To have compassion is to understand another's suffering


Some of us experience trauma from the moment we arrive while others are knocked around later in life. Only one thing is certain; no one has an easy ride.  

For the most part, we all want the same thing. We want to be seen, heard and acknowledged. We want to know our lives matter. We want inner peace and radiant health. We want loving relationships. We want a balance between freedom and security. We want creative expression and we want to live a life of purpose. Not only do humans share these similarities, but all beings and all consciousness deserve it just as much as we do. We are not the only beings that experience suffering and we are also not the only beings who offer compassion to others.

Animals and plants are experts at compassion. Horses are dependent on the herd for safety against predators, dolphins are brought up in a culture of politeness, trees and mushrooms share resources and live in an interconnected community. Humans, however, have been taught that exploiting others for personal gain is acceptable. Yet, a mushroom seems to have more inherent intelligence.

Compassion is the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another's suffering and you feel motivated to relieve that suffering. The term I use for this kind of horsemanship is "Compassionate Horsemanship" because our intention, in any interaction, is to relieve suffering and build trust so that we are able to experience more peace and joy together.

The process involves stillness and listening. Once we quiet our bodies and minds enough, we can hear what the horses are telling us. Not always what we want to hear, but what they are actually saying. If we slow down, pay attention and acknowledge what they are experiencing, we gain a more dimensional understanding which cultivates trust. 

Compassion is something we can all practice to improve. Practising compassionate listening with animals is a great way to improve our skills with humans. If we do our best to understand what they are going through and to help to the best of our ability, we are offering peace.

The ability to have compassion for another is more powerful than empathy or sympathy. As we become more compassionate towards horses, we choose to stop doing many of the things we used to do with them. We are led on a path of discovery of new ways to connect, new ways to play, new ways to communicate. And this change is not limited to our relationship with our horses. It might be for a frog who is stuck in the watering can, or the goat who accidentally got her horns caught in the fence, or the bird who hit the window, or a homeless hungry dog. It might be for the truckload of pigs being shipped to the slaughterhouse, or the baby dairy cows being taken from their mothers, for the trees being chopped down and for any neglected, abused and exploited ones.

Whatever we witness happening to animals is also happening to humans. Offering compassion is a powerful way to be of service. It is vital that we offer it freely and generously. Compassion must be for ourselves as well as others. Self-compassion is different than self-love. The more compassion we have for ourselves and others, the more unconditional love and peace will arise.

Thich Nhat Hahn says:

"Compassionate listening is crucial. We listen with the willingness to relieve the suffering of the other (person or being), not to judge or argue. We listen with all our attention."

When I embarked on this project a few years ago, I was looking to find the essence of connecting with horses in a meaningful and mutually beneficial way. What I discovered was that the horses are inviting us to explore the principles of what it means to be a good human. As we near the end of the series, we can see how the themes the horses are teaching us are exactly the ones necessary to create a better world. It makes me laugh when humans think they are training horses, when in fact, it's the other way around.

1 comment

  • This is so, true. Such a great way of putting all those feels of compassion into words, and distinguishing it from sympathy and empathy.
    I’m looking forward to hearing more and would definitely cite you as a resource in future writing.
    Thank you.


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