There are show men And braggarts And self proclaimed gurus pedaling gilded connection They’ll sell you spirituality like a roadside tourist trap You can leave with Transformational Experience on a keychain
And then there are teachers And thinkers And livers of life And breathers or air And riders of horses
Who will tell you there are no real steps No program No hat you can buy No magical stick
Except to listen, observe And think
And the difference Is they don’t have to tell you they are spiritual Or connected Or a guru
They just are
And thoughtful people settle quietly around them Like a flock of birds And listen more than they speak To the quiet voice Of a true teacher
Let’s admit it, our feelings and opinions run the show. We place them higher on the scale of importance than we often realize. Feelings and opinions can be a very bad gauge of what is going on, because they are fickle, and often misleading. They often have more to do with how we see the world or ourselves, which colors the world around us in a light of our own making.
This is not the same as intuition, which is hidden away, quietly waiting under a pile of feelings. Intuition is essential to learning, and allows us to work in the moment and creatively respond and engage with the world.
When it comes to learning, our feelings are often like a siren, leading us astray to crash on the rocky shore. Feelings can be like volatile weather, easily changed or influenced, and can bring us farther away from the moment if we aren’t careful: Someone corrects us, we feel stupid or angered. Someone praises us, we feel special and smart. We’re hopeful for validation and happy when we get it, and when we don’t, become disappointed, depressed, embarrassed, or angry.
There is the learning, which is the process of taking in information in real time- something happens and you have to hear what the teacher says and process it, run it through your stored information files in your head, and enact it. By the time that’s all done, the moment is likely gone. Now add to that running it through the filter of your emotions: what does this information mean about me as a person?
Learning doesn’t stand a chance against such a great foe as a filter of feelings, which are quite often an inaccurate reading of the situation anyway. The only way to have a chance at learning is to give way to the moment- stay sharp, stay aware, and listen: listen to the teacher, the horse, and the world at large, and take in what they have to say. The moment is the real teacher, and in order to learn, you have to be committed to learning and being better for the horse. You have to be willing to stand up against that tiny voice that wants validation and praise, and is constantly offended or hurt by anything that negates it.
I find myself often attempting to explain how a horse feels, uncorrupted by human attitudes and hands. It’s a feel most people can’t relate to , those first electric touches, the wind blowing your scarf around the back of your neck, the young horse like a baby deer, reaching out to make contact with your hand, before he zips away.
It’s like most people have never spent time in unspoiled nature, free of traffic noise, lights, trash left behind, trail markers. Who has felt unspoiled nature in all it’s terrible glory, and felt themselves give way to how small and inconsequential the human is? Who has felt complete surrender to a greater power, manifested in rocks and trees and dirt in the crevices of your face, and known, accepted happily, that you are nothing, and this is everything?
When a baby is born, we already have a name picked out, and clothes that say “daddy’s little slugger” or “daddy’s princess.” We have ideas of who they’ll be and how they’ll fit into the family and the world. How many a parent has sat in silent awe of the brilliance that is a brand new baby, completely shaken by the meaning of holding such raw power in their hands? Who is this little person, sent through your body? They are yours but they are their own completley.
Every day after that first day of birth, parents go to work molding their child, and labeling personality and behavior. But who is that child? What is nature?
What is a horse?
Describing what a horse is to most people can feel like explaining why Central Park isn’t nature. You might enjoy being in it because it’s more nature than the high rise jungle that surrounds it. But it is still tarnished by human light, sound, their footprint is everywhere until it is twisted far away from its original form. You see a tree and can call it a tree, but it is no longer a tree, it is a slave to a human.
But what is a horse? Most folks have never met a horse. They’ve touched many, maybe even thousands, but they make quick work of weaving a safe blanket of description, strapping it on in the safety of a stall, behind fences and arenas and confined in tight spaces, in the safety of routine, so they don’t have to see a horse-
The true nature of the horse is like a desert canyon, windy, dry and brambled, and if you step back and really look, it takes the breath right out of your lungs with its power. You can’t name it, you can’t even hardly describe it. The act of simply giving it a name cheapens it. You can’t control it, you can learn it’s ways, learn to survive in the canyon by succumbing completely to its power, and then, in small mysterious ways, you shape it, like it shapes you.
What is the difference between arrogance and confidence? Arrogance believes I am good because I’m better than others. Arrogance puts the emphasis on self- it wants to appear in an elevated way, and must work hard to maintain it. It cannot be spontaneous or relaxed because it is a strained way of life. Arrogance relies on energy from others, and so it can be shot down with words or events.
