This post was originally published by Equisearch.com
I’m not normally a person who attends plays I’ve never heard of, featuring actors I don’t know. But when a text from my friend, Linda, said, “Do you want to go see “God of Carnage” at the Dallas Theatre Center Friday night? I watched myself reply, “YES!”
Seriously?!?!? Without even asking what that could possibly be about? (I usually try to avoid any sort of carnage as entertainment, but I was just recently on a bus for a week with lots of teenagers, so a quiet theatre and adult company sounded pretty good.) And even now that I’ve seen this oddly enlightening play by Yasmina Reza, I really couldn’t begin to describe it — except to say it struck some very familiar chords. And, strangely enough, it relates quite directly (as I’m finding that most things do), to the revelations we gain through our interactions with midlife horses.
Like horses, this play puts people in an environment chock full of assumptions, and then peels back each of those assumptions to reveal the fragility of human nature. Working with horses sometimes confronts us with circumstances that challenge what we think we know to reveal the unvarnished truth.
As “God of Carnage” demonstrated (and any horse worth his salt will teach you), when our ego-created “bubble of reality” collapses, everything comes down to basic needs, desires and protective instincts. That’s when you drill right to the heart of who you are and what you need, courtesy of your half-ton teacher (who may or may not be horse-laughing at your arrogance as he invites you to check your ego at the barn door.)
“If you don’t reconcile with these things every once in a while, you’re bound to get a very nasty smack in the face,” says “God of Carnage” director Joel Ferrell in his Playbill interview (Joel most likely doesn’t know he could be a horse trainer and clinician if this Director thing doesn’t suit him). Ferrell says he wanted people to leave this play with the understanding of how close to that edge we all live, all the time. “At any moment — after a meeting with your boss, a near accident, or the subway gets stuck— anyone can be reduced to his or her five-year-old self.” (I immediately thought of trying to get Rio to lope in the round pen without dropping his shoulder. Except that usually, five-year-olds don’t yet know how to string that many four-letter words together.)
Ferrell suggests that real redemption and real knowledge can only come if you are willing to look at everything stripped down, without pretense. “I think what is hardest about finding a sense of peace or connecting with a higher power in the modern world,” he says, “is the ‘bubble world’ we have fabricated that appears to serve all our needs.”
In “God of Carnage,” Ferrell says that playwright Yasmina Reza speaks to change and redemption and the real human condition in its most vulnerable of places. “ I don’t know of anything as accessible that also feels as smart and dangerous as her work,” he says. Clearly Joel has not spent much time with horses.
Which bring me (at last) to my point.
The lessons brought to us by our midlife horses are universal. We get this vital information from our horses because our love and interest in horses makes us receptive to this mode of delivery. We can, however, come by this information in other ways; we just have to find something that speaks as directly to our heart. And often, as I just experienced, once a horse opens a particular door for you, we as midlife searchers find echoes of these lessons in other venues (in this case the Dallas Theatre Center) that adds texture, depth and context.
So here’s the question. What lessons from your midlife horse have you discovered in other formats and venues so far removed, yet so parallel, you just have to say, “WOW.”
Whew! After a whirlwind spring of Dust Off Your Dreams retreat planning and launch, the joining forces of key retreat facilitators to develop a series of related programs of varied lengths, venues, and formats (details coming soon!), lots of book-related promotion activity, and serving as a presenter (with a great panel including Linda McDermott, Jennifer Fulton, and Cassandra Thompson) at the first annual AmerEquine Festival of the Horse, and talking to so many different women about their horses, I’m now back in my office with plenty of new things to ponder with you regarding the Midlife Horses experience — and the lessons it has to offer us as we navigate Life, Part Two.
One of my favorite stories to come out of AmerEquine audiences was a woman 72 years old (I assured her that Midlife was more a state-of-mind than any particular number) who had recently bought a new horse. At first I didn’t find this revelation all that unusual. Until, of course, she told us the rest of the story. She rode a lot when she was young and, like so many of us, took a break during the ensuing decades of raising a family. She bought her first Midlife horse in her mid 60s. And, like so many of us, she was a little apprehensive about getting back in the saddle so late in life. So, following the conventional advice we all tend to get, she bought a lazy older gelding instead of that young, shiny, sassy, forward-moving horse she preferred in her youth.
Well, in this case (proving that every rule has an exception and the bottom line is listening to your own inner wisdom when choosing a horse — or anything else, for that matter) this didn’t work out so well.
