Thursday, January 24, 2008

More life lessons from Aikido?

I have done a good job throughout my life avoiding feeling vulnerable. I'm not saying that is the best thing a person can do, but I've been good at it. Defenses are sophisticated enough that I have succeeded in many areas of life. Actually learning to successfully defend myself however was not one of those life skills I have learned.

I have defenses but cannot defend myself? What am I talking about?

My well-honed defenses are intellectual and emotional defenses. What I lack is knowledge of is how to defend my body from harm.

Aikido is a great deal about defending one's body from harm. I hardly have a cringe reflex in class when a practice partner is attacking me. What's with that?!

After shedding some tears and doing chores, eating a late dinner and getting some sleep, I woke up today with a clearer brain. Last evening I felt overwhelmed with what seemed like utter chaos in the teaching/learning process of Aikido. A predictable ritual and pattern at the start and end of class, and most everything in between is new and challenging, out of my comfort zone and overwhelming. So what do I do? I keep breathing, surrendering any thoughts that pop up other than "I am here to learn, it's ok that I don't know what I'm doing, I keep my mind open, I keep trying my best, all I can do is do it and someone will help me ..." I can move myself into an "I can" zone, even if I don't know what it is I can do. I lay my trust in my teachers and fellow students with more experience, and practice, practice, practice.

One thing that is hard for me is being shown how to do something 'better' (my word, not theirs) when I don't really know what I'm doing to begin with -- block with your right arm coming straight up. What did I do? I didn't do that? Ok, no time to think that through just do it again, hoping the newest bit of feedback has sunk in someplace so that I do something different.

It's not my preferred way to learn something! I would rather be given smaller pieces of information and gain some sense of what I'm doing before adjusting or adding to what I'm learning. In fact I am learning despite this, but gosh it is hard. A sense of competence -- is that allowed? Why does feeling incompetent disturb me so?

I got thinking how hard it is for our horses to learn, and how common it is to present so much new information that they just bumble through fudging it as best they can. I hope I am as present and kind as my Aikido compadres when I refine requests of my horses so they can give an answer closer to what I'm wanting.

Should I speak to Sensei and ask that my learning style and speed be considered? Most of the other students are somewhere in their 20s and 30s, with a few in their 40s I suppose. Do I speak up or do I 'trust the process', knowing full well I am taking these classes for growth in who-knows-what directions, who-knows-what realms!

I was pleased that in my morningmind (generally clear and insightful upon waking) I could recall most of the sequences of what we practiced last evening in class. I certainly couldn't after class! I guess I have to adjust my notion of 'practice' -- I would have said it means improving something I'm learning through actual or mental imagery repetition. Last evening I would have defined 'practice' to mean bumbling and fumbling in a chasm of not knowing and chaos, on the edge of mental and emotional revolt. I am seriously stretching my comfort zone -- learning a language without a bilingual dictionary. Words fall short of describing the distress and vulnerability I was feeling.

And today I'll be off soon to the comfort of predictable activities: foaming around windows, hanging sheetrock, and splitting wood. Ah, what a relief!

Changing the stories I tell

There are moments when I'm struck by changes. Changes in others that I have not fully noted. The other day this happened loud and clear, and reminded me that I need to update my version of reality more carefully and more frequently, based on the feedback I get from others.

This recent incident was about a horse. But it could have been about RNB or some other human. It could have been about me.

Ever since November 2006, I have held a story in my mind about Bo, the arab/shetland pony I bought in hopes of helping him figure out how to be settled and part of a herd. The story I have been promoting about Bo is simple: troubled pony, upset the herd dynamics here, has a lot of try once I get his attention, not sure he could make it somewhere else with a new herd, sure he needs an experienced handler who can pay attention and kindly deal with his distractability and the behaviors he shows when he's worried. Stuff like that.

Here is Bo shortly after he arrived, in the middle of one of hundreds of scuffles with the other horses.

Recently I started feeling more motivated to find him his new home. I never intended to keep him forever as I do some of our horses. He was here so my herd could help him -- I trusted they would take care of themselves and help him understand what is acceptable behavior or not on horse terms. He is a size that I can ride but never would ride him much. He needs smaller humans for that. Children, for example.

Here is Bo a year ago, saddled and hanging out with his Number One Girl. I used to call the pair of them 'Big' and 'Little'.

Here is Bo being ridden by me.