Arrogance relies insecurely on public opinion, accolades- it seeks to place the self above others and requires constant bolstering by others.
Confidence is tapping into forces surrounding you, and forgetting the self. It is self sustaining and does not require re-fueling through admiration seeking.
It allows freedom of expression, spontaneity and creativity in life. It provides an ease and lack of worry of others opinions because it isn’t about you- it’s simply grabbing what is available in the air and using it. Confidence does not require perfection, public admiration or even mastery of skill-
It is untouchable because it doesn’t belong to the individual, and therefore the opinions of others or events in one’s life have no way of diminishing it. Moods can change, but confidence is a steady force, like the sun. Confidence knows it is not superior to others because this creative force is available to all.
I am sipping tea in Oakland, California at 2:45 in the afternoon in my sister’s house. I’m still in my pajamas. I have done very little in the way of productivity today, and have really enjoyed it.
As every mother, business owner, worker of any kind, person living in todays world knows – you have to work for money, and this takes up your time. Self care is a privilege.
I’m blessed to do what I love for work. Though I’m working very hard to organize my life to factor in more time to myself and family, I make a trade off of some freedoms for others- the freedom to follow my life’s passion in exchange for some certainty, predictable income, shaky ground I sometimes walk.
Normally, time off is a burden. Anything I don’t do in that time is an additional load when I get back to work. Fences come down, shoes come off, feed runs out, something gets missed, somebody forgot something- feathers to be smoothed, relationships repaired, work to catch up on.
Telling a person to relax without providing the conditions to enable it is folly.
Now, I’m on the second day of my little mini vacation and feeling the layers of rush, of go, of checking my calendar, of answering emails and messages and text messages and tweets and twitters and carrier pigeons and smoke signals… they are beginning to melt away. I’m starting to breathe a little bit. But it’s taken almost two days to just let go of feeling like there was some work I was missing.
I’m reminded of a horse, a person, and a round pen. I think of watching the horse let go a little bit, and how much the person wants the horse to let them in- to relax, to accept. And how we weedle our way in and become untrustworthy in our want- it’s a selfish demand, wrapped up in a cloak to appear harmless. I want. I want you to trust me, I want you to confide in me, I want to feel like I know what you need-
We can’t make any of those things happen. We can only allow. We can’t tell anyone to relax or let down or trust, we can only be a safe and neutral person nearby.
We can’t make someone relax, but we can take the burden off of them until they trust that they can breathe.
We can’t make the horse let down until the conditions are present to allow for it. We can say all the right things, and have all the right intentions- but if the presentation is a trap, is predatory, is untrustworthy, we are a wolf in sheeps clothes-
Be that person that can plunk down and surrender, and wait. Be that person that is there, every time, and proves they are trustworthy. Be the one that eases the discomfort, that provides some solution. You can’t say I want without giving-
Be that person that needs nothing from the other- that is the lesson in friendship that horses offer us when they saunter over, smelling of warm, musty sweat and thistle, and rest their muzzles on our shoulders- they offer us a place to let down, because there is no want. There is no condition, no push, no “come on, you can confide in me.”
You trust because there is a place for you, a place that has been there, time and time again, for you to nestle into, and let go.
I am at times going to give you some information that might hurt you.
I would never want you to hurt intentionally, because I care deeply about you. But, because I know you want growth, I am obligated to tell you what you need to know to grow. I respect you too much to let you go on this way.
I will try to present this as best I can with a tone that can help you hear it, but, I know ultimately it is out of my control how it is received.
I will try to layer in praise, encouragement and everything else a person needs to go forward- but I know it is humans nature to hold on to criticism for dear life.
I know that what can pull you through these times is the relationship of trusting we have- trusting each other. You trust me with your safety, physically and emotionally- I know just how giant a leap one must make to trust someone in that way, and that is very special to me. I trust you to give me your best, to tell me what you need, and to be respectful toward me, too. I’m sharing work that means the world to me, work that is meaningful and beautiful to me, and I trust you to honor it.
You trust that I want you to be the best you can be, and that I respect you enough to tell you this. This information comes to empower you, never to make you feel small. Because I know how strong you are, and what you are capable of.
It is not attached to a judgement. If you are on the wrong path, making a mistake, doing something that just won’t work, it doesn’t make you bad. It just is. I know how painful it can be to hear were doing something wrong, but it doesn’t mean YOURE wrong. I know it’s wrong because I’ve done it – I’ve been there, and I see where it goes.
