The Thankful Dance

The Thankful Dance


With a deep desire to understand and experience the bond with horses and all of life, I began rereading Carolyn Resnick’s incredible book, ‘Naked Liberty’, for the fourth time in as many years. Each time I immerse myself in her stories, they become more a part of the fiber of my being as well as a deeper understanding in my mind. They resonate at the level of truth, which nourishes my soul.

On a perfect sunny spring day in May, I closed the entry gates to our property and called my herd to join me as I worked out in the gardens. This invitation allows them to share our human territory outside of the boundaries of their pastures and dwelling places. They are allowed to feast on all of the lush grass around the house, but not the flowers, berries, fruits and vegetables. When I am feeding the ducks their grain, I may offer them a handful, but have asked them not to remove the lid to the big can to help themselves. Having them try this gave me opportunities to practice telling them “No!” politely but firmly and more than once escort them away from the temptation. I do reward them regularly, though, when they come to the fence as I am calling the ducks and they stand quietly. This earns a crunchy handful, taken right up to their soft muzzles. These are opportunities for mutual and respectful understanding with my horses that I am learning by being a student of Carolyn’s Waterhole Rituals. It is give and take. Offer and receive. If they come barging up to eat the strawberry plants, they are driven off. But if they come quietly and tell me that the strawberries look delicious, I agree and pick some for all of us to share.

Part of enjoying sharing territory with them in our human space around the house is taking time to journal, read and meditate with them nearby. On this glorious day as the birds kept up a constant chorus of springtime celebration songs, I pulled up a chair amongst my grazing beauties and reread Carolyn’s story called Dancing with Mustano. Remembering it as one of my most favorite stories, I felt so blessed to be in the midst of the birds, horses, dogs, ducks, and cats at my feet as the sweet scent from the blossoms of the Mexican Orange bush wafted under my nose.

Closing my eyes, I could visualize Carolyn as a small child, discovering the power and beauty of her own wild nature through her connection with the magnificent wild stallion, Mustano. My heart leaped in celebration feeling how she honored him as he said his final goodbye as he rejoined his herd and thanked her for their mutual dance of connection and joy. I felt awe for the remarkable level of maturity and presence she had to feel grateful and not ask
for more. She surely wanted more, as it is human nature to want to extend our pleasurable experiences. Yet she was focused on their mutual dance and thinking of and feeling for her equine partner as well as herself.

With the image of Carolyn as a precious and knowing child behind my closed eyes, a picture of another innocent child appeared. It was my son Evan on the day of the Thanksgiving party at school the year he was five and in Kindergarten. His class had prepared a thankful song and dance and were planning a field trip to the Swinomish Tribal Community Center for a celebration feast of friendship. It was to honor the relationship of the Pilgrims and Native Americans and their first Thanksgiving in a new land.

The morning of the party, Evan had gone to his closet and found his moccasins and a fringed Indian Brave outfit created by loving hands sometime in the early 1900’s that I had found in an antiques shop that was just his size. He brought them to me and asked if he could wear a feather headdress and have me paint his face. His eyes were wide and eager and his questions wise. I knew that he wanted to dress like Indians he had seen in pictures, because he was fascinated by their culture and ways and especially loved the many stories of their oral traditions along with their music and dances. And feasting!

“I see,” I said in response to his question, wanting to acknowledge his desire. “This party is hosted by the Swinomish Indians and I am not really sure how or if they painted their faces. I know they wear ceremonial masks in some of their dances, but we want to make certain that our choices would honor their people and ways.” ” I know! ” Evan said, smiling. “The Swinomish people have totem poles. Could we paint totem animals on my face?” “That sounds like a very good idea,” I told him as he ran off to get the face paints.

He smiled broadly at his reflection in the mirror when he saw the Salmon and Orca Whale totem designs that he chose for me to paint on his cheeks, his almost white blonde hair curling around his sweet face. Dressing in his fringed vest and moccasins, we headed to school where all of the children were excited to rehearse their song, “Thanks Alot” recorded by a favorite folksinger named Raffi. When the bus pulled up to the community center on the Swinomish Tribal Reservation, the air was filled with the scents of good food and ancient sounds of the big drums. All of my senses were turned up and I could feel Evan electrified with delight and anticipation, too.

The procession joined a large circle of tribal members who shook hands with each person and welcomed them as our group formed a second outer circle. Both circles moved after each pair smiled, shook hands and expressed mutual thanksgiving. Evan and I watched the Swinomish men at the circle of big drums as they beat their rhythms of celebration. The elder at the drum was Robert Joe Sr., who is a beautiful and deeply spiritual man revered by all who know him. Though he was focused on leading with his hide- covered drumstick, he looked over intently at Evan, studying him carefully, a deeply serious expression on his face. We continued walking toward the circle and he kept up a steady beat on the drum until they roared to a final crescendo and then fell silent, the soft reverberations still filling the large room. He sat for a few more moments, his gaze still on Evan. Then slowly he got up and strode purposefully in our direction, dressed in a traditional vest similar to Evan’s outfit, a woven cedar headband across his broad face crowned with silver hair. His expression remained serious as he stopped in front of Evan and his eyes tracked his small body from head to toe a final time. We both stood still in his presence, knowing he was the leader in this room, wanting to show respect for his wisdom and life experience.

After what seemed like a very long time, he extended his large brown hand down to Evan’s small pale one. Evan reached up for him to grasp it. “You honor my people” he said in a booming voice that carried through out the large room with vaulted ceilings. I was blessed to be a sacred witness to this exchange as I could feel Evan’s shiver of delight reverberate throughout his entire body since my arm was around his shoulder. Then Mr. Joe bowed his head and told us we were welcome and thanked us for coming. We all shook hands and entered the circle as the large elder man and small young child exchanged grins.

No one has to remind us of the atrocities of domination that horses have suffered at the hands of humans and indigenous peoples at the hands of their own species. Learning to understand and honor the culture of horses and the culture of every group of people is our path to peace. Carolyn’s dance with Mustano was a mutual gift. Evan’s choice to honor his native friends was received in the same way.

When we remember to be as children, we can live together in the kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

– Connie Funk

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