[Ed. Note: Also read Buddha's Eleventh Birthday.]
From The Gentle Barn
After all the pressure, he finally relented and hugged her. The minute he put his face down on Buddha’s soft, warm, fluffy fur, his face changed completely. He no longer looked defensive, shut down, or tough. His face softened as he allowed Buddha’s love to wash over him.
This week we had a wonderful group of boys from a probation camp. These kids are failing in school, fighting with their peers and not communicating with their therapists, so we brought them out to The Gentle Barn to see if, through the animals, we could help them.
The first thing we did when they arrived was ask them one word that best described who they were and what were their dreams. They took time to think about it and came up with some great answers. One teen named Bobby said that the best word for him was “mystery.” He said that no one understands him and that no one can predict what he was going to do next.
We talked with the kids about our place, our animals and their stories. We told them that our animals are heroes. We started a discussion about body language and what different animals do when they are frightened. It was interesting because Bobby said that when he gets scared he pulls out his gun.
We went to the cows first and had all the boys hug our cow Buddha. Bobby did not want to hug Buddha. He expressed concern that he was worried what his peers would think of him if he told them that he had hugged a cow; it was not cool. Nonetheless, after all the other kids had their hug and enjoyed it, we all encouraged Bobby to participate.
After all the pressure, he finally relented and hugged her. The minute he put his face down on Buddha’s soft, warm, fluffy fur, his face changed completely. He no longer looked defensive, shut down, or tough. His face softened as he allowed Buddha’s love to wash over him. When he was finished, Bobby walked away, visibly shaking off the experience, looking like he was trying not to cry. I watched him compose himself and I gave him a high five. He looked younger, more innocent, and softer. I wondered when he had last had a sincere, loving hug.
We then went to give carrots to the horses and we talked a lot about the horses’ stories. Many of them shared the same stories of abandonment, abuse and neglect as the youth. I told them the story of Lazar and Zoe, two Belgian Draft horses who were taken away from their moms at only a month old. I explained that it took years to heal them and breath the life back into them and even though they were healed now, they still have emptiness inside them and probably will have for life. Bobby’s eyes were fixed on me, taking in every word I was saying. I was wondering if he carried around that emptiness too.
By the time we went to the upper barnyard with the smaller animals Bobby seemed like a kid, not the man he was when he first arrived. He gave tummy rubs to the pigs, asked questions, and even cradled a chicken in his arms. He was no longer preoccupied with keeping his clothes spotless and he was not thinking about what other people thought of him; he seemed free.
We finished up the group at the wishing well. Each boy found a rock with a flat surface and I handed out black markers. I asked them what false belief was getting in the way of their happiness. What false belief about themselves or the world was causing them to suffer? Did they think they were, ugly, losers, trouble makers, or not smart enough? Did they think they were going to suffer their whole lives? Did they think life or love sucked? I asked them to figure it out and then write the opposite on their rock. So, if my false belief was that I was not lovable, then I would write that I was loved on my rock. I explained to them that the rocks would stay in our well until the end of time and we would hold the truth about them, no matter where they went from here, or what they did. Hopefully because it was written, they would act from the truth from now on.
Once they had written the opposite of their false beliefs on their rock we took turns saying it out loud and throwing the rocks into the well. When the boys took turns saying their new truth out loud, they seemed so brave, honest, real and willing to participate. Bobby was last and he made his statement with conviction and vulnerability: “I am not a criminal”!
I told the guys that The Gentle Barn was my dream since I was 7 years old. I told them that I did not grow up with farm animals, did not previously own land and did not have a lot of money. I just had a dream, one that I was not willing to give up on. If my dream came true, then theirs could too. The guys put their hands on the magic rocks of the wishing well, closed their eyes, made silent wishes to themselves and then clapped their hands twice and walked away.
When Bobby walked away from the well he came over and gave me a huge hug goodbye; he seemed like he did not want to let go, I know I didn’t. His face looked so hopeful and I wondered if today saved his life and made him see himself in a different way. Maybe he now realized that he could change and have the life he had dreamed of, and deserved.
As those brave young men drove away I felt like my heart was going to explode with the love and compassion I felt for them. I felt honored to have met them, lucky to have spent time with them, and honored to do this work.
The next time you visit us on a Sunday, check out our wishing well. I know that you will help us keep those rocks safe and undisturbed .We invite you to take a minute to make a wish, after all, we are never to young or old to have a dream, and at The Gentle Barn we believe that dreams come true.
Thanks for being a part of our Gentle Family!