin the journey, the many steps that will lead up to the WEG and our own transformation. There our spirit will shine and the healing can begin with your spiritual activism. If you hadn't noticed, it already has. It began with a letter a few weeks ago; it began with one website several years ago; it began when you first woke up, with your very first breath in this world knowing that you loved this incredible animal which is called a horse.
From the very beginning you probably could not understand how this four legged animal can be so much a part of you. How you are not complete if you didn't have a horse as a part of your life. Perhaps we should not be so surprised. The lesson was always there, we are all part of each other, a part of all life, and the horse somehow can be/is our conduit to understanding that. On the back of the horse, I first felt my connection to Gaea, to the mother earth, to all life forces, and the feeling was a sweetness, a gentle goodness. Life is precious. Understanding and compassion can only come from realizing the connection between all of us. All life, every atom of life, is special and connected in some mystical way that we may never understand. But we are blessed to be given the opportunity to feel that even for a few moments, to be transformed, to be shown the path by those who chose to be horses in this life, who give of themselves so we can get closer to the best in all of us. Because in the end, that is what the path is all about. We may think we are here helping the horses, but in the end, we are really only helping and transforming ourselves.
We can only begin by working on ourselves. On our love of the horse, and invite all others to join us in loving the horse as much as we do. This is the message that they will understand.
The deep drum beats against the night, it sounds like the voice of the wolf, the pounding of the horse's feet. Images flash of a blue horse running in the twilight against the windows and concrete of the building as the images play out, another horse, this one real, white as a ghost, a painted pony, a healing horse with the red outline of a human hand on its rump, representing us, the eagle's wings on its shoulder representing where we want to go to. A native American Indian begins the chant and the dance - a voice to the whole, to mother nature, to life.
Any of these visions may come to life, or none may. These visions are mine, and perhaps yours to make true. Perhaps you are the drummer, perhaps you are the painter, or perhaps your vision, your dreams will take you in another direction, inspiring a nation, or a world.
It is your integrity, your honour, that you bring to this, that in the end mean the success or failure of raising us up all together.
The most powerful gift that we can offer the horses is our presence, our witness, our own willingness to step out onto the path of transformation. And along the way, others will hear our voice, feel what we feel, see how incredibly beautiful they can be when we allow them to be, and know the horse deserves so much more.
Start your journey, your quest, your equestrian's quest, with one small voice, one small candle, held up the next time you see a horse ridden in rollkur. Think in compassionate terms of how you can be a spiritual activist and heal your own heart and give re-birth in others to the same. Give action at every event, starting today, and ask others to do the same. Every time you see a horse in rollkur, light a candle, hold a flame, or lift a banner of a horse running free proudly, or turn your back in silence, or sing a song of hope, find your voice, your spiritual activism, and lead us towards the WEG where there are already others waiting to meet you there, so that we all can speak in one voice.