I tried selling him last fall. Not a single call. I decided I could live with giving him away, and placed this ad in the local classifieds weekly:

Sweet, sensitive, lively 18 years young bay pony gelding needs a new home. Rideable, "easy keeper", and would be best with a confident rider or as a companion to one other horse. Call for more details. Free to the right situation.

A week went by and nothing. And then a call came, from a woman looking for a smaller equine for her 4-H program, for the 5-8 year olds learning about farms and outdoors and animals. I suggested she come meet Bo and maybe bring along some children so we could see how they got along. I mentioned my doubts about the situation after questioning her experience and expectations, but felt open to seeing what would actually transpire.

Here is Bo in the herd, a few days before his new owner appeared. It reminds me of when people stopped noticing Rusty and I in clinics. They stopped noticing us because we weren't in trouble! Can you tell which one is Bo?

He was quiet here in the herd, quiet when I brought him in to the barn to clean him up and check if he needed any refreshers on good behavior around humans. He needed nothing. Well, he had just rolled in the melting snow mess so he did need some cleaning up. But even separated from the herd, in the barn with no visual contact, he was quiet, munched hay, his ears went to the door and back but none of the restlessness and anxiety I had grown accustomed to, and was expecting.

Here is Bo in the barn just before his new owner arrived.

Bo's new owner arrived with a couple of adult horsey friends and a teenaged girl. It was love at first sight. And continued love while the teenager handled him, even bridled and rode him bareback for a few minutes.

Here is Bo five minutes after being introduced to his two new herdmates (they share the shelter of the barn and can meet over the half wall and gate dividing the inside, but have separate turn out on the other side of the barn).

So much for the stories I had been telling about him. What a liar I can be!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Riding on New Years

I was busy doing indoorsy things for much of the New Years Day list, and finally got around to the Ride part. The daylight was gone, it was still snowing, and I was ambivalent about which horse to ride. I invited Rusty and Soli into the barn for some hay and drying off.

I figured I'd take the safe route and ride Soli, wanting to support my own decisions to take fewer risks, to be sane about my riding adventures, to embark on a ride feeling confident not uncertain. But as I thought about it, I remembered that Rusty is a very safe and sane horse when I give him the support and guidance he so loves from me. I realized then that I was going to ride him, on this dark, quiet evening of January 1st.

He was perfect. I noticed many of his behaviors as questions, not as statements, and he was with me. He stood for saddling, he bridled easily, he went out from the barn as softly as the falling snow.

It was a different ride with me feeling his questions as questions. I think I have misinterpreted them in the past, perhaps feeling his questions as 'rather-nots'. His questions are simple -- are you saying something to me? is this what you want? what now? His responses were a wordless flow...

This particular change in me started yesterday. I wanted to ride out in the big field, and thought about riding Sofia out there, knowing it would very likely be a little wild, but hey, why not enjoy a bit of fun in a safe even though very large area?!

Then it occurred to me that it may not be a bit of fun in Sofia's mind, that the little bit of wild I was expecting is not enjoyable for her, it is stressful. I got thinking about those little blocks of knowledge that we want to build in our horse's foundation, and the links in their chain of knowledge that build a confident horse who trusts our judgment, our leadership. What would a lively ride with a slightly upset, slightly confused horse add to her confidence in me? Nothing that I could think of!

So I chose our Haflinger, Soli, for yesterday's ride and never got out of the winter paddock, but did 'get my ride' that I'd wanted. I never even put a halter on him in fact.

This new interest in attending to the finer points of how well my horses understand their jobs, understand my expectations and requests, will bring delightful changes in our relationships, I'm sure. I think that is central to why this evening's ride with Rusty was so sweet despite my earlier misgivings. He is very capable of acting like an old school horse, as long as I do my part and not leave too much to him. It was endearing to see how he looked to me with questions after our ride, what do you want now? Well, my dear Rusty, I want you to hang in the stall and munch hay. Thanks for asking.

Snow on her face?

Why does Kacee have snow on her face??? (scroll down for the pictorial answer.)

[Click on image if you need bigger picture to see the detail.]

Is this "play"?

I found another set of cards at the same online site. Here's the link to these, Louise Hay's Wisdom Cards:

My card for the day:

Front of Card:

It is only a thought, and a thought can be changed.

Back of Card:

The thoughts I choose to think and believe right now are creating my future. These thoughts form my experiences tomorrow, next week, and next year.

Happy New Year 2008

We danced in the New Year last night.

