When Less is More

Kansas Carradine has a conversation with Gretel at the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre.  Photograph Candida Baker

Kansas Carradine has a conversation with Gretel at the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre. 

“The next frontier is of a spiritual nature. Our success is no longer defined by our accumulation of material goods, but by being in service to a worthy cause.”

 Ariana Strozzi

 It’s a wonderful thing in life that we can know, or believe we know, a lot about something, and still find that there is plenty more to learn.

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to attend a clinic given by one of the Cavalia riders, Kansas Carradine, at the Byron Bay Equestrian centre.  If you haven’t yet caught up with Cavalia, think Cirque du Soleil with horses…

Carradine, who grew up in Hollywood (her father was David Carradine) has been involved with Cavalia and with trick riding for many years, but on the side she has been discovering a whole new area – Equine Guided Education.

After studying with Ariana Strozzi of Skyhorse Ranch in the US for some years, Carradine is now teaching this most gentle and yet revealing of horse practices.

I thought horse-whispering and natural horsemanship were already a world away from most of the accepted practices we learn on how to interact with horses, but Equine Guided Education takes it a step further – with absolutely no riding involved, and with the horses at liberty in an arena, the session quickly becomes more about what the horses show us about ourselves, than what we might traditionally consider we should show the horses!

With four horses at liberty, there was bound to be a bit of non-verbal discussion, and one mare, Gretel, and her follower, Lucy, quickly established themselves as the leaders. Another mare, Belle, and a gelding, Brierley, seemed, at first, to be much more on the outside, and yet, as the day progressed, the seemingly disinterested Brierley connected to those of us in the group in an absolutely magical way as he went quietly from one person to the other, choosing to stand by us, and in a couple of instances, to offer healing.

Tesse Ferguson, Manager of the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre, with her girls, Gretel and Lucy.

Tesse Ferguson, Manager of the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre, with her girls, Gretel and Lucy.

It was surprising too, to see this most submissive horse, firmly suggest to the other horses that when he was with the humans they were not to come near.

We were asked continually to think about ourselves, how did we react being in a group of horses?  Could we imagine being a horse?  What issues did the different horses behaviour bring up for us?

It was a day full of surprises and revelations.  Some of the ideas that Carradine brought to our attention intrigued me.  She talked of how important it is to horses – and of course for ourselves – that our inside and outside landscape must match, that we must, as she put it, be congruent.  She asked as us to look at where our attention was drawn, which horses we were drawn to and why.

At one point three of us role-played being one horse, and were asked to silently move amongst the horses, as if we were a horse, which was an extraordinary spatial experience – particularly when we were sawn in half by a horse coming between us!

To truly try and put oneself into a horse’s hooves is to begin to understand their immense sensitivity to their environment – and to us.

Brierley initiates communication...

Brierley initiates communication…Photography for this article by Candida Baker

 

Advertisements

Practicing Compassion

Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed
~
 The Buddha

Whenever there is a disaster in the world, natural or otherwise, it does a curious thing – it brings out the best in us.

All of us stop for a moment, don’t we, and feel a mixture of gratitude that we and our loved ones are safe, and sorrow for those suffering from the earthquake, tsunami, bushfire, flood or, in the case of Haiti and the American eastern seaboard, a hurricane called Sandy.

New York workers prepare for the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy
 It’s then that our natural compassion comes to the fore. And yet, curiously, compassion, the virtue of empathy for the suffering of others, is not necessarily as readily available to us at other times.

In our ordinary, everyday lives it seems – on the face of it – that we have less need of compassion than at those times of crisis, be it family, community, or world-wide.

The etymology of compassion is Latin, meaning co-suffering; whereas empathy is the more simple attribute of understanding, compassion contains the desire to stop the other person’s suffering.

Deepak Chopra writes in his book Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul of the Tibetan Buddhist monks who developed ‘compassionate brains’ as the result of practicing a meditation on compassion, thereby transforming a spiritual quality into physical manifestation, erasing the split between body and soul.

Compassion: a Victorian firefighter cares for a koala left homeless by bushfires. Photo by Russell Vickery via smh.com.au.

 But why are some people more compassionate than others? Why is it that psychopaths allegedly have no compassion, and are able to inflict cruelty without even the comprehension of what they are doing?

Chopra wonders whether even psychopaths might be brought to understand the nature of compassion through a change of brain activity.

To become compassionate, or more compassionate takes practice …as does every emotion, both good and bad.  It’s not good enough to just think about being compassionate, or even learn about it, it’s about somehow rewiring the brain so you walk in other people’s shoes; and again growth is exponential, as we begin to feel and practice compassion in one area of our lives, it begins to flow into other areas.

