I got to thinking the other day about all the ways in which it is easier to stay safe and within my comfort zone. After having been through deep grief these last two years, I feel grateful for those elusive spans of time that feel comfortable and steady. It would be easy to try to stay there and I don’t think anyone would deny me the comfort of having a little breathing room after the loss of a spouse. And yet I am aware that hanging out there indefinitely doesn’t help me to grow, change or meet my new life. And magically, as if having this thought beckoned in an opportunity, I was asked very clearly to step into something new in almost every area of my life. I found myself needing to lean in and show up more clearly in my coaching practice, my personal relationships and my overall approach to life. It felt as though the Universe was asking whether I’m in for new and evolving or if I want to hang out in comfortable.
No situation was more telling of this dynamic than my experience with a new horse out at the barn where I’ve been learning to ride. I’ve been doing some therapeutic riding as a way of supporting myself through grief and during that time I have to admit that I have been completely coddled by an angel of a horse named Grace. She is the sweetest and most mild mannered horse you could imagine and over the last few months has given me the courage to go from someone who was afraid to even walk out into the pasture to someone who is comfortable riding independently. And just when things started to feel easy, the trainer I work with told me that it was time for me to change horses. I balked. Ok, I may have even cried. I felt shaken, frustrated and a little pushed. I had been feeling safe, comfortable and confident, and now I was being asked to step up to the next level? “I’m not ready!”, I said, and the trainer explained to me that riding Grace was going to get me in the habit of being too reliant on her sweet nature and not tuned in enough to the subtlety of riding that other horses might require. I acquiesced and soon met my new equine teacher, Nikki.
Nikki was a completely different horse from Grace. With Grace I felt like she took care of me and would overlook the lapses in attention or miscommunication of energy that horses in general seem to pick up energetically. Nikki was a whole different horse. She challenged me every step of the way our first two sessions. Playing “You think you can catch me?” in the pasture when I would go to bring her in, pulling me every which way to test me when I would walk her into the barn, and acting so restless in the grooming stall that my first lesson took place there rather than the riding arena. She seemed to be asking me if I was confident, if I would take care of her, and essentially if she could trust me. I wanted to be confident and clear but for the most part I was terrified and felt incredibly fragile next to her nimble thousand pound frame. And then magic happened. The trainer, just like I do with my own clients when I have the eyes of the observer rather than an active participant, asked me to check in and see what the quality of my presence was with Nikki. The answer? I wasn’t present. I couldn’t even have told you where my feet were I was so scared. I was completely in fight or flight mode, going through the motions of grooming and hoping that just the mere fact that I wasn’t running away would be good enough. I could have gotten away with it, forced myself to face my fear and gritted my teeth. But instead I was invited to relax, to melt, to feel the ground, to feel the connection of my hand to Nikki’s soft coat. I was asked to pause, to leave everything I was doing and simply move into being. And in that moment, everything changed, everything. My eyes softened, Nikki’s eyes softened, she started to bow her head and relax her ears, and suddenly all the fear I had been holding shifted. I realized she had been picking up on my fear, my resistance, my force. When I relaxed and connected, she responded.
It was not lost on me at all that this is exactly how I strive to be in my professional world as a coach. Whether working with a parent who is wanting to connect deeply with their child but feels frustrated, or creating a compassionate space within which someone who is grieving can feel heard, or supporting someone in transition who desires change, it’s all the same work. It’s about pausing to be present, seeing what’s there, finding the connection to our hearts and moving forward with intention. To have my work mirrored to me so clearly in the eyes of a horse felt like an extraordinary blessing and answered the question for me of whether I want to stay in comfortable or whether I want to step in to that which is new and full of possibility. It’s with incredible gratitude that I’m able to say “Yes, I want to step in.”
I’m stepping in to all the possibility of my new future and the amazing thing is that even though I’m stepping in and learning new things, Grace is still always there and present, in her horse form and as a beautiful metaphor for the graceful way in which we are all supported when we say yes to that which is waiting for us.