There is a word/concept in Tai Chi: P’u. According to Wikipedia, it means “the original nature prior to the imprinting of culture on an individual – P’u is a state of being one returns to.”
I often wonder and imagine what my horse was like when she was first born – how did she emerge? Was the mare, her mother, allowed to lick her and begin her developmental process? Was she allowed the space and time to bond with her mother and to learn how to be a horse? Or was there a human stepping between them to try to mold the foal in its first breaths of life so that it would be more accepting of human touch and tools? Was she imprinted to serve her masters first, to serve human expectations from her first staggering steps in order to survive?
I was also eleven when my imprinting fully took hold. I was imprinted by my historical time and place – by expectations for girls – by the values of my parents drawn from their own conflicts and stories – by my peers – by a single, random act of physical violation and cruelty. These events shaped my outward self as surely as if my feet were bound.
My body, my clothes, my hair, my behavior, all were managed and trained and subject to intense scrutiny by everyone, it felt to my teenage self; most of all, of course, to my own self judgment, which was imprinted so deeply, I now am the harshest judge of all. I never drop the reins on myself. I pull at my own mouth.
It is this imprinting I want to shed by the side of the road to create and share a calm, clear, and joyful connection with my horse. That is my purpose.
I was also “imprinted” with a solid foundation and support of love and a value of compassion to others – and that will allow me to change. I developed behaviors and an outward “identity” in order to survive. But my inner awareness, my p’u, my original nature, is still there, within me.
Being with my horse returns me to this – my “original nature” – before the “imprinting of culture.” I begin to shed my own imprinting and my horse is my guide. Together we find our way through the tangled forest towards a clearing full of light, water, and tall green grass.
The journey to ride with and through fear forges this connection. Like my horse in her herd, like the foal dashing through the field. My mare teaches me to hear this call
to “drop the reins” when the imprinting rises in panic, or fear
to be in my body, my seat in the saddle, the solid wave of my horse
to deal with fear, ride through fear, dance with fear
like someone with vertigo learning to pirouette.