Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been writing about non-judgement and acceptance and self-responsibility; not from the place of having the answers or “getting it right” (man alive, definitely not from that place!), but from the place of practice. I’ve had the words written above my desk and I’m practicing leaning in to them.
The funny thing is, it’s waaaaay easier to transfer these practices to the “outside”- to other people, situations and circumstances- than it is to ourselves. Self-compassion, acceptance and responsibility is perhaps the most difficult thing to actively cultivate when the intention is self-application. And the real kicker? Our ability to cultivate acceptance for ourselves is directly proportional to how much we are able to extend the same qualities to others, including loved ones, friends, community, horses.
When I saw it from this perspective- when I considered that the amount I was able to accept, celebrate and extend kindness to others was equivalent to the amount I was able to extend to myself- I was jolted into really doing the work. I had- have- way more work to do.
You hear this all the time; you have to do the work. I’ve heard it. I teach it. And I’ve heard it again. But the last month, I really believe I’ve developed a new appreciation for what it means.
Doing the work is hard. It’s really hard. Because it means when you are faced with a trigger, you aren’t allowed to default to your usual practices; you aren’t allowed to react in the same way that produces the same predictable responses and the same predictable feelings. You have to be centred enough to ask “how am I going to handle it this time?”.
I believe that when we found ourselves in new situations; in situations that habitually cause us to respond defensively or that prompt us to switch off and divert our attention to something new, everything that is vulnerable within us rushes to the surface. All our beliefs, perceived inadequacies, shame triggers. And the easy response is the one that we’ve practiced. The easy response is the one that allow us to bash that feeling down and to put it back inside its box.
Instead, we want to position ourselves to be saying, I see what’s going on here; to create distance to watch a habitual reaction rise up. To say, I feel you, I’m working on understanding what you mean- now how am I going to handle it this time?
Is my response going to create more connection and understanding, or is it dividing and splitting? Is my response cultivating more compassion for my position and for yours? Be that your partner, horse, friend, colleague, situation.
Horses are this incredible gift to our awareness and processes because they don’t feel shame. Their emotions are always motivated by honest intent, and consequently, so is their feedback. If they respond or react to something in their environment, it’s real and in the moment. They don’t then create and buy into a narrative that tells them that they are in essence bad, stupid, worthless, unloveable or unskilled. The response is motivated by perceived threat to their safety, and if left to run its natural course will empty out of the system as quickly as it arrived.
Our powers of perception and meaning are both our gift and our downfall. Our prone-ness to being overly self-critical and non-accepting means that we buy in to our internal narrative unquestioningly. We don’t stop to consider which thoughts we are going to pay attention to and which thoughts we are going to let pass us by. We grab as many as we can hold and then some.
Consider for today that the thoughts we choose to invest in are the ones that ultimately allow us to create an identity. Your thoughts aren’t the end of the story. The beginning of the story is when you choose which ones you pay attention to and which ones you don’t. The beginning is when you step out of auto-pilot and say to yourself, here’s this situation in front of me…how am I going to handle it this time?
“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you in better living conditions”- Hafiz