This life lesson blog is a fictional re-creation of real life experiences with my students designed to maintain anonymity and confidentiality.
This morning while on my way to give riding lessons to one of two remaining Centered Riding students, I discovered that I had no internet connection on my phone-not even a trace of 4G available.
After the first lesson I decided to stop and eat my lunch and then hang out at a coffee shop nearby, maybe work on emails, write this blog and hang out on my computer so I could find something to distract myself from doing either of those things.
Still without internet, I walked into the shop and immediately noticed the sign, “We don’t have WiFi, just great coffee.” What the heck? How is that possible? Turns out they have no bathroom either and if you need to go, you have to cross the street to the police station. Needless to say, there weren’t a lot of people hanging out in this place.
I froze and felt a sudden panic-how am I going to spend the next 3 whole hours before my 2nd lesson without the internet? The negative thoughts started coming in fast and then came the short shallow breaths, followed by profanities directed at the last four flies of summer, now somehow trapped in my car, buzzing in my ear. As I’m writing this in long hand on a big yellow tablet, my pen runs out. AARGH!!! And it isn’t even noon yet!
I decided to think back to yesterday afternoon, sitting outdoors on a grassy slope bathed in sunshine and surrounded by gorgeous autumn colors, more brilliant this year than ever before. My student of Life Lessons with Horses was sharing with me what she had discovered in an experience with the beautiful red gelding. She said simply, “It’s amazing that just by taking a deep breath, you can calm yourself and think more clearly.”
Lisa had recently retired and the stress she’d felt in anticipation of her party and final day at work had brought on sleepless nights and irregular heart beats with the occasional flip flop sensation in her throat. The feeling began with a series of “what ifs” running through her mind. What if no one came, what if no one had a good time, what if my family doesn’t get along? followed by the familiar and telling answer to all of her concerns-“stop acting like a baby!” Lisa had learned as a child to not complain and when she had fears or concerns, felt distressed or confused, that no one wanted to hear about it. By keeping her fears quiet, she had no choice but to battle with them inside her mind and body. It had become a lifelong habit and now was getting in the way of finding real peace and joy in her life. She felt she couldn’t express her wants and needs and didn’t know how to take chances or explore new opportunities. Uncertainty and risk were too scary and admitting to being scared is for babies.
Lisa stood next to the horse attached by the halter and lead rope. With a few simple instructions and a hand on her belly, she breathed in through her nose and out through the mouth until every ounce of air had been pushed out. I explained that for the horse, a calm, focused, thinking human is a safe human. The prey animal notices relaxed movement and a soft, centered body posture and knows there is nothing to worry about. A horse willingly joins the creature that keeps him safe. A brain that senses danger, though, is a brain that sends the body into survival mode with short shallow breaths, tight tense muscles and an alert posture. In a state of fear, the body responds with fight, flight or freeze.
I demonstrated to Lisa how to simulate the same sense of distress in her horse that she had been feeling right before her retirement party. With random movements, swinging the rope in all directions and waving arms wildly, she was able to startle the horse just enough to get him to raise his head and start trotting quickly in a circle at the end of the rope. Then while sensing an alert, slightly alarmed horse and feeling her own rising fear, I instructed her to take several deep breaths in and slowly breathe out.
The horse immediately slowed to a walk, stopped moving and licking his lips with head lowered, walked over to Lisa, now with a big smile across her face. “What did you notice?”, I asked. “His response. It was so quick”, Lisa replied.
“And how did your body feel when the horse began trotting faster?”
She shared, “Tight, tense, especially in my chest. I know I was breathing very short shallow breaths.”
“And now?”I asked. “I’m calmer and less tense,” she answered with another big smile. I explained to Lisa that she had just experienced a 900 lbs reminder that fear brings about very real physical changes. Those changes, when brought under control with a few slow deep breaths would allow her to come up with new responses that felt safe and in alignment with who she wanted to be.
Lisa decided she would practice her deep breathing in moments when her body sensed fear, distress or danger. Instead of saying, “Stop being a baby”, she would, with a deep breath in/out and a short pause, say to the critical inner voice, “be quiet, it’s okay to be scared” giving her enough time to think about how to find peace and clarity in whatever she chose to do in the moment. She would learn to stop worrying about other people’s needs and take care of herself first!
And so, to my complete amazement, I made it through those 3 long hours and was able to finish this blog without the internet (of course I eventually had to have a connection to get in online). I learned I could, by taking a few deep breaths, stop the fear and panic and become more curious and creative. I found a solution (and a pen) that worked for me. It gave me the calm and peace of mind I would need to stay present and think clearly, before I took action. I didn’t let the negative thoughts stop me in my tracks!
If only I could get rid of these darn flies…
Contact Cathy at (360)430-0430 or [email protected] and get started on your first Life Lesson with Horses!