The morning I met Annie started out as usual. A quiet and mild misty June morning on the ranch, I made coffee and set out two horsey mugs with cream and sugar, with two western placemats on the log table on the deck of our heritage log home on Abel Lake. My greens shake in hand, and our dog Karma at my side, I sought to start the day early with Annie who arrived to the ranch late last evening from Vancouver for counselling. To the chorus of the morning birds, I wandered the grounds searching for her. She was not at the cabins. Her bed was made, almost as if no one had slept in it. The worry shook whatever slumber I had left in my eyes. Retracing my steps, and resorting to check the last place I expected her to be, I left the cabins and picked my way in the misty cool of dawn across the property to the great heritage barn doors.
Usually the horses were quiet in the mornings, but I knew something was different that morning, as a few neighs alerted me when I approached. I paused in the doorway and my eyes searched the dim-lit barn. Almost instantly, my eyes settled on the small figure of a woman sleeping beside our mare SS Prime Tyme.
Her beat-up hat concealed half her face as I neared her, also noting her pointy toed cowboy boots. Her small arms stroked Tyme’s neck, and the sight pinned me in place. There was a softness in the connection between the two, one I had never seen of Tyme; a feisty Pinto Arab Saddlebred that resisted almost everyone that dared to tame her, and yet, there she was, lying in the shavings next to a small stranger, quiet as a mouse, still as a statue and in love.
I startled her. Big frightened eyes tossed my way as she stepped back. Tyme snorted and stood up, her long white mane covered in shavings.
Annie and I had only met briefly the night before, when Annie had come down to the ranch to see me. Her tired eyes had avoided contact and her arms almost never left her side. The rims around her eyes suggested a lack of sleep, and the lip biting told much about the anxiety turbulent within.
I offered her coffee, promising her we would come back to see Tyme. She fidgeted all the way back to the ranch house, keeping distance as I tried small talk, sifting for a common opening through which we could communicate. Her eyes never left the ground along the way and her replies never surpassed two syllables.
Once she had settled onto a chair at the table, with a simmering cup of coffee before her, I could tell her thoughts were afloat. Her eyes searched the room and her shoulders quivered now and then.
“You know, I’ve never seen Tyme so calm with anyone like that.” I smiled. She reciprocated weakly, keeping her eyes on her cup. Slowly she raised it to her lips and inhaled. Then she drank deeply. The liquid must have struck a chord for she beamed up at me with the brightest smile I had seen that day. Beside her, on the floor, Karma wagged her tail enthusiastically, watching her with knowing eyes. Annie reached out as if to touch her but then receded.
“No, it is quite alright.” I urged. She touched her lightly, and Karma’s warmth and soft eyes radiated onto her and she smiled again. Our conversation truly began after she had downed her cup of coffee. Gently, I inquired, needing her to be free with me if I was to help her. She only divulged a bit of information, before suddenly, she clammed up and beads of sweat began to form on her brow.
It was then I decided we both needed to drink in the beauty in front of us. We walked down a path to the shore of the lake. Watching the peaceful water returned the calm expression to Annie’s face. This bit of her I had only seen in small flashes back at the kitchen.
“Annie, suites you perfectly,” I smiled, taking in her soft facial features and those trusting eyes. Her face lit up briefly, a faint smile graced her lips, one that told tales of a beautiful young woman with a dark present and an uncertain future. It worried me she had sat out in the barn alone and in the cold, clinging to Tyme.
“What brought you out so early?”
“I was feeling breathless back at the cabin.” She grimaced and her eyes glistened. Her pain was vivid in her eyes, circled by tender swollen skin. “Something hangs heavy over me, smothering me. I can’t break free. I was going to come to see you at the house crying but, the lake…” She paused, casting a wistful gaze over the spread of glass before us. “And the sounds.” We both listened, the loons had not yet begun their orchestra. Then the crickets drummed and, in the distance, the coyotes yipped.