“I came off that horse six times in six months,” she said. “Luckily I wasn’t hurt, but I finally realized that that fat, lazy older horse didn’t want to move, and my expectations were making him more explosive than a horse that liked to move. So I sold him and got a bigger mover — a seven-year-old mare — and I have been happy — and much safer — in the saddle ever since!”
So what does that tell us about self-limiting beliefs? About finding our own answers? About the importance of self-awareness — and making choices aligned with who you are and what you need? Now, of course, this could have gone the other way. She could have bought the sassy mare first and found out she didn’t still have the chutzpah — or desire — to ride like that any more.
But I submit that taking a step back and spending some time on the above questions will take you on a shorter path to the choices that will fulfill you in the second half of life, whether you’re choosing a horse, a hobby, an old dream to dust off, or a reinvented career.
What counterintuitive epiphanies have you run across in your own midlife explorations? How has knowing yourself better guided you to make different choices than those dictated by conventional wisdom or the well meaning advice of others? What have you learned about making choices on the midlife trail you’d like to share with others? Weigh in here, folks! This is stuff we’re all wondering about on some level — and your story may be just the spark someone else needs to dig a little deeper to excavate her own authentic wisdom. I look forward to hearing your story, either as a comment here, via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or through Facebook, Twitter or a LinkedIn discussion.
So after spending a little time last weekend with family, the horses, and now sitting here on my porch with my trusty dogs, reflecting on the whole concept of mothers day, mothering, and motherhood, quite easily the mother of all opportunities to become a better person, I’ve come to a few conclusions.
Across America last Sunday we honored mothers and motherhood in as many different ways as there are mothers to celebrate. (I hope all of them included pie) Let’s face it. Mothering these days is a lot different job than it used to be. Easier in some ways (cell phones make carpools, schedule coordination and on-the-fly redirection of teenagers a whole lot easier); harder in others (have you ever tried to get the undivided attention of a teenager embroiled in a text conversation?). Nevertheless, as a generation, I think we have adapted pretty well.
And, for those of us whose role of “mother” has now moved, as one family therapist once put it, “from management to consultant,” don’t worry. It gets worse.
Or, as Academy Award Winning Actress Goldie Hawn told Oprah Winfrey in a recent installment of Oprah’s Master Class on OWN, “One of the most difficult things, and the most important gifts we can give our adult children is to let go.” Now Goldie, keep in mind, is one of us. Or, as USA Today reports, “Hawn, 59, is happy. And the Oscar-winning comedian, who grew up Jewish but is now a practicing Buddhist, shares her spiritual journey to enlightenment and contentment in her first book, A Lotus Grows in the Mud (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $25.95), written with journalist Wendy Holden.” Goldie is also one of a key group of Boomer women whom we can all probably agree had a hand in inventing reinvention. (We’ll be looking at a few others in this inspiring group. If you know of someone who should be featured in this upcoming series, feel free to add her name to my list!)
I don’t know about you, but this “letting go” thing is harder than it seems. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s more difficult than potty training. More harrowing than pre-teen sleepovers. More daunting than driver education. The truth is, when you’ve invested two or three decades of single-minded focus on keeping someone safe, happy, and on the path to their highest potential, it’s just damn hard to now just step back and say, “OK . . . well . . . you’re done! Good luck!”
It’s quite frankly enough to wear a good woman out.
So where do we find the strength to “let go?” Where do we look for answers when we are still having a hard time understanding the questions? What do we do when “thinking out of the box” sometimes also means thinking outside the ballpark the box is buried in?
“Get quiet,” advises Deborah McCormick, PhD and co-author of Horse Sense and the Human Heart, Horses and the Mystical Path, and a new one I’m now SO excited to be editing that delves into this subject with solutions that guide us back toward nature, unplugging and learning to listen to our “inner lead mare.”
You may remember Deborah from Chapter two of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses as the one who explained how horses give us a “keen sense of direction, composure and inner strength, teaching you to elevate your desires and increase your capacity to love.”
So apparently, that’s the trick to this “letting go” thing. And once again, it is horses that seem here to show us the way. When we tap into our inner lead mare (the mother of all mothers), we find that “keen sense of direction, composure and inner strength” we’ve been ignoring in our quest to keep mothering until they get it “right.” (According to our terms, not theirs. This can be a BIG difference.)
