Recently I attended the funeral of someone who I had not seen in many years. Returning to my home town, I felt sadness at the prospect of seeing family and friends weighed down with the heaviness of grief and sorrow. The service was both beautiful and poignant with the sharing of many personal stories from years gone by.
After the funeral, I met someone who I hadn't seen in over twenty years and although I had been fond of the person in many ways, I had always felt that they had never fully engaged with me. It always felt like they just couldn't see me for who I was and I always found this a jarring experience. I must admit that it was with some trepidation that I met them again as I was expecting a similar reception. I don't know whether it was because of the passing of years on both sides, or whether the harshness of grief had exposed a deeper layer of feeling in this person but we had the most wonderful and moving exchange. It felt, real, authentic and warm as if we were both properly seeing each other for the first time. So much of this was non-verbal too and I became very aware of how much we transmit feelings through our eyes. We exchanged so much of what we could not express properly in words through holding each others gaze with warmth and compassion. It felt very healing and made a great impression on me. A wall had been knocked down that could not be rebuilt.
I have thought about this exchange many times since it occured and I can't help but think it has great relevance for horses. We all love to be seen for who we are. This is the foundation of all authentic relationships. In this aspect I feel horses enjoy authenticity every bit as much as humans. They need it as much as we do to prosper and grow in their relationship with us.
The philosopher Martin Buber called this authentic relationship 'I-thou' as opposed to 'I-it' relationships:
'When a person perceives their relationships as I-It, they are engaging with the world as if they were the subject and others the object of their examination, of their experience. In this mode, they are functioning as an objective observer rather than as a participant. Everyone that they encounter is to them as mental representations, created and sustained by their own mind, without a life of their own; an object to serve his or her interests. Therefore, the I-It relationship is in fact a relationship with oneself, not a dialogue, but a monologue. It is the mode of science and philosophy, the mode through which we come to know things intellectually, and to put things to use for us. The I-It mode is the normal everyday way in which people relate with the things, and even with the people surrounding them.
In the second type of relating, which he calls I-Thou, an individual (I) enters into a relationship with others in full recognition of their status as living beings, with their own separate and unique natures (Thou). When a person perceives their relationships as I-Thou, they are engaging with the world as if both they and the other person were the subject, both full participants in the relationship. The other person is met in their entirety, not as a sum of their qualities, but in a real dialogue with a partner, as if the other person were the entire universe, or rather, as if the entire universe somehow existed through them.'
Martin Buber was not saying there was anything wrong with an 'I-it' relationship at times, and that we all swing between the two. He just highlighted the perils of too much 'I-it' in our lives!
In a world where fakery and artifice can sometimes feel like the norm, how wonderful it is to honour and value real exchanges that come from the heart. I make a daily practise of conveying to my horses 'I see you for who you are... I see you right to your very core.' I love this holistic way of engaging with other beings, not least of all because it makes it hard to think harsh or judgemental thoughts. Criticism defintely lives in the realm of the 'I-it' relationship. The 'I-thou' relationship makes room for ALL of who we are, not separting or categorising as 'good' or 'bad'.
Maybe this is the biggest draw to horses for us all. They are masters of authenticity, inviting us to see them anew every day, and to dare to slip off our mask and see ourselves.
Just be real friend. Be who you are, and where you are at. That's enough, and it's the only way forward. Most of us have put on enough masks in our life time, to have completely forgotten our original face. We've become far too clad with the heavy coats of expectation, suffocating under the weight of the ways we think we ought to be. You can drop that garb. There's always mystery at the naked core of who you are, and that's just fine. It's not that we must rediscover some definable self, and hand that image over for validation. Rather, those solid definitions we cart around with us are heavy enough as it is, but we've continued pushing them despite the distress. We've gotten so used to that awkward play of needing to be a somebody, as if that somebody were other than who we already are. We've forgotten how to let go with all the spontaneity of a flowers growth; forgotten the beauty of our own personal bloom. That we are a fluid sweep of light and dark. That our faces, like the moons, wax and wane. You don't have to be any which way, other than the way you are. That sort of self acceptance is the innate flourish, is the fluid self cycle, is the way back into life. Don't fool yourself into believing there is a better disguise. Strip down to the bare beauty of your authentic state in this moment, and move from there.