I’m not better than you, and that’s not the point. I’m someone who has experience and can see what you need, but I’m not speaking from a pedestal. I’m here with you to bring you to where I know you can be.
But this isn’t about me, in the end. It’s you who has to make that leap of faith, to take my words and trust that they’re there for you, not to take away from you. It’s you who has to put in the work of improvement. I can be here waiting in the arena for when you’re ready to do the hard work, but I can’t do it for you.
Let me just start off by saying I do not have it together. This is not a how-to, because I do not know ”how-to” have it together. There’s just too much going on and not enough time in the day.
And I know that it isn’t just me- I know that as a society, we are all over scheduled, over burdened, in debt, overwhelmed, and let’s just say it straight- not doing so hot.
Anyone who looks at someone and thinks they have it all together is only seeing the outer presentation- maybe some of us have more means and support than others, but we all have our own version of “hard,” no two ways about it.
So this is not a how to, but simply my observation and advice when it comes to splitting time between family, work and horses-
1- something has to give. Sorry, but you can’t have it all. Don’t worry about looking perfect- The house might not be perfectly clean, or you wash the laundry again for the third time instead of putting it away in exchange for riding- you decide your priorities with the time allotted you, and cut out what isn’t essential. You might end up cutting more than you wanted- In a survival situation, what’s going in the life boat? You can’t take it all.
2- aim for quality above all. You might not be able to get in a full hours ride at the barn- putting your 100% focus into something basic you can do a great job at is far better than nothing. Let go of the guilt and put in your best with the time you have
3- outsource if you need help – if you can’t get out to ride your horse and you have the means, seek out someone to fill in the spaces you can’t fill. Outsource the bookkeeping, the house cleaning, the stall cleaning, whatever you need or can do. It’s not a failure- nobody can do it all.
4- say no to tasks you can’t manage. If you don’t have time, you don’t have time for people pleasing. I know exactly how easy it is to overfill your books to take care of everyone, but learning to say no to others is saying yes to yourself- you deserve it. Albeit hard, it is a complete life saver. No is a full sentence
5- arm your circle with people who are willing to deal with the “real.” Folks who arent offended by a late reply, know that kids are messy and loud, know that your work is a lot to carry- people that allow you the space to be a full and real person. You’ll feel supported, in good company, and have the space to let down a little if you know you don’t have to put on the act of having it together.
An old mentor of mine once said, “the best are not better than you, they just failed for longer.”
When we look at those we aspire to be like, we likely see them wrapped in a shining aura of success. What we don’t see is their lows, their struggles, and what they came from.
Some folks have more resources and help than others, some have more opportunities than others, but, nobody is without their struggle.
We like to idolize our heroes and put them on a pedestal , I’m guilty just as much as anyone else – what would you think if you saw them at their lowest? If you saw them bucked off in the dirt, or having a meltdown, or met them when their clients had all fired them, or when they couldn’t load a tough horse, or when they were mid divorce or after a loss or otherwise not on top of things?
We want vulnerability, but we praise perfection and punish the mess. We often don’t tolerate professionals making mistakes – but, we know that mistakes are essential to growth.
So this is a two part plea- one, to forgive your mess, to have grace in your bumpy ride down the potholed road to success. It will jar your teeth, it will make you cry, and you will fail. And that is all perfectly normal, necessary even.
And two, to forgive the mess of others, and when you see someone blatantly wrong, to know they can grow. When you see someone fall, know they don’t have to live there. When you see someone’s arrogance or anger or frustration or outright dismal behavior, it isn’t a free pass, but it’s simply a snippet of their life- a bump, a twist, a turn- and they don’t have to live that way in your mind forever.
Success is not a destination but a mindset, that every bump leads somewhere and has value, that the obstacle IS the path.
We want our horses to behave, but most of us haven’t learned to behave ourselves
We want our horses to be calm, but most of our minds are twisted up like a brambled ball of barbed wire And our horses carry the burden
We want our horses to know their limits, but most of us still use the adult version of a temper tantrum to get what we want- We’re entitled, never satisfied, and bitter about what we didn’t get but hope the horse is happy with nothing but what we give him
We want the horse to settle and live peacefully But we can’t get along with each other, can’t eat our words, can’t say sorry I messed up
We want the horse to be satisfied But we complain endlessly
We want the horse to be straight But we haven’t straightened out our own lives
We want, want, want, And leave the horse wanting- A reflection of our own inner turmoil and imbalance
Can you see this is a very real problem? It all begins, and ends, inside our own minds Inside our own lives Inside our daily behavior Inside how we get along Inside what we put out