Archive for July 2015

Equine Assisted Mindfulness – Week Two   Leave a comment

My second session was Tuesday night, and it started with a review of what was covered during the first session, and also a check-in on how my homework went during the two weeks in between sessions.

Now, I have to admit that I wasn’t very good at keeping up with the homework.  I was asked to try to meditate, in one form or another, every day, but I didn’t actually start until the first weekend after the first session.  Sitting still and tagging my thoughts so I could let them pass through my mind without dwelling on them worked somewhat – sometimes I did it without an issue, but sometimes I couldn’t help but dwell on the thoughts, or yell at myself for getting distracted when I was meant to be focusing on something specific.

I’m not very kind to myself.  Then again, isn’t that partially why I’m in this program in the first place?

Anyway, my best attempt at “sitting still” meditation occurred last Sunday while I was in the pool waiting for a friend to meet me.  I laid back to float while I waited, and I ended up clearing my mind and focusing on nothing but my breathing, and the feeling of the water enveloping my body, and the sound of it lapping against the walls.  My mind cleared, and I actually got what it means to be in the moment – as I floated, I was completely and totally present.

Floating experience aside, I generally did better at meditating while moving (mostly swimming laps) than while remaining still.  So, I relayed this, and Jo indicated that we’d be doing a walking meditation during the session, and that she’d also email me some guided meditations to listen to, and a video to watch.  So, there’s that.

We talked about the table I completed in minimal detail; I get the feeling it was meant to be an exercise on recognizing my own judging mind rather than something to be shared.  And then we moved on to the topic of the session: non-judgement.  As in the last session, we did a reading and then a discussion – the topic of the reading was non-judgement and we talked about the difference between observing and acknowledging, and judgement.  We also talked about applying mindfulness when judgement is inherent – say, when watching your child misbehave, or when eating a fantastic meal.

Jo shared a quote from What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula that I think I may be able to apply to my own mindfulness practice (although the quote is actually about meditation):

“Here is no attitude of criticizing or judging, or discriminating between right and wrong, or good and bad.  It is simply observing, watching, examining.  You are not a judge, but a scientist.”

This appeals to “logic brain”, although I think “Depression Brain” may have issue with it.

After the discussion, we did a walking meditation around the old track and then through the pasture.  Jo and Jess walked behind me so I could focus on my steps and not be distracted from the environment.


The air was heavy with humidity, and I was sweating buckets the entire time, but the walking meditation worked.  I focused on the way my leg lifted and how I planted each foot on the ground, and after a bit was able to really be in the present moment.  The tracked curved from one side of the pasture to the other, through the woods, and I noticed things while I walked, but without judging them: the sound of the cicadas in the trees, for example, were soft at the start, then heavy and loud in the center, and non-existent at the end of the track.  Birds were singing, and fluttering in the canopy and the undergrowth.  The ground under my feet was uneven and dry but not hard, and it wasn’t difficult to keep my balance.  The temperature was significantly cooler in the center part of the walk than it was on either end – all in all, even though I was concentrating on my steps, I was still able to observe what went on around me, and I did it without judgement.  The pasture part of the walk went nicely as well; I interacted with the horses who came to see me, and being under the open sky in the sun was as pleasant as walking the track.

Overall, I’d describe the whole walking meditation as a good experience, and I think I might even be able to recreate something like it for myself, if I can find a good space to do it.  It helped, of course, that there was no one on the walk other than me (and Jo and Jess, of course).

After the walk, we moved to a small paddock and started a horse-specific exercise: I was asked to move one or both horses through a set of cones and then into a boxed-off area (with cones) where they should stand still.  Neither horse wore a halter or a lead rope, and neither piece of equipment was available to put them.

The first thing I did was look around the area.  The cones were small ones and made a pathway from one end of the paddock to the other (right to left from where I first entered).  The boxed-off area was in the top left-hand corner.  Against the fence on the lower side were two hula hoops, and on the ground in front of me were two pool noodles.

I ignored all of the props, aside from the cones themselves, and went up to Trooper (the dark bay that I dubbed “I’m okay” in my first week).  I rubbed him, and scritched him, and told him what a good boy he was, and he stopped eating grass to pay attention to me.  I then took a few steps away, and he followed me, so I repeated the sequence.  Then, he decided to eat some grass.  I kept petting him and talking to him, and then took two steps away and patted my thigh with my hand, and called “C’mon, good boy.”  He came right to me.

When I walked away the next time, Trooper followed me, but when I tried a third time he just stood there.  So, I went back to the first method.  Between the two, I was able to lead Trooper through the cones and into the boxed area, where I petted and rubbed him some more.  All in all, it took about 10 minutes.

I decided to try the same thing with the second horse, and so I went over and rubbed her and talked to her.  She liked it it, but she also wanted to graze and the methods that worked on Trooper didn’t on her.  I did manage to move her across the paddock a bit by leaning passively on her – if one leans on a horse, they’ll move – but when the time was up I still hadn’t found the exact method that would get her to follow me (although, I suspect if I’d had carrots it would’ve been simpler).

Jo and Jess came into the paddock and asked about how I’d felt during the exercise, and if I got upset with the horses at all…and I was surprised by that.  It never occurred to me to get upset with the horses, and I tried to explain my reasoning to them: a horse does what it wants to, and I was always taught that the secret to dealing with them is to make them want to do what you want them to do.  Jess then asked if I noticed any judging mind, and I told her that I was judging my own actions by how effective they were…but with the mindset that one thing not working didn’t mean something else wouldn’t work.  And on that positive note, the session was done.

So, what did I get out of this session?

I learned that miss horses more than I thought I did, and that I want to take Trooper home with me.  I figured out that approaching my situations from a place of discovery and learning rather than judgement keeps me from getting frustrated, and allows me to be kind to myself…and I also now have a game plan to do some walking meditations on my own.

Currently, I don’t have homework; as there was a technology fail during my session, Jo was unable to print out the Week Two packet for me.  She’s going to email it, and we’ll schedule my next session then.

(I’m going to try not to worry about Week Three until it arrives…but the topic is food-related.  I’m a little nervous.)

Equine Assisted Mindfulness – Week One   Leave a comment

Last Thursday night, I started an Equine Assisted Mindfulness program at Standing Hope Equine Therapy in order to help with my emotional eating.

I had my intake appointment several weeks ago and managed to forget about the fact that I was supposed to start a week ago last Tuesday…so I’m a week later than I wanted to be, but I’m trying to practice this thing called “radical acceptance” to prep for week two and I’m not going to go on and on about disappointing myself.  The thing already happened and I don’t have a time machine; I need to keep moving forward.

(Not bad, eh?)

Anyway, I thought it might be helpful to keep a record of what happens during each session and also the homework I’m assigned so I can track my progress, what works for me, and what doesn’t.  I also thought it might be nice to do it as a running review of this particular program.

My sessions are at Scarborough Fair Farm in Chester Springs, PA, and  I don’t think I can do it justice in words, so I’ll put up two photos I took last night.

Standing Hope 1 9Jul15 Standing Hope 2 9Jul15

Look!  Alpaca!

In addition to the alpaca, there are chickens and goats, and cats (five individuals came to talk to me yesterday). And, of course…horses.

I love horses.  I love the way they look, and the feeling of their muscles under their hair.  I love the way they sound, even when they’re just breathing.  I love the way they smell, all earthy and vegetative and deep.  And I love riding them.  I started taking riding lessons in the second grade (age 7), and I know I was put on horses prior to that.  I get horses.  I understand horses and, usually, they understand me.

So, the session started with a review of what mindfulness was, and we went over some of my patterns and picked apart what my inner critic (judging mind?  I think?) tells me.  I told them (did I mention there are two therapists all for me?) about my “useless/worthless” script (more on that in a moment), and we teased out when it’s most likely to happen and when I’m able to either ignore it, or push it aside.  It turns out that I’m pretty good at pattern recognition; check out the list below:

Mindless, emotional eating happens:

  • In the evenings, between coming home from work and going to bed,
  • When I don’t have something specific to occupy my mind, because
  • That’s when judging mind comes in to tell me how useless/worthless I am.
  • And…it is more likely to happen when I am by myself.

I was also able to piece together the fact that the mindless eating only silences the voice while I’m actively doing it.  Once I stop, the voice starts again and I might go refill my bowl again.  I say might because I don’t always do it…and sometimes I do it over and over again until I am full.

So, once we picked apart the patterns and talked about them, we read from a section of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook that was about radical acceptance.  I actually own it; the amazing Dr. Barb and I worked through some of it during my five years with her.  Anyway, the gist of this particular reading was that radical acceptance means accepting something completely, without judging it, and that creates opportunity for responding to situations in new ways.  For example, I have issues dealing with my youngest brother – he criticizes and says things that imply that I am stupid, or lazy, or inferior to him.  I tend to react in certain ways to this, some of which are harmful to myself.  But, if I find myself in a situation like that, I don’t have to do what I’ve always done.  I could look at the situation, accept that it is happening without thinking about what I could have done to avoid it, and then move from there.

