Human beings are strange creatures, often waiting until we are forced to change rather than choosing to change before we "hit the wall." We see signs--irregular sleep, discord with others, regular illness, excessive drama, acting outside of our values--but we ignore them. We don’t act or we don't act consistently. Each time we ignore a sign we place a brick in the wall we eventually hit when all those signs add up to crisis. Sine qua non is Latin for indispensable element or condition. I call it "readiness." This blog seeks to connect those who are searching for or have found the sine qua non of change. What makes you or keeps you from taking off? What keeps you from flying or helps you soar? What do you know about change that can help others?

Monday, February 06, 2017

Blessed advice for climbing out of the hole



I still wear a safety pin (different sizes for different outfits) to communicate my willingness to provide safety for those who might feel threatened or bullied. But I haven’t yet scored the big volunteer opportunity I sought, my piece of transforming the world—a commitment to social justice, environmental sustainability and spiritual fulfillment . . .

. . . and I can't seem to get motivated to do the one thing that has inspired me through tough times--exercise. I walk a few times a week, but I used to run. It's been some time since I made a regular commitment to yoga. My upper body especially needs some strength building. I just can't get off my bum, or can't get off consistently.

I have logged a ton of hours researching volunteer gigs. It turns out there is an occasional need for a photographer and writer, teacher and group leader of some kind (targeting passion work wasn't as difficult as I imagined). I have inquired and applied for about a dozen causes (from the ACLU to a local farm-to-school) that match my altruism. I'm feeling a bit bogged down in what feels like a kind of volunteer speed-dating, looking for a meaningful way to contribute that makes my heart sing . . .

. . . and just like when one contributes to worthy causes to offset taxes, there are dozens of volunteering choices, both big picture (what matters most) and detail (how far/how many hours) considerations. It all takes time, and a good match takes longer. I expected to be doing something big by now.



Because of her interest in those most at-risk an activist-friend told me she will put herself in service of elders. She is looking for both one-on-one care and advocacy opportunities. I admire her clarity. Her second hi-risk volunteer choice turned out to be animals, though she didn't say how she would serve. She’s poised and ready and I have only slightly refocused on my own health and sanity. I have reconnected with my estranged relationships. I am getting back to my art. It turns out worrying and catastrophizing takes a bunch of time. Time that could be spent doing something more constructive, and fulfilling. 

So there I was completing applications and background checks, and waiting for updates from unknown recipients. While working and sighing through a day in my office, I finally realize my heart feels heavy. Too heavy. And then a little voice, “You are not full enough to help anyone else.” 


Two days later I met Rainy. She's the first horse I ever harnessed, cheek-to-cheek, and "turned out" into the pasture. I found the ad on craigslist, an Arabian horse rescue and education organization a pleasant 30-minute drive from my home through farm and ranch land. Half of the property is devoted to boarding and half to rescue. 

I have been attracted to ads involving horses for more than 3 years, different spins on the equine theme, many focused on horse therapy. None were a perfect fit, or maybe I wasn't ready. This group does Arabians. The place is the fulfillment of a vision created by a retired physician and his human resources professional wife. They chose Arabians with purpose. 

Arabians have a distinctive eye and nose structure, an epic history as a fast, hardy lot bred for warfare and hunting. They are courageous, stealth and are family friendly. And they are the breed most likely to anger their owners by biting or kicking if they get nervous or anxious due to inept or abusive training practices. It's not a surprise they are the breed most commonly found at kill shelters.

I had neighbors who had horses when I was in elementary school and was on one bareback long before I knew how to ride. My first memory is having their "safe" horse run me through low-hanging branches to knock me off. Through the years I'd find myself on a horse every few years. My sweetie and I have gravitated to horse rides on our vacations, and have spent a few afternoons galloping on the beach. We even spent a long weekend on a trail ride in Central Oregon--still my favorite vacation of all time. Galloping through the woods after one of the dogs busted open a hornets' nest, and on the prairie singing the theme to the 1960s western drama, Bonanza,;even swimming in a mountain lake on horseback. There is even a barn a few miles from our home where we often go to snuff on horse noses. 

Now, on Wednesday mornings I love on horses. I feed and harness and turn them out and then I clean their stalls and make sure they have lots of water (amazing upper body exercise). Once those that have been mistreated are given good food, safety, kindness, a place to rest and a place to be outside (and are filled up), they transform. He stood swaying at the pasture gate the day I met Mr. Clover. Small and slightly dapple on white, he looked pretty awful, matted mane and a goopy eye, like no one ever loved him. He shied away from my offer of touch. A week later when I saw him, he only swayed at the pasture gate when he was tired at the end of the day, and he let me touch his nose. Today he ate apple slices from my hand.

