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!