It began with curiosity . . . and ended with a profound personal revelation.
Louise Atkinson and I met at a business breakfast. I help business people use the dynamics of conversations to connect, create trust and enjoy healthy, authentic relationships.
But Louise doesn’t have employees. Her co-workers are horses. I was curious, so Louise suggested I visit her ‘office’ at Whispering Sands.
I don’t know what I was expecting but when we entered the paddock to meet her five beautiful horses, and nothing unusual happened, I felt a little disappointed.
We talked casually while standing beside the eating horses, occasionally commenting on their playful or domineering interactions with one another.
As the horses moved around the hay, Louise and I stepped back to where we could also see the dark bay horse which had walked to the water trough on the far side of the paddock.
On the scattered hay behind Louise I noticed a short piece of orange baling twine. Pieces of twine often drop from the hay bales when I’ve put out hay for our cows, and my instant reaction was to pick it up to avoid it being accidentally ingested by one of the horses.
Then I hesitated. I thought Louise might find my action embarrassing.
She might feel I was making a silent criticism of her for not having noticed it herself and removed it.
She might think I saw her as lazy or careless, even though I could see no other pieces of twine on the ground.
I lost focus on our conversation as these thoughts bounced around in my mind. I had to make a deliberate choice – ignore the twine or risk offending Louise and pick it up.
‘Leave it’ I decided. It was unlikely any of the horses would eat it before Louise came back and noticed it herself.
My mother tells me that from my early years I’ve had a strong liking for orderliness – when it suited me!! (Growing up the state of my bedroom didn’t generally reflect this.) I also have a keen interest in nature and conservation, feeling dismayed when I see litter lacing our pavements or scattered around our parks and lakes.
So, often to my family’s embarrassment, wherever I go I frequently pick up rubbish and place it in the nearest bin.
Louise and I turned to leave the paddock and in just a few short steps there lay a small black fence-tie that had broken free. This time I did pick it up, telling myself it was more acceptable since it was right in front of me. No logic there!
From the corner of my eye, I saw the dark bay horse leave the water trough and walk to the orange twine on the hay. He stopped and very deliberately put his lips to it. And STAYED!
I burst out laughing, at which Louise turned to me in surprise. I explained what the horse was pointing to and my own previous inner dialogue. As we contemplated the lesson in this incident, the black horse left the group and joined the dark bay. He stood quietly by his side and I realised there was an even deeper meaning for me to find.
I also couldn’t help but make the connection between the colour of this horse and the common reference of a ‘shadow’ self.
My choice to leave the twine indicated how readily I unconsciously allowed what others might think to influence my decisions to do what was ‘right’ for me. When situations became uncomfortable, I merely paid ‘lip’ service to my own principles!
It’s one thing to stand true to your values when you are with people who know and love you, or when you can explain your reasons for doing so and feel reasonably confident they will be understood and accepted. It’s another to remain true regardless of the people you’re with.
And the deeper lesson?
Deep in my subconscious I harboured a subtle attitude of superiority . . .
I had been viewing the situation through the lens of judgment. I wouldn’t be able to think in terms of ‘laziness’, ‘carelessness’ or ‘criticism’ if this wasn’t true. Such words are words of judgement not love, acceptance or understanding.
And all this was silently and superbly communicated by Louise’s intelligent four-legged co-workers. No criticism. Just pure observation and kind revelation.
I left wondering what other great wisdom I might learn if I viewed others from a heart-space instead of a head-space.