Coercion or Connection: The Conclusion

This week I’m continuing the story started two weeks ago. If you haven’t read it, you can find it here.

Now, ReeRee was walking away from me and there was nothing -- outside of connection -- that I could do about it. He’s faster than me and knows how to live free. In the moment, the pressure of the situation was greater than my mental tools. When I turned to catch ReeRee, he walked faster. So I walked faster. I felt as much as saw the moment when something inside him clicked, and he began trotting along the fence line. Soon he was out of sight, and I almost crumbled from fear and panic. I cried out to Bruce “I need a little help here!”

The answer both shocked me and woke me up. Bruce and Jenny were walking behind me, and I was hoping Bruce would tell me what to do. Instead, he said “Sounds like a personal problem.” Now, before you start thinking Bruce was being a jerk, remember this. We have an agreement where he’s helping me build my mental tools. In Bruce’s world, it’s never about getting to the goal, or getting to the end. It’s about IN getting the picture done, how can I use the opportunities to free myself of over and under reacting, clearing out old stories, and learning to allow the past to inform rather than interfere. Had he chosen to support me in that moment, he would have been reinforcing the part of me that thought I couldn’t do this.

His answer reminded me that I had the mental tools to do this.

His non-answer showed me the state I was in. My whole mind and body were focusing on the ways I was screwing up. My mental chatter was that of a five-year-old with her hand in the cookie jar, wondering how much trouble I was in. My energy was inward and spiky, punishing me for being a failure. My open, connecting heart energy was nowhere to be found. It’s no wonder ReeRee was running away!

Had Bruce rushed in to help, he would have been telling me that my fear of being a failure was correct. His comment woke up me up to my own ability to reach for my Tools. All the internal chatter and noise was my past interfering. It was time to let that s$#% go. Instantly, I felt my mind, body and energy shift. It was the same shift I had made when haltering ReeRee, only with much higher stakes. It felt like an old suit of armor fell off me. From a much different feeling state, I thought, “well, this is what we are doing. Walking through the woods looking for a horse.” I intentionally breathed into my heart, and began calling out to ReeRee in a happy, fun voice. Somehow, I had to care about ReeRee without obsessing about catching him. It was a tricky tightrope for me to dance.

Onwards I marched through the woods. With the clarity of mind free from fear-of-failure-noise, I realized that that ReeRee had likely gone next door to the horses in the pasture, a place he had visited many times. Sure enough, a few minutes later, I spotted him next to the fence. Now I was calm, relaxed and open. As I walked up, I could almost read his mind as he looked at me. It felt like he was saying “Is the real you back yet?” I felt myself fall into agenda-mind as I thought about this “ordeal” finally being over. Off he went, trotting down this fence line, dragging the lead rope. Immediately, I recognized my fear-of-failure-noise and shifted. I breathed into my heart, envisioning loving blue energy radiating out of my body. ReeRee stopped and turned to me. I walked up and just like that, I had one hand on his neck and the other on the lead rope.

By now Bruce and Jenny had made their way to this pasture. Bruce and talked about the different shifts that I had experienced. We debriefed the moments where my mental tools were less than the pressure of the situation, and where they were greater than the pressure. There was no scolding or Monday morning quarterback advice. All he wanted was for me to be clear on what was happening inside of me, not because my picture was to do anything specific with ReeRee. It was IN doing the picture that these moments of shift were bringing me back to the mental tools I was given at birth. (By mental tools, I mean those abilities and characteristics that are innate to being a human, such as curiosity, listening, patience, timing, feel, etc. I go into great depth on this topic in Dancing the Tightrope.)

Where these conversations used to challenge my ego, now I was all in…or I was, until we were on the walk back to ReeRee’s home pasture. I almost missed the best part.

We had taken a few moments with the other horses to put on blankets, check water and feed. As we began walking back, with me leading ReeRee, I looked at my phone and realized I was coming up on the time I needed to leave. Once again, Bruce and Jenny were following. Bruce said, “Now, place the lead rope over his back and ask him to stay with you.” I just laughed, and said “No thank you! I’ve had quite enough opportunity for one day, and besides, I’m now on people-time. I don’t have time to go chasing this horse again!”

