Recovering My Courage

Four years ago this week, I went for a simple trail ride with a friend that landed me in the hospital for three days. (A place I really don’t want to be these days!)

Sometimes accidents just happen. Sometimes accidents happen because we take risks we have no business taking. Sometimes accidents happen out of pure ignorance. Sometimes accidents happen because we miss the warning signals telling us we are on metaphorical thin ice.

And sometimes the answer is all of the above – and none of the above.

In my case, the fall from the horse offered me a glimpse into a totally new reality – if I chose to see it. The answer was all of the above and none of the above.

My accident could have been the end of a short-lived riding experience. Logically, it should have been the end. The prospect of getting back on my water ski was much more inviting than the prospect of ever getting back on a horse, much less getting back on the horse that I was riding that fateful day. Given that I was 59 at the time of the accident, I had really good reasons to just walk away.

Yet I had lots of reasons to get back on. Several friends with horses that wanted me to ride with them…a childhood love of horses that had never quite been extinguished…a desire not to give up…the need to prove something to myself…and something deeper that I didn’t even know existed as I spent months recovering my body and even more time recovering my courage.

The path would lead me closer to who I really am, the person on the other side of fear.

Horses have offered me a glimpse into my own fear and a reason to summon my courage. Fortunately, on my path, the first teacher I encountered sees horses a mirrors to who we are and how we are. One of the principles in my book The Elegant Pivot is that “you get more of what you touch.” Because I started with a teacher that focused on partnership with, not domination over, horses, I attracted even more teachers that helped me get out of my own way.

Horses have deeply helped me (and several of my clients) to become better leaders and more fulfilled humans.

I’m taking a moment on this week to acknowledge how far I’ve come in the last four years. I’m also acknowledging that I am only at the beginning. Last year, after taking a variety of lessons and riding dozens of other horses, I got back on THE horse. I’ve been riding him ever since. It turns out he’s as steady a trail horse as you will ever find. His rider four years ago? Not so much!

I’ve also been riding much more challenging horses, the ones who are as finely tuned as a racetrack Ferrari, who let me know moment by moment when I’m the one being unfair or unsure. It is these moments that I relish the fact that I am just beginning.

My lessons of the last four years have taught me that there is really no end to where we can learn to be present under pressure, if we are willing listen, hear, be patient, observe, get curious, be vulnerable and focus on solving the problem. I call this reaching for my Tools. The alternative is to reach for my Rules, which yield to the voices from my past, telling me to do this or that so I can be enough.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with one of my “virtual” horse trainers, Warwick Schiller on his podcast. You may remember I spoke with him on my podcast in Spring of 2020. On episode 54th for his Journey On Podcast, we dove deeply into the topics of being enough, of listening, hearing, of being present. Warwick himself has been on a life changing journey, which he is sharing weekly on his podcast. I cannot recommend listening to him enough – even if you are not involved in horses.

Here’s an interesting side note about having a conversation like the one we had on his podcast. As is always the case, we record the podcast well before it comes out. Right after we finished this one, I went on vacation and came home to a busy schedule. When I tried to remember what we talked about, I realized that I could remember about 3 minutes of the 2 hours. Before I beat myself up over having a bad memory, I realized that this is a good thing. It means I was in the moment. It means I’ve made some progress on my journey.

One of my greatest lessons on my journey is that beating myself up over something I perceive as a mistake takes me out of the moment and into my past. While harsh self-talk might seem like a way to learn, it’s actually avoidance. It’s true for me and it’s true for trying to help anyone else learn. It’s also true for any horse I’m working with.

Recovering my courage may have been the greatest gift in this journey. Reading Maria Popova’s Brain Picking’s this week, she quote David Whyte, who says in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words:

Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work; a future. To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences. To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world: to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on.

Where are you truly participating with life? Where are you learning something new? How are you treating yourself when you make the necessary mistakes on the way to learning? How are you allowing your vulnerability to create strength and courage?