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The Cow’s Tail: A note on transference

Nearly ten years ago, I was preparing to depart Taiwan after a year-long study abroad experience. The transition time was tough and I ached to find ways that would allow me to reconcile with leaving. Returning to my life in the U.S. seemed bittersweet. While walking in the mountains with my friend one day soon before leaving Taiwan, we met a man who struck up a conversation with us and with whom we explained our situation to. We were leaving soon, we told him. We explained to him our journey and how it was nearing an end. He must have seen in our eyes that we were desperate for some clarity around our departure. What would be next? How might we implement this experience into our lives back in the United States? Who will we be upon returning to the communities we came from and how might we fit back in? How do we carry this experience with us in meaningful ways?

The man spoke softly and offered us a metaphor in the form of a kind of commencement speech. “You have eaten an entire cow,” he began, “cow’s are large and eating a cow may be done in many different ways. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Either way, the cow is a strong animal and it is thick. In some places the cow is sacred, the animal is something to appreciate and celebrate. Eating it is always an experience that we must approach with thoughtfulness and mindfulness. It is something to be proud of. You have eaten an entire cow.” Being vegetarian for many years, I wasn’t totally sure how I felt about this man’s metaphor but I was interested and continued listening. “You haven eaten an entire cow and all that is left is the tail. The tail is always the most difficult to chew. It is course, tough, in some ways may be pleasant but is often met with challenge.” I thought for a moment about this man’s story of the cow’s tail and how it may have applied to various times in my life and this experience in Taiwan in particular. How many cow’s did I eat during this past year? What about each of their tails? This tail surely was a tough one to chew. Before continuing on his walk, the man added that we need not fear the cow’s tail because it will always lead us to another cow and the cow we have eaten has become part of us.

Throughout the past three months, we have eaten an entire cow. All that is left is the tail. On Dragon’s programs, we call this tail “transference.” A sort of reverse orientation to the program, we create a space for the group to review, reflect, process, share, appreciate, and think forward. Settled for the next few days a few yards away from the Sidi Kaouki beach, bougainvillea flowers coloring the foreground of our view out to the Atlantic Ocean, we slowly transition. We celebrate.

As instructors, it’s an exciting opportunity for us to highlight and share the magic that arises when a group of people bond over new challenges, beautiful landscapes, changed perspectives, friendships, and shared experiences. Personally, transference is one of my favorite parts of a Dragon’s course and includes some of my favorite activities and moments to facilitate. Thinking back to my time in Taiwan, I remember the challenge of the transition and how meaningful the story of the cow’s tail was in my own time of processing and wondering where I would end up after that experience. With many “cow’s” to look forward to, creating space to acknowledge and appreciate the journey and the many aspects of our time together in Morocco feels so good.

We will be posting a number of reflections from students as we move through our transference. We hope that it will offer you a glimpse into the lessons learned, the growth, the group’s relationship with each other, the experiences had, challenges we have accepted, and the beauty we have encountered along the way.