In Hinduism compassion is called daya, and is one of the three central virtues, along with charity and self-control. Vasudeva Datta, a 16th century Vaishnava holy man prayed to Krishna to deliver “all conditioned souls” because his heart “breaks to see the sufferings.”

In Judaism, God is known as the Compassionate and invoked as the Father of Compassion, and in Buddhism compassion, or Karuna is the transformative heart of his teachings, both for the self, and others.

Or as the Dalai Lama has said: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

How do you practice something you can’t see? It’s not like riding a bicycle exactly, but curiously the steps are very much the same. You choose to be genuinely interested in compassion, you pursue your interest spontaneously – choosing for instance to feel compassion instead of critical towards someone whom you believe has slighted or behaved badly towards you. You stick with the practice until you get good at.

One of the ways to cultivate compassion is using it to defuse anger, which is considered a low-level emotion, and usually disguises fear, and one of the very best ways to cultivate it, is to try feeling compassionate for yourself – which, when you stop and think about it is much easier said than done.

In fact, it’s downright difficult to be compassionate about what may seem afterwards to be obvious mistakes we’ve made, and yet if we can’t feel true compassion towards ourselves how can we feel it towards others?

Children, of course, can swing between compassion and sympathy, to cruelty and scorn in a millisecond, but as we grow up, our ability to be compassionate is often diminished by what we perceive to be condemnation towards us, and by the time we are adults, our natural compassion has got buried under a ton of beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.

But when one of the largest cyclonic wind systems on record has caused sixty deaths in Haiti before it even reached its destination of the Eastern States of America, then for most of us compassion becomes a natural response – and thank goodness for that.

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.
~ Thomas Merton

Meditation on: Our Inner Child

“The end of childhood is when things cease to astonish us, when the world seems familiar – when one has got used to existence one has become an adult.”
– Eugene Ionesco

Photograph of Anna by Candida Baker

My daughter recently turned 12, and over the past six months or so I’ve watched that perilous rocking between childhood and young womanhood with a sense of trepidation and excitement – on her behalf, and on mine too, I might add.

I could almost pinpoint the exact moment when lists of girlfriends gave way to lists to One Direction’s names, with Harry being Numero Uno of course; the moment when riding up the lane on her bicycle became ‘boring’; when going to the movies with mum or dad became no match for going with a rabble from school.

My daughter’s growing up – no doubt about it. And, paradoxically perhaps, I see part of my continuing job as her parent to help her stay in touch with her inner child – to help her, if I can, to keep her soul alive with those little things that have sustained and nourished her throughout her childhood.

I’ve seen Anna look after herself in dark moments by dancing, or by drawing, and as a small child she could summon her imagination and her humour to her rescue easily. May those qualities stay with her always!

Surrounded by Anna and her friends, I’ve been thinking a lot about the inner child recently – by the time I was 12 my mother was an alcoholic, my father was often drunk and abusive and for me childhood was something I wanted to leave behind as quickly as possible.

Through a friend’s posting on Facebook the other day, I chanced across a wonderful letter from the poet Ted Hughes to his then 24-year-old son, Nicholas. Nicholas was only a baby when his mother, the poet Sylvia Plath, took her own life, and sadly, Nicholas too committed suicide in 2009.

In part of the letter Hughes talks directly about the vulnerability of our inner child, and of its essential importance to our lives and our own understanding of ourselves. He writes:

“Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them…It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation. What doesn’t come out of that creature isn’t worth having, or it’s worth having only as a tool — for that creature to use and turn to account and make meaningful.”

In inner child therapy what is looked for is what therapist Robert Burney describes as the tools to unlock the magic of the inner child, without giving it free rein to drive the bus, and derailing life because of its lack of a proper place in someone’s life.

One of the main keys to understanding this internal secret garden is to remember what your child liked to do when he or she was young. Often, if we stop and ask our inner eight-year-old what it might like to do as a hobby, a surprising answer will emerge – an answer which can lead us towards a more creative, more joy-filled life.

 “The analogy between the artist and the child is that both live in a world of their own making,” wrote Anais Nin in her diaries.“Every child is an artist,” said Picasso, who knew a bit about his inner child, “the problem is how to remain an artist when you grow up.”

Such a multitude of grown-up concerns drive us away from that childish sense of glee and excitement in life – so many shoulds, musts, can’ts, fill our days, and as we grow older the accumulated weight of life’s lessons seem, well to me, I must confess, sometimes overwhelming.

Living in the country I’ve learned that sometimes something as simple as lying on my back under a tree and looking at the patterns in the leaves against the sky makes my eight-year-old grin with pleasure.

