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The Tao of Trudy
May you be at ease
I have a question for you. How do you know if a horse is happy?
Here’s the answer. You can see it.
I know Trudy is happy by the way she behaves. I can see it in her relaxed body, in the way
That’s how I know Trudy is happy.
I laughed while watching her train one day. She was having trouble holding a good rhythm and the correct lead in her canter. Whenever she got it right, the trainer and I both told her what a good girl she was and how pretty she was. That seemed to do the trick. She corrected herself and held a nice canter for longer than she had been doing up to that point.
Apparently being pretty is important to Trudy. And she learns best, as I believe we all do, from positive reinforcement.
Okay. So, here’s another question. How can you tell if humans are happy?
You’d think it would be easier, but is it?
Growing up in my family, there was plenty of sorrow but the pressure to show a happy face to the world was always there. When my mother passed away, I didn’t know what to say at her service, so I gathered up a series of quotes that made me think of her. One of them was a quote by Marge on The Simpsons, “Remember as far as anyone knows, we’re a nice, normal family.” It was shared with humor of course, but there was truth there.
How often have you heard someone say they are happy but everything around them would indicate they’re not? It’s almost as if people know how to say they’re happy much more than they’re able to actually be happy. I mean, what does happiness really look like anyway? I know when I feel that strange feeling that I think might be happiness, it tends to be coupled with the anticipation, the waiting, for that other shoe to drop. It’s almost as if I can’t trust the feeling, especially when I fear the letdown that may follow.
The sad truth is that most of us were not raised on positive reinforcement or in generally happy environments. We recognize pain and disappointment; we understand pressure and stress. It seems more real to us because that is what we know. That is what is familiar.
Is it any wonder that we and have a hard time recognizing or trusting happiness?
So I look to Trudy. What I see in her is how happiness is rooted in innocence. She really is such a joy to watch when she’s working or playing. Her happiness is obvious and blatant. It’s real, it’s in the moment, and she doesn’t second guess anything about it.
I want to be like Trudy.
One more question, and something we are seeing every day around us and in the news. How is it possible that some humans can appear to be happy when inflicting pain on others?
Recently I saw a trainer being rough on a horse in his care, including using an electric prod. I felt truly disturbed. I couldn’t understand why anyone would resort to this. Causing pain is not about teaching boundaries; it is cruelty and oppression. And yet this man seemed proud of what he was doing. The horses he works with may be compliant, but their eyes are glazed over and blank.
Clearly this man thought this mistreatment was how it should be done. It is how he was taught. He believed it showed his power and dominance. But what it really showed was his brokenness and fear.
I wondered what happened to that boy who grew into the man who felt the need to punish, dominate and control. When did he learn to distrust happiness, and when did kindness become something weak and disgusting to him? In the moment, his cruelty made me rage. His aggression was contagious, and if I’m being honest, I pictured what I’d like to do to him with that damn prod.
But meeting aggression with more aggression is why the world is so broken and I don’t want to be part of that problem. I want to find a better way.
There is a modern Buddhist practice called Metta that attracts me. The word Metta means positive energy and kindness toward others and the practice is known as a loving-kindness meditation. It may sound trite or naïve, but I find the innocence and simplicity of it exactly what I need to find balance and calm when all around me, and perhaps even inside me, is discord and rage.
A common Metta mantra is: May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you live at ease.
In other words: May you be Trudy.
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