“When you learn how to love from a place of strength, rather than from a place of fear,” says Rev. Linda McDermott, who led our guided meditations and “quest vs. quilt” discussions at our recent Dust Off Your Dreams Retreat (Look for more on Linda’s Life Patchwork sessions in coming posts), “you learn how to love more authentically, with no strings or expectations attached.”
What? No strings or expectations? Really? Is that even possible after this many years of careful mothering that created, and then knitted, those strings into a corral of safety for our little buckaroos? Our lead mares say “YES!” — and if we can manage to find her an coax her out of our shadows, she’ll be glad to show us the trail.
When Cindy Meehl, the 52-year-old first time director of the award-winning documentary “Buck,” first came up with this idea, it was the beginning of a midlife dream we can all get our hearts around. Cindy, an artist and a housewife, had never made a film of any kind before — in fact, she didn’t know the first thing about documentaries. Except that Buck Brannaman’s story needed to be one.
Cindy describes this pivotal decision in her recent interview with freelance writer and horse enthusiast Jennifer B. Calder: ” I didn’t go into it because I wanted to see my name in lights or make the great American film,” Cindy says. “I went into it knowing what this message was about and knowing if something moved me this much, to where I had that passion in my heart, then I should really think about it.” And I didn’t tell anyone—it was just this little thing, a little voice in my head, ‘”this should be a film; this should be a film…”
So how in the world would you go about making a documentary when you don’t know the first thing about film making? Cindy is a big believer that the right people come together at the right time to do the right thing if given half the chance. (I actually experienced this phenomenon while writing The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses!) “Where your mind goes, energy flows,” is Cindy’s favorite descriptive quote of this process. I couldn’t agree more.
So what idea, dream, or impulse do you have that deserves your passion? What changes are you willing to make — and what risks are you prepared to take to follow a certainty that something MUST be done and you are the right one to do it?
One of the most popular sessions at last week’s Dust Off Your Dreams Retreat was the “fill your toolbox” session conducted by Denise Barrows of Practical Equine Solutions. Her assistant, you see pictured here, was a wise old horse they call General. And believe me, when those beautiful blue eyes look right through you like you’re not even there, you know you’re going to have to dig much deeper to get his attention. (He’s actually kind of an old fart about this, but that’s what made him so perfect for this exercise. It does help that he’s so handsome!)
So here’s the exercise: gather up your core conviction (or as Deborah McCormick, PhD, explains in Chapter Two of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses) engage your “inner lead mare.” And calmly but with all the inner force you can muster, walk straight toward the horse, asking him to move out of your space. All you want here is to see the horse recognize and honor your “inner lead mare” — and respond by taking a step back. Eyes and ears on you and a single step is plenty good enough.
This is where little bitty Denise showed the retreat participants how to “get as big as you need to” (and keep at it as long as you have to) to get the result you want. General, who oddly enough is not a therapy horse at all, but “just” one of the 20-something horses in the Wildcatter’s trail string refused to move until each woman got frustrated enough to dig deep enough in her core to find that inner lead mare who, in some cases, made her debut in that afternoon light of awareness (even though she’s been there all along, just waiting to be called!).
This was a fascinating thing to watch, and, judging from an email we received from one of our participants on Wednesday after the retreat, works as well on snarky supervisors in the workplace as it does on obstinate old horses in a dusty roundpen:
“I got to use some of my newfound “horse sense/confidence” already this week! Yesterday I had [a difficult meeting with my supervisor] (details and participant identity omitted for the obvious reason) . . .She is very stubborn and non-flexible, a lot like Precious. . . I knew she would be rigid to [the change I was suggesting] and have some ridiculous excuse as to why.
So [just like Denise taught us in the calm courage exercise], I did my research and “scoped” out the situation before going in . . .then, even though she caught me a little off-guard, I was still able to use my body language and just tell her that this is what needs to happen…She kind of huffed and puffed a little…. stomped her foot a couple of times… swatted a few flies, then agreed to [make the requested change] and get back to me next week. I walked away feeling good about [the confrontation] and knowing that it will be okay.”
