(Prefer to listen? Check out my podcast on this subject)
What if… In any moment of tension, there was one question you could ask yourself that would lead to happiness?
What does it even mean to be happy?
The dictionary says Happy is feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.
The dictionary says Contentment is a state of happiness and not wanting for more.
That last part is the important part.
Happiness isn't just superficial stuff. It's a deep feeling of: Right here, right now there is nothing I'd rather be doing or feeling. It is being in harmony with yourself and the moment.
You don't have to take my word for it. Mahatma Gandhi said:
"Happiness is when you are in harmony. Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."
I have been a professional harmony-creator since 1987. It's a priority as a horse trainer.
My formal training is in the competitive sport of dressage (for non-horse people: It's a lot of fancy prancing). Dressage has made me an expert in physical harmony. I also do what is called natural horsemanship which requires me to be expert in mental and emotional harmony.
My training scale teaches students to prioritize mental, emotional, and physical happiness and harmony with their horses, and it improves their tangible results. There's a side effect: Students get happier, too.
Horses are big magnificent beings that we can connect with as we ride together into the future filled with a feeling of power, one-ness and ease. It is a synchronous exchange of leading and following and sharing energy in flow.
That's also a great way to go through life.
Look Out For Insidious Disharmony
Big disharmonies with horses are obvious. They run away. We fall off. They bite us. We know we need to change something or learn to follow them better. The trouble is that horses don't always run away. We don’t always fall off.
It's these 'low level' disharmonies that are insidious. People will fight with their horses, work harder and use artificial means in an effort to control and force their plans and ideas. This is often done within a range that is 'commonly acceptable'. Riders live with a fear of letting go and often blame their horses for what's not working.
Worse yet, many people just tolerate things that aren't working and get used to feeling out of harmony. They convince themselves it is OK. They put on a brave face, rationalize, quietly accept living with chronic tension and think it's normal to have to struggle.
Uh Oh, this is also not just about horses... This is also how many people do life.
So… From now on every time I say the word HORSE, you can substitute the word LIFE.
How to find harmony with your horse (life)
Harmony is about aligning what you think with what you do. Unfortunately humans are masters of disconnecting here. Saying 'I'm fine' is just part of our culture; we pretend we're OK when we're not. It's appropriate as a casual greeting exchange, but not as a way of being.
Disconnection between what we think and what we do creates confusion, tension, or aggression with horses. They may check-out and stop listening. The ultimate result is your horses end up going off course.
2 Ways to be in harmony with your horse (life).
- Go with your horse
- Change your horse
Seems simple, but most of the time we are somewhere in the middle.
You ask your horse to go somewhere. Your horse goes mostly where you asked but not really.
You have 2 choices. This is where you need to ask yourself the question: 'Am I going to Love it or Change it?'
Choosing To Love It:
You go with it. In this moment you decide to be 100% happy and mentally, emotionally, and physically follow him. Decide it's OK, don't wish it was different. Maybe what your horse (life) offered was perfectly reasonable and even better than what you originally asked for! Position yourself to allow it to be easy for the horse to continue on this path.
Choosing To Change It:
In this moment you can decide to re-ask, re-clarify, re-motivate your horse to do 100% what you originally asked, and don't stop re-clarifying or re-motivating until you get it! In this case it is important to ask yourself: "Is it fair, reasonable, and possible for me to make this request and expect success from my horse (life) in this moment?" If yes, figure out how to change it. If no, then it's time to Love it as it is.
What happens in reality:
Loving it, but not really: You resolve to wishing things went different. You tolerate, while complaining or internalizing. “Uch this horse is so SLOW!’ or 'I'm just not good at this'. You may not notice that what you got was better than what you asked for. Your confidence plummets and you have a lingering feeling that something is missing.
Changing it, but not really: You try to change the way things are going, but you do just enough to resist and cause brace, but not enough to actually improve things. You and your horse now hold mental, emotional, and physical tension and repeat the pattern regularly and are convinced that this is a 'difficult horse' (life).
Neither of these are harmonious situations.
Will You Love It Or Change It?
Will you decide to Love what your horse (life) is presenting in this moment and go with it; surrendering to it with ALL your heart? Remember from the definitions above: Happiness is contentment and contentment is not wanting anything more.
Will you change what your horse (life) is presenting you and be effective, clear, and motivating about the change? Can you be a reason and a motivation for change?
Big Stuff. Small Steps.
Love and Change. Maybe you're thinking: Great. Thanks, Karen: Only the 2 things humans struggle with the most!
