Intentions vs. Expectations: A New Outlook for the Holidays

The holidays are often a time when family gatherings, financial strain, and busy schedules lead to stress. Our Reinvigorate your Recovery workshop, held on November 23, focused on Managing Your Herd. Anxiety about expectations for the holidays came up. Expectations about other people's behaviors, interactions with family and friends, and our own ability to manage and control these things were the primary concerns.

The workshop began with the participants spending time with each of the four horses individually. As they did this, they were asked to reflect on the individual relationships that they had with their loved ones outside of the "pressure cooker" environment of a family gathering. Each person was able to identify different horses as reminding them of different people in their own lives, and the horses carried these labels throughout the workshop.

The horses were then turned loose into the arena (living room!), while the participants watched from outside. The horses put on quite a show! They were running, bucking, rolling in the sand and leaping up into the air. We saw the horses interacting with each other through touching noses, biting and kicking at each other, and even taking turns standing on the pedestal. As the participants watched, they became aware of how the stories they told themselves about the herd affected their understanding of the horse's interactions. This was even more meaningful since the participants weren't part of the herd at the time, but merely observing from outside the arena. This helped them let go of some self-imposed involvement to these interactions and realize that people are going to behave in their own way and we can let go of our sense of responsibility for other people's choices and actions much of the time.

Soon it was time for the participants to arrive at the family gathering. They entered the arena and began to greet the horses. During this part of the session, the participants moved around the arena with one or all of the horses and sometimes moved independently of them. They were able to pet and touch all of the horses, had horses approach them in different ways, and we even saw some humans up on the pedestal too. The dynamics of the herd as a whole were very similar to how the horses behaved when the participants were still observing, only calmer, with the people included in the herd. It seemed like the horses adjusted their level of energy so that the people could safely be a part of it, while still keeping the underlying level of interaction and expression of the herd. Afterwards, we discussed the participant's experience.

Overall, the experience in the arena was a positive one. When asked how this felt different from entering a family gathering, the difference between expectations and intentions became apparent. Before they entered the arena, the participants had set some intentions for their time there. One participant had decided that her intention was to have fun, and another had decided that her intention was to connect with the horses. When they reflected on how they choose to enter the holiday gatherings, they realized that expectations put all of the power to determine the success of an interaction on the behavior of the other person. When expectations are put forth, then the sense of disappointment or gratification is solely in other people's hands. An individual can set their own intentions for how they want to interact, or what aspects of a family gathering they choose to focus on. So, by putting intentions at the forefront of their mind, the participants were able to make choices and put themselves into positions to receive either the fun or the connection that they were seeking. If they weren't experiencing it, they made a different choice and were then empowered to have the experience that felt positive to them.

By Gretchen Arndt