“There’s a peace here. It’s like coming home. Which is strange as I have never been here”
But she was about to understand why, because I had already decided when I first saw her I would and must help her. I offered another cup of coffee and her favourite breakfast of fruit and avocado whole grain toast. She drank her coffee intensely as I sat beside her and we talked. Annie’s attention shifted uneasily throughout our discussion, there was an underlying edginess that kept her at bay, especially when she talked about her traumatic experiences; memories she couldn’t shut out.
I realized this was not of an external force but of her own doing. Most of the people that came here were tied down by painful memories of the past that they could not let go of, and Annie was no different. Each reminisce made her shudder and averted her attention. It became too difficult to continue talking about them. That day as I taught her how to groom, saddle up and ride, I started introducing to her lessons in the Science of the Heart.
A Few Years Later:
The birds came alive in the trees as the sun rose on the horizon over the lake, radiating a newness across the ranch. Mid spring cooed soft whisperings over the rolling pastures with the shimmering long grass waving. This promised the calm of new beginnings, the joy I would share in the company of one of my strongest clients, a woman named Annie. Her waif like smile floats to mind as I think of the haloed intensity in her eyes, and her bravery willing to take life by its horns. Her hearty laughter carried across the ranch as she gave me a beaming smile, the morning light shining on her face untouched from makeup, her light from within. She had just arrived from our heritage log cabin beaming with triumph. But the joy in her eyes did not conceal the emotions of the night before, and I quickly noticed puffy, tender skin surrounding her eyes. Had she had been crying? The pause in my chest only held a moment, as I quickly learnt her tears were that of joy. “I feel so safe here, it really is like coming home”, she said, her cowboy hat weathered from her past adventures, her long dark hair curling around the edges. Stretched in front of her were the same cowboy boots, a dusty red and denim blue with pointed toes scuffed with pride.
Annie had been struggling over the past few years with appreciating her original character and beauty. She had been frail, and withdrawn when I first met her, with hollow eyes that fled from any eye contact and small shoulders that carried a weight much too heavy. My heart felt her pain. But with it, out-poured hope, hope I could do only my best to help her, and I gave her the intelligent heart tool. The progress she made was transformational, and gradually, I could see her vibrant self piecing back together.
We spent our time marvelling at the ethereal blue of a beautiful morning sky, creating animals from puffy clouds, while listening to the calling of the coyotes in the hills. As she pulled on her chaps and sipped her coffee, our dog Karma licked her face and knocked her avocado toast off the log table. Instead of reacting, she tossed her head back and her laughter rung musically. For her to experience her joy first hand, one that was non-existent years ago, is something that I cherish.
“Karma you are a bulldozer!” she exclaimed! We both laughed, as Karma smiled and wagged her tail.
Later, we wandered out at the shore of the lake where a still sheet of dark glass reaches across to the other side of a tree line. The lake is surroundedby tall silhouette spires, the forms of sleeping trees. The stillness only lasts a moment as yodelling drifts across the calm surface. Mating calls from the loons, their hooked necks stay afloat the water as they communicate. We remain wrapped in this dreamy musing state, until she says in a flat and almost mournful voice,
“I wish we could roam the hills and the pastures beyond it. I could get lost and never come back.” Her eyes glisten with both a golden but sad joy. I feel it too, the yearning to mount one of our horses and run free. The ranch sits secluded by surrounding hills and trees, by our lake in the Cariboo, somewhere in the backcountry, with miles of land to explore just minutes away. The idea tingled at my fingertips. I was more than delighted at the thought of this.
I had packed brown bag lunches of peanut butter and honey wholegrain sandwiches, some nuts and cans of V8.
“Let’s take a coffee down to the barn and say good morning to the horses!”
She brightened a little more as I said this and, in that moment, I recalled her dedication to the animals. She had been falling apart when she first met SS Prime Tyme, our spicy Tri coloured Pinto Arab Saddle-bred, but we call her Tyme for short. Tyme is one of the few horses with spirited wildness on the ranch; fierce and poised in stature. I never could have imagined that these two would have been a match, but they were from the first day a few years ago. Somehow their hearts met halfway and from that day, Annie found herself engrossed with giving Tyme her all, spending day after day in devotion to caring for her, giving her baths and brushing her long white mane and tail.
