What I learned from a Cow about being a Dramatherapist

My husband and I moved to our family farm 7 years ago to help my parents with the farming.  We arrived with great intentions and a big vision but with significantly less farming experience.  I had always known I would return to the farm to create a healing arts centre, but I had never actually imagined that I would be doing the farming!  Perhaps I thought that I would come back with a husband that knew more about farming than me.  It turns out my husband knows more about many things than me, just not farming.  We arrived at the bottom of a cliff-shaped learning curve.

A couple of weeks after we first arrived on the farm, fresh from creating theatre at the Grahamstown Festival, there was a cow that was having trouble calving… and we needed to help.

Before we were farmers… touring with a show

After a long and painful process the calf was finally born, but had died in the process.  The cow sat down.  And would not stand up again.  We learned later that this is an actual condition, called down-cow-syndrome.  The cow was depressed… and also had sustained nerve damage.

The traditional approach to this situation is to shoot the cow.  The prognosis is not good.  But we are not traditional and the vet said that recovery is possible.

A cow sitting down… not the actual down-cow… but you get the idea

And so the healing program began.  Physiotherapy massages a few times a day.  Turning the cow so it didn’t get “bedsores” (um that’s a 450kg activity).  Making sure she could reach her food and water.  Sometimes hand feeding her.  And then just for luck some Reiki, Rescue Remedy and telepathy.  It was mid-winter in the Sneeberg mountains.  Cold is an understatement.  We erected all kinds of wind proof shelters, covered the animal in blankets, braved the dark and the snow to check on her.

Colder than cold

And then. After an impossible 5 weeks.  She stood up.  We came to check on her one morning and she was no longer where she had been for the last million years.  She was standing (or wobbling) in the corner of the kraal.  Defying and amazing farmers everywhere, our down-cow was no longer down.

Standing up in the corner

And what was the first thing the cow did once she could stand steadily on her feet?  Not nuzzle us with gratitude. Nor give us a gentle cow lick to acknowledge the hours of selfless care we had offered in the name of her longevity.  No.  She lowered her head, and with a slight reddening of her eye, charged towards us with intent to harm.  The message she communicated via animal telepathy was, “I stood up just so that I could do this!”.  Luckily we stepped out the of the way in time.

She was not grateful to us for restoring her mobility.  She is a cow.  She did not feel she owed us anything.

So what did I learn from this cow.  So much! … about farming and expectations and life and death.  For example, after this experience I read everything there is to know about assisting a cow in labour.

But this blog is about what I learned about being a dramatherapist from cows, so I will stick to that point.

After the cow finally stood up my husband and I wondered whether it was worth it.  We understood a little better the reasons behind the traditional remedy for down-cow-syndrome.   Would I have done all that I did for that cow for 5 weeks if I had known how she would respond?

I am a novice cattle farmer but have been working as a dramatherapist for over 15 years. Answering Yes to that question speaks to me as a healing professional

Here is a short list of “Things  I learned about being a dramatherapist from this cow”.

  • Gratitude and acknowledgement are great gifts but I cannot do healing work for that prize.  Sometimes when a client discovers that their addictions or negative patterns have been protecting them against a much deeper pain, and they realise that to live authentically and fully will also mean dealing with that pain, they are generally not filled with gratitude towards their therapist!
  • I work as a dramatherapist because that’s what makes sense to who and what I am.  I am sustained by the process of facilitating healing.  When working with a client it is sometimes necessary to go through some very dark, cold and uncomfortable places to get through to the other side.  I must say “yes” to this even though I can not know the outcome.
  • I cannot be attached to the outcome of the work, I can only give it my best effort.
  • A dramatherapist has many techniques that are used in the healing process, but its not always possible to tell which was the most effective.  Was it the massage or the Reiki that did the trick for the cow or a fabulous combination of it all.
  • Failure is the most powerful teacher.
  • Learning and healing is not a one way process.
  • Time is the greatest healer (with a dollop of patience and a pinch of faith in the possibility of a good outcome).

P.S.  This is a good time to tell you that I have started a small private dramatherapy practice.  I now offer individual sessions to  adult and adolescent clients. You can see me at the Yoga Studio in Graaff-Reinet and in The Space on The Rest.  Contact me on karoorest@gmail.com to find out more.

P.P.S.  There are lots of other interesting events coming up at The Rest, including a Creativity Workshop in August, a Family Constellations Workshop in October and a Writing workshop in November.  See www.karoorest.com on the workshop page.

P.P.P.S.  Apart from my children, cows are still my greatest teachers.

What I learned from a Cow about being a Dramatherapist

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We are half way between Cape Town and Johannesberg (about 8 hours in either direction) half an hour off the N9 highway. We are an hour from Graaff-Reinet and 25 minutes from Nieu Bethesda.

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