Thursday, June 25, 2015

Equine Assisted Learning - A Haven Reflection

My first interaction with Chester, Laura's horse, brought me to tears. I approached him and he shied away. B, who I affectionately refer to as the horse whisperer HW, asked me gently, "Do you know why he did that?" I shook my head.

"You weren't sure of boundaries, and your intention wasn't clear."

I immediately began to cry at the truth of this statement. I knew it without knowing it. I'd spent the past year learning about how my weak boundaries had caused me trouble in interpersonal relationships for years. I had made some great progress, but now, Chester was indicating I still had a ways to go. The realization felt heavy. The tears helped me take in all of this information explained in such new terms.

"It's okay. That's why you're here. These horses are here to help."

HW and her friend P helped the four of us Haven Retreaters--city dwellers and horse novices--learn about the amazing gifts horses were created to offer to humans. They are deeply in tune with energy fields and mirror what they perceive. That's why Chester shied away from me as I approached him. I WAS hesitant no matter how hard I tried to play it cool. I could fool myself, but not him.

They pointed out the particulars of what we were observing among the horses in the herd. Fascinating and big and divine. Those are the best words to describe it.

HW and her team led the horses we would work with into the arena. A melancholy and sleepiness washed over me as we observed the horses and prepared for our one-on-one time with the animals. They were huge. I'd never stood so close to horses before and their size was overwhelming.

HW gave us a chance to get used to the horses' presence and to watch them interact with each other and with her. Finally, HW looked at me and said, "Julie, which horse would you like to choose?"

I immediately wept. "I clearly have more work to do when it comes to standing up for myself and establishing my boundaries." I turned and pointed to the bigger horses. "I don't do things the easy way, so to learn what I apparently need to learn, I will choose one of the big horses." I made this speech through my tears. "I'll take Luke because that's my nephew's name, but what I'd really like to do is take that smaller horse. He scares me less."

HW looked at me with gentleness and said, "That is great self-awareness, but I would like to suggest that maybe sometimes you don't have to do things the hard way. If choosing Star makes you feel safer, choose Star." I appreciated her permission to be gentle with myself and agreed that Star was the horse for me.

I asked a question and HW asked me to walk away from the horses and humans to demonstrate her answer. After she was finished with her demonstration, I stayed in place.

And then THIS happened:

Suddenly, Luke, the horse I had first identified and then decided not to choose, chose me. HW reminded me to stand my ground, be firm in intention, which originates from the gut, and to breathe. Luke walked straight toward me and stopped inches away. We communed for what felt like a long time. And then as suddenly as Luke approached me, he turned and walked away confident that I had gotten from him what I needed.

HW beamed and told me she was proud of me and that it was time to approach Star, the smaller horse.

My time with Star was instructive too. He tested my boundaries and showed me what it looked like and felt like when I did not reinforce them for myself or others. He continued to test me, and I continued to be a willing student.

The other photos taken by HW's friend, Becky, capture my mellow, introspective demeanor in my hour with the horses. I was overwhelmed by what information the horses were mirroring for me. I was weary from the weeping. I was on sensory overload. But I was also proud of my accomplishments and ready to put them in practice when I returned to my regular life.

While equine assisted learning wasn't on my 4040 list, I know that the list has created internal space that makes me willing and open to experiences like this. I am blessed beyond measure for the opportunity to learn about myself on the page and away from it. The instructive moments provided by Chester, Luke, and Star will not soon fade.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

16. Go to a Concert at Riverport (now called Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre) CHECK.

A few months ago a friend and I managed to get tickets for Taylor Swift's second show in STL for our daughters. Given the small fortune it took to make this amazing experience a reality, I decided that I would practice my word of the year GENTLE and overlook the fact that the TS concert was at a different venue, and allow it to count for my 4040 checklist.

And then a few days before Zac Brown Band was coming to the venue stipulated on my list, I scored two free tickets. I invited my friend, N, and she was able to join me.

Zac Brown Band was fantastic. They played such a great mix of new and familiar tunes. We sang along and swayed to the music. I commented that Zac Brown really has a voice for the Broadway stage. He's theatrical and engaging. And his band of brothers are entertaining as well.