Here are things you can practice:
1. Commit to small changes:
Before things get disastrous they change just a little. Commit to solving little disharmonies immediately. A little disharmony is much easier to address. 1 degree of disharmony ignored can lead you way off track eventually.
Don’t wait until your horse (life) is heading for a cliff at a dead run before deciding to change things.
Don’t wait until after your horse is gone to realize how much you actually loved riding him (even if he was ‘too slow’, even if you don't yet have all the skills you want).
2. Notice it:
Recognize WHEN you need to Love or Change something. Notice when you are in disharmony. If you are in chronic disharmony, then figure out the easiest way to experience a harmonious moment with your horse (life). Maybe that's just sitting quietly observing him eating grass. Maybe it's the smell of his coat. Find it. Do it. Acknowledge it (see step 4 below). Keep doing that until you experience a higher percentage of harmonious moments, then disharmony will stop feeling 'normal'.
For me disharmony comes as a feeling. It feels like a little twisting in my gut… a tightening.
This little feeling is often followed quickly with unhelpful advice from my brain such as: ‘Just suck it up’, ‘I can’t say (or do) that’, or ‘I don't know’.
Some instructors tell their students: ‘Good’ when the student knows they are not in harmony with their horse. This
can train the harmony right out of them. The same happens in life. What other people think does not matter in this exercise.
3. Decide: Love it or Change it
Once you realize you are in disharmony ask yourself if it's even possible to change it. For example, you cannot change the weather.
If it is changeable then decide if you are going to Love it or Change it."
Take a few breaths to feel or look at what is actually happening. Is it possible that what is happening is an equal option or even better than what you thought you wanted? If so, then practice Loving it.
HOW To Change it:
Play. Search, experiment, wiggle it around a bit. Find a place of ease, an open door.It’s not about force or coercion. It’s about causing your horse to follow your idea. It's about setting things up so the results flow. People make this mistake all the time with their horses (life). There are so many things designed to force a position, tie things down, or punish unwanted behavior and all it does is cause fear, tension, and a lack of wanting to do anything.
Start with changing something, anything. It doesn’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to find it on the first try. You just have to start. Change helps change happen. Precision arrives out of the possibilities that play creates.
HOW To Love it:
Sometimes deciding to Love it takes more mental gymnastics. When I was first living on my own I used to get really grumpy every time I had to pay the phone or electric bill. My bank account was at zero at the end of every month and I hated giving that hard-earned money to those companies. But what was the alternative? I sat myself down and realized I really did love having a phone and electricity. I decided to feel grateful that I had the money to pay for it, even if it emptied my bank account. I drew flowers and smiley faces on the checks and wrote Thank You in the memo. A funny thing happened: I was happier.
The easiest place to practice whole-heartedly loving is to start with the things you know you cannot change. Practice loving the weather, and people who drive slower than you.
When you feel the shift acknowledge it.
As soon as you decide to Love it and flow with things the way they are, mark the moment by saying YES!
If you decided to Change it and things shifted even a little, mark the moment by saying THANK YOU!
This is true for horses and life. When you make it ease-y for horses (life) to give you what you love, horses (life) will give you even more of it.
Right now… Are you 100% in harmony with this moment?
Are you loving it? Or are you thinking about the other things you have on your To-Do list. Are you thinking you 'should' be doing something more productive? Are you wishing this blog was shorter or that I had a different writing style?
Is there a different way you can think about it so that you can love it?
Is there something you want to change right now?
Is there a change you can make to be more comfortable? Sit up, stretch, roll your shoulders, breathe. That more comfortable place was right there, 1 degree away the whole time.
Remember to ask yourself (even in the middle of 'big important stuff'): Is there is anything you can change to make things easier (more full of ease)?
I could end here, but it's bigger than this.
Loving it or changing it a good place to start, but in the end, there really aren't as many decisions to make. Most change doesn’t require much effort. It just happens, continuously. Resisting change is what takes the effort. Finding ease is less about making and more about allowing. Changing is not the opposite of Loving... You have to love change itself!
The Next Step: Loving Change.
Learn to LOVE change because it is always happening. You surrender to it rather than fight it. You’re not helpless; you can steer your boat as you ride the wave. You can even paddle faster if you want. You will be amazed at where it can take you. Never underestimate the possibility for things to improve in ways you cannot yet imagine.
All you need is Love.
When you get really good at Loving Change it leads to the next stage: Love. You realize that everything is only love: Unconditional love. Things don’t have to be perfect or even good in order to love it or to be happy.
I don’t claim to know what it’s like to live in this place of love all the time… but I've spent a lot of years on the long and winding road heading in that direction.
Thoughts? Leave a comment below!