Yes, I’m going to talk about… the “M” word

Yes, I’m going to talk about… the “M” word

“M” word? Mindfulness? Good one, but not quite. Well, you can’t mean that “M” word!! No, this isn’t that kind of blog. The “M” word in question is…..

Meditation

Yup – I said it. I just rolled out the woo-woo, hippie, New-Agey word. The word of saffron robes and incense and people who have nothing better to do… I can see your eye rolls from here, for heaven’s sake!!

It may (or may not) interest you to know that meditation does NOT require you to be able to sit in lotus position (thank God!), nor does it require you to be a willowy 20-someting clad in spandex with a serene expression and nary a wrinkle in sight. It doesn’t even require you be sitting on a deserted beach or standing on a majestic mountaintop! Who knew?

So, are you willing to stick with me (at least grumblingly) for a few minutes to learn a little about what meditation is and how it can help with your horse? Good. You never know – you might even surprise yourself and give it a try!

If you’re like many people (including me up until a few years ago), you are pretty certain that meditation isn’t, never has been, and never will be your thing. Why? Glad you asked – let me list the ways:

  • you’re too busy
  • you don’t have the time
  • you can’t sit still long enough
  • your mind won’t stop
  • you’re too busy (trust me, I used to trot this one out frequently)
  • it’s boring
  • it’s too woo-woo
  • and, last but not least – you’re too busy

I had all these reasons, and dozens more – but I got to the place where I was a little tired of living my life on auto pilot, never “finding” time to ride for enjoyment, sit and read a good book, or even sit and read a trashy book. I would get to the end of a day and wonder how the hell I got there. Yeah, not exactly the queen of awareness. And I started paying the price. Migraines, a big uptick in my fibromyalgia symptoms, being completely exhausted and depressed – I wasn’t living, I was existing, and it sucked.

So, I “tried” meditating. I would set my timer for 3 minutes and wait for my mind to go blank. It never did. I thought -“Wow – I can’t even get this right! It’s freaking sitting still for God’s sake and I can’t even do that! What kind of a failure am I???” (Did I mention how kind I used to be to myself? No? Well, you probably get the idea…)

Now, before I get into some of the benefits I’ve received from meditating (and I meditate anywhere from 5 – 20 minutes a day, that’s all), I want to tell you how it relates to this whole Find Yourself on a Horse thing…

In this post I spoke about how your horse is likely to react to you when you approach him with an agenda. Horses are much better partners when you’re fully present. Whether you’re “just” bringing your horse in from the field or you’re running barrels to win a kick-ass buckle, the more present you are, the better the experience will be – for both of you.

The first thing you need to be able to do to improve your level of presence is to be aware of what you’re doing. But awareness does not just happen. Let me repeat that: Awareness does not just happen. It takes work, it takes awareness… wait – if we need awareness to become aware… Yeah, the whole chicken-and-egg thing, I know. And here’s where meditation becomes a useful little tool.

Make meditation your bitch.

When I say “useful little tool”, I really mean make meditation your bitch.

Meditation isn’t just for hippies any more. It can help “normal” horse owners (does such a creature exist??) with things like remembering your dressage test, controlling your road rage, alleviating your constant stress, oh yeah, and giving you a better relationship with your horse and the key people in your life – especially yourself!

Meditation isn’t just for hippies any more.

By sitting (or standing, or walking, or lying down, or riding) in meditation, you step back from the chaos that is your mind. You detach long enough to realize that your mind is chaos, but that chaos is not you – not all of you, anyway.

Meditation helps you observe the rabbit, without getting dragged down the rabbit hole.

So if you’ve “tried” meditation and found that “it doesn’t work” (see above), you’re going at it with the wrong expectations. You see, meditation doesn’t mean your mind goes blank. It means you start to find tiny spaces between the to-do list, questions that pop up, memories of your grandmother’s plum cake – God, that was so buttery and good and …. Hey! I’m still thinking here!!! Yes. You’re a human being. We think. Get used to it – but, not so used to it that you believe that’s all there is.

Mind the Gap 

Remember that tiny space between the questions and the memories of the plum cake? That’s your first opening into the world of meditation. That tiny fragment of open space allows you to realize that there is a space not occupied by thoughts. A place where you are a human being, not a human thinking or a human doing.

Mind the Gap

If the first time you meditate, you have a gap that lasts for about a millionth of a second – congratulations! That’s a great place to start. If the first time you meditate you have no gaps at all – congratulations! That’s a great place to start, too. The important thing is you started. Don’t expect miracles overnight. (I’m still not a willowy 20-something with no wrinkles and oodles of serenity).

Once you see that little chink in your thoughts the first time – notice it. Remember it. The following day, you may have 2 tiny gaps. Notice them. Remember them. As for the endless stream of thoughts? No worries – they’re not going to just go away, (because that would probably mean you’re dead, and that would suck, too…) What do you do about the thoughts, the itch, the ache in your left ankle from getting stepped on last year? Nothing. You don’t have to try to evict them from your mind. You don’t have to tally them, worry about them, or feel guilty about them. They are there – so just let them be there. (Isn’t it nice to have something you don’t have to do anything about?)

