What Sustains You?


We were working in Arizona last month, doing a series of clinics. After the warm day had cooled to a crisp desert evening, my friend Lori asked me this question.

“What sustains you?”

I didn’t have an answer off the top of my head. More disconcerting was that upon reflection, I couldn’t come up with anything. Disconcerting because the first thing I reflected on was that many of us live a life that is incredibly rich; a safe place to call home, cars, food when we’re hungry, family and friends, and horses. Throw some dogs and/or cats in there, internet access to any information we are curious about, plus the ability to work and move around in the world, really, many of us live a good life. All of these thoughts raced through my brain, and I voiced them to my friend. There was silence. She nodded. I realized that although I could feel gratitude for every single thing in my life, that question still niggled at me. It’s been three weeks and I’m still bothered by it.

Why bothered? Because while I feel deep gratitude and joy for all the people and animals and things in my life, and the work I get to do that supports it, the word sustain invites a deeper look. What lurks in the waters that the raft of my life floats on?

And why do I feel so stressed? I could fill this blog with the world and community events that are out of our control and cause us to wake up at 2 a.m. with the nausea of dread. But I won’t. What I’d like to bring our awareness to, is that in any given moment we can stop and find something sustaining.

It can feel like most of adulthood is one long checklist. We get all the things done each day, putting a lot of energy out, maybe doing a few token things for our own sanity. At some point though, that well runs dry and survival isn’t enough.

I began to see how I’d spent many busy months racing through lists. When we took two horses with us from pasture down to Arizona, it felt as though this was a new addition to a long checklist. But because I’ve loved horses for all of my life (so far), I felt more alarm than I did when blasting through tasks in front of a computer screen.

If we’re not careful, our task-oriented mindset can creep into our time with horses too, until it becomes the soundtrack to a movie called “Overwhelmed.” Get the horse’s halter, catch the horse, groom the horse, smooch smooch hug hug the horse, pet the horse, saddle the horse, ride the horse, look at the watch, hurry let’s trot and canter the horse, dismount, unsaddle the horse, groom the horse, pat pat the horse, lead the horse to its pen, unhalter the horse. And then we are on to the next list.

This burden of a million things we have to do, and the (mostly self-inflicted) pace we get things done can dull down our sense of what a privilege it is to be around horses. At the very least, we will rush through it. What I found for myself is that when I first made contact with one of our horses, it felt unfamiliar. Part of this can be contributed to not having been around them much while they were on winter pasture. After reflection on that one question from my friend, I realized that I wasn’t seeking to be sustained, I was seeking, at breakneck speed, to get through each day’s list. And I’d been doing that for months. That visceral, embodied connection with horses had been anesthetized, as had any connection with myself. I had let the lists win.

Another conversation with another Arizona friend, this time in her house, seated across from each other with a cup of tea. It was one of those delicious conversations that lasts hours but feels like minutes. My conclusion? At a certain age, a certain sense of ennui settles in. A ‘been there, done that’ kind of mentality. For me, if I’m not careful the cynicism and rage that seems to float through our days via social media and the news media infect my outlook until I can feel it coming out in my actions and words. But through our shared reflections, I got closer to my answer to the question, “what sustains you?” What I’ve discovered for myself is that I have a life full of beauty in many forms. The trouble is, I’m running so quickly they get lost in the dust of my passing.

I no longer want to rush by the beauty of loving and being loved by family and friends. The beauty of horses, of our earth, of any given moment. Life, and especially horses, invite us in. Their smell, their large liquid eyes, the softness of muzzles and coats; this is before we even step into their space, before we interact with them and see that gaze looking back at us, watch as their ears tip toward our voice, feel the satin mist of their muzzles.

I know there is more to this answer than that one word. I’ll keep making adjustments to my life so that the lists don’t take over again. Some of those adjustments might mean one of my very favorite things ever: asking for help. Another adjustment might be slowing my body down. Yet another one may be running each thing I need to do through the filter of Does This Have To Be Done Right Now?

But foremost in my mind, is returning to the appreciation of what is right in front of me at any given moment, allowing the beauty of it to light me from the inside out.



If you would like to share any ideas or thoughts you have about what sustains you, please leave them in the comment section. Maybe together we can rise above the tyranny of too many lists!

85 responses to “What Sustains You?”

