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Letting go of Josh

Updated: Apr 10, 2018

Just over a month ago, we said goodbye to Josh, aka Joshi, aka Master Hoshi. I haven't wanted to write about it until now - not because I've been overwhelmed with grief, but because it's taken a while to understand what his way of leaving us had to say.

In his final years, as a teacher here at Potent, Josh taught us all a lot - especially about the importance of acknowledging and respecting boundaries, about the difference between authentic grief and sadness, and self-pity, and about the profound value of simply accompanying another being in their distress - and was very keen to be involved in workshops and individual sessions. Over the last year, though, he'd become increasingly uncomfortable and reluctant to lie down to rest, and less interested in working with clients (although he made some exceptions!). Having tried pretty much everything we could think of to help him, I knew it was time to let him go.

And that's exactly the right way to put it: I had to let him go. Partly that was about accepting that we'd done all we could, and partly it was about recognising that for our domestic horses, it's our job to do what nature (the weather, or a predator) would do for a wild horse whose body has worn out. Josh had been telling me, in his own ways, that he did not want to hang around, diminished, just for the sake of hanging around, but I had to help him leave.

When I told him that I'd made the decision, and that the vet would be coming in a week, he sighed, and yawned, and visibly relaxed. And in his last week, he alternated between finally allowing his exhaustion to show as he stood at rest, and grazing with the herd.

In the last couple of days he deliberately took his leave - or acknowledged our need to do that. Oscar came down one evening as I sat with a friend on the arena, watching the horses graze in long grass. As he called out that he'd come to say goodbye to Josh, this beautiful old soul looked round, and slowly and deliberately walked the 150m, through two gates, to stand next to Oscar. He nibbled politely at a pile of (not very interesting) hay while Oscar sat cross-legged on the ground next to his head for 20 minutes, and then, when Oscar said he was done and headed back to the house, sighed deeply, walked just as deliberately back through the two gates, and went back to grazing.

On the final morning, a long-term client and I sat with the herd while they had their late-morning doze. Unusually, Josh was in the middle of the group, and as the peace deepened, the others drew closer. (If you knew Josh, you would know that normally he protected his bubble of personal space rather fiercely!) For about 30 minutes, the whole herd was awash in what we both felt as a tangible group consciousness, but one in which things were being transmitted, passed on or handed over, by Josh, and taken up by the others.

After they all woke up, I went in and stood with him, thanking him and telling him I was glad to be able to help him go. I ran my hands over his strong, tired body and sent love to all of him. He yawned, a lot, showing his gappy old teeth.

And then he started herding me around with his shoulder - walking with me, getting me moving. Not aggressive, but insistent, as though he, and I, had somewhere to go, and soon. He was right: I felt my own stuckness and resistance (not about his dying, but other stuff - resistance to stepping into a bigger future that felt scary) and him gently but deliberately pushing through it, not giving up until we were both moving freely and together.

And then he ate hay, in a desultory way, looking round at me and then towards the gate from time to time, and sighing.

When the vet finally came, Josh sauntered up the hill with me, sniffed the grass where we would bury him, sighed his approval, and waited. His dying was quick, and then we had time to sit with him, to stroke his face, and to allow the other horses in to see and smell and touch and lick his body before Sam arrived with the excavator.

The whole experience, from the time I made the decision, was light. Yes, we felt grief. But Josh embraced the change, felt every part of it, completed the circle of his relationships with his horse and human herd members without clinging or resistance, and then walked freely out of this life into the next stage of his journey. His dying was moving, and freeing. It was a masterclass in how to do a major transition powerfully and well.

Since he died, I haven't felt him around all that much. The other horses kept looking to the gate out to the road for a day or two, and I wondered what they could see. But my sense is that he closed the circle so thoroughly so that he would be free to leave. I think he's still part of the herd, but - courtesy of that mysterious process of transmission - in a dispersed way, rather than as an individual consciousness. Bella has taken over wrangling the herd, Anam Cara is chief holder of space for client work (he's pleased about this), and Lulu (who is feeling better than ever, for anyone who was worried about her) has taken up the role of herd elder and genius symbolic communicator with clients. Luka gets to be the herd stallion (finally!). Djinni has come in closer to the heart of the herd, as the dynamics have settled.

And the kernel, the essence of Josh? Wherever he is, I like to think of him like this:

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