“The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.” ~ Oprah Winfrey ~
The bond between humans and animals has always been an integral part of our society. Our relationships with animals can often be one of the most powerful and rewarding experiences of our lives.
Jean-Jacques Joris, co-founder of the holistic equine-assisted life and leadership counselling centre Twin Oaks Farm, and upcoming guest speaker at the Authentic Leadership Program this summer shares how he combined his affinity for horses together with his practice of psychology and mindfulness to turn his dream into a reality.
As a former diplomat, Jean-Jacques has always been fascinated by human nature and psychology, as well as spirituality and contemplative arts. His deep-rooted passion to work with horses came about when he was living and working in war-torn countries, where he experienced some powerful personal experiences with horses. As he interacted with them, he came to realize how they much they were teaching him about being authentic and being a leader in his own life.
Years later, when Jean-Jacques came across an article about equine-assisted therapy, it immediately made sense to him and the seeds were planted. In 2009, Jean-Jacques and his wife, Isabelle, created Twin Oaks Farm, a beautiful 65-acre historical homestead in Boulder, Colorado, that is dedicated to helping individuals liberate themselves from self-imposed limitations and live a fulfilling life by developing safety, curiosity, and mindfulness through interactions with animals.
Throughout the sessions at Twin Oaks, participants are not learning from material that is just intellectually perceived; they are taking in the experience with their whole being – mind, heart and body. Jean-Jacques begins the equine-assisted therapy sessions by giving participants a short introduction on the application of mindfulness in a leadership context, stressing the importance of emotional awareness when one is outside one’s comfort zone. Each participant is then given the opportunity to interact hands-on with a horse in a series of experiential exercises of increasing intensity, with a debriefing after every session. The debriefings provide an opportunity for participants to learn from their previous experience and try to apply it in the next experiential.
Jean-Jacques explains that the exercises are not about reaching a goal or completing the task. They are about practicing mindfulness on the spot – getting individuals out of their comfort zone and into the wild with horses. When working with a horse that refuses to do as it is told, a participant exhausts all leadership skills in terms of motivation and communication, and becomes stuck. And that is when the learning truly begins. At that point, they learn to let go of being totally goal-focused on completing the task and instead focus on how to develop and hone skills that are critical to good decision-making.
By making wise choices, being aware of our resources and emotions, and being honest with ourselves, we gain profound insights into how to align our values with our intentions to become more authentic, not only as leaders, but as individuals.
Jean-Jacques Joris is a co-founder with his wife Isabelle, of Twin Oaks Farm, a holistic equine-assisted life and leadership counselling and coaching centre established in 2009, which offers a mindfulness-based equine-assisted psychotherapy.
A native of Geneva, Switzerland Jean-Jacques, who is ﬂuent in ﬁve languages, spent 15 yeas in the Swiss foreign service, working and living in war-torn countries and high conﬂict areas, where he witnessed the power of human resiliency in the face of great suffering.
After leaving the diplomatic service, Jean-Jacques graduated from Naropa University with an MA in Transpersonal Counselling Psychotherapy. He is currently on the Naropa University Adjunct Faculty.
Jean-Jacques is an EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) practitioner, was trained as a mental health specialist with the Equine-Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), is a Naropa-certiﬁed mindfulness instructor, and a member of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis
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