For a short month during my horse-crazy girlhood, I took horseback riding lessons. I remember riding around an indoor arena. I remember not being allowed to choose the same horse each week, because “you’re learning to ride horses, not a horse.” Beyond that, I don’t remember much.
Other than the instructor telling me repeatedly, “Look where you want the horse to go.”
Weirdly, I couldn’t seem to do it. Down and to the side, that’s where my eyes went, to the churned-up wood chips on the floor.
Looking back, I think I was rattled by the stimulating environment and the scary thrill of being high on a horse’s back. All I could see was the ground.
I sort of thought I was looking forward, and I was even more rattled by the frustrated instructor’s repeated injunction to “stop looking down.” I may have managed to glance at the horse’s ears a few times, if not actually through them to where I wanted the horse to go. (On the other hand, where was there to really go in that small arena?)
Did I mention I was a myopic and dreamy child? When I later started driving, on rainy days I found myself absorbed by the raindrops hitting the windshield of the vehicle, vs. the street I was driving down.
But about the riding lesson, two things come to mind. 1) It’s hard to learn something new while overstimulated or scared, and no amount of clear instruction will change that; and 2) Looking where you want to go, while good policy, may require some preliminary work.
I was reminded of this episode by Martha Beck’s video, Thriving in Turbulent Times. In it, she talks about being mindful of your focus, and training it toward where you want to go—looking between the horse’s ears, say, or kicking into a goalie’s net. Or moving toward a future defined by resilience, justice, and mutuality.
I absolutely love this idea, and it makes total sense, and I have sought out evidence the positive side of humanity, wanting to put my focus there. I live for the kind of good news that can somewhat counterbalance the hard stuff (see Resource of the Day below).
And I also know that for me, sometimes there’s a crucial first step before I can reclaim my focus from where I don’t want to go.
I must first find a way to hear the parts of me that may not be on board with positivity in the moment. I need to find a way to calm my nervous system. I need to be extra extra gentle with myself for falling into an unwanted pattern.
(Martha Beck is also down with this, by the way, so I’m not dissing her work in any way.)
This week I went to ground a bit. John Prine died, the refrigerator broke, I had to wear a mask to the drug store for the first time. Everything piled up and seemed sad and scary and hard. I couldn’t sleep. I found myself sinking into despair and anxiety, overloading my nervous system, ending up shaky and overwhelmed—then making it worse by shaming myself for going there.
Enough already. A good cry is as necessary as a good nap, in my book. Why do we have tear ducts, if not to use them?
If I let myself look down, or allow full absorption in the raindrops instead of the street ahead, it can be a relief. It’s honest. Right now, my body says (from the floor, curled up in a sobfest), this is where I need to be. Time enough later for windshield wiping and plotting a course.
Gratitude: One thing that has really sustained me, and given incentive to continue this project, is all the feedback I’ve received, even third-hand. In addition to this blog, I sent out an e-newsletter called How Will We Choose to Live? that received more responses than any in recent memory. Thank you to everyone who takes time to read these words. I know how much content is out there to wade through, and I’m honored.
Tip of the Day: A double-edged one today. Writing this series has helped me, and has given me a sustaining project, an outlet. Friends are going deep into gardening, or rediscovering crocheting, or learning languages, or making masks. Maybe there’s a project that can help you through this time.
But maybe it’s also, conversely: Don’t try too hard to get shit done. Maybe don’t try out a new skill or join another online lecture. There might be some inner tending that needs to happen before new learning can happen. Do we really need to take a free Yale course on well-being right now? Maybe the highest of higher education is found down deep within.
Resource of the Day: In the good-cry department, here is John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” episode 2. I love everything about this DIY online news show, which gave me a fine place to land while surfacing from my funk. Around minute 9 is where it really kicks up a notch, at least for Hamilton fans.