I AM ENOUGH (Or, How Riding a Bionic Horse Can Make Your Inner Critic Shut the F*!# Up)

“I am enough.”

“What do you mean?” Hubby asks in puzzlement.  “You’re enough WHAT?” He is on the verge of laughter until he sees how close to tears I am.  That’s the trouble with breakthroughs; no matter how  life changing and adrenaline pumped they may feel in the moment, they are often nearly impossible to describe to other people, especially those closest to us.

If you read my last post, you know I recently returned from an Equine Therapy retreat in Arizona.  Thanks to the skill and heart of both the facilitators and horses, the week was mind altering, heart expanding, truth deepening, paradigm shattering, and spirit affirming.  And yet, the inconvenient truth is:

I’m still struggling to integrate what I learned there into my “real” life.

“Come on, tell me what you mean; tell me about the horses,” Hubby pleads.

“You had to be there, I guess.”  

The thing is, as much as I adore animals, it just sounds rather pathetic to admit that a horse taught me about self-esteem.  After all, I’m a pretty self-absorbed, narcissistic, achievement driven, pedigreed-by-multiple-expensive-degrees person.  And yet, I still spend an inordinate amount of time ruminating about how my life could be more meaningful/more successful/bigger/brighter/happier/fill-in-the-blank with whatever today’s self-improvement goal is.  (Or, as British writer Ruth Whippman argues, I’m just like every other neurotic American obsessed with the pursuit of happiness?)

So I decide to just tell Hubby what the horses actually did on the retreat and let him draw his own conclusions.  I’ll do my best to do the same here.

First, the environment in Tucson was somewhat challenging.  At least for me.  Not only were temperatures lingering in the neighborhood of 100 the entire week, but the days were heavily scheduled from 7:00 in the morning to 10:30 or later at night.  In my normal life I’m pretty much toast any time the temperature is over 75.  And while I’ve chosen to mostly not write about MS on this site, it’s relevant context information here because what usually happens when I get overheated is that my legs go numb, I (literally) can’t see straight, sometimes can’t walk, and generally need a looong nap just to get through the day.  Even without excessive heat, I pretty much gave up trying to do anything prior to 10:00 a.m. years ago; fatigue continues to be an almost daily challenge.

So by mid-afternoon of the second day, it wasn’t surprising I was so exhausted I nearly collapsed on the floor of our conference room.  We hadn’t really worked with the horses much yet, but things changed when we were given our first “challenge.”  I was to work with a spotted horse named Jorge:

Jorge, a horse with a lesson to impart

He was by no means the prettiest horse on the ranch, nor even the most friendly.  (Admittedly, this may have something to do with the fact that he was NOT among the horses I attempted to bribe with sugar cubes the previous day.)

Our task was to lead our horses through a series of physical obstacles that represented challenges from our real lives.  The stations got progressively more difficult: the first just a set of rails the horse needed to step over, the second comprising several traffic cones the horse was to weave through, and the final a gate the horse was to be led through before you closed the “door” behind him (in reality, this was just a rope).

For my real life obstacles, I chose health (and everything MS-related) as my first, my writing discipline (or rather, my lack of it) as the second, and my ambivalence over my past legal career (and inability to let go of it) as the third.  As we led our horses through each station, we were to concentrate on our correlating real life challenges.

Simple enough.

But like any decent reality show competition, there was a twist.

Two people would accompany each of us through the gauntlet with the horses: one would represent our inner “advocate” and would cheer us on with encouragement.  The other — you guessed it — would be our inner “critic.”  That person would SCREAM every imaginable mean thing at us to try to make us lose our concentration and control of the horse.  Given that I have almost no experience working with horses, I was not overly confident.

But Jorge was brilliant. 

He stepped right over all of my “health” obstacles without faltering, paying no heed whatsoever to my “critic” who was screaming all my worst MS-related fears at me the entire time.  The horse was even more impressive with the “writing” barriers, weaving perfectly through the cones and tuning out all distractions, as if to say: “See, piece of cake if you just stay focused.”

But when we reached the “law” barrier, there was trouble:

Trouble - Jorge stops to eat the shrubs

Jorge stopped in his tracks right before crossing the final “gate.”  He insisted on nibbling the one small patch of shrubbery I hadn’t even noticed was there.

He wouldn’t budge.

Earlier in the workshop, we had worked to set our intentions for the week.  I had two: I sought “healing without injury” and “clarity regarding my career.”  Of the two, the latter seemed to be the more pressing in my daily life.  I truly wanted to either “close the door” on my legal career for good and fully commit to writing, or admit defeat and just go back to law.  Or try to.  (That pesky energy/MS stuff seems to hinder that line of thinking too — see intention number one).

But Jorge just took his sweet time, nibbling away at all those delicious aspects of the “law” I’d almost forgotten I miss: logic and the ability to argue a case, a deep understanding of how multifaceted the truth can be, and the privilege of serving as another person’s best advocateOn the other hand, I don’t miss the constant stress of working in an adversarial system:

Playing the “critic” for others in this exercise felt like pure torture.

