I know that for me, one of the most important lessons of the last couple of years has been learning to trust the walkie talkie system between my gut and my brain. As I’ve learned to tune into what my intuition and instincts are telling me, I can better discern whether what it is I am feeling is true for the moment, or whether it’s a consequence of skewed perception as a result of past experiences.
This differentiation, I believe, is one of the first things to go when we begin to internalize emotional experiences and own them as part of our personality or makeup. With anxiety, for instance, I see many examples of riders holding so tightly to the idea that they are an anxious rider (or an anxious person) that they can no longer discern when they are in a situation that is unsafe or out of their skill level to safely and effectively deal and instead, immediately assume that their feeling state is a consequence of a weakness or flaw.
When we operate from this space, there’s no difference in how we interpret our body’s very real response to feeling compromised in some way, and the experience of anxiety that’s become a patterned behavior, a necessary skill when it comes to making decisions both on the ground and in the saddle.
I noticed this most obviously with my big horse Dee. He’s naturally very sensitive and forward, and in the beginning, when there were few “buttons” in place to work with, the power and forward made me feel a little unsettled. I mused on my discomfort and wondered whether it was just because I wasn’t used to that level of expression, or whether it was my “stuff”. After working with a trainer and going through some things together, I understood that the way I felt was actually my body recognizing that this was a situation that called for a lot of me and that I had to be on my game. Paying attention to that meant I worked slowly and methodically and didn’t inadvertently put myself in a situation where I was out of my depth- which could easily have happened if I had instead decided that I needed to get over myself and get on with it.
Not all feelings of unease are problems to be fixed. Not all anxiety or fear is your stuff. What we want to make sure of is that when our body responds to the situation we are in by sending off the smoke alarm, that we are attuned enough to pay attention, and haven’t desensitized ourselves to the point where we take on everything as a deficiency on our part.
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