Do you know how to summon your inner lead mare? Test your ability to project your energy from your core by practicing it with a horse (any horse will do!) . . . and even if this doesn’t work as well as you’d like at first, the more you practice, the quicker and easier it is to get her to come when you call her (and stay happily grazing in the background until the next time you need her! [If you’re curious about this exercise, check out Chapter Two of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses and my interviews with Deborah McCormick of The Institute of Conscious Awareness at Tres Aguilas Ranch just outside San Antonio, Texas (I also highly recommend their retreats as a next step for anyone wanting to go deeper in these concepts and explore specific issues and goals), as well as the McCormicks’ two books, Horse Sense and the Human Heart and Horses and the Mystical Path)
Try it and share what happens! Comment here, on our Facebook community, Twitter, show us on YouTube (believe me, I wish the camera had been running when I tried this at my first retreat — it had to be hysterical the way that horse looked at me and ignored me like I wasn’t even there. But it got better. And it would have been fun to see the progression!) I can’t wait to see how practicing this exercise with a horse impacts your interactions and effectiveness in other areas of your life.
Wellllllll . . . .
If it could have been any better, I couldn’t imagine it. A spectacular setting that turned out to be everything I hoped it would be and more. Leaders and participants whose interactions and explorations created just the right atmosphere of mutual support, spirit of adventure and quiet introspection that, by the final Sunday morning exercise, managed to coax even the most elusive dreams out of the shadows. (Sometimes, it turns out, the dream may be only to have a dream. Good enough!)
Even the questionable weather held off (except for providing us with an apropos dust-blowing-in-your-eyes corral metaphor that, while irritating at the time (literally!), just bounced happily over to join the growing pile of life-changing metaphors gathering by the fire where we enjoyed our apres-dinner s’mores. (Bet you never thought you’d see “apres dinner” and “s’more” in the same sentence, now did you? Oddly, even this is a metaphor for the diversity of dreams in this group.)
Yes, this was a pilot group. Not horse people (or pilots, for that matter, although I do think we may have nudged a couple of latent horse dreamers back toward the saddle), and a good enough range of ages and interests to get a solid idea of how well our content and leadership team would gel. Even more important than that, we really got a good, up-close-and-in-person opportunity to see if this event will truly create insight pathways for women in transition to help them discover what’s next in their lives — and take decisive first action steps toward it.
I’ll be posting more (much more!) on the topics and insights dancing naked around the fire with us last wekend. (Oh, get your mind out of the gutter — the only things stripped away this weekend were the obstacles, excuses, fear, doubt, worry, anxiety, insecurities and judgment that keep us from getting more of what we really, really love back into our lives.)
Meanwhile, a question emerges. Do you know what your dream is? If I stopped you in the hallway (and you had only a few seconds to spare) could you state your dream in one quick sentence? Try it! And if you’re brave, send it to me here as a comment, via email to email@example.com , or post it on our Facebook page or Twitter.
One thing we learned for sure this weekend is that there is power in this midlife community that’s out there pulling for you. Gather it close and open your eyes to the marvelous resources all around you, just waiting to be invited to help Dust Off Your Dream!
This story comes to us from my feed store friend and was just too good not to share. And, paired with my recent participation in Terri Maxwell’s Finding Your Purpose Workshop last Saturday, got me thinking about jobs that are, as one famous baseball player once said (I forget who . . .anyone remember?), “like getting paid to eat ice cream.”
So here is is. On touring Purina’s mothership in St. Louis, my friend discovered that every species of animal Purina makes food for is raised from birth at this giagantmo facility (she said the baby dairy cows might have been the cutest), and there are people whose full time job it is to handle baby animals from the second they’re born, just to get them used to being handled, examined, and evaluated as the humans who work there seek to document the effects of their feed formulations on things like performance.
This, she said, was impressive enough until she was ushered into a large room for a presentation on a new high performance horse feed. As the crowd watched, Purina scientists strapped monitoring equipment on a full-grown horse and then put it on a treadmill for a demo.
I think at this point any detail about their new high-performance feed were lost on her as she watched with fascination the horse on the treadmill. On cue it walked, and then trotted, and then cantered. Yes, you read that right. A full grown, full-sized horse, cantering on a treadmill. With monitors and a crowd of people watching.
I don’t know about you, but I have trouble even walking on a treadmill — with only two feet to keep up with. And yet, this horse wasn’t even bothered.
So of course, my friend raised her hand to ask the obvious question (that, probably much to the presenter’s chagrin, had nothing to do with the new feed formula they were so proud of) “How do you teach these horses to do this?”
