December 10, 2011

Buddhism in the Barnyard. ~ Hollie Hirst

Arizona Shona

October 7th

Yesterday I went out and did my usual muckin’ and feeding. On the way back home, I was reminiscing about a psychology of personality class I took recently. At one point we were talking about Costa and Mc Ray’s trait theory and I became caught up in contemplating whether I am an introvert or an extrovert.

I think most people would categorize me as an extrovert. I am pretty outgoing and sociable. My professor helped to clarify asking, “Where do you get your energy? What makes you feel rejuvenated? Spending time alone or spending time with people?”

Hollie Hirst

This sent me into a quandary. I love my time with others and I love my time alone, but neither replenishes me. So I began to think back upon the most moving experiences in my life. I asked myself, “When have you felt most fully alive?”

Immediately the answer became clear. Without a doubt the most moving and energizing experiences in my life have been when I am around big and powerful animals that could hurt me, but chose not to.

For example, dogs (the big and fuzzy ones) have always been my favorites. As a young child, around age 4, I ran away from home. Somewhere there is a photo of me on my tricycle, with my dolly in the basket and my big black shepherd by my side. I loved that dog and trusted her like I trusted no one else at that point.

And horses, I love em! They are so honest. You can read a horse’s feelings with a glimpse at their ears. They don’t lie to you. Unlike people, many of whom, research has shown lie every 10 minutes.

All of this thinking about animals and their honesty led me think about how autistic folk have been described as having a decreased ability to function socially because they have a decreased ability to interpret social cues. However, there have also been circumstances where autistic individuals prefer to be around and feel more comfortable around animals than around humans. Temple Grandin of course, being the most famous of these individuals.

I have no empirical proof for this, but I wonder…. maybe the reason that some autistic people relate more to animals is because the animals do not try to deceive. And maybe one reason for the social difficulties they experience is not that autistic folk have difficulty interpreting social cues, maybe it’s that they are actually especially skilled at interpreting nonverbal cues. And for humans, well … we lie.

And we lie not only to others, but we also lie to ourselves. I would think that all this deceit might make it an incredibly confusing landscape for someone who is especially skilled at reading non-verbal cues. For example, if someone is lying to you, their face might betray them with a micro expression for a split second. An individual who is especially skilled at reading these micro expressions, but lacking in guile, might not understand your deception. They might then react to your true feelings, rather than to your feigned feelings, and thus, be interpreted as having poor social skills.


Hollie Hirst has earned a BGS with a concentration in Human and Behavioral Sciences from Indiana University and a graduate level certificate in Organizational Management and Development from Fielding Graduate University. She is also a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance at the 200 level and has recently completed an extra 40 hours in Trauma Sensitive Yoga via ‘The Trauma Center’ which was founded by Bessel van der Kolk. In addition to teaching private and small group yoga classes, Hollie has also been a volunteer rape crisis hotline counselor for MESA. She currently resides in Bloomington, Ind. Please see www.bloominglotayoga.com for more info.

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