It had been a long day. One more stop before I go home, to clean stalls and set up tomorrow’s breakfast. The barn nightlight creates shadows as the horses poke their heads out to see who is visiting so late. Preoccupied with my day’s work, I grab the rake and wheelbarrow and get to work. As I scoop sift, dump dirty shavings and manure, the sessions of the day roll through my head – was it a full moon? What on earth was happening with my clients – so much resistance today, from everyone. How weird- no wonder I was so tired.
Scoop, sift, dump. Like a stall –cleaning machine. My mind wanders….What was up with that teenager? She was so combative – it reminded me of parenting my own kids in the most challenging times… That never happens in therapy sessions though…I can usually find a way in, especially with that kid. The horse, whose stall I had invaded at this uncivilized hour, seemed to need to stand exactly where I needed to clean. “Come on, buddy, move over” I coaxed – a step here, a step there, he always seemed to be more, not less, in my way. Gentle nudges, contorting myself to reach around, finally the stall is done.
Next stall, back to the replay of my day. What was going on with everyone today? The couple who had been doing so well were suddenly at odds, irritated by each other and by me. Back to basics and they found some peace, but dang it, they should be beyond that, shouldn’t they? …just as that thought pops in, my next housekeeping job is challenged by another 900 ponder who can’t seem to get in my way enough. “Really, Max? Do you need to stand here right now?” He blinked at me calmly in the dim light. Once again, contort, scoop, sift, dump. Max moves closer, nosing the cart and threatening to dump two dirty stalls’ worth all over his newly clean floor. I yank the cart out of the way, just in time.
One more stall, my horse, to do. Before I even enter, the movie of my day begins to replay. My big gentle friend blocks the door completely, before I even get to scoop, sift, dump. “Dude”, I softly say, “move your big butt”. Nothing. He extends a velvet muzzle my way…I know the game. I touch the very tip of his nose with one finger, and he sticks his tongue out. I retract, he extends and we start again. He can play this game for hours. But I am in a rush, so I shove by him to clean his day’s leavings. He is certain, though, that his ideas are better. Sidling between me and the cart, he again extends his soft nose. Ok, I get it…one finger, a big pink washcloth tongue emerges. I put down the rake. I reach to pet his neck, but he pulls away. Nose out, finger touch, tongue flick. I scratch his always itchy shoulder, but again, he moves away. “Nope,” he seems to say, “I only want this interaction”, and extends his nose again. I am ready to pause my chores, give him a snuggle and get on with my cleaning but he moves just out of reach. Slowly I get the message – he will only receive what he is interested in receiving.
Deep breath, horse smell, long gaze. A decision is made. Today is already done, no more replay. “Pay attention,” he seems to say, “you’re not the only one here.” I need to focus on what he is showing, not telling, me. I can give only what the receiver is ready to take. I step back, he follows. Another step, he follows again. Hands in my pockets, we regard each other for a moment. He steps forward a bit more, sniffs my jacket and together we take a moment. I realize, once again, my desire to give or to heal never trumps the needs of a receiver. That teenager? She was doing exactly what she did with her mom, and showing me what I need to see to help them both. Today’s couple? Well, they had a bad day. They weren’t ready to receive from each other, or from me. When I pushed, they retreated. When I paused, went back to the smallest connections, they came forward. It’s a lesson I learn over and over again. There will always be time to scoop, sift and dump. Right now, I pay attention. I extend my finger, and the soft muzzle meets me halfway.