  1. I simply love this. What a great question. I too have so much to be grateful for and try to count my blessings daily. That said, looking at what truly sustains makes me take a deeper dive into those and other things. And yes slowing down and minimizing the lists of things to do. Simplicity is one thing that sustains. Thank you for the beautiful and thoughtful words.

  2. Crissi, this has me crying. I’m struggling with a decision between part time and full time work. The job isn’t the issue, I know I’d enjoy the work, the paycheck, the benefits… part of the answer, which I’m still seeking, is that a big part of what what sustains me is time. Time with my horses, my land, my husband, my dog and my cat. The tricky balance between time and money has always been a difficult one. My employer allows one to try a new position (for me, moving from part time to full time in a different dept) for 30 working days, so I’m trying it. I can go back to my old spot any time. I can’t remember being so conflicted…

    Time sustains me.
    Karrie Treichel

    • Hi Karrie – I so hear what you’re saying. The gift of time is a huge consideration. We can’t ever get the minutes or days back once they are gone. I hope things feel less conflicted for you soon.

  3. Well that question got me thinking.
    ” I’m running so quickly they get lost in the dust of my passing.”
    I try to not let that happen…but it does.
    Obligations and lists exist. Finding peace anyway…not bracing too hard against anything, is a practice that I am getting better at.
    And what sustains me? My home surroundings and creativity are at the top of that list.
    More thinking.

  4. Oh my, Crissi, you really hit the nail on the head with this. We all need to slow down. My horse has taught me that. He’s extremely sweet… and sensitive. If I go to the corral where he is with my head full of my agenda, he gets real tight mentally and physically. To interact with him I need to first walk up to him slower, take a deep breath and smile. Those actions are what make a difference in my connection not only with him but people. Moving at a slower pace is what sustains me.

  5. Thank you for sharing this very thought provoking question and blog. What sustains me (us). I think part of our progression through life is learning and redifining this. Maybe for some us we know inherently and it never changes. For others, we search until we find “home” – what sustains. I believe our lives change and what sustains us changes too. The most fulfilled, content people I know live with gratitude at the core. Your beautiful photos capture so much of what sustains my soul–nature, beauty, the magnificence of life on this amazing planet. Certainly my family, my unborn grandson (due in June), the belief that I may contribute to sustaining others gives such purpose and gratitude. What sustains me might not have one singe word that covers the depth and breadth of such a concept, but thinking of all the things that I believe might be the foundation or pillars of my sustenance fills me with more gratitude. Writing is so therapuetic, I would count that as something that sustains, that my books might help and encourage others. It may not sustain them, but if they want to ride a horse, pick up a bow and arrow, read a history book – zippidity do dah =—-> =—-> =—-> I will thinking about and asking others this very question, so thank you again.

  6. My unwavering belief in God. God created the horse and of all His creations the horse is rideable and willing. Where would we still be in our evolution if we didn’t have the horse?

  7. Thank you for your thoughtful words. It helps to realize we all struggle with this in our own ways.
    Horses have the ability to make us better humans if we allow them to teach us. Don’t worry about what has happened by living in the past. Learn not to fret about what may happen in the future because there is no guarantee we’ll get to see it. Like a horse, live in the present and appreciate what is offered to us right now, at this moment in time.

  8. We always need to slow down when communicating with our horses.
    Maybe they’re trying to tell us something about our lives?

  9. Breath. Breath sustains me. That might sound a little simple, because it is actually the foundation of my life, and when it leaves, so will I. But taking that hour every day to sit down somewhere quiet and focus on my breath, listening to it and feeling it flow in and out of my body really deeply sustains me. I connect with myself, I connect with the moment. Busy-ness fades, joy enters. Gratitude and appreciation come. On a good day, that quiet sustanence can stay with me all day and keep me centred. On a really good day, that focussed hour can enable me to spread my love, kindness and gratitude out with compassion to those around me. But there are plenty of other days where the dust flies around. Knowing that I have that kernel inside me and can return to it sustains me on those days. A reminder like your beautifully expressed one here also sustains me – thankyou for that, Crissi. It’s so easy to be busy – I think it’s really important to make a daily habit of returning to our selves and connecting with our breath.

    • Beautifully said, Alexandra. I very much agree with breathing – and when it leaves, life as we know it stops. I also take time in the morning each day to connect to my breath. And I have faith in the simple things. So often, they are also the most powerful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  10. Crissi, I often say that Horsemanship is a mindfulness practice. Yet in practice that get lost all too often. Thanks for the reminder!