My friend and I were in mellow moods and the crowd was not so big, so remaining seated most of the time did not hurt our view of the stage. We sat on the grass wrapped in blankets on a cool May evening, enjoyed world-class music, and took in the sights of other concert goers who seemed impervious to the cool temperature based on their choice of wardrobe. This was a moment when I realized that 40 really is old in some respects.

Yes, I actually wore this to a concert in May. That's what 40 does. It knows oneself and one's personal temperature gauge and says, "Wear the hand band. If you are cold, which likely you will be once the sun sets, you won't enjoy yourself." I was slightly self-conscious standing in line in the ladies room, but then a woman commented on the head band and noted that I looked warm and she was cold. Practicality DOES win out after all!

More than the set list of the evening and the way that Zac's musicianship makes my heart flutter, I will remember that I got to share really great music with a really great friend.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Haven Writing Retreat - First Reflection

"Ask me a month later and I may be able to tell you. I can't now...I don't know myself...I'm too near it. My thoughts feel as if they had been all stirred up until they were thick and muddy."

I read these words this morning from Anne of Avonlea. This is Anne's answer to Marilla's question about how her first day of teaching went. I am borrowing Anne's words as I continue to metabolize the experience in Montana that is now a week-and-a-half past.

I have been working on a response to the question, "How was Montana?" for a week. I don't have a ready answer. During the entire retreat, I felt at a loss for words like they had been confiscated for a time. That's a strange experience to have when one is at a WRITING retreat. But it also allowed my heart and mind to absorb everything that was happening. To soak it in so that I'd be able to access it later.

In one word, the retreat was TRANSFORMATIVE. I flew to Montana THINKING I was a writer, and I arrived back in Missouri KNOWING I am one. My one-on-one with Laura Munson was encouraging and instructive. She pointed out places for improvement (Point of View, no adverbs, and less stage direction) and highlighted the places that my writing was already excelling (passion for the craft, my love for my characters, having what cannot be taught). She underscored that I was willing to play on the page and told me that that takes courage.

Laura encouraged me to determine why I was writing this book. I had a ready answer: Writing Astrid's story is my practice in being FEARLESS.

This epiphany is a beautiful accompaniment to everything I have done and worked for in my year-long celebration of 40. The mindset that the 4040 list has created made this retreat possible. Getting to Montana was a leap of faith financially and otherwise. Asking for help through the gofundme campaign took me out of my comfort zone. Once I arrived at the ranch, surrounded by majestic fir trees, the sounds of birds, the sight of tree swings, I knew I was on hallowed ground. When I encounter the sacred in the ordinary, tears pool in my eyes and stream down my cheeks. There were a lot of tears those five days at Haven.

My heart has weathered a lot over the past few years, and Haven invited me to come and rest. To laugh and to cry. To breathe and offer thanks.

There is so much more to tell. Please be patient as I recapture my words. There's so much goodness I want to share.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Postcards from Montana

June 4, 2015

Dear Reader,

I had a wonderful travel day and as is always my hope, I sat next to and conversed with two very lovely people on the flights to Salt Lake City and Kalispell.

One of the other retreat attendees who was already in town picked me up at the airport. We shopped for a few things at Safeway before returning to the airport to pick up another retreat attendee.

We shared wonderful conversation at lunch and then drove to the Walking Lightly Ranch.

Suburus seem to be the Montana State Vehicle and we were glad to be driving one as we made our muddy, bumpy way to the ranch.

I wish you could crawl into my mind's eye to see the beauty of this place. Even though I am at a writing retreat, words escape me to describe how stunning the nature around us is.

The Haven Community has already formed. Fast friends have been made. Delicious vegan food has been eaten. A reading from our author-facilitator near the hearth has been shared. A good night's rest after a long travel day has been slept.

There is so much more to write, but I don't have the energy just now. I am certain I will be writing about these five days for months to come.

Stay Tuned. Thanks for your interest in this journey of mine.


This is the view from my bedroom. I look forward to sitting on one of the swings and soaking in the lake and trees and sounds of Montana.