Gray Butterflies

by James Cassese LCSW

As winter ushers in early sunsets and chills the morning air, my thoughts have drifted back to a warm spring afternoon at Mistover. Walking in from the field, Union had nudged my arm in a way that made me stop for a moment. Following his gaze, I spotted a furry black caterpillar making its way across our path.

A wise and seasoned horse, Union seems to always have something to teach me. I have learned to pay attention.

I smiled at his apparent curiosity about the little bug, and found myself wondering whether it had any idea that it would, in just a matter of weeks, be transformed into a totally different creature. Was the caterpillar at all aware of what life had planned for him?

Union lifted his head to look me in the eye, as if to ask, "Do you?"

While years of Zen study and a Mindfulness-based psychotherapy practice have helped me remain firmly in the present, even as that present transforms from day to day, it's true that when I began Equine Energetix, I couldn't see where it would eventually lead us.

We offered "Seeing With The Heart" as our first workshop, hoping to provide substance along with spirit. In the months and years that followed, even as the field of equine-interactive learning and psychotherapy grew around us, JoAnne and I remained focused on offering solid opportunities for personal growth that were also fun and spiritual. It followed the Zen motto prescribing the path to enlightenment through the devoted actions of the everyday: "Chop wood, carry water." In simply carrying on our work, we would never have guessed that our workshops would touch as many lives as they have and fostered so much growth and development in the people who have taken them.

Although Mindfulness is something that I consider to be a vital aspect of conscious living, I wasn't sure how many people would be interested in pursuing it through Equine Energetix. Yet, like that caterpillar crossing the road, I followed what felt like a natural progression and developed our Mindfulness in Everyday Life workshop. And to our surprise, we had an overwhelming response to both programs we offered in 2012.

As part of our dual commitment to horse and human, in April of this year we hosted Bob Schrei and Donna Thomson of Source Point Therapy (, a noninvasive energy medicine. We invited an extraordinarily diverse group of acupuncturists, veterinarians, massage therapists (some that work on horses, others on humans), psychotherapists, and laypeople. Under Bob and Donna's guidance, we learned an incredibly powerful and simple approach to healing, and with Trooper and Kezetha's help, we extended the technique to horses. Along with a network of other practitioners of Source Point around the country, we are developing and refining the equine approach. I am very proud to now offer equine Source Point as part of our EE services. Then there is Anders Ericksson (, who during his Mistover workshops, had so transfixed me by his compassionate and clear approach to working with horses in long reins, that it never occurred to me that we might end up collaborating down the line. I was too busy learning from him. Yet now we are working together in the field of Equitation Science and scheduled in June 2013 to take Equine Energetix to Sweden (at the Royal Palace Park, no less!). The evolution of our work has been so natural that it feels like a continuous thread. It's reminded me yet again of the time when Union drew my attention to the caterpillar, by now transformed into a butterfly. Did that small being even remember its time before transformation, wishing it could return to that early state, or was it simply an equally continuous thread? I've often said that change requires leaving one's comfort zone. And change, from slow evolution and transformation to abrupt revolution, happens whether we decide to leave that comfort zone or not. Not all the year's changes, I'll admit, have been welcome; I have struggled with some and tried my best to remain fixed in my little comfort zone. I'm reminded of the saying "We teach what we need to learn." When I met Pinot Noir, a.k.a. "Thomas," his coat was a deep charcoal hue, unusual for a gray in his teens. Even more striking was his intellect-what I used to call a "nuclear physicist in a horse's body." It wasn't just that he had learned the Spanish Walk and to play the keyboard in his spare time with Karen Sergey, or that after only a short time helping with Equine Energetix exercises, he understood his role completely. It was more the feeling you get when you meet someone and even before they speak, you can tell they're going to say something interesting. At the start of our relationship, I worked on Thomas using energy medicine and connected with him deeply on that level. It felt like parts of us joined up during those sessions in a way that was as profound as it was subtle. The surprise was that there was no surprise to it-the bond felt natural, timeless. As grays do, Thomas's coat grew lighter and lighter over the years that he shared himself with us at Equine Energetix, where we came to expect and even depend on his smart-aleck nature. Like many really clever beings, his interpersonal skills were not his strong suit. He seemed to want to get directly to the point and, like an Ivy League professor, didn't suffer fools gladly. I recall a session when a woman who was trying hard to break out of her shell, felt so stuck that she was literally standing in the center of the round pen. Thomas, who had been quietly ambling around, suddenly turned to her, let out a deafening squeal, circled us a few times at a heart-racing canter, then stopped and slowly walked up to her to snuggle. Tears of recognition filled her eyes as she saw that she might need to smash down her walls in order to draw close to those she loved. That image of him stayed with both of us; it was a pivotal moment on her path to growth and healing. Sometimes I could only shake my head at Thomas's antics. During a leading exercise recently, he was paired with someone who had been taught to relate to horses in a more domineering style than the approach we use at EE. The participant's attempts to manage Thomas only served to make him more mischievous. So I rearranged the exercise to pair him with a participant who had never led a horse in her life, and Thomas moved with her like Fred Astaire waltzing with Ginger Rogers. Now I don't want to tell the rest of the story; I want to pretend change didn't happen. But it did, and Thomas would be nudging me right now to just get on with it. In meditation, when we get distracted from our purpose, we can call on an approach put forth by Suzuki that encourages us to imagine the stray, distracting thoughts as butterflies. Instead of capturing them, we simply notice them and let them flutter by. As I sat, writing this newsletter, I was distracted by a ding on my computer indicating that I had been "tagged" in a photo posted on Facebook. But instead of ignoring the distraction, I had the feeling I needed to pay attention to it. And there in the photo was Thomas, seemingly posing with Lisa, one of the Mindfulness participants, in the glorious autumn sunshine, just weeks before he died. And there I was, staring into those intelligent eyes and knowing that my time with Thomas was simply watching him moving along his path. Like the caterpillar, he has transformed, moved on; and like the butterflies that Suzuki describes, he was to be held in our gaze for a brief moment and then let go. As winter settles in, I look back on a year of astounding changes, and look forward to the first butterflies of spring.