  11. Crissi, wow what a great question and really hits home for me since recently been diagnosed with a heart aneurysm. Along with the “lists” you mentioned, I’ve asked myself who or what are the items on the list for? To bring me joy and enrichment, or to fit in or please others? So now I’m making one big list, crossing out and deleting those which no longer serve me (or the stress on my heart), and adding things like HeartMath, spending more time with my grandchildren, practicing liberty and Masterson Method with the horses, and joining a Tai Chi class. Please do remember to stop and smell the roses, and slow down. We typically place too much pressure on ourselves. If you can’t get your list done today, please leave it for tomorrow…or tomorrow may never come.
    Hugs, Jude

  12. Oh boy did this resonate with me Crissi! We have moved from Florida to North Carolina. We moved horses, dogs and our cat – renting for a month, during the holidays, then staying with dear friends till our new home was finished. My horses are in my friends’ pasture, as our barn just arrived last week. Now fencing needs to be done. I keep thinking – we are almost there. But “there” keeps moving! I am truly grateful for this beautiful property, new home and now living in a wonderful area of NC. What has helped sustain me is prayer. I pray every morning upon awakening. It’s a form of meditation for me. When I find myself lost in everything going on – I stop, breathe, feel all of my senses and say a prayer of gratitude for whatever is grabbing my attention at the moment. It helps. I do have to make myself slow down and not feel guilty doing so. ❤️

    • Hi Eileen! I appreciate your sharing what sustains and helps you. Moving is such a time of upheaval, and I can appreciate how it feels like everything is shifting all the time. Returning to your breath, to prayer, is certainly a way to ground and calm ourselves. Thank you.

  13. Crissi, what sustains me, and has sustained me for most of my life, is my faith in God, my time spent each morning reading the Bible and praying, trusting in God’s grace, and my salvation through Jesus Christ.
    I am now halfway through a 40 day period I’ve given myself of letting things be, letting myself be, of taking the time to slow down, to let myself be led through my days with fluidity, and take time often to simply stop and do nothing . I am still working, but with a different approach to each day. It has been good so far.
    We live in a world that is getting crazier by the day. With all these constant changes, I want to live in the peace of mind that my faith brings me, and the wonder of God’s beautiful creation, and my absolute trust that each day will have its purpose and joy. And being outdoors as much as possible is always in my heart and it is where I can live with great awe and wonder.

    • Thank you, Diane, for sharing your beautiful thoughts. I agree – it’s important now more than ever to live with peace of mind, and I’m glad you’ve found your faith does that for you. Thanks again for sharing!

    • Hi Diane – your 40 days must be close to finished, or done. My wish for you is that it was a nurturing, enlightening experience. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

  14. What sustains me? The answer shifts with the season, the day, the hour. Like a good curry, if us a spicy combination of so many different and ofttimes disparate ingredients that shifts and changes with the “protein” we’ve chosen as out “main course” for each meal we prepare. I think having those variations is what brings Joy to our Hearts. We get to appreciate and at times fall in love again with people, projects and processes that perhaps may seem dull to those looking in from the outside. The ability to find the fascination in our lives , especially in day to day tasks is a Gift that has no equal I think. I believe it is a key to true Happiness. A path to serenity. So what sustains me? It’s the knowledge that if I seek the Gift in all things, all experiences, easy or difficult, that I will always know that feeling of fascination. To seek it defines my trust that it exists. To know it exists means I can always look forward to the next moment. What more could we possibly ask for?

    • Thank you, Timo, beautifully expressed. And such a great reminder for me to keep alive the spirit of fascination. To live fresh, shedding the past as much as we can.

  15. Someone mentioned breath. Breath and breathing in. I LOVE the smell of my horse-it’s a gift each time, and brings me right back to now. (I like the smell of my dogs, too, but not everyone agrees:)

  16. Thank you for this beautiful piece! It is a nice opportunity to reflect on what sustains us! For me, it is many things including much gratitude every day, a spiritual practice which helps me slow down and be present, time spent sitting with our horses and just loving them while I watch them be, my husband, my love of learning, and my appreciation for all the small things! There is so much beauty in each day! Here’s to taking the time to notice!! ❤️

  17. Such a deep and thought provoking question! For myself, it would be my faith and the hope it brings. Beautiful photos Crissi!

