Sometimes the nature of humanity breaks my heart. Like when I see people that I care about doing things over and over that simply don’t work. It’s human nature to get stopped in life, and even stuck from time to time. It's easy to look at someone else and think that we can shake them out of it. And then I find myself stopped and stuck, and I feel what that mucky mire is that’s got me weighed down dripping from my boots. Shame.
Shame is an aspect of humanity that seems to me like the most underaddressed big ugly beast of them all. It is so debilitating. One definition of Shame is, “A pervasive, negative emotional state, usually originating in childhood, marked by chronic self-reproach and a sense of personal failure.” Ew. So murky and sticky. But don’t for a moment think that you don’t find yourself loving to live there. It’s like a deep dark magnetic vortex, so easy to be sucked into.
Reminds me of a technique that is often used in horsemanship, especially with young or naughty horses, of teaching that horse to turn and face the human, providing an aspect of safety and respect. They learn to “hide their hiney”. Such is the definition of Guilt. To put it in human terms, it is understanding the difference between right and wrong and being willing to apologize, show respect, and restore the relationship. This is the purpose of this game.
But sometimes, horses get stuck. They start to think that the ONLY thing for them to do is turn and face. Perhaps a fumbling or fearful human has built this into them, and soon you have an animal whose sole built purpose in life is moving forward, completely stopped. This is the danger of Shame.
I have found myself there many times. Most recently was most frustrating, because I knew what it was holding me back. I knew that there was something that I had neglected to do to the standard expected of myself, and proceeded to beat myself up over it. I thereby avoided any forward progress. Some good friends reminded me of what I already knew, and then I saw what was missing: the circle. I was so focused on the problem and on hiding my hiney about it, that I forgot what I was there for- to make a brilliant difference.
Focusing on the problem and on the shame more, and on trying to make something right is not the answer. Getting connected to your commitment, goal, and purpose is. If a horse or human lives its life in fear of his hiney getting smacked, then life will look like simply trying to avoid a problem, a fear, or a negative interaction. I want my horse to find comfort and connection in a soft rhythmic pace on the circle, and I want to carry that into anything that we do anywhere, being free to connect from any angle, distance or speed. I want to be able to do that with myself and my connection to life as well. That can only be found in the trying and in the living.
One of the first rules in horsemanship is “look where you are going.” If a horse forgets what it means to be a horse, well then they don't make a very good horse. When a person forgets what it means to be a human, and finds themselves staring down the big heavy stick of failure, well then they stop moving forward. Somehow, whether it be through personal reflection and persistence, or a good friend dragging you out of it, the human needs to peel his eyes off the problem and direct his gaze back to the circle before he can move forward. And I promise, it’s a better view.