I Do It My Way

As you may imagine, there are thousands of “right” ways to meditate (explained to you in the thousands of books, apps, courses, and videos about meditation). I simply sit in a comfortable position (on a chair, not on a meditation pillow, mountain top, or beach), close my eyes, and focus on my breathing. Just noticing the breath going in and out of my body. I don’t change my breathing or try to breathe a certain way – I just breathe and notice the breath. Thoughts come up, I notice them, and then I come back to noticing my breathing. Sometimes I come back to noticing my breath within a few seconds, sometimes it’s not until the timer goes off at the end of my meditation (damn that plum cake!), but that’s fine, too. You see, one of the best things about meditation, is that there’s no wrong way to do it.

If you truly want to see benefits in your (horsey) life from meditation, commit to a week or so before you decide that A) Meditation sucks B) You suck at meditation C) I suck because I recommended you try meditation in the first place.

For those of you who want to explore meditation a little further and don’t want anything preachy or woo-woo, check out the app 10% Happier – Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. It’s available for your mobile device of choice. 10% Happier was developed by a team led by Dan Harris, an ABC News anchor who started his meditation journey after having a panic attack… on live TV. (Kind of makes forgetting your test in the last dressage show seem pretty insignificant, doesn’t it?)

The app is part instruction manual, and part humorous autobiography of how Dan found meditation to be helpful. If it turns out you love his self-deprecating humor/actual useful advice style, check out his book on Amazon. (This is an affiliate link – when all tens of millions of my readers order this book from this link, I shall retire to Tahiti and continue to write my blog from there). 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story.

Whichever path you choose, I hope you’ll give meditation a try, and that it becomes at least a small part of your daily routine. While you aren’t likely to become an Olympic-calibre rider overnight, it will help improve your relationship with your horse – and that’s what this is all about, isn’t it?

The Volunteer Spirit

The Volunteer Spirit

We’ve all heard the expression that volunteers are the lifeblood of many organizations – well, my friends, horse organizations are no different.

I spent this past weekend volunteering at the Virginia Dressage Association fall show which also included the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 1 Championships. To say that it took a lot of dedicated volunteers to make this amazing event run like clockwork is like saying that it takes “some effort” to train a Grand Prix horse – a huge understatement.

This weekend we had riders (some who volunteered around their ride times at the show), spouses, children of various ages, friends and students. They were a great group to work with. Without our volunteers, the show literally could not have taken place. A little sampling of what our volunteers accomplished this weekend? Check out the (very partial) list below.

  • secured sponsorship from a wide variety of sources
  • handled all the necessary USEF and USDF paperwork
  • hired officials, such as judges
  • handled all of the paperwork involved with rider entries (and believe me, there is a lot of it!)
  • set up rings
  • decorated the entryway to the show office
  • acted as ring stewards
  • acted as scribes for the judges
  • scored the tests
  • ran the tests from the judges’ boxes to the scorers’ office
  • dragged rings to maintain optimum footing
  • watered the flowers
  • organized (beautifully, I may add) the awards ceremonies, making sure all the horses were in place with the correct ribbons on time
  • took down all of the rings, judges stands, flowers, decorations, etc at the end of the show
  • dealt with making sure that all of the appropriate post show paperwork was handled

Without a great volunteer coordinator and a management team who treats their volunteers exceptionally well this show might have run differently. What did our volunteer coordinator provide for us? Things like amazing catering for lunch every day – freshly made soups, salads, bread and desserts along with coffee always at the ready and plenty buckets of candy appropriately placed; sweatshirts, tote bags filled with goodies and door prizes daily. VADA is very wise in knowing that if the volunteers are well treated and made to feel special, they’ll want to come back again (even if it’s only because of the soup ;-).

Virginia Dressage Association (VADA) is also very wise in that riders are required to volunteer a certain number of volunteer hours in order to be eligible for year end awards. VADA goes a step beyond this; however, and also has a Volunteer Incentive Program (VIP). Three tiers of gifts are offered for volunteers who spend 12, 24 or 50 hours (Bronze, Silver and Gold levels, respectively). This also adds an extra boost of encouragement to riders who aren’t currently competing to help out the organization.

What does this have to do with you (if you’re not a member of VADA?) It’s really two-fold. First off, if you are a board member of an organization (which is often a thankless volunteer position), be sure to analyze not only what you’re getting from your volunteers (or not), but what you’re offering as well. People seem to be busier with every passing year, and with the tighter economy, it’s hard for many to be able to volunteer like they were once able. Be creative, check out other volunteer-driven organizations and see what they’re doing to attract – and retain – good volunteers. Secondly, if you are the member of any organization, see what you can do to help. If you only have an hour to offer, believe me – a well-run organization will put that hour to very good use. And remember, if there are 8 people with “only” an hour, there’s a full day of volunteer work right there.

Moral of the story – maybe love does make the world go around, but volunteering for your favorite organization will not only get you a little love, but quite possibly ensure the future of your group. Volunteers really are the life-blood of many organizations.