If I had a blog, today I would write about living honestly.
When I am searching for answers in my life, more often than not, I find them in the company of horses. This morning, when I went out to do chores, The horseflies were atrocious and there was much stamping and jostling as the horses lined up at the gate so we could lead them to the barn. As I watched them haggle over who would be first I noticed that no one was pulling any punches. There was no game of, “You go first,” where one horse deferred to another “just to be nice.” The order of things was decided by who was the highest in the pecking order: My horse, Rain, is the boss-mare, so was first in line, followed by Issa, Abe, Shy,and Nikka. There were no hard feelings, no temper tantrums, and no apologies. It was honesty in a relationship “personified” and it got me thinking, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if human relationships could be so simple?” My next thought was, “Maybe they can.”
Of all the animals who live with with man, the horse is one that does not curry favor. They like who they like, they ask for what they want, and they aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves when they are challenged. They tolerate humans, and in some cases come to love us, but they don’t need our approval. They are secure in who they are and nothing can shake that certainty. Without the shackles of an Ego to bind them, horses offer us a window into lives lived in complete honesty; an honesty that compelled horse-trainer Pete Spates to write, “Only when you see through the eyes of the horse, can you lead the dance of the mind.” That is a dance I desperately want to learn.
If you are like me, you grew up being taught how to cultivate harmony at all costs. The goal of all social interaction was to make others feel good. If someone had hard feelings towards me, it was my fault and I needed to do something different next time to redeem my “friend-to-the-world” status. I learned my lessons well and from a young age was able to swallow my feelings, hide my opinions, and sacrifice my own needs in the name of harmony. Deep down, I envied my more outspoken friends: The ones who expressed what they thought regardless of the consequences, but I thought my way was the Right Way and I continued into adulthood as the girl immortalized in yearbooks as “A real sweetheart” who should “stay the way you are.”
I was able to carry on this charade for the better part of four decades, but as I reach middle-age, the toll it has taken is starting to show. I am tired of carrying the burden of repressed anger and unspoken needs. I am exhausted from cheering on people only to have my good will hurled back at me with disdain. I have reached the point where I can’t do it anymore. Something has to give and this time I’m going to make a change that is all about me. I am going to take a leap of faith and live my life without taking responsibility for the emotional responses of other people.
As I move into this new modus operandi I have three rules: First, I will speak truth with love. I won’t let the Ego twist my words into weapons designed to exact emotional revenge. If I have a criticism to offer, I will do it constructively and kindly. Second, I will support myself even when I get a negative response from someone else. If my intentions were good, I have done all I can to promote harmony. The other person is responsible for their feelings on the matter. Third, I will be forgiving if I let my emotions get the better of me. Hard as I try, there will be days when I lose control and let raw emotion do the talking. I will forgive myself when this happens and apologize when necessary, but if my apology is not accepted, I will be content that I have done all I can to atone for my mistake and I will go on with my life.
When I send the horses out to pasture this evening, I know what will happen: There will be a few minutes of unrest as everyone tests the boundaries of the pecking order. A few nips and kicks will be offered, but no harm will be done. Once the ritual is complete, the horses will trot off together to find the best pasture, where they will graze nose-to-nose in the soft summer night. If my horses can live honestly, then I can do no less. In this, they are the teacher and I am the student. If I can learn my lessons well, perhaps one day I will be able to “lead the dance of the mind.”