Ironically, out of our small group of just nine, three people chose me to play the part of their critic (and NONE their advocate!).  Even given my adversarial background, I was surprised by how emotionally exhausting it was to shout stupid mean things to people who were just trying to do their best.

It also made me realize how stupid I am whenever I listen to my own abusive inner voice.

Bottom line, I guess I still have a love/hate relationship with the law.  Nevertheless, when Jorge finally decided to pass through the final gate:

I decided to leave the door open.

Leading Jorge with my Inner Advocate and Critic

Because animals live in the present, they are not tormented with our anxiety to set our future path.  I am trying to live this way too.  I have no idea whether I’ll ever practice law again, but the door is still open thanks to one clever horse.

As for the MS stuff, I’m not sure exactly how working with horses was healing or whether the effects will last.  But as First Lady hopeful Ann Romney observed about her own struggle with MS: “Riding exhilarated me; it gave me a joy and a purpose. When I was so fatigued that I couldn’t move, the excitement of going to the barn and getting my foot in the stirrup would make me crawl out of bed.”  As a result, she said, “My desire to ride was, and is, so strong that I kept getting healthier and healthier.”

In my own case, after that one afternoon of exhaustion I noticed that even though we were almost constantly in the heat my body did NOT go numb, and I felt like I had as much (or at times even more) energy than my peers.   One afternoon I even went on the “fast” trail ride.  It was uncomfortable, bumpy, and HOT, but for some reason I didn’t get as sore as some of the other novice riders, and didn’t need a nap.

It was only afterwards I learned that my horse, “Cutaway,” was previously owned by Lindsay Wagner:

Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers, The Bionic Woman

Maybe Cutaway was bionic too?  I certainly felt much stronger than usual after riding her. 

But getting back to my original goals for the retreat of healing and clarity, I do feel healed (at least a little) and Jorge reminded me that perhaps clarity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Life is CHANGE.  All I have to do is be present, and appreciate the beauty of it all.  I am enough, whether I ever become a published/produced writer, practice law, or do nothing other than sit at home and “let the soft animal of my body love what it loves.”  I AM ENOUGH because I exist.  Life is a gift.

And for once, this is more than enough.

What to Do When Your Guru Wants You to Scratch Her Butt (or, What Living YOUR TRUTH Might Look Like?)

Despite all the sarcasm I’ve been guilty of on this blog, it appears I’ve finally met a Guru I have complete faith in …

Vista - my guru is a horse!

The only problem?  She wants me to scratch her butt:

Horse butt

I’ve been away from blogging this week because I’ve been too busy attending an Equine Therapy retreat with my Mother at a dude ranch in Tucson, Arizona.

Kate with Horses at Tucson's White Stallion Ranch

The trip was titled Reconnecting to Truth Through Horse Wisdom.  Before attending, I had little idea of what this meant, as I’ve never owned a horse and have ridden only a handful of times in my life.  I came into the week with few expectations, but the brochure promised to “compel [me] to reconnect with the truth of who [I am] through the mirror of the horse” and that the horse would “[provide] instant, non-judgmental feedback, reflecting back to [me my] inner-landscape and how [I move] through the world.”

In other words, the horse would definitely see through all my BS and give it to me straight.

Shit.

So I came prepared, armed with pockets full of sugar cubes and big bags of organic carrots and apples.  (Surely horses are amenable to bribery too?)  

I should have known better.

Even getting to the ranch should have alerted me to the fact that my usual way of being in the world was not going to work here.  As usual, I got a little lost trying to find the White Stallion Ranch.  I had driven six hours to be here, and somehow managed to make at least three wrong turns in the last ten minutes of the drive.  We were going to be late, and I was just a tad frustrated.

Fortunately, a friendly Arizona guy on a motorcycle offered to help. 

In exchange for giving me directions, he invited me to either: 1) donate $206 to the Grand Canyon State coffers, or 2) attend traffic school (a bargain at $185).  He claimed I was driving 47 in a 35 zone.  (But can’t you see I’m lost?  I didn’t see the sign.  Everyone else is going the same speed …)  But for the first time since I was twenty-two,

There was no way to sweet talk my way out.

But what does getting a speeding ticket have to do with horses?  There is a saying that the way a person does one thing is the way she does everything.  Perhaps if I could use this week to improve my communication with the horses, my communication with people would improve as well?

Kate & Pallomino - we blondes have to stick together!

We blondes need to stick together …

The first horse I gave a sugar cube to nearly knocked me over later begging for more, and the second spit it out in disgust at my feet.

So much for bribes. 