In many ways, the process mirrored her efforts to regain herself; each gentle stroke across Tyme’s back, echoed subconsciously within her, consoling and invigorating the frail child within her that was left from her psychological trauma.
She raced me to the barn, stopping momentarily as a burst of flapping wings sounded over our heads, heralding a flock of barn swallows taking flight, with the soft chirping of their younglings calling after them. Their nests sat a few feet above our heads in the old rafters of the heritage barn’s roof. You could almost see the small pink beaks of their chicks, snapping from above the barn door, with their sleepy heads peeping over the brim of their nests.
A familiar neigh from inside reeled our attention, and it was Annie’s turn to take flight. Annie’s small arms wound tight around Tyme’s neck, not nearly long enough to make it halfway.
Tyme whinnied joyously, leaning into the hug. Annie only let go to stroke her neck. I gave the two friends their moment.
“What about if we just ride out and never come back?” She beamed back at me, eyes sparkling.
“If you had a choice where would you ride to?” I asked amused.
“I guess I just want to leave everything behind, to leave the tedium. But I like the fact of coming home and having a place to go to. And as you’ve said before, happiness is found within, no matter where you are. It’s that calm in the midst of chaos and confusion; a completeness that never fades. It’s not your circumstances that call the shots and tell you what your state of mind should be. Peace of mind is a choice and a commitment.”
Her wisdom and insight astonished me. For a moment, profound joy fills my heart, and my eyes water.
“You see Kim, I have been listening to you all these years.” She added with her genuine smile, a smile that reached with instant magnetic connection.
Annie, a petite woman with three children, had been shaken with grief when I first met her. Her abusive husband had just died. The trials of domestic abuse had broken something in her, somehow her personality shifted, leaving in place a frail child, one that wished to shut the world out. More than often, she would disappear, leaving friends and family worried. She wore her emotions on her sleeve, erupting into tears, rage and frustration at the slightest whim. Her unstable state was her undoing, one that kept her from help.
It was the tools of Heartmath that gave Annie room to calm herself when dealing with difficult emotions. The exercises helped to regulate her heart rhythm, giving her the mental space to reflect and assess situations without responding impulsively. The progress was gradual but sure, allowing her to tackle her anger, anxiety, frustration and self-doubt.
How? Annie learnt that ten minutes of heart focus breathing twice a day and did them during those minutes it triggered her during stressful events which helped her to make better choices. One of the many gifts of the process, was the carefree joy that restored to her life and a tremendous increase in her self-esteem. Annie was an example of someone who had replaced her darker side with a lightheartedness, resilience, and compassion. A trio that had affected her life and relationships positively.
Seeing this progress in Annie after years of dedication fills me with a wholeness that cannot be replaced. I believe that resilience and calmness in the face of adverse events and difficult emotions is something that needs to be practiced, not just for emotional health but mental and physical health. We must adjust as we go with the changing conditions of life, which is often uncertain and unpredictable. By learning flexibility and openness to change, and practicing the tools that work for us, we are equipped for any challenge that comes our way.
The techniques of Heartmath are unique from traditional therapies such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, because rather than ask you to reframe your thoughts cognitively, it treats the emotional turbulence directly and works quickly to ease stress through the heart’s intelligence.
Heartmath exercises interrupt this negative pattern by training us to change our heart rhythms. This shifts us away from our stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline towards our feel-good neurochemicals such as serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins. With practice we can create a new healthy baseline pattern that allows you the ability to stay calm and balanced in the face of daily stressors.
It is more effective to follow your heart’s intelligence, rather than listen to the constant misleading chatter of your mind. The cognitive part of your brain gets bombarded with information and confused with false assumptions, ideas, and judgments. By pressing the delete button on that chatter and asking what your heart says and feels, you receive an uncomplicated answer. The wisdom of your heart allows you to feel peaceful despite life’s uncertainties. Heartmath is a powerful assistant for any of our life challenges.
“The power of the heart is capable of overcoming without effort every negativity. To start using the power of the heart is the most significant choice you will make in life” Steven Redhead ; author of “Unleash the Power of Your Heart and Mind.”
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