4. You Can Never See You The Way Someone Else Sees You
The concept of being aware of your body, for most people, sounds easy enough, especially when compared with some of the more daunting un-human-like concepts before it. In fact, this one seems much easier considering it only concerns you being able to control what you do with all of you. But unfortunatelywe find that this–and the next couple precepts–are amazingly difficult for people, as they have to do with youbeing aware of and changing you,instead of just internalizing a new concept or changing the way you think about something.
Believe it or not, everything that you do with your body, from driving a car, to cartwheeling, to eating with utensils, is an accumulation of information. Humans, being what are called an altricial species, means that we are completely helpless at birth, with very few instincts (the opposite being precocial, like a horse, which is born more or less physically and cognitively able to function on the same level as an adult of the species). This means that the majority of tasks you carry out on a daily basis are in fact the product of millions of tiny snippets of information you have gathered since you were an infant. Just the task of walking, for example, is pretty amazing when you consider the information required to carry it out: raise foot up just enough to swing lower leg forward. Place weight on foot. Balance for a second. Transition weight onto leading foot. Balance again. Repeat process with other leg. Bear in mind this is all while maintaining balance and posture with the rest of your body and placing feet in safe areas that will allow for transition. Now who says walking and chewing gum is not a feat?
Everyone knows that children are clumsy, sometimes infuriatingly so, but this is not always through lack of awareness. Through falling and scraping their knees they are learning how to run without falling. Through spilling the milk they are learning how to hold the glass with the correct combination of strength and precision so that next time it doesn’tspill.This phenomenon is called proprioception, and essentially means “one’s own grasp”. It is not something in which we are born proficient, but through years of practice we become so accomplished that it slides into the back of our mind and receives about as much attention as the truly automatic processes, like breathing and digestion.
But this poses a big problem: because we don’t have to think about what we are doing with our bodies, most of the time we have no idea what our bodies are actually doing! The simple fact is that, since we cannot see ourselves, we have no idea how we are moving, or standing, or twitching, or even what we look like.
Recently we saw a fascinating video on the science of attraction. Now, obviously, the science behind who you are attracted to has very little to do with horses, but one of their experiments does sum up very nicely people’s lack of awareness of themselves. In the video, researchers photographed various couples and then showed each individual two pictures of him/herself. Unknown to them, the photos were the exact sameexcept that one was flipped, a mirror image of the actual photo taken. The individual was then asked to pick out which photo looked more like them. The majority of the time, they answered the mirrored photo. When the same two pictures were shown to their partner, 90% of the time their partner chose the actual photo, not the mirrored one.Many times their partner even remarked that the mirrored photo didn’t actually look like them at all! Now what does this tell us?It shows that the “me” that we see and the “you” that others see are completely different. You may not think that you smile or hold your head in a particular way, but they are very distinctive parts of the “you” that others know and recognize.
Lack of bodily awareness becomes a huge problem when it comes to communicating effectively with horses. Since it is 100% body language, from communication to customs, it is imperative that you are always conscious and in control of every part of yourself and every movement you make. Being aware of what you are physically doing at all times is difficult, but it is rewarding when you begin to see the results. Watch a video of a true master riding. It is amazing how quiet they are and how little they are actually doing.
That should come as no surprise, though, when you think of it from the horse’s perspective. Imagine how most people ride, flopping and bouncing around with no control or even awareness of what they are doing. And now imagine that the same rider wanted to ask their horse for some maneuver, say a sidepass. Can you see how difficult it would be for the horse to have to decipher when pressure from your right heel means “step over to the left” and when it just means “don’t mind me, I’m just flopping around up here again and accidentally bumped you”? But this is what we expect from them!
Now, some of you are probably saying “I’m a good rider. I don’t do any of that.” But that is the whole point: you can’t see what you are actually doing because you are too busy doing it!Alright, so maybe you are a good rider and don’t exactly flop, but I can guarantee that no one has as much awareness of what they are doing as they think that they do. If we tell a student “don’t raise your left arm,” one of the most common answers we get is “I’m not.”Now you can insert almost any instruction into this exchange, but the point is that the student has no idea that they are doing it. They can’t feel it, and they are too focused on everything else they are supposed to be doing or not doing to realize that it has become a problem.
Even very small changes mean something to your horse. Your shoulder dropping, your spine curving, your leg slipping back, stepping forward or away, etc. are all things they are aware of and cause similar changes in them. But in general, the only thing people see is what the horse is doing, not the thing that is causing them to do it. If you ask what the horse is physically doing at any given moment, most people can tell you and with great detail: the horse is bracing, counter arcing, crossfiring, jigging, breaking gait, throwing their head, dropping their shoulder, clenching their jaw, on the forehand, wringing their tail, hollowing their back, crowhopping, and the list goes on and on and on. But if you asked the same person (without looking) to tell you which of their hips was cocked forward, which hand was higher than the other, if their spine was straight, or if their right toe was more turned out than the left, many years of experience has shown us that they probably couldn’t tell you.
People place far too much importance on what the horse is doing and far too little on what they are doing; the funny thing is, if they would instead just spend their time and energy learning to control their own body, their horse’s body will come under their control as well. Your horse notices every move you ever make, but through our own lack of awareness of those same movements we teach our horses to ignore us completely, and then have the audacity to get angry with them for not responding when we want them to.
Below are two links, one is a video and the other is an article. We thought they were interesting resources in conjunction with this precept. Enjoy!