Mindfulness is the hot topic these days, and this wonderfully worth-while concept is on the lips of many people, from all different walks of life. Mindfulness, of course, has an impact on EAP, if for no other reason than Mindfulness is about attention. Siegel (2007) explains “Mindfulness in its most general conception offers a way of being aware that can serve as a gateway toward a more vital mode of being in the world…” (p. 4).
Mindfulness, at its core, is about attention, and there’s nothing to grab and hold a person’s attention like three horses frolicking ten feet away, or feeling a horse’s skin quiver to shake off a fly, or rubbing the soft, silky spot right at the tip of the horse’s nose. “Mindfulness in its most general sense is about waking up from a life on automatic,” Siegel (2007) states, “and being sensitive to novelty in our everyday experiences” (p. 5). Novelty, getting away from functioning on “automatic”, and coming back again and again to the present moment, are all part of the EAP experience.
Mindful learning is also at play in the equine-assisted psychotherapy and learning practice:
…. the concept of “mindful learning” has been proposed by Ellen Langer (1989, 1997, 2000), an approach which has been shown to make learning more effective, enjoyable, and stimulating. The essence of this approach is to offer learning material in a conditional format rather than as a series of absolute truths. The learner in this way is required to keep an “open mind” about the contexts in which this new information may be useful. Involving the learner in the active process of education also is created by having students consider that their own attitude will shape the direction of the learning. In these ways, this form of mindfulness can be seen to involve the learner’s active participation in the learning process itself. Langer suggests that the point of conditional learning is to leave us in a healthy state of uncertainty, which will result in our actively noticing new things. (Siegel, 2007, p.7)
Many descriptors of “Mindful learning” reflect ground we’ve been covering: offering learning material in a conditional format, inviting the client to keep an open mind by encouraging clean viewing & observation, acknowledging that how we show up affects how we see the horses and relate to our experience in session. In particular, the “healthy state of uncertainty” described above characterizes many EAP sessions, as evidenced by common response to a classic facilitation technique for EAP. When a group has “gotten the horse over the jump” or “moved the horse from one side of the arena to the other,” and looks at the facilitation team for acknowledgement of confirmation of success, the facilitation team will often wait until the clients clearly state that they are done with the exercise before moving on to debrief the experience. This “limbo” time, during which many clients wait for the facilitation team’s “ruling,” is filled with uncertainty and possibility.
Research on mindful learning (Langer, 1989) suggests that it consists of openness to novelty; alertness to distinction; sensitivity to different contexts; implicit, if not explicit, awareness of multiple perspectives; and orientation to the present. (Siegel, 2007, p.7)
The growing Mindfulness tradition offers many new ideas and strategies, and equine-assisted psychotherapy is already incorporating key components of Mindful Learning into its practices.