This past weekend, I was in California for the Equus Film and Arts Festival. (And my book Dancing the Tightrope and podcast Creative Spirits Unleashed each won Winnie Awards!) On the last morning, Bruce Anderson and I were scheduled to do a presentation in the hotel, after doing daily demonstrations in the round pen the prior two days. We were working with Mustangs who once lived in the wild. What a challenge! It takes much more being present to build trust and connection with a horse who started life in the open plains rather than in a barn surrounded by people.
Initially, we planned to have breakfast to go over our intention for the session. As Bruce says, “We plan, and God laughs.” He called me to say that one of the Mustangs we had worked with had a bad night and he was going over to the barn to help the horse build his mental tools.
When I got there, I spoke with one of the women from Wild at Heart rescue. She pointed out that Bruce was in the stall doing what he has taught me to do: using the pressure the horse was telling him to apply to find his peace of mind, a mindset Bruce calls “AlphA.” I couldn’t see him, because he was squatted down, communicating with the horse.
Watching the horse pace in his stall, trying to find escape from his “prison”, I could see my own mind when I’ve imprisoned myself with negative self-talk. You know this one, right? The voice in the head that chatters on and can’t seem to shut its mouth. In that moment, I realized instead of peace of mind, all too often I have “pace of mind”.
Immediately, I knew that we would open our session that day by connecting to the places we want peace of mind and instead have pace of mind. Those in the room connected deeply with this. “Why don’t people respect my work?” “How can I avoid letting people down?” “Why does he seem to like her better than me?” They knew pace of mind well – and wanted to find their way to peace of mind.
I would like to say we solved the problem over the next hour. However, “pace of mind” is habit and a long-held one at that. It takes awareness first and a new behavior second. If we want to change a habit, we need to give ourselves something else to do. We need to reach for our Tools, which we’ve had since birth. We may have covered them up with the conditioning of our upbringing. We can tap into our Tools such as curiosity, our ability to listen, to problem solve, patience, our work ethic and discipline.
In Dancing the Tightrope, I called that “something else to do” the What’s Next Cycle. Here’s what it looks like:
Instead of “Why can’t I get this right?“
Focus on breaking it down into smaller frames or steps. “What is the next step I need to take?”
Instead of “What’s wrong with him/her?”
Focus on the invisible message underneath: “What is s/he trying to tell me?”
Instead of “Why isn’t this happening?”
Take a breath and give it a moment “With a little space, s/he will find the answer.”
The mustang that paced his stall wasn’t getting anywhere, and when our minds pace, we aren’t getting anywhere either -except more worked up about why we aren’t getting anywhere. After Bruce worked with the horse by interrupting his pacing and showing him that he had the mental tools to be in his stall, the owner reported that the horse was much calmer. “Night and day different” she said. This wasn’t a quick fix, any more than reaching for your Tools one time is a quick fix.
We build new habits by practicing over and over and having patience with ourselves while we learn to take a new path.
Where is your negative self-talk getting in your way? In what situations do you find yourself doing “pace of mind” instead of having peace of mind? Where can you use the What’s Next Cycle to interrupt your old pattern and start a new one?