Four years ago I began working with an Equine Therapist. It began with grooming the horse. This required standing next to this big, magical energy. Then, touching the horse, stroking its body with my hand and then the brush. Lifting the leg to clean each hoof. This was an act of trust. Would this strong, muscular leg decide to kick or stomp, but I proceeded with trust? And then, the ride.
I was surprised when the very first instruction in my riding lesson was to breathe. The first ten minutes of every session were spent walking the horse and breathing, relaxing into its body and feeling the tension in my own body dissipate. As the lesson continued I expected to learn strong commands to direct the horse, but the next instruction was to "look the way you want to go." I was amazed. I turned my head and my body in the direction I wanted to turn and the horse followed that subtle intention. When I learned how to pick up the trot and then the faster canter, I was afraid of falling off. Instead of a technical instruction, my instructor said, "are you breathing?" Trust, there it was again. I wanted to "hold on," to reach for a saddle horn or strap, but there was none. I had a choice, trust or fear. My trust would become the horse's confidence. My fear would become the horse's anxiety, resulting in a bigger, unsteady energy and ride. Although the fast pace of the canter was initially frightening, if I relaxed and let myself be carried I was supported by the horses's strong body underneath my own.
The magical energy of my experience with horses has translated into some important guidance for my life. When confronted with a big event, challenge or fear I begin by breathing. Then I go back into the experience with the horse of choosing trust or fear. Fear meant the lesson was over. Trust resulted in healing and peace. I breathe into trust, even when I'm not sure if it will result in injury or heartbreak. I close my eyes and go into the canter, feeling the up and down support of the horse's body under me. It is like riding a gentle wave, like an infant being rocked in its parents' arms. I am soothed.
Another guiding lesson came from that first riding lesson. "Look the way you want to go. Create an intention for your experience." It has become a mantra of sorts, keeping my eyes and intention set on the life I want. I tend to focus and obsess on the "what ifs," the "what isn't." Staring into the fear that arises and breathing into trust moves my focus into that place that brings me the most joy and peace.
Look the way you want to go.
I have a strong belief that the soul has no gender, race, color, brain size, weight, age, etc. I work daily to look directly into the souls of people and value them for their hearts and not their outer package. And yet, I have become increasingly aware that I am sometimes pretending that I am comfortable with everyone. I can value the soul but yet feel discomfort with who they are, what they believe or the choices they have made. I feel some shame in this, and yet, I have to be honest and confront my discomfort.
I live in a place where people seem to pride themselves in their "forward-thinking," possibly progressive beliefs and lifestyle. If I find myself with a feeling of uncertainty or discomfort, I want to make sure I don't articulate it, it is better to hide it, or I will certainly be labeled as narrow, unfeeling, cold and inflexible. I have married into some Amish roots. I often hear these people referred to as having a very "black and white" and narrow belief system. But the truth is, in my "progressive" community, there is also one right political belief system, one right response to food and response to religion. While I live here because I resonate with many of these beliefs, we are often blinded to that fact that we, too, are narrow at times.
But all I really want is honesty. We need to stop pretending that we have no discomfort with each other. So what is the solution to this? Not to lock ourselves into limiting beliefs or experiences, but to engage in conversation. We need to do "the dig"-into our hearts and minds. Drawing each other into our stories until we are no longer standing on opposite shores, but until we have built a bridge of understanding. It is only when we stand on this bridge, where our discomfort melts, and we develop our beliefs and opinions based on true understanding. This will never happen if we stand on that distant shore and look across the water and say, "I don't really get that person. They make me uncomfortable, so I'll just hide and not admit my feelings." Move....move toward each other. Talk...tell your story. Create a true bond of understanding, and then, formulate your true beliefs.
How to Move Through Life When the Sky is Falling
On an otherwise beautiful day, Chicken Little was walking along when suddenly an acorn fell on his head, sending him into a frenzy. Without stopping to gather information, access the situation or even to take a breath, Chicken Little runs off dragging his friends into his own hysteria. Chicken Little's strategy of choice was "flight." Because he did not stop to reflect on a possible "game plan" to help him in his time of crisis, he and his friends ended up in the the deep, dark jaws of the fox.
Recently I have watched several friends enter crisis mode and I've suddenly found myself observing this process, watching to see how they will emerge or move through the wild panic that accompanies these life events. I am approaching it, somewhat, as a research project, gathering information to help me in these times that I will certainly continue to navigate.
The first stages seem to be ranting, crying and attempting some kind of action to control the situation. When it becomes impossible to control the circumstances and the pain becomes unbearable, a pain-numbing substance may also be used.
The same initial reaction happens when terror strikes our hearts, when the saber-tooth tiger pursues us, sneaking in for the kill. There came a point in my life when I felt like I just couldn't go through life without any strategy for these times. I felt myself becoming a mangled mess whenever these times would strike. I've observed my own patterns and have developed a "sanity strategy" which at first I attempted weakly, but, with practice, I'm getting better at. I'm outlining my journey through crisis here and believe every piece is equally as important as the other: