May 25, 2020
For the past few months, most of us have been at home with our families 24/7, quarantined to stop the spread of the coronavirus that has been ravaging the globe. With stay-at-home orders beginning to lift, people are now starting to venture out, hopefully still following hygiene and social distancing guidelines to keep us all safe until medical research develops more effective solutions to stop the spread. Besides the close interaction we have had with our immediate families over the last few weeks, we will once again be interacting face-to-face, at a distance, with others in our work environments and in the businesses that we frequent.
As we begin to emerge, this is a good time to reflect on any silver linings to the dark cloud of this unusual experience. There is one thing that especially stands out. We have re-discovered the importance of living in the moment and being present with those around us.
We were forced to stand still and find that quiet place within us. We continue to shed tears for those who are suffering, for those we lost, and for those we cannot be with except at a distance or through FaceTime and Zoom calls. But we have also discovered the joy of being with the people around us – of learning together, of cooking meals together, of playing games together, of making music together, of having more meaningful conversations, of living in the moment.
Horses are masters of living in the moment. They are ever-present with their herd members, always alert to potential dangers around them and ready to flee together as a herd for their own protection. This ability to live in the moment is how horses have survived for millions of years. Inattentiveness for a horse can mean the difference between enjoying a meal of green grass or being served for dinner on a mountain lion’s plate.
Like humans, horses are social and emotional beings. Horses remember their learning experiences from the past – the good ones and the bad. Unlike humans, however, horses do not dwell on the past. Their feet and mind are firmly planted in the here and now. They do know when its feeding time and look for their human handlers to deliver their grain and hay. But they, otherwise, do not worry about the future. They easily forgive humans, as predators, for the mistakes we make. And after any threatening situation, they can quickly shake it off with a good roll in the grass. They lower their heads and return to calmly swishing their tails and grazing peacefully together. They know how to savor the current moment of life.
This uncanny ability of the horse to be truly present in their environment is one of the key characteristics that makes leadership and personal development training with horses so effective. Their constant awareness helps us to see our difficulties with living in the moment. Horses teach us to be authentic and show us how important our presence is to establishing trust and connection. They show humans how being present and living in the moment can help us improve our relationships with those around us.
We obviously have more complicated lives than horses do. Unfortunately, we often let that complexity affect our relationships with others. Instead of truly listening to others and having meaningful conversations with our family members and co-workers, our minds are too busy multitasking – planning how we are going to respond, agonizing about things we have said or done in the past, thinking about all the other things we need to do, or worrying about the future. In this age of social media, we also find it difficult to put our phones down and interact with those that are with us. We are physically there, but we are not mentally present. We are not living in the moment.
Just as a horse’s physical survival depends on mindfulness of their current environment, so does the survival of the relationships we establish at home, at school, and at work. We are better parents, better friends, better co-workers, and better leaders when we fully participate in the life around us. So, remember the time with your family during this quarantine period. Remember the difference that your presence made. Take that thought with you as you head back to your educational or work environment and think about what you can do differently to improve your presence with others. And if you need help with that, ask for a little advice from a horse!
Stay tuned for our next blog, Look to the Herd – Part 4: Authenticity.
Susan and Joseph Urban
Dashing W Farm
(Based on a presentation by Susan and Joseph Urban entitled Workplace Dynamics in the Age of Social Media: What We Can Learn from a Herd of Horses).