The barn was huge and white, with doors that rolled open wide enough that even the big tractor passed through with room to spare. There were two tall silos on the east side, and a loft with arched rafters that formed a dome high above the hay. You could climb the ladder up and build forts with the barn cats. The light that came in through small windows, diffused by dust and hay, had a way of making things look sacred, like those holy cards with prayerful saints in halos. Our barn was simply the warmest, most inviting place in the world. And much bigger than a church. What was I supposed to think?
Is this not the barn story you expected this time of year?
It isn’t everyone’s favorite holiday. Some of us have been hiding in the barn to avoid it for years. For some of us, a Hallmark commercial is enough to trigger dark memories. Not everyone is up to the effort of marketing the image of an ideal family. Some of us don’t even have human family. We might be mourning loss or just in need of a quiet place for introverts. And sometimes a barn is more welcoming to black sheep. It’s less about defending spiritual beliefs and more about finding a safe haven.
It’s that time for my annual PSA about holiday visits to the barn. You can leave the bells at home. Enough with the antler head-bands and chipper seasonal music. This barn is their home and it’s rude of us to bring our tinsel and lights and white-hot stress along. We are such agitators, waving carrots in the air and calling in high-pitched voices, as if announcing our arrival makes the party complete.
Hush. This place is sacred. We are guests here. Speak the native language and try to blend in with the herd; lick and chew. Are you ever humbled with respect for these incredible creatures? Is the sound of them eating any less holy than a Gregorian chant?
“We are all creatures of one family.” –St. Francis of Assisi
It’s okay if you got yourself a horse blanket or a new saddle pad. Maybe you brought yourself peppermint treats to give out. It’s fine; us humans get nervous if it’s too quiet. But your horse doesn’t dream of those things. He dreams of safety and peace. The equine translation of that is release.
No matter how many times we hear that horses want a smaller cue, that less is more, and that the best reward is release, we fight it. We want to give more, have more, do more. We fund studies about whether horses prefer patting or scratching, when a still hand is utterly eloquent. We still can’t believe that release–not asking for something–can be a reward. It’s almost anti-human–like they would be better off without us.
So, some of us train our horses to be needy, to fill that lack within us, as if insecurity was intelligence and fear was normal.
And some of us try it their way. We listen to their calming signals. When they avert their eyes and look away, they’re telling us that we can be less aggressive; that they mean us no harm. Listen to them. Take the cue, breathe slower, and turn your body noise down. Then wait. Ask for nothing. Give nothing. Be still and breathe with empty hands. You are enough just as you are.
What if the herd had it right all along? What if when we lay down our perceived wants and needs, our wishing and trying, we can share that Peace in Want of Nothing. Release; can we give it to ourselves?
Because in the end, all the chatter about churches or barns, inns or stables, doesn’t make a lick of difference. The message has always been Peace.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.