REAL LIFE IS SCARY
This past weekend I decided to do something scarier than I’ve ever done before. So scary that I couldn’t convince anyone else to do it with me. No, not sky diving from 10,000 feet or solo climbing Half Dome in Yosemite. I didn’t eat a chocolate covered ant or jump into icy water with the Polar Bear Club. And, no I didn’t race bareback and bridleless on my horse on a clay track in Italy (seriously, they do that twice a year). PLEASE! Not even close.
No, I put my life on the line and dared go without internet or technology for 48 hours! I know, what was I thinking? I literally risked not knowing what the weather was hour by hour or the local forecast for next Thursday. I tossed aside any chance of finding out whether it was going to be overcast or raining at 10 am this morning. I don’t know who won the big games this weekend or how our president was able to communicate without Twitter. I don’t know if anyone liked my post on Facebook about having intention and clarity. I’ve gone 2 whole days without buying something on Amazon. Reckless, right?
Without TV, You-Tube or Netflix, I was forced to look at (GASP!) books in silence, unable to find out how old Fred Rogers was when he died or what year Gloria Steinem started Ms. Magazine or even what Lady Gaga’s real name is.
STILLNESS BEGINS AT HOME
I was all alone in my cozy little cabin in the woods (l live in rural Washington state) even choosing to leave the baseboard heat off and instead warm the house with logs in the woodstove, a task usually left to my loving husband who had taken a few days to himself to bike in Central Oregon. It meant I had to go get the wood from large stacks covered with tarps in an area he created about 300 yards downhill from our house. It was just physically demanding enough to keep my mind from wondering why, after 30 years, he still chooses to gather, split and stack an entire winter’s worth of firewood rather than use electricity, propane gas or even a pellet stove.
But that would just distract me from my real purpose in disconnecting from cyberspace. I wanted to find a sense of peace-to be quiet and still long enough to rest my mind and gain back a sense of control in my life. I sought out expert help in book’s like “Stillness is the Key” by Ryan Holiday and “The Art of Solitude” by Stephen Batchelor. I reread parts of Greg Mckeown’s book, “Essentialism” to remind me how to determine what’s really important in my life and learn to DO LESS, not MORE!
If I could have, I would have camped out with the horses (if camping out meant staying in the house next to their pasture), the real experts on how to simplify your life and dial into what is absolutely essential. Horses are brilliant at “seeing what needs to be seen, hearing what needs to be heard’ and feeling what needs to be felt. Their survival depends on zeroing in on what is important in thriving and vital for survival. Every ounce of energy wasted is energy that is not recouped when needed and can mean the difference between life and death. The horse that leads the herd (and it is mainly the most experienced, mature female) maintains a steady demeanor and acts without losing control. She possesses a calmness that soothes the herd in moments of upset. Her goal is always to support the herd in their quest to survive and thrive in any environment, no matter what the disruption or distress. Through life experience horses learn to create “an inner stillness that allows them to master their own life.” (Ryan Holliday, “Stillness is the Key”)
Horses understand the need for moments of nothingness, simply sharing territory with no agendas, no demands, or requests, giving each member of the herd a chance to recover and re-energize. With this much needed respite, they prepare themselves for the next experience, ready to explore, discover and learn from each new challenge. In the horsemanship world, it is a recognized fact that when you teach a new skill, it is necessary to give the horse time to process the information, even allowing her to return to her stall overnight before returning to another lesson. Information given rapid fire overstimulates the system and overwhelms the animal. Bombarded with one thing after another, the horse shuts down or becomes more physical in her resistance, pulling back on the rope or running from the human.
STOP THE NOISE, NOISE, NOISE
We are no different. I remember how in high school I would block out the noise and chatter of students in the cafeteria during a “free period.” I just wanted a few moments to myself to escape into the stories of the idyllic lives of celebrities featured in the latest issue of People magazine. I would lean my elbows on the table and cover my ears with my hands as I read.
And so, this weekend, I shut out the noise, the distractions, and the turmoil of the week’s events. I created stillness and a sense of peace in my mind and body. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and inadequate to deal with the future, I feel better able to think clearly, identify my goals, be more productive and notice small moments of joy and happiness. As Holliday so beautifully puts it, “Stillness is the key to unlocking all that we are capable of in this life.”
BACK TO REAL LIFE…EVENTUALLY
I know I will turn my phone on eventually. The fire sure feels nice though and I hear the low hum of the ceiling fan as it circulates warmth throughout the room. I can smell the applewood candle and hear the crackling of the wick as it slowly burns down. The teacup is waiting patiently for me to take a sip of hot raspberry zinger to go with a bite of homemade banana nut bread.
I started this weekend dreading the silence, the time alone (actually my two dogs joined me in the stillness) in what I thought would be a boring, mind-numbing exercise in deprivation just to prove I could do it. Instead, it feels like I’ve been given a precious gift. A gift of my own creation and one that I can “re-gift” anytime I choose. A gift that I will always treasure because I carry it with me wherever I go.
And so, I challenge you to give yourself the gift of stillness, of peace. Start with an hour or two and then make it a habit. Do something by yourself that makes you feel calm and at peace. Write about the experience and what you felt. And join me in the pasture with the horses for some more expert (the horses, not me) help on acquiring the skills to master your own life at Life Lessons with Horses