Riding my thoroughbred mare in a neck ring without her bridle is alternately frustrating, enlightening, and thrilling. I love the feeling of using my body and energy to communicate with her rather than micromanaging with my hands. It is exhilarating to let go of control (at least some of it!) and lean into this new experience. Sometimes, with my eyes closed at the walk, I can feel where the edge of the arena is, where we need to turn. Other moments, steering becomes more of a negotiation. Make a suggestion, take a suggestion.
Often, it is in the canter that I feel most in sync, most connected. One day, during the canter, I could feel Monarch’s energy rising, and suddenly we felt rushed and out of control, like a semi-truck careening down the highway. I braced initially, holding my breath, and pulling back on the neck ring, but my ex-racehorse only barreled faster forward. The words “relax and go with” floated up, something I had heard before in a moment of stillness. I grabbed some mane and breathed and allowed my body to flow with hers. We were going fast, but it didn’t feel so scary anymore. After a few seconds I imagined slowing my energy just a little, exhaling long. Her energy came right down with me into a lovely rocking horse canter, and then down to the trot.
All this got me thinking about how maybe sometimes it’s necessary to find a way to “sync up” with people first as well before trying to change the energy in a room or the direction of a conversation. “Syncing up” could look like listening first with an open mind, really trying to appreciate something from another perspective before perhaps offering a slightly different point of view. In his book “The Five Invitations” Frank Ostaseski implores us to “push away nothing.” He suggests that even experiences we don’t want have important lessons for us if we can choose to lean in and get curious, rather than immediately resisting, pushing, or heck, shoving them away.
I spend a lot of my days meeting with patients and families dealing with serious or chronic illness that no one wanted. There is often a bracing against the illness, a sense that it is something to resist, fight, push away. The suffering that comes along with serious illness is staggering- physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial. It’s natural to resist. Leaning in takes a special kind of heroism.
At times, I feel the same resistance happening in me when we share different points of view on how to move forward. But, when I can “relax and go with”, really listening to appreciate my patient’s point of view rather than bracing against and trying to shift it, I feel the most connected and the most fulfilled in my work. Perhaps I need to offer another possibility gently, an invitation to slow the semitruck down, to pause and reflect on where we’re at, what is most important to them, and where they want to go from here. Perhaps it’s my point of view that needs to shift. Make a suggestion, take a suggestion. It feels more like a conversation when it goes that way, and ultimately more of a shared decision about how to proceed.
Both my patients and my horses are teaching me that bracing, immediately resisting, or trying to convince another only creates more tension, dissolving the possibility of real connection. By “syncing up” in a genuine way, through intentional listening and appreciation, relaxing and breathing through the brace, we can work together to find a stride and a pace that feels just right to both of us.