April 13, 2010 by  

It’s early on Easter morning, April 4, 2010, and I woke up thinking about life and all of the challenges we are facing with the global economic crisis, environmental changes, poverty, war, competition for limited resources, and just, well, all of it! I am used to asking for answers to these kinds of unanswerable questions by paying attention to what floats through my mind in the early hours before my rational mind takes over. What a surprise to see an image of Forrest Gump running in the desert. It came to me then that I want to be more like Forrest and remember what life was like in the innocence of youth before my ego and my rational mind hijacked my spirit and my soul.

Some notable quotes from my new role model, Forrest, might just enhance my point:

Forrest Gump: My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”
Mrs. Gump: You have to do the best with what God gave you.
Forrest Gump: Mama says they was magic shoes. They could take me anywhere.
Forrest Gump: Now you wouldn’t believe me if I told you, but I could run like the wind blows. From that day on, if I was ever going somewhere, I was running!
Forrest Gump: When I got tired, I slept. When I got hungry, I ate. When I had to go, you know, I went.
Elderly Southern Woman on Park Bench: And so, you just ran?
Forrest Gump: Yeah.
Forrest Gump: My Mama always said you’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.
Jenny Curran: Were you scared in Vietnam?
Forrest Gump: Yes. Well, I don’t know. Sometimes it would stop raining long enough for the stars to come out… and then it was nice. It was like just before the sun goes to bed down on the bayou. There was always a million sparkles on the water… like that mountain lake. It was so clear, Jenny, it looked like there were two skies one on top of the other. And then in the desert when the sun comes up, I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the earth began. It’s so beautiful.
Jenny Curran: I wish I could’ve been there with you.
Forrest Gump: You were.
Forrest Gump: Mama always had a way of explaining things so I could understand them.
Forrest Gump: What’s my destiny, Mama?
Mrs. Gump: You’re gonna have to figure that out for yourself.

Well, I wish I could be more like Forrest, and sometimes I can feel his innocence and awe for life without all of the shouldas and ought- tos coming in to disturb my present moment. I know with humility and extreme gratitude that my teachers, the horses, my dog Grace, and all of the animals and nature are really speaking to me, if I would only listen! Remember how Forrest ended up being in a lot of places just because he showed up?

Thinking about all of this brought me back to the work of Anthropologist E. Richard Sorenson and his research on what he calls preconquest, characteristics of the minds of indigenous peoples, versus postconquest typified by modern rationalism and the consciousness that develops from these different worldviews. His research is extensive and interesting as an understanding about what happens when the logical, rational Western mind overtakes the liminal awareness of the indigenous tribes and the animal kingdom. Preconquest consciousness is rooted in feeling and sensory awareness. Like our horse teachers, individuals in such societies are highly sensitive to changes in muscle tension in others indicating shifts in mood. If others feel good then you feel good; if others feel bad then you feel bad. Sorenson calls this “socio-sensual” awareness.

I believe that many of us are throwbacks to this type of consciousness and that our sensitivities and “sixth sense” are a result of us recovering our true natures. We feel what is not right but often feel helpless to change the situation. In my 30 years of experience as a therapist, I encountered many sensitive individuals who had been broken by the system or had used drugs and other means to dull their senses to survive in this paradigm. When individuals who operate from an epistemology of feeling encounter reason, they will automatically be overshadowed by reason. Individuals operating from a feeling perspective will be abused or silenced by having their experiences matched against the rigorous logic of rational analysis. Feeling individuals feel invalidated, and innate understanding is blocked by “truth.” The question is “What is “truth”? Our opportunity is to be able to integrate our understanding based on scientific knowledge and mystical wisdom and to create a new paradigm which is inclusive. Clear reason is rooted in the wisdom of the body through feeling which is certainly something the horses demonstrate for us.

This is a lot to digest, especially on a warm Sunday morning in Tucson, Arizona. However, I believe so many of us are interested in horses and other forms of animal assisted therapy for just some of the reasons stated by Sorensen’s work with the indigenous tribes of New Guinea. We need and are looking for this type of consciousness, awareness, mindfulness, and sensibility; and I believe working with the horses is one of the ways to be in this state of grace and openness. I especially like Sorensen’s observations that preconquest groups are both individualist and collective. When we look and observe the horses in their natural settings, we see this behavior and way of being all of the time. This consensual type of leadership allows for individual creativity and “socio-sensual” awareness when the motivation for individual well-being is integrated with the well-being of the entire community

Maybe this is an opportunity for us to learn from indigenous people, the animals, and to remember what Forrest Gump had to say. So thank you, Forrest, for reminding me, as one of my role models, to stay in the present, enjoy this day, and be grateful for Spring!