  18. Thank you for sharing, Crissi, and asking the deeper questions, getting us thinking. I think what sustains me is a sense that this is not all there is. That my life can count toward bringing about a kingdom of love overseen by a loving God who is personal and committed to justice.

  19. Thank you Crissi. Really enjoyed reading your thoughts here. You have certainly set me to thinking too. Such a great think to stop, think and adjust to better absorb all that is around us in our lives. Love to you over there!

  20. A thought-provoking post. Just reading it, and contemplating the possibilities slowed my racing mind and breath. There are certainly more than one thing that sustains me. My faith in a loving God who has good plans for each of us, gives me vital hope. The very concept of hope brings joy in the fruition of something good, of something more than what we can just see, and a destination or a process of coming full circle in this life. Hope gives me joy.
    My horses. They are my teachers, and I strive to live more like them. To be fully in the moment and appreciate the little things, the good and simple gifts that are all around me. To live my life fully present and soak it all in. This is something I will always have to work on, as it seems to go against my very nature of being human. I look back far too often, and cannot change anything. I look to the future for answers and an improved life over what I have right now. I might not see how that unfolds. Right now is what I have, where I can make the most of what is, and do the things that I can do. Such a difficult concept for me.
    Someone mentioned time. Oh my, this one thing is it. My mind tells me that we all have the same amount of time in any given day. I’ve always had to give of myself in the form of my time, to my job; the need to earn a living and support myself. My single greatest desire is for my time to be my own. To do what I want, be with the people I want, to spend as much time with my horses as I want, to putter around, enjoy nature, read a book, take a nap – do nothing. Breathe. Oh yes, time is everything to me. I find it sad that many of us spend our best years of life working and looking forward to retirement when we can live for ourselves, that we miss out on so much. I always remind myself to find the joy in the here and now, the simple things, but I do long for the day when my commitments to earning a wage are behind me. I want to feel like that Bay Paint in your picture feels. So peaceful and relaxed…not a care in the world.

    • I hear you, Lorie. Thank you for sharing so honestly. Like you, the gift of time is one I long for as well. The striving and climbing ladders and working your life away mindset doesn’t appeal to me anymore, because at the end of our life, what does it mean anyway? One of the gifts of growing older is this recognition of finite time. It’s also a sobering gift. Thanks again for your thoughts.

  21. You are going to LOVE retirement, when it comes, and being over 65 yrs. The freedom enables you to go directly to what sustains you. That’s why us older folks are so darned happy! My favorite take-away quote? “I wasn’t seeking to be sustained, I was seeking, at breakneck speed, to get through each day’s list. ” insightful!

  22. I took the Masterson Method Equine Massage Weekend Seminar a couple of years ago, and our instructor, Becky T., started every practice session with the advice to “leave our stuff at the door”. It was her reminder to leave the noise of our lives outside the stall door when we start to work with horses.

    More recently, I read a wonderful book titled, Ego Is the Enemy, by Ryan Holiday.

    Ryan says:

    “Why do you think that great leaders and thinkers throughout history have ‘gone out into the wilderness’ and come back with inspiration, with a plan, with an experience that puts them on a course that changes the world? It’s because in doing so they found perspective, they understood the larger picture in a way that wasn’t possible in the bustle of everyday life. Silencing the noise around them, they could finally hear the quiet voice they needed to listen to.

    Creativity is a matter of receptiveness and recognition. This cannot happen if you’re convinced the world revolves around you.

    By removing the ego — even temporarily — we can access what’s left standing in relief. By widening our perspective, more comes into view.”

    So what sustains me? Every day I try to silence the noise around me, at least while I’m working with horses. That practice offers me new perspectives about my horses and life in general.

  23. Perfect timing for this to brought to my attention . Thank you !💗
    I’m going to be rolling this around in my mind and heart , or as I often say like a good tea, I’m going to let this steep .
    My partner of 43 years has been very I’ll for over a year and his diagnosis of Parkinson’s has been life altering . It seems I’m constantly refining and redefining what sustains me , him , us .
    My horses have always always been my sanctuary. These last months I’ve not been able to spend time with them . Life is changing I’m having to find new ways of adapting and sustaining .
    I personally lean on a myriad of teachings I’ve studied and integrated into my very being , Reiki , mantras that I learned doing yoga daily for years , meditation, breathing . My inner knowing/ faith , belief , I’m not in this alone ! I lean on my cell memory and wisdom of my 42 years of living working AA and Alanon’s 12 step program .
    Awareness, wisdom , choice . And when I falter as I often do I find like hearted people to reach out to .
    Just a smattering of my thoughts on what sustains me .
    Subtle things : the nicker of my horses when I step outside and they see me.
    My dogs delight when I return home .
    My husbands daily telling me how much he loves me and how grateful he is . Flowers , birds all of the wonder and joys of nature , frost on the trees , sunrises….
    So many possibilities to ponder . And ponder I will as life changes and always will .
    💗

