Being a Beginner

This was a full circle week full of circles. Did that sentence alone cause some dizziness?

Let me explain! I spent several days in Oklahoma with a friend and her reining horses. She let me take lessons on a stud named “Magic Mike.” This horse is anything but a beginner. He knows his stuff! Me on the other hand, I returned to being a beginner. In the past two years, I’ve ridden 40+ non-reining horses and thought I was beginning to be comfortable on a horse, but nothing felt the same on this horse. The reins, riding one handed, the saddle, the stirrup length, the arena, it was all new to me.

These are the moments I have to remember it’s ok to be a beginner. My proving mindset rises up, wanting to show the instructor what I know. Really? Do I really want to waste his time (and mine) focusing on what I can already do? Wouldn’t it be more productive to focus on how he can help me be better?

That proving mindset is like showing up at the car dealer with my old beat-up car and trying to show the new car salesman why this car is better than the new one on the lot.

It’s a mindset designed to keep me the same, sane, and safe. Not a mindset for learning.

I’ve been stalking this part of my mind for quite a few years now, so I’m familiar with the warning signs – IF I choose to listen. I caught myself doing the same thing in February, when I booked an online one-on-one pottery session with Eric Langdon, who posts amazing pottery demonstrations on Instagram under the handle of “Tortus.” He asked me to throw a piece of clay first, just so he could see what he was starting with. When he started teaching, the old proving mindset reared its head. I had to remember that we had limited time and I was not selling my skills to this guy across the ocean. I was here to IMPROVE my skills. When I relaxed and opened up, I took a giant leap in my pottery throwing abilities.

So, when my proving mindset showed up the first day in the reining arena, I was able to remember why I was there. It wasn’t to show him how far I had come.

I was here to learn. I was here to listen. I was here to hear.

This week was my first true reining lesson. But there’s a full circle element involved with reining. After my accident four years ago, the first horse I got back on was a reining horse. This was well over a year after I fell, and on the first ride, I asked the trainer to hold the reins. Essentially, I was on a pony ride. It was a good start for this beginner.

A few months later, I mustered enough courage to canter in a couple of circles. These were terrified, please make it stop, what if I fall off circles. I couldn’t hear a thing the instructor was saying. All I could do was hold on. It was another moment of choice. I could have walked away from riding all together. Instead, I came home to NC and started riding lessons. For the next two years, we stayed at the walk and trot, building my foundation. I’ve only cantered since a couple of times in lessons.

So how did it go this time? Cantering was awkward, but I could listen. I was able to hear the instructor. I could relax. I was able to make incremental gains. I wanted more. I improved.

Had I come in either terrified as before or insisting that I had something to prove, the lessons would have gone differently. Much of the change over these last few years has happened in the round pen training with Bruce Anderson on learning to be present under pressure.

It’s helped me access my beginner’s mindset and what he calls “mental tools”.

A beginner’s mindset keeps me in the moment. I’m able to take things step by step. I allow myself to not know (even when I think I do) and it keeps me open to learning more and more of the nuances that all too often get left behind in the rush to achieve some goal. It allows me to listen and hear the situation and respond based on what the situation is calling for, rather than insisting on doing what makes me feel better. In my lessons with Bruce Anderson, he calls this “be the conduit.”

I got a chance to “be the conduit” on the plane ride home.

My seat was in the bulkhead, so I made a point to be early to get on the plane so I could stow both bags above. Just as I was about to put my backpack up, a guy practically crawled over my back to put his backpack right where I expected to put mine. I started to say something and then realized I could just put mine one slot down. When I lifted up the bag, my full, steel water bottle flew out of the bag and fell onto the aisle, making a huge bang.

As I picked it up, I realized that he was standing in the row behind mine, leaning over. Even though he looked like anyone who is leaning under the low space, I got a feeling that there was more. I said “Did my water bottle hit you?” He nodded in that way that says he couldn’t talk. I said “I’m so sorry!” at which he said through gritted teeth, “It was an accident.” Ok, now what? As I was watching him, he moved back into the aisle to go to his seat. The one next to mine.

Well, great. This was going to be a very awkward flight.

Now the scene got more interesting. As he moved to the window seat, I cracked a little joke about nailing my seat mate. He said nothing. Rather than sit down, he leaned over his seat facing backwards, mask off. The flight attendant came over to ask him to replace his mask. Irritation rolled off him in waves as he said “I just got nailed by her water bottle. I’m trying to catch my breath.”

Now we have a heavy breather, belligerent, and maskless in the airplane. Will the fun ever end?

I caught myself wanting to fix it, wanting to make him stop and wishing the problem would just go away. It’s a variation of my proving mindset. It goes something like this: “I’m a good person and would never hurt you on purpose. Since that is the case, you should stop acting this way so I don’t have to feel bad.”

The flight attendant leaned around the corner and asked him if he would like some ice for his injury. He said “Yes, I would very much like that.” For a minute “nurse Lynn” showed up wondering if I should help him hold the ice, or otherwise ask how I could help. However, he was not looking to me for anything. I remembered my lesson of “be the conduit.” I asked myself “What is he telling me he needs?” Clearly, the answer was to be left alone.

I went back to reading on my iPad and reflected. Every move I wanted to make was not about helping him. Not really. It was about helping ME feel better about what I had accidentally done. He acknowledged it was an accident from the beginning. The war that was happening within me was between my old conditioning from my past and what this moment was calling for. Once I recognized that the most caring thing I could do for him was to let him be, I relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the flight.

After we landed, he got on a phone call and seemed to be his usual feisty self. He was on a business call telling a colleague that one of their employees needed to put his “big boy pants on” to close this huge deal and if he didn’t, they would find someone else. He reminded me of a lot of the Wall Street guys I’ve worked with.

Right before we deplaned, I turned back and said “I just want you to know again how sorry I am.” With the kindest eyes you’ve ever seen, he said “I’m fine now. It was an accident. It just hit my ankle bone in the perfect place to really hurt.”

I followed him out of the plane and all the way to the exit. No limp. Whew.

Once again, a lesson I’ve learned in the round pen translated to my life. When I let my seat mate tell me what to do, when to do, how to do – i.e. I don’t want to talk – we were both able to process what happened in our own way. Sitting there allowing things to simply be was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Until I saw it for what it was: my proving mindset again trying to show the world something about me.

Where is your proving mindset most likely to rise up? How do you try to show the world what you know? What do you do to make yourself feel better when you’ve accidentally hurt or wronged someone? What brings you back to the moment? How have you trained yourself to listen to what is really happening now, rather than having your past conditioning take over? What do you tell yourself to remind you it’s ok to be a beginner?

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