Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Change for a Dollar

While facilitating an equine-assisted team building this weekend, I came face to face with one of the great hurdles of the human condition. As the members of this group talked bout how they could better work together, what they needed to overcome to meet success, and the roles each of them played in the group, what I kept seeing was what each individual needed to overcome in order for the group to meet their goals. What I realized, for them and for myself, was that the things that each member needed to do for the group’s success, was the very same thing that they needed to do for their own success. This dilemma is universal. Those deeply ingrained character flaws, ways of thinking, and traumas of childhood are the very things that keep us from realizing our dreams. They are the things that we struggle with every day of our lives. And for people who are up to something in life, who want to create their dreams, who are willing to try to change for it, well, they are up against some tough obstacles.

This scenario left me mulling over the question, as I often do, “What about change?” How does it happen, what does it take? As I observe at the residential treatment facility where I work, people can get overwhelmed by the task of changing. And so easily that feeling can lead to giving up before they have ever even started, however, as time moves on and the level of dissatisfaction with their life becomes increasingly uncomfortable, suddenly change seems like a potential option. Typically, after things in life become unsuitable for long enough, then people get excited about changing.

I had a similar question in my mind as I rode Lucy the other day. We were playing with developing contact with a bit, and working off of the bit. I have ridden Lucy with a bit a handful of times, and know that it is a very delicate situation. I want to teach her to take contact with the hard metal bar in her sensitive mouth, but preserve the trust, relationship, and sensitivity that we have worked so hard on creating. This is a really important job (I feel the pressure...), and I have this goal, this picture in my head of what I want the ultimate outcome to be- you know those pictures of fancy dressage horses with arched necks and big powerful strides, complete with flowy mane?? The problem is, I have no idea what I am doing. I mean, I know the principle, and the theory, and the technique, etc, etc. But I have never done it before; I do not have the experience of knowing what I am looking for, step by step. I suppose you could say that it feels uncertain, like most change.

As I was pondering how Lucy and I would ever get through this next step in our journey, I looked back through our time together at other changes we have made. I remembered that there were once things that felt like this, but now were easy and second nature. I remembered how we would struggle and struggle with something and then one day, it would all come together. This made me feel more adventurous and excited about our current task. Knowing the results that we have been able to accomplish already made this seem less daunting.

Principles, Purpose, and Time are the tools of teaching (Pat Parelli). When we are looking to change something about ourselves, we generally need to learn something new. A new habit, way of being, a new attitude. Principles help guide us on the path to our goals. Principles are things that people must hold to, or it will all fall apart. Determination. When we need to change, we need to hold to the idea of this change. It must be center to what we are doing. When we forget that we wanted to change something, well, we are probably not working on changing it. Holding to a principle helps us to have a positive attitude.

Purpose gives us our motivation. Change does not happen without motivation. Whether it be a better relationship or a healthier body, we need to know why we are doing this! That is why we often don’t deal with those ingrained behaviors and thoughts until they get in the way of our dreams. I wouldn’t ever need to learn how to develop my horse with a bit if I didn’t have that picture of that majestic, flowy haired horse in my head!

TIME!!! This is my favorite one. Time is how you can look back ten years and see how far you’ve come. Time is how you can take a deep breath and realize that tomorrow is another day. Time is how you get older and wiser, and how you learn to have patience with yourself. We often aren’t willing to allow time to do its work. But the fact is that there is nothing more important that taking the time it takes. Anyone who expects you to radically change overnight (including yourself!) is fooling themselves. But a change does happen immediately, and everyday, when you are willing to work on it. Being on a journey to something that you desire is the change.

Change isn’t easy. It takes blood, sweat, and tears, and often it takes a lot of help. The bottom line is no one does it for you, and no one has to live with it like you do. Some change may cost a whole lot than you bargain for, but in most cases if we don’t change, we will pay very high prices. It’s perfectly understandable to not want to change, but it’s perfectly unacceptable to not change when your life leads you there. The reality is, you’ve done it before, just look.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Smelling the Roses

It’s amazing how sitting in a warm dusky pasture with all your favorite ponies can change your perspective. I have had a very hectic week, well, few weeks to be exact. I have been stressing up one side and down the other, with little room to breathe. Do you ever notice how all the crap just stays with you? I knew that at the end of the week the only thing I needed was a nice relaxing ride with Lucy. Even though I was hoping that the ride itself would relax me, what I did was take into the ride all the accumulated stress over the past weeks. I knew what I needed was to relax, but what I did was “work”.

Both people and horses are constantly using their brains. People, however, have language, which tends to get things all mixed up. Horses are constantly aware of their surroundings and each other. Humans are constantly caught up in their thinking about things, creating meaning and stories about the things that they are aware of. Horses must be ever present, living in the moment, for their own survival. They are never not “smelling the roses.” Humans, however have the tendency to allow stress to make the things we enjoy doing feel like work. Today, after recognizing my horses suggestion that it was much more enjoyable to hang with your friends and munch grass than stress out, I was able to set aside my direct line thinking and do my favorite thing, lay down in the pasture in the sun, my friends grazing around me and nuzzling me. But even this didn’t really relax me for a while. Why? Because I couldn’t turn my brain off.

Our brains have many circuits, paths, wires, hardware, and software. And just like computers, they will do as they are programmed to do. They can also be reprogrammed. Stress is one of those miserable viruses that gets in our brains and eats away at the RAM. Alright, enough with the computer references, you get the idea. But how do you deal with a over productive, rarely present brain? The trick is to slow down, turn off, reboot. Call it awareness, mindfulness, meditation, or stopping to smell the roses. Pay attention!

As I sat in the pasture, what it took to relax me was simply feeling the sun..... no, really feeling it. Being present to the flight of the birds and bugs. Focusing for a moment on a single blade of grass. And as I did this, I felt my heart rate drop, and my breathing steady. I felt happier and more energetic. Awareness and mindfulness is a practice. Perhaps meditation sounds too serious to you. You can meditate any moment of any day. Take a few minutes to simply notice your breathing. Tune in to a particular noise you hear. Focus on something you love. Simply do these things, do not allow your thoughts to get in the way. Awareness is about being physically and mentally connected to a thing, without thoughts and language. It is instinctual.

As we become present to things around us, we become present to ourselves. When we become present to ourselves, we can take care of ourselves (and our herd). We then place ourselves in a position to get what we want out of life, instead of living in an unaware, stressed out, angry, confused body.