“Just give me five steps.” As he said it, I realized he was breaking a huge picture into smaller frames, much like the frames that make up a movie. Always a good idea in the face of a daunting task.

Somewhat reluctantly, I arranged the lead rope over ReeRee’s back, and we walked together. Bruce said, “Now veer over to the left, asking him to follow you.” At first, ReeRee came with me. Then he noticed something yummy on the side of the trail and he leaned to the right to eat. I grabbed the rope to bring him back to me.

“What were you doing there? Why did you panic?” Bruce asked. In my mind, the word panic seemed a bit strong. But there was no doubt, I had significantly over-reacted. He asked, “What was your number?”, asking me to read back the feeling of the inner electrical charge he calls the Negative Positive Pole. (I describe this “super-tool” in depth in my book Dancing the Tightrope.) “It was about an 8,” I said. “What was his number?”, Bruce asked. Hmmm… now I realized why Bruce used the word panic. “Maybe a 1 or 2?”, I said. “Was he running away?”, Bruce asked.

Clearly, my reaction to ReeRee’s slight shift to the right was a mismatch to what was actually happening. I was living in the near past. I felt justified, especially after what I had just been through. But Bruce wasn’t looking for justification or to make me right. He was teaching me to be the conduit, which means letting the horse tell me what to do, when to do, how to do in every frame of the picture. It’s very similar to senior leaders who set a vision and then have the wisdom to let their people, the ones who know how things are in real life, tell them how to make that vision come to fruition.

As we walked a few more steps, I began to feel it. There was a bubble of energy surrounding me and ReeRee. The connection was palpable as I got out of my head and into my body. When he leaned right, I moved left and drew him to me. It was one of the coolest sensations I had ever experienced. We were still on the trail through the woods, several hundred feet from the home pasture. We walked together, playing with this feeling of being one unit in two bodies. ReeRee seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. In fact, I have to wonder if he was finally experiencing the kind of connection he had experienced with his herd when he lived free.

After I let ReeRee go back into the pasture, Bruce, Jenny and I debriefed for a few moments. We looked at it through the lens of the several feeling state and mental shifts I made throughout the day. It was all the same pieces that I talk about at length in Dancing the Tightrope. But it was much more than the sum of the shifts. It’s taken me several months to process what happened.

When I experienced that level of energetic, palpable connection, it was as if I stepped into another dimension. I wasn’t entering nature, like some visitor from another city. I WAS nature.

My recent podcast guest Jane Pike spoke of this in our conversation. She said of being in nature: “It's just recognizing we are it…I'm walking in amongst it, because I am this. I'm not using it as another thing to get something back from and that's what I recognized as a difference as well. Just in my mindset, I'm not here to rejuvenate, to return me to my office to be better. I'm here, it's kind of a conversation.”

As if that awareness were not enough to ponder, this quote from Leonard Cohen showed up in my inbox the same day:

if you don’t become the ocean
you’ll be seasick
every day

As someone who has spent a good part of my life being car sick, sea sick and every other kind of motion sick, this quote struck a deep nerve.

Reflecting on my experience with ReeRee, and particularly on the ways my mindset interfered with connection that day, I have begun to see the many ways I use coercion to reach my goals, get my way and move on. Whether through force, fear and intimidation, or helpless manipulation, all too often, I resort to coercion when connection would serve a greater purpose.

I’m not sure where all this takes me next. One thing that’s certainly changing is that I am much more likely to welcome moments of mistake and disconnection, because each one offers me a moment to recalibrate and reconnect.  

So I’ll end this story with the same questions I ended with in Part 1. What are you doing out of obligation or because you know if you don’t, you’ll get fired? Where do you put getting things done as a higher priority than connection? These are not easy questions, nor are they black and white. However, every conversation about employee engagement, finding purpose in life and creating commitment over compliance comes down to the leverage point. Is it connection or coercion?

Be sure to check out Jane’s podcast – it was just fantastic.