Kathleen Barry Ingram
April 2010


February 14, 2010 by  


Really listening from a deep heart space (the Yin) is paramount when I am mentoring or coaching an individual since only real and lasting change happens in relationship. As a relationship coach I hope to offer people the possibilities to take action (the Yang) in their lives for positive and sustainable change.

In the early 90’s I was in one of the many processes in my life of reinventing myself when I started a private psychotherapy practice in Tucson after being in the corporate world at Sierra Tucson. Bernadine Johnson (now retired and very married!) and I began a series of workshops we titled, Become Your Own Role Model. We were women who had grown up in the 50’s and 60’s ourselves with very traditional female role models and found ourselves self-supporting and single without much of a role model for how to be and how to do this. The initial offering morphed into future workshops around this theme with horses as co-facilitators. The horses and most definitely the mares ended up being very good role models for this important message: Know and believe in yourself.

What is it that keeps people stuck in old ways of being, believing, and behaving; even when they think they know that other possibilities are out there and they feel they should make a change? In a conversation with David Young last fall I had the opportunity to delve deeper into the distinction between fear and vulnerability when he said, “I am a man and I don’t think so much about vulnerability, I think about risk.”

Actual fear is an outside factor where our physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual safety is being threatened versus inside fear or the feeling of vulnerability. However, because of our wonderful limbic system (our body’s survival mechanism) both fears feel the same in our bodies. The positive side of vulnerability is the novelty of meeting some part of yourself that is new or that you are rediscovering and the unlimited opportunities which are available with this new way of seeing and being in the world. Do you remember hearing, Feel the fear and do it anyway[1]? This is a very good motivating statement and with the horses help I have been able to coach people on the differences between these two types of fear.

I recently worked with a client and a herd of 3 horses (a gelding and 2 mares) where this concept came to life for her and for the other group members. One of the horses, the gelding, began engaging with her even before she entered the arena. We were discussing what she called “the power of fear” and after scanning her body for information and finding where this fear was lodged I asked her to turn around and look at the 3 horses in the arena. The gelding had come up to the gate from a considerable distance in the back of the arena. With 3 horses loose in the arena we had the opportunity to see which horse would step forward to engage with her and perhaps give her answers to her questions in this present moment experience. She went in safely and began to use her sensing body to determine proximity and the feelings which arose with each step towards or away from the horse. Prior to going in I had given her a short description of the differences between fear, vulnerability and the action of risk and coached her on the distinctions. The client and the horse engaged in this dance of relationship for some time and I asked her to walk away to see what would happen. Previously she had stated that her biggest fear in relationship was the fear of abandonment, and that in the past she compromised her values and her beliefs to not be left and experience the emotions which might follow. She and the horse had established a limbic connection through the a concept called emotional resonance (where you feel and resonate with another being emotionally); therefore there was a possibility that this might feel just like it had in the past when she took the chance of walking away or considering a different path in a relationship with a loved one. One of the biggest benefits from experiential learning with the horses is the immediate heart felt sense of connection they can give us (one we often want to keep forever). By taking the action of walking away she felt in her body how it might be to risk this imagined abandonment once the connection had been made. He never left her side and this woman, not an experienced horse person, began to realize what the dance of relationship with another whole being could feel like. She felt the yin and yang of it, never lost her sense of self, and came out of the arena radiant and fully alive. After she came out of the experience and shared what she had felt prior to going in and what she hoped to receive from the horse, the group members gave her their perceptions of what they saw and felt watching her with the horse. They validated for her not only what she felt and experienced, but as conscious observers gave her information which was new and might prove valuable the next time she stepped into relationship with another human. My sincere wish for her is that she remembers this experience in her whole body and can reclaim her sense of self in every relationship.

The other participants wanted to learn more about this risk or yang action and I gave them a little of what I am currently teaching about this. If we only experience vulnerability without action, we may feel weak and even experience “learned helplessness”[2]. The key is to become conscious and take action or risk, a yang movement, only after we have accessed the feeling, or yin place, we are presently experiencing. If we take the risk unconsciously without an assessment of the possible consequences of this action, the likelihood of success is limited and the probability of failure, injury or even death is greater. Some people may be more apt to take the risk unconsciously while others may be immobilized and remain stuck in the same behaviors and patterns. So we must: first notice the sensation or feeling and identify the emotion; second engage in self-regulating our arousal systems so that we can be present and cognitively aware; and third become curious and take conscious thoughtful action (the risk part).

As a mentor/coach I really love assisting individuals in finding this lost part of self and to re-igniting the original blue print of their souls. Together we can explore the yin of it and with support I can help you move into the yang of it. So whether you want the opportunity to engage with the horses or wish consultation and support with me in person or by telephone, consider giving yourself this gift for the New Year.

[1] “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway” by Susan Jeffers

[2] “Learned Helplessness” a concept attributed to the work of Hans Seligman