I am looooong overdue to check in and catch up.
So many times, I attempted to write some kind of update, but it’s just like – where to even start?? How much detail? Because there is a LOT to share. I keep coming back to this feeling that everything that’s happened, all together, is ultimately way too much for me to unpack or really convey intelligently at this point.
There is, however, one experience that I think about again and again, every since that very first time I saw my little baby 9 weeks ago. Especially when I feel lost and frustrated, this helps me so incredibly much. I find it so surprising so I’ve been wanting to tell you about it.
I took a trip to Phoenix back in November of 2009. At that time in my life I was really struggling. I hadn’t found my feet (massive understatement) with my new business which was basically this business by a different name. No amount of hard work changed the end result. I was also semi-homeless since I’d given up my apartment in New York that summer. And I’d basically lost all of my friends, too, because I’d relocated to Atlanta. And then on top of all of that, returning to my hometown stirred up all of these old, un-dealt with feelings and experiences that I’d left behind over a decade previously.
I had my first-ever panic attack when I was driving on the highway to visit friends in Charlottesville. It was really scary to melt down so dramatically and feel unable to control the panic rising out of my chest. I became hysterical. I pulled over and called my dad. He talked me down and I turned my car around with my hands still shaking and drove back to Atlanta. My eyes now open to how bad of shape I was in, I took a trip to Phoenix to sort myself out.
Why Phoenix? Well I went for one reason. I stayed with Pam while there and that, in and of itself, left a permanent mark on me. Pam is such a loving person and I had just pried myself out of the harsh, heartless Wall Street machine months previously. I felt so touched that she opened her home to me. Plus, I got to spend time with her kids who were like 6 and 4 at the time, and in all of the years that I spent in New York I hadn’t interfaced with anyone younger than 22 (or older than 40) which has a really strange effect. The human landscape becomes cardboard and joyless without any babies or children, or even teenagers. And I don’t even particularly care for babies or children and especially not teenagers.
But that’s not why I went. The point of my trip was to spend one entire day “horse-whispering,” as it’s called, with a woman named Koelle. Who happened to be my exact age.
I drove outside of Phoenix to a flat and dusty ranch with two medium-sized horse rings and a long barn. I grew up around horses but was never horse-crazy, no plastic ponies littering my bedroom, so this horse-whispering prospect felt pleasant but not exciting. I met Koelle in the small office at one end of the barn and she talked to me about her childhood escaping the confusing world at home to the world of animals, which sounded just like my childhood. We got started quickly. It was about 9:45 a.m. when I stepped into the pen with a small light brown horse. Instead of standing in the center like I’d been instructed I found myself walking closer and closer to the horse. She had been running counter-clockwise in the ring but grew confused and changed directions. Interesting. This felt different than at my childhood farm. These horses were used to training people.
The little horse ran around and around the ring faster or slower depending on my energy. The next horse was a large chestnut sluggish fellow who could not be forced to do anything, only asked. Interesting. Interacting this way with a horse reflects back the energy and emotions that you’re feeling, whether you realize how you’re feeling or you’re tuned out to how you feel which makes horse whispering a fabulous tool for tuning back in. With the large chestnut, if I hesitated or wavered in my actions or invitations to walk he ignored me. But bold confidence resulted in him following me.
We did this all day long. A new horse, a new lesson about my tendencies. Koelle was darling, too. We grabbed dinner afterwards. I felt nervous like you would on a first date. We ordered glasses of wine and I knocked mine over. I felt that shyness you feel when you’re before someone in a trade that you deeply admire and want to in some ways apprentice yourself to.
I mentally return to that trip to Phoenix and that day with Koelle so often these trying and sleepless days and nights. The safe container of that trip carries me on a very regular basis. Recent example: Amelie is squirming and fussing on the changing table. I am wrestling a diaper onto her tiny bottom. So I stop. How am I feeling? I find I have totally stopped breathing, my shoulders are at my ears and I’m so focused on her that I am disconnected from myself. I take a deep breath and settle into my own body and relax into right now. I feel a wave of tension wash over me and leave. I now feel calm. I take another deep breath and do a grounding exercise in my mind that really centers me. Amelie stills. She opens her eyes and is looking at me as she lets out a baby’s sigh. I put on her diaper and she’s smiling.
The time in my life when I took that trip to Phoenix was a starting over period. It was a new beginning. Like right now.
So I guess that’s the grand takeaway, if there is one. The most relevant, useful skill when you begin something important and new, and hard, something that’s swallowing you whole, where you’re nearly drowning a lot of the time and there just is not a life boat for you, is learning to swim. Swimming looks like horse-whispering. Still, present, tuned in. Very small bites of time.
Because anything in the future may as well be a million miles away. I can’t plan for hardly anything yet. And my past is mostly irrelevant. I find myself navigating only my right now. I check in with my emotions and with my body. I get grounded. Then I check in with the littlest horse.
And each time I check in like that, the two of us begin, again.
(And again and again.)