If I could say anything to my daughter now and have her remember it, it would be always listen to your heart.

As Ted Hughes writes: “The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”

Quote of the Week: 

Happy is he who still loves something he loved in the nursery: He has not been broken in two by time; he is not two men, but one, and he has saved not only his soul but his life.
G.K. Chesterton.

 

Wattle days are here again

And I love the great land where the Waratah grows. 
And the Wattle-bough blooms on the hill.” Henry Lawson

Photo by Candida Baker

So the Olympics have come to a close, and those of us who’ve been sleep deprived for the past few weeks can eschew the sofa for our beds at last.

It was just before our Australian contingent began to leave for London in their droves, that I noticed the wattle – the green and yellow bloom which is the inspiration for our athletes’ outfits – was starting to bud.  It seemed a happy synchronicity.

I love it when the wattle flowers begin to appear in their cheerful, sweet-smelling profusion; for me the wattle heralds the beginning of the end of winter.

The green and the gold… the uniform of our London 2012 Olympic team.

The combination of a bout of nationalistic fervor coupled with the landscape’s physical representation of that fervor set me thinking – how did Australia choose wattle as its national emblem and why?

I remembered how moved I was when the-then Governor General Sir William Deane, picked sprigs of wattle from the gardens of Government house to toss into Switzerland’s Saxeten River gorge to commemorate the 14 Australians who had died there in the 1999 canyoning expedition that went so horribly wrong.

“It is still winter at home,” he said during the ceremony. “But the golden wattles are coming into bloom. Just as these young men and women were in the flower of their youth. And when we are back in Australia we will remember how the flowers and perfume and the pollen of their, and our, homeland was carried down the river where they died to Lake Brienz in this beautiful country on the far side of the world. May they all rest with God.”

The push to make the wattle our national flower emblem was started by Victorian ornithologist Archibald Campbell who founded the Victorian Wattle Club in 1899.

A few years later he delivered a lecture entitled Wattle Time; or Yellow-haired September,putting forward the case for the wattle to be Australia’s National Flower.

By 1912 we had our first truly national Wattle day, and in the same year it was first introduced into Australia’s coat of arms by Royal Warrant.

Wattle, however, didn’t have a completely smooth run on its way to the top – there was another, and some might say, more splendid, more unusual, more perhaps uniquely Australian flower that many wanted to adopt as the floral emblem – the waratah.  Botanist and musuem curator R.T Baker wrote: “The expression, ‘the land of the Waratah’, applies to Australia and no other; it is Australia’s very own. In the Wattle, Australia has not a monopoly like the Waratah, for Africa has over one hundred native wattles, and it also occurs in American, East and West Indies and the Islands….”

But the wattle got a head start when South Africa looked as if it might commandeer the wattle for its own patriotic purposes, which was enough to send Australia into a flurry of wattle support, although even so, as late as 1913, both waratah and wattle flowers were used as decoration on the three golden trowels used to lay the foundation stone for the commencement column in the soon-to-be national capital of Canberra.

In the end of course, the wattle won, adorning our medals of honour, our stamps, our tea-towels and anything else we could think of along the way.

It even has its own personal day of celebration – while the waratah had to settle for being anointed the floral emblem for New South Wales.

Which is probably a good thing, because it’s hard to imagine sprigs of waratah being attached to lapels, or brims of hats, or gracing small spring bouquets. Hard too, to imagine these days anything other than the green and gold as a clarion call for nationalism. And curiously, of course, the Olympics are always held sometime between July and the beginning of September – exactly the time the wattle begins to bloom.

Wattle did you say?

National Wattle Day is the first day of spring – September 1. The day was originally conceived as a day to demonstrate patriotism for Australia by wearing a sprig of wattle, but over the years it’s come to be a day in which we celebrate our natural environment.

Acacia you didn’t hear me…

Wattles are Australia’s largest genus of flowering plants – of the 1380 species of Acacia in the world, Australia has close to a 1000, ranging from creepers to tall forest trees.  Australia without wattle is unimaginable – we would be left with a much drier, less colourful continent.

The symbolism of yellow

Was it something as simple as the bright yellow colour that attracted the attention of our early settlers? Yellow is the colour of the sun, which is associated with our third chakra, the solar plexus – the house of our courage and will power. Its positive attributes are joy and delight, sunshine, happiness and summer, but negatively it can mean illness, or cowardice – as in yellow-bellied. Perhaps it’s why yellow was chosen as the mediator between red and green – somewhere between danger and safe.

Quote of the week

“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” Iris Murdoch