The gift of harmony

22 12 2019
Walking through the woods

Horses are drawn to harmony. Discord bothers them as I witnessed this week when the herd stopped what they were doing to focus on the sound of someone talking on their mobile phone as he walked down the lane next to their field. The tone of the phone conversation was impossible to ignore: a ferocious exchange consisting of four-letter expletives, fired one after the other. All four horses were on high alert.

Now I know that tempers can be short at this time of the year, and our horses are used to swearing; they live next door to farmers, whose choice of language can be colourful, but there was something about this incident that started me thinking about harmony. It seemed to me that the horses were alerted because something felt peculiar in that particularly charged conversation; it seemed to project even over a high hedge a certain force, and lack of balance that had an immediate ripple effect on five other beings, who became part of the exchange.

It was only when the man on the mobile had walked out of hearing range that the horses were able to resume eating their bale. For horses, returning to balance is an essential part of living in harmony, but it is not so instinctive for us humans, especially those with Christmas trains to catch or cars to park in crowded supermarket car-parks. Humans under pressure often resort to self-interested behaviour, and we justify it because we notice that everyone is really out for themselves, and we’d be a fool not to whip into the last space in the car park even though we’ve seen the person next to us has been waiting just that tiny bit longer. Small actions make up our daily lives, and it’s tempting to ignore what we would rather not acknowledge. Because we often gain from our blindness, it’s tempting to live life pretending we ‘didn’t see,’ or ‘didn’t notice,’ or ‘didn’t think.’

Horses are so interesting to observe because they have a talent for harmony. Mean looks, threats, and quarrels flare often, but are resolved in seconds, as each horse looks for a way to become settled and at ease. Expletives, grudges and long-running personal battles are unnecessary within a harmonious herd. Imagine if our lives were more like this?

Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness, a book of immense practical wisdom from which I have gleaned so much to inspire my teaching, believes it is possible for harmony to become our home base. This is not a utopian vision, even though it sounds like one.

“Imagine a world in which a critical mass of human brains – 100 million? a billion? More? – spend most if not all of each day in the responsive mode. Eventually there would come a tipping point, a qualitative alteration in the course of human history. People would still lock their doors at night, still reach for a profit, and still disagree and compete with one another. They would still need to be guided by values and virtues. But the ancient internal fires of fear, frustration and heartache would be banked low or extinguished for lack of fuel. Remember how you feel, yourself, when you are resting in a basic sense of peace, contentment and love. Remember what it’s like to be with others who are also rested in this state of being. Imagine what your family would be like, your workplace and your community, too.”

Imagine needing nothing except the gift of harmony. The horses show us the way.


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