One of the greatest rewards of being a Feldenkrais practitioner are the wonderful students you meet along the way. Occasionally, a student becomes a friend and ends up being the teacher. You never know when, or how, it will happen.
A few years ago I worked with a psychotherapist who specialized in Equine Therapy. He loved Feldenkrais (of course), and asked me to teach a workshop to a group of therapists at his ranch. It presented a fabulous opportunity for me as well as for the entire Feldenkrais community. You see, as a practitioner, I feel it is my duty to get out reach out to a variety of different populations and “spread the word of ‘Krais,” so to speak.
The workshop was a huge success, and when it was over I began packing up my materials so I could leave. Suddenly my friend announced, “Now we are going to take it to the horses!” I was speechless. When I found my voice I said, “No, no….no! No horses.” I have nothing against horses. As a matter of fact, I love horses. I love the way they look, feel, and even smell. I just don’t have much experience with them, and teaching Awareness Through Movement to a group of them was far beyond my comfort zone.
It was too late. The therapist never even heard my protests, or perhaps he just pretended not to, which is probably more likely. He was already heading to the corral and I had no choice but to follow, especially since he hadn’t paid me yet. Maybe that was part of his strategy.
He reviewed a list of safety practices as I hurried to catch up to him. “Don’t touch the fence; it’s live and you’ll get an electric shock that will knock you on your ass. Don’t walk behind the horses; you’ll get kicked. Most of them are friendly, but watch out for the little one; she bites. And don’t let the big one head butt you; his head alone weighs twice as much as you do. He’ll knock you out.”
The big one must have been listening to all of this, because he lifted his magnificent head and stared at me while I received my marching orders. I tried to avoid eye contact in the hopes that he would ignore me. He didn’t. He slowly walked over to me and lowered his head. Uh-oh, here comes that head butt I was warned about. I closed my eyes and braced myself for the impact.
Instead of the blow I was expecting, this gentle giant lowered his massive head and nudged me a few times. I looked at him and I swear he winked at me with his soft, sweet, intelligent eyes. He seemed to say, “Don’t worry, I’ll show you the way. We’ll do this together.” What a horse! The next two hours were exhilarating, and more fun than I had in a long time. Best of all, I knew I had found a friend for life.
I was heartbroken to learn that my special teacher and sweet friend passed away a few weeks ago. I will always remember that afternoon, and the many lessons he taught me. Teachers come in every size, shape, age, and even species. Opportunities to learn are everywhere. Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone, no matter how terrified you are. And sometimes, you have to say good bye to a friend. No matter how much it hurts.