It’s a little freeing to think that I can unstick myself, but also a little terrifying.

After we finished the reading, we went to the barn, and I met three horses.  I spent a little time with each one, petting and talking to them, and then got the chance to walk each one down the aisle and back.  The first horse, a mare, walked a little faster than I was expecting, and I wasn’t really focused enough on what I needed to be doing to lead her effectively.  The second horse, a dark bay gelding, walked really well for me – I suspect he’s a bit of a push button horse – and I felt more like I knew what I was doing.  The third, a very large grey, was new to the program and he didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing, and I did not take the lead that he needed.

When the walking was done, I was asked to “name” the horses according to the following pattern:

  • Numbing – mind on autopilot, not really concentrating
  • I’m okay the way I am – pleased with how things are going
  • I’m <insert negative adjective here>

I named the dark bay “I’m okay”, the grey “I am totally out of control”, and the mare “Numbing”.  The last was by default, and when I mentioned that, I was told that often that numbing state is a default.


I was told to pick a horse to groom, and I chose “I’m okay”.  I took him out, led him to the cross-ties, and then spent a very happy time (fifteen minutes?  maybe?) grooming him with curry combs and brushes, and I became totally focuses on that activity.  My mind cleared, and I thought about nothing but getting the dust and dirt off him and which spots he liked having brushed and which ones he didn’t.  The time flew – when I was done, I couldn’t believe it.

We then took all three horses out to be turned out, and I walked “I’m okay”.  He was excited to go out, but I (mostly) managed to keep him in check until we were in the pasture and his halter was removed.  Then, he and “Numbing” cantered off to join the rest of the herd.

We closed the session by discussing how I felt during the grooming session, and then how I felt at that particular moment.  I was surprised to admit that my mind was completely clear – no thoughts hanging over me, no inner critic, nothing.  I felt lighter than I had in days.  We talked about other ways to get the same lightness and clear mind, and I agreed to complete the following homework before my next session:

  • Take five minutes each day to sit quietly with my thoughts.  I’m to let them come into my mind, tag them with a category, and then put them aside.
  • Take time to do some moving meditation – walking, swimming, etc. where I focus on nothing but the movement.
  • Complete the “Thought Grid” from the DBT exercise – this means listing a distressing situation, what my old/current coping strategies are, and the unhealthy consequences of those strategies, then what new coping strategies I could implement and what the possible consequences of those new strategies could be.

I’m going to keep writing about each session, and about how the homework is going, in the hope that it will support this entire process, and also in the hope that it might be helpful to someone else?

The Fine Art of the Fight (TW)   Leave a comment

*****Trigger Warning: this post references self-harm*****

I default to survival mode when all seems lost.  This means that I’m more likely to seethe than I am to address something that bothers me straight off.  For all of my belief in open and honest communication, I’d rather not say something that hurts someone I care about; it’s not conducive to keeping the status quo.

But sometimes I just can’t help it.  The seething turns into a boil and BANG! goes the lid, and the contents of my brain come roaring out in a great hot flood all over whoever happens to be standing near me at the time and, it seems, especially if that person is someone I care for.  This is not conducive to survival, and Slytherin!me gets extremely pissed off when I do this.

As she should.

This Thing that I do is not fighting – it’s more like verbal assault, and it beats at people until they want to do everything they can to get away from me.  And no matter how sorry I am…and I am sorry…it doesn’t undo anything.  I can apologize, and I do, until the rivers go down and are fordable again, and the cows come home, and it doesn’t fucking matter.  The damage is done, and now it’s a matter of bringing in the team to assess what can be repaired and what can’t.  And the assessment makes me afraid.  I’m afraid that one day the bridge will be irreparably broken – washed away in the flood of vitriol that pours out of me – and all who are caught in its wake will be swept away.

There’s a subtle art to a fight, and sometimes I am very good at it.  I’m capable of seven-hour arguments where pauses happen to handle life, and no one is permanently damaged, where both sides end up understanding, if not agreeing, and the terminus is compromise.  But…there are times when I cannot see the nuances and steps to take and its in these times that I end up cutting to wound, and when it’s over I want to curl up in a corner and never come out again.

Tonight was one of those times.  And for all that I do not want to hurt myself afterwards, I do.

Posted July 6, 2015 by veggiewolf in Depression, self-esteem, Triggers