I like using this time of the year to affirm what is most important to me. So dancing with RNB is top of the list. Today I have spent time with the horses, eaten a good breakfast, reviewed 2007 with RNB, and spent time in a contemplative mood with a thought to the coming year. I intend today to be financially responsible (pay bills), to be socially assertive (call a friend), enjoy my life's passion (ride a horse), tend to the health of my body (yoga, practice Aikido, eat healthy meals, rest), and play (not sure how this will manifest -- oops!).

Harmony with horses and humans. Comfort and cooperation. Those are the words that came to mind when I started thinking about 2008 this morning. The details of this coming year include living in our new home, increasing openness, trust, and flow with RNB, expanding the impact I have as a horse activities coach/mentor/instructor/trainer, expanding my connectedness with and my respect for our horses here at home. The details also include my reaching out socially to family and friends -- I can see myself serving food to guests in our new house for example.

By clarifying what I want in my life, it becomes easier to say 'no' to the multitude of other things offered me. There are so many wonderful choices! And I am still learning the life lesson regarding the value of choice, the value of saying 'yes' to some options and 'no' to others.

Specific activities will include dancing, dancing, dancing!, continuing Aikido classes, helping with the labor of completing our new home and barn, clinic time as a student with my favorite teachers, teaching therapeutic riding, publicly presenting my approach to keeping horses and humans mentally well, hands on re-education with those more disturbed horses that come into my sphere, quiet enjoyment of my beloved equines.

Specific qualities I want to nurture include softness, openness, acceptance, consistency, clarity. Especially softness, as a way of life not just a place I visit now and then.

Angel Cards

A friend shared her use of the Angel Cards and the link if you want to see your own reading:

My New Year's question for the cards was: what about my role with horses... I am facing some choices about how I use my time, energy, and talents regarding horse activities, and this was what I got:

Card 1:

Archangel Michael

"I am with you, giving you the courage to make life changes that will help you work on your Divine life purpose."

Additional Message: "I have come to you because you asked God for safety and protection, and because you asked about your life purpose. Since you are a light-worker, I am overseeing the fruition of your Divine life purpose. You have been a lightworker for a long time, and you have felt different from others, isolated at times. Be assured that you have never been alone, and that you never will be alone."

"When you feel pushed to make a change at work or at home, that may be my influence, encouraging you to make your life's purpose a high priority. I can rearrange your schedule and support you in other ways to make your path smooth and harmonious. Simply ask me, and it is done. I will also help you feel safe and comfortable during your life's changes."

Card 2:

"You are protected from all types of harm. The worst is now behind you. I ask you to relax and feel safe."

Additional Message: "No matter what has happened in your past, your present and future are now safely protected by angels. I am helping you to heal from past upsets or trauma. I am helping to heal your heart of worry or fear. I am here to help you release any self-sabotaging thoughts or behavior. I am here, in other words, to help you enjoy a renewed sense of safety, and peace of mind."

"The other angels and I stand guard around you, your home, your family, your vehicles, and your workplace. You can rest assured that no lower energies can permeate our protective field. We only allow the energy of love to enter wherever you or your loved ones reside. All expressions of fear are transmuted back to the field of illusions from whence they came. God and the angels ask that you relax and enjoy yourself, for your happiness brings a smile to Heaven."

Card 3:

"You have a gift for working with young people, and your Divine purpose involves helping, teaching, or parenting children."

Additional Message: "Children respond to your openhearted nature. You are also charmed by their straight-forward honesty, laughter, and innocence. In many ways, they engage and heal your own inner child. You seek to give these children that which you desired when you were young. You also feel an inner calling to improve the lives of children, and you may wonder about the best way to proceed."

"I am with you as a guardian angel who delights in bringing you new opportunities to help children. All you need to do is notice the young people whom I bring into your orbit. Be your delightful self with these children, and the rest will take care of itself. As soon as you're ready for an increased role, please say the word to me, and I will increase the number of lives you touch. Please be assured that I understand your temperament and will only bring you to situations that match your passions, talents, and interests. You are a blessing to children everywhere!"

[I do already work with children in my role as therapeutic riding instructor. I will think about how else working with children will interface with my "passions, talents, and interests." I certainly connect most delightfully with adult learners when their essential childlikeness is available -- that's the best! *g* And with horses, is it the same? I want to help horses be free of their confusion and pains accidentally incurred in the course of their time with humans. Is that part of the same purpose? Is it OK to have a blurring of lines between species? I wonder why I wonder if it is OK. If it is what I'm drawn to, then by nature it is OK. I want this doubtful place in my healed.]