Every day in our life's journey holds its own special treasures, if we have eyes to see...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ground Manners

For what started out partially as a blog to chronicle my journey with Honor, my Arab/Quarterhorse gelding, my posts have been quite lacking in horse-related updates lately. So today I think I'll remedy that.

Honor is a pretty boy--a bright red dun, slick and shiny and brave as they come. He also needs some work on his ground manners, because no one wants a 1000-pound animal with very hard hooves stepping on their feet or bumping into them because he's too busy looking  for grass and is clueless as to his affect on those around him--namely me. He's been  on a nine-month vacation and reminds me of a teenage boy who just sort of grew up without much instruction: a whole lot of energy but a bit deficit in the department of social graces.

In the world of horses, it's commonly said that the one who moves the feet is in charge. That means if I'm moving to get out of his way, he's calling the shots. Not only does this make for sore toes, it can spell disaster in the saddle, for if a horse won't listen to you on the ground, he sure isn't going to be very tuned in when you're on his back.

So I'm working with him on basics--yielding to the leadrope without stepping on your leader. Standing still while getting feet cleaned out. Paying attention to the person holding your halter rope instead of dodging the noise off the the left, right or behind you, and I'm doing it through communication, horse style--teaching him to respect me, my space bubble, and pay attention to what I'm asking him to do. Whoa when I say whoa. Move when I ask him to. Stand still when it is time. It's really all about letting him know what is expected of him, how what he's doing is working for me, and being patient and understanding with hiim in the process.

I find it not so very different from human communication, actually, and Honor is like far too many of us-growing up with little or no instruction in how to make known what's happening inside us and what we need from other people. People long for connection, but often when they get close, they end up getting stepped on or stepping on the very person they're seeking to connect with. It's time for some remedial work! For Honor, this looks like me walking along beside him, pulling his attention back to me if it strays, poking him in the shoulder to move him out of my bubble if he moves into it, and teaching him to listen to me.

For people, we're probably not going to lead them around with a rope, prod them to get them to move over, and twitch their lead rope when their attention strays. But communication? Definitely need that. It's time to leave off the non-verbals--the sighs, the withdrawal, the angry or sad eyes (that don't work very well as communication tools anyway). Just say it. I'm feeling _____________ because ___________. I need ____________________--will that work for you?

It also sounds a lot like boundaries. Sometimes people don't know how to treat us in a way that safeguards our hearts. We keep hoping they'll just "get it," but like Honor, they have yet to learn effective communition or to pay attention to how they may be affecting others, so they continue in default mode--which is usually to reflect whatever type of communication style they grew up with--trying to get their needs met. Often, the truth is that we ourselves may not be much better than the other guy at communicating the inside stuff. Not only does this errode connection in our relationships, drain the pleasure and inject fear into the relationship, it's just a painful way to go through life!

How much better, no matter how scary or foreign, to work on ground manners: to communicate what we're expecting or what we need and begin to expect the same from others. Instead of an angry, blaming bluster to get a controlling person to back off, just kindly and patiently giving them some good information with which they can adjust their approach if they want to be with us. Rather than feeling stepped on and unseen, and hoping someone will notice our misery, we can take what's inside and share it in such a way that the other person gets the message without feeling trampled themself.

Groundwork: It's helping Honor's manners, and it's really saving my toes!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

High Places Calling

Spring is well established in Northern California. We’re past daffodils and first faint veil of greening tree leaves. The Bradford pears have bloomed and gone and the season of iris, daisy, and lily are upon us. But before that, of course, was winter.

Ours was not a winter as some experienced winter this year—snow to the knees or beyond and day after day of bone-chilling cold. But it was not spring, shall we say.

I love spring. The green is so fresh and welcome, it almost hurts your eyes. Bare branches boast new clothing, and gone are the browns and tans of wintertime.Yet without winter there can be no spring. Without spring, no summer. If summer does not happen, there are no leaves to turn colors in the autumn, and without the autumn to send the earth  to sleep, instead of pulling sap inward, plants and trees would die when winter rolls around.

I got to thinking about this and about how often we are willing--even  desireous--to skip seasons in our own lives. If given the option of fast-forwarding the finals week at school, skipping the stress of change, or waiting for a broken bone to heal, we definitely would.  
But here's what's highlighted to me:

 If we seek to fast forward or skip to the end of something, we shortchange ourselves, for we miss out on what would have been our process.

In a world where escaping pain has almost become an overarching life goal, one might argue that to skip a currently uncomfortable, unpleasant set of life circumstances is the whole point. By all means, fast-forward. 

But what if—rhetorical question here—what if we need the process of the season we’re in to ready us for the one to come? Opting out would leave us unprepared for our next stage in life. I find it interesting that what is usually a verb—process, to process something—is also a noun. Being in process. Synonyms include prepare, refine, distill, transform, change. 

I once read a story in which the character had a book that contained his life. When he didn’t like what was happening—an argument, an unhappy employer, a very cold winter day—all he needed to do was turn the page and skip the unpleasantness. Too tired to get up? He’d turn a page and find himself back home that
night. He never had to live through any pain at all. But the problem was, of course, that as he fast-forwarded those times, stages, or seasons, they were past, and one day he came to the end of his book and realized two things: one, he had reached the final page and there was no way to skip dying, and two, that his life had been so short. Tragically short,  and so lacking in depth of memories, challenges met and conquered, character acquired. His relationships were shallow because he had skipped over the more gritty aspects of working things out with people he loved. He mostly had happy memories, but they were not deeply happy moments, for he had never experienced the lower, painful places of his life and because of that, he could not really feel the heights of joy that might have been his.

Not too many people actually like the hard stuff. Me included. But there is a verse I love that puts it in perspective for me: "...the sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18) As we go through the processes of  life, we have the opportunity to let them transform us, refine us, change us, and if we do, we get to experience not just pain and unpleasantness, but the heights of love and joy and beauty. Justice. Loyalty. Friendship, and so much more.We escape from the flat plain of neither pain nor pleasure, where abides neither sorrow nor joy. While we do not invite pain, we need not fear the low places in our lives. In fact, perhaps we can rejoice in the process as we move through these seasons, for they and they only develop in us the capacity to feel deeply, to experience the upper reaches of the pleasant happiness we all so desperately want. Whatever may be the valley, it exists between the heights, and those high places call us ever upward.

MT Shasta