As for me, mostly good signs. I'm regaining my positivity, breathing without deep sighs, laughing some, making plans. I’m getting unstuck from my position swaying at the gate. I am filling up before I go out and save the world (or at least my little part of it). If you’re still climbing out of the hole, I highly recommend it.

3 comments:

Richard said...

Terrific post! I love your resilience and dogged persistence. Kudos!

Katherine said...

Richard reminded me that I can "check in" with you any time through your blog! I so appreciate hearing your heart. Sounds like you received a good fill-up at the ranch last week.... that makes my heart smile. Thanks for the important reminder that we need to keep our own tanks filled in order to be in highest service. Love you...

Julie said...

Sweet sharing - you brought tears to my eyes and a swelling in my chest. I'm in a similar space of feeling battered by the events taking place in our nation and a major change in employment circumstances following a year of social unrest (to put it mildly) in a job I just left. Thank you for the permission to rest a little bit, work on my passion, and allow my next steps to reveal themselves me.

The Journey

by Mary Oliver



One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I mourn for you

I cry because someone important once degraded you, carved a mark on your soul that colors your lens, distorts your thinking. I ache because your head has built a wall around your heart that protects you from people you long to know. I grieve because you serve others, settle for less than you want, sit with that lump in your throat and ache in your heart that leaks tears when you speak. I mourn for the signs you saw and ignored, parasites sucking you dry of money and emotions, of goodwill and compassion until you cannot put a sentence together any more than you can repair your life because you are clueless about where to start.

Awareness before change

Awareness November 2008

“I was hoping to come back and join you in bed,” my sweetie said clearly disappointed as he walked past me on his way to the bedroom after spending the night in the guest room where his back finds respite. “Too late,” I retorted, fully clothed, brewing a cup of coffee and unfolding my buttermilk pancake recipe. He continued to our bed, surely hoping I would change my mind. Standing my ground meant we missed out on the irreplaceable morning “spoon”—a defiance way beyond the occasion and very much out of character.

I had nothing to say on this Pancake Sunday--a ritual we started to bring the family back to the fold once a week, even after Mom arrived; even when my sweetie tried to get me to leave my post at the grill to come see the critters converged on the deck enjoying the morning’s banquet of seeds and suet. I ignored him. “I’ve got pancakes to turn,” I growled under my breath.

I could feel myself slipping over the edge as Mom poured syrup and detailed the lives of her neighbors and their little girl whom she cannot forgive for going without underpants, and the impending birth of twins, and the small house they live in, and the Mom’s favorite coffee and their latest conversation encased in a “Then I said,” and “Then she said,” recalling every word. “I don’t care,” I thought, through my blank stare.

That was the first time I realized my heart hurt. Not the “I’m-having-a-heart-attack” kind of hurt, but an ache in the anterior. I breathed deep into the pain and sighed.

Luckily only Mom had joined us on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Instead of the usual group of friends and optimistic chit-chat, we ate with an uncomfortable quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pack up and go home after breakfast, leaving me alone to dwell on the status of my relationship, the recent and untimely death of a friend, my floundering career. My heart hurt. I breathed deep and sighed and relieved it for a moment more.

Awareness October 2009

Darkness had not yet dissolved on the Saturday morning I awoke anxious and sad and inconsolable. The contrast was stark to the usual song in my head. The frenzy prevented me from turning and breathing and willing myself back to sleep. What? I wondered.

The channels flipped on my internal tube, exposing trailers of unfinished business, the chasm I feared growing between me and my daughter, the class the previous day that produced two negative evaluations, conversation with the neighbors at dinner the night before where we talked about elders and our turn, Thanksgiving plans upended again in a phone call.

I paused and hit replay. Decades of chaotic Thanksgiving scenes montaged through; my Dad’s death on the holiday when I was 5, yelling and swats with the hair brush over dresses and curls, a major riff in the family where half split off to celebrate elsewhere, Mom insisting on celebrating one place or another creating the necessity to “pick sides,” my daughter throwing up to avoid choosing, the ache in my heart the year before. Years of chaos and drama created by ancient sadness and suffering disguised itself as current reality and visited me there in my bed to me to remind me to move on.