With a why-do-they-always-ask-this-first expression, the rep answered, “Oh, we have a full time vet tech staff whose job it is to handle these horses from the time they’re born. They just play with them on the treadmill every day and get them used to all the people and equipment and testing protocols.”
Really? People get paid to play with baby animals to get them used to their job? Doesn’t the very fact that there IS such as job as this make you wonder what other kinds of fun jobs there are in the world — particularly in the horse industry — that you’ve never thought about?
Not coincidentally (Intrigue Expert Sam Horn calls this “Serendestiny”), since I just spent all last Saturday trying to boil my strengths and passions into a two-word, verb-noun construction (easier said than done!), I was still pondering the concept of finding and creating work opportunities that create that “sweet spot” pairing between what we do and what we love. (I’m going to resist going off on a Starkids and Farm Planet riff here. I do have a fourteen-year-old. So smile if you get this.)
So with this concept in mind, I challenge you. What brings a smile to your face and fills your heart with joy every time you think about or do something related to it? How can you get more of that into your life? What if there was a job out there that would pay you well to have that feeling every single day? And, on the flip side, if that thing that brings you such joy becomes “work,” will it then be less fun?
Let me hear from you! (If you want to know more about this workshop and its related programs, check out Terri’s book, Succeed on Purpose, Mindy Audlin’s book, What if it All Goes Right? and Terri’s Website, www.succeedonpurpose.com). I think it’s easy when we get to this point in life to consider work as “what we do” and our passions (things like spending time around horses) as “what we love.” What if you could have both?
Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!
But it turns out the secret to to solving most of our physical midlife woes (including that belly thing — where the heck did THAT come from?) lies in finding (not easy) and working correctly (deceptively easy at first) those tiny, deep muscles groups that can make all the difference in the world in how you stand, how you sit, how you move, and of course, how you ride.
As we delve into the mental, emotional and maybe even spiritual aspects of taking action on our midlife dreams at the Dust Off Your Dreams Women’s Retreat, we’ll also take a turn in the barrel with the physical, featuring some Pilates work that will turn this amazing light bulb on for you as it has for so many others. Once you find these little powerhouse muscles, learn what they do and learn how to work them, you’ll be able to add just a few minutes here and a few minutes there (Just dedicate TV commercials for a week to the few simple Pilates exercises you’ll learn and you’ll be AMAZED at the results you you’ll see and feel!)
To lead us in this adventure, I’ve invited Cassandra Thompson of ABSolute Pilates to present a mini workshop in our Saturday line-up of activities. Cassandra is a former dancer and a Stott Certified Pilates Instructor from New York City (I know. But she did buy a horse as soon as she got to Texas. Just recently, she got a pick-up truck. She’s coming around.)
Pulling together the threads of her life experiences: import/export business, entrepreneur, dancer, part-time Pilates instructor, and last but not least, a hip replacement, Cassandra is another woman beckoning to us from the other side of the decision to follow a midlife dream. After loading up her New York life and moving it all to Texas, she opened her own Pilates studio ( inspired by the experience in rehabbing that hip, she now devotes much of her business to helping others learn how to work through physical challenges). After buying her horse, Murphy, Cassandra began to put the pieces together of how the physical challenges of midlife horsemanship can be solved with Pilates.
“I find Pilates fascinating, and the more I teach, the more amazed I get,” Cassandra says. “It is not just a series of exercises — it is a philosophy, it is bio-dynamics, it is restructuring and correcting your body and the way in which you move.”
Click here to read my recent post about these muscles and what they do (and why we should care!)
“In Pilates, we learn how to change from moving from peripherals (arm and leg) to moving from our core. These exercises are very subtle AND very powerful in how they change our internal structure. Pilates corrects issues coming from past injuries and also works to prevent future ones. As the old saying goes, “the more you learn about Pilates, the harder it gets!” Also Pilates is sneaky — the easier the exercise looks, probably the harder it is.
Are you ready to sneak up on your core issues? Join us for the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreat at the Wildcatter Ranch Resort And Spa in Graham, Texas April 13-15 for the weekend that could quite easily change the way you think (and act!) in Part Two of your life.
But HURRY! Registration ends at midnight tonight! (But the retreat’s still a month away) To register — or for more information about this retreat, its dedicated team of presenters, its spectacular venue, or the book that started it all, please call us at 1-888-773-8187, email me, or visit us online at www.dustoffyourdreamsretreats.com.
Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!