    • Thank you, Pam. I hear you, and understand what you’re saying. It sounds as though your gratitude practice is rich and deep. I wish for you days filled with what you are grateful for.

  24. An addendum to my previous post: also days like yesterday (Saturday) – having a lovely cross country ski in the woods by my house (in Detroit!), connecting with and taking an unmourned walk with my horse in the snow, spending time with friends and family. Thankful.

  25. I’ve been thinking about what sustains me for a few days now since I read your email. The first thought was horses, just being in their presence. Then trees came up. And believe it or not breathing. I also like hand grazing my horse while listening to music I find it soothing and meditative.

  26. I too have been so caught up in the rush to get the to do list done. For 1 year in a half I have been living in two places weekly. # days in one city and 4 days in another. Running a business, taking care of my parents and trying to take care of my family. Myself, no way! My horses have been put aside. I go to feed them when I am home and feel so guilty. Too give me more time in my life we have decided to pack up and sell everything so we can all live in one place. One stipulation was I am not leaving my fur baby children. The move will be huge and more stress to come, but I now see a light at the end of the the tunnel. I have realized that know matter what I do I need my horses with me. That is my happiness and I deserve it and they deserve me! It is very refreshing to see other people are going through basically the same thing, No time and to many things to do. It is also refreshing to be reminded that it is all okay and all will be well when you get back on the right track of mindfullness. Love you Saddle Sistah! Once again, I thank you!

    • Saddle sistah, it makes me happy to hear you’re focusing on solutions, and you have such clarity. Yes to horses! And yes to taking care of you. Love you too 💜 Would love to hear where you land!

    • Love you too, saddle sistah, and thank you for taking the time to read, and reply. I’m so glad you had your realization about your horses, and I hope this next chapter of life you are supported by them and the warmth they bring. xo

  27. Crissi, I love the way you write and how you express yourself in both words and pictures. Thank you. This is what I wrote after reading your words:
    “What sustains me is not living a life filled with random acts of kindness, what sustains me is consciously living a kind life.”
    That slows me down every time.
    Much love,
    Kim

    • That is beautiful, my friend. Would you mind if I adopted that too? I’ve still been chewing on the question – knowing that the answer I arrived at during the blog wasn’t the whole picture. I just signed with relief when I read your words. Same as I do when I read your poetry. Much love back to you 💜

      • Crissi, my dear, wise, friend, anything I offer if you can use, adopt, think through, laugh,(especially if it brings laughter) it is all yours. What good does anything ever do if trapped in a journal, blog, letter, drawer, or post if not taken out and worked through? How do we learn? How do we know? Or even ever hope to grow snd change? And isn’t that what sustains us truly? All those opportunities to explore, safely, ourselves in full dimension.
        Anything I offer is yours to use as you need. Besides, nothing is ever final. So many things change, and daily, in this world what we share and learning from each other is the change, the sustaining change, we need. How else do we grow? With so much love

  28. This post really got me thinking and like you Crissi I didn’t have the answer at my fingertips — so I asked my husband that simple question ‘what sustains you’ and straight out he said ‘the beauty around me’ then started to recite his favourite quote/poem —

    “What is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

    No time to stand beneath the boughs
    And stare as long as sheep or cows.

    No time to see, when woods we pass,
    Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

    No time to see, in broad daylight,
    Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

    No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
    And watch her feet, how they can dance.

    No time to wait till her mouth can
    Enrich that smile her eyes began.

    A poor life this if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

    We have both recently retired, he the year before me and I am still feeling anxious that I am supposed to be somewhere, doing something, where he is now settled into it. After reading your post yesterday I went and sat amongst my herd and did ‘The Trust Technique’, just being present with them. They yawned, chewed, let out wind etc. and I felt so calm for the rest of the day. When I stop ‘doing’ for them and start ‘being’ with them, that is what sustains me.

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