And the horses didn’t appear to like excuses or prolonged explanations either.  They just wanted us to be real.  Without giving away too much of what happened at the retreat or breaking any confidences, I can say it was a week full of physical, spiritual, and emotional breakthroughs for all nine of us who came together from across the country.  Here are just a few of the healings I witnessed:

We saw a horse come running to a woman who feared she would be less lovable by setting healthy boundaries, a horse roll in the dirt in pure ecstasy at the feet of a woman who expressed her desire to live in the moment, a horse walk away to test the faith of a man who strongly wanted to believe he is a child of God, a horse comfort a grieving woman by nuzzling her heart and head, a horse stand between another woman and her observers to block their opinions from harming her, several horses neigh in unity to confirm a man’s desire to collaborate more with others, a horse show another woman how to gracefully accept acknowledgement and applause, a horse help a woman express who she is by only coming close when she stated her real truth.

And my horse?  She made clear she wanted me to scratch her butt right after I confided to her my aspirations to become a writer.  It would be SO easy to just laugh this off (my normal way of being in the world), but as another participant pointed out:

If you’ve got an itch, scratch it.

In fact, the horse seemed perplexed when I asked her for permission to write about her.  It was as if she were saying, “Why do you need to ask?  If you want to write about me, go ahead.”  It seems to me that we spend an awful lot of agony asking the world for permission to pursue the desires we keep safely hidden away in our hearts.

A horse would never do this.

Here are a few more things I learned from the horses:

  • If your mind, heart, and spirit are not aligned, a horse knows it.
  • A horse isn’t interested in excuses.
  • Horses live in the present moment.
  • Horses are incapable of lying.
  • A horse won’t pay any heed to your inner critic.
  • A horse knows you can do a lot more than you think you can.
  • Horses do not understand why we ever do anything that isn’t living our truth.

And there’s plenty more.  (To be continued, soon …)

—-

Question:  What lessons have you learned from the animals in your life?  How much do you think animals understand?  Do they know things we do not?

How to Lose an Entire River and Tame Your Dragonfly …

Hubby always jokes that if map reading were on the bar exam, I never would have become licensed as an attorney.  I’d love to refute this in some clever way, but last Friday I couldn’t even find the Rio Grande:

Rio Grande near Taos, New Mexico

As you can see, the water level was extremely low but I’m pretty sure that only I could manage to miss the country’s fourth largest river and drive an extra forty miles through the entire 20,000 acre Arroyo Honda land grant before realizing it.

My week in New Mexico was supposed to be about learning MIndfulness.

But even though we meditated every day, sometimes I feel like all I accomplished was just more wallowing in my overly sensitive hypochondriac selfishness.

And I still managed to miss my turn.

Twice.

But getting lost is part of the journey.

A good portion of our week was spent on the theme of permission.  Dani Shapiro (author of the excellent memoir Devotion about the quest for meaning and spirit in middle age) delivered a keynote address where she pointed out that no one is going to fall out of the sky and give us permission to call ourselves writers.

Nor is anyone going to give you permission to do that big, magnificent thing you’ve been fantasizing about for so long now.

And that’s just one more reason why I adore travel so much … once we put ourselves in a new setting, after we’ve given ourselves permission to do something different … anything can happen.

I was expecting to spend a lot of time writing in New Mexico, to get inspired by the many talented writers, perhaps do some sightseeing, and maybe make a new friend or two.  All of that certainly happened, but what I didn’t foresee was the start of a new healing journey I will be writing more about soon:

In September I’ll be attending an Equine Therapy retreat … that’s right, horse therapy (not for the horses).  I’ve never owned a horse or taken riding lessons, but according to the website, working with horses is supposed to “compel you to reconnect with the truth of who you are through the mirror of the horse.”

Equine Healing Retreat

But that’s not the scary part …

I invited my mother to come too.

She said yes.

(Someday I’ll learn that those invitations you extend just to be polite can backfire.  Of course I’m just kidding, Mom, if you’re reading this … I really am scared shitless about looking forward to our coming adventure.)

So now I’m back at home trying to figure out what other adventures to take before 12/21/12.  And there truly is not much time left, as I was reminded of again last night when we attempted to rescue this poor little dragonfly from a huge spiderweb:

dragonfly

It wasn’t easy; I had to get him down from a web about 18 feet high and gently wash the gooey web remnants off his super delicate wings.  He was traumatized and clearly couldn’t fly; I didn’t think he’d make it through the night but left him in what looked like a safe spot with a lid full of water.

It turns out that dragonflies spend the vast majority of their lives in a yucky larvae-like state (up to four years!) but then only live a month or two as pretty iridescent flying things before they die.  Those that believe in animal totems say the dragonfly is a symbol of transformation and gratitude, reminding us to be present right here, right now, before it’s too late.

This morning the dragonfly is still alive, but won’t move.  He even lets me stroke his tissue thin wings; I’m pretty sure the rescue was in vain and all I’ve accomplished was to deprive a hard working spider of her meal.

But when I check on him a couple of hours later after the sun has come out, he’s gone.  So either he stretched his wings and gave himself permission to fly away, or he stayed where he was and was eaten by a crow.

I’ll never know.  But I hope he flew.

And I hope you do too …

——

Question:  Is there something in your life you have always wanted to do, but have yet to give yourself permission to?  What’s holding you back?   What will need to happen for you to decide otherwise?