When your life drops a glorious new day of adventure right in front of you and you can “ooh” with delight and take advantage of it, it’s time to shout “THANKYOU UNIVERSE!” and dive right in and make the most of it. It’s time to throw out the “I should’s” and the “I must do’s” and all the guilt and responsibility, and swim out into the bright light of play. Follow your nose, your feel or your feet, or all three, feel grateful and enjoy it.

Loads of opportunities have come together to make this week fine, fat and healthy, and I am so grateful that the timing left me with a free day and (wowserooni!) twenty acres of four inch deep powder snow, and a bunch of new things to practise and a sound good horse who likes to move and learn and eat apples.

Thankyou herd for it being OK to ask the young Rey del Oro if he minds if I ride bareback in the snow to put him out after breakfast. He said he didn’t really mind but if I could see my way to not wriggling on my belly quite so much on a wet coat he would prefer it next time. The rock was quite slippery, it wasn’t very comfortable or elegant for him and it was definitely worth more than two pieces of apple. Thankyou for the two minute ride that reminded me very clearly where my still, small centre is so I could add it to the ‘doing’ of active riding.

Thankyou snowy fields for the walk across with Red Devil Lad in deep powder where he said he was so happy to be out doing things in the snow and we blew, and blew before getting on and doing some very lovely patterns and stretching together. Riding in perfect conditions like these is usually a singularity here. If our luck holds tomorrow and it doesn’t freeze or thaw there might still be the best surface in the world to ride on for another day and I will be so grateful for it.

Like making the first lines on a new sheet of cartridge paper, we spiralled and circled in the snow putting into riding practise the new body learning from last weekend with Mary Wanless at Overdale. Want to see whether your renvers really is on three tracks like it should be? Are your circles circular? Lad and I find fifteen metre canter circles his best diameter in the field, why do we like them so much? Can we do our best canter figures of eight in the snow ever? Thankyou Mary, Karin and Dorothy for helping me find my right back corner and my deep tensegrity, canter on both reins was way more functionally symmetrical and had a rather ninja uphill feel to it, and the trot afterwards, kapow!

Unfolding the spaces between the actions allows the learning to bloom from bud into full flower. Apologies for the plant analogy if it’s a bit flowery, but after that I feel like a wisteria vine in June. I’m spreading my arms into new territory, some flowers are in glorious full bloom, some are tiny nodes that I can only just see, some have been deliberately pruned or dead headed, and some have gone over in blowsy remnants and are just memories on the vine.

That was a reasonable enough insight, but the wisteria image is tempting me to drift off into broader emotional states when I am practising gratitude. Some brains are so attracted to metaphor. Mine is particularly open to doing that after profound insight experiences. Back to the practical, I like this description of the imaging of insight in the brain from studies using fMRI and other techniques from James H. Austin Zen-Brain Reflections:

“Insights are sporadic, unpredictable, short-lived moments of exceptional thinking, during which implicit assumptions about the relevance of common knowledge to a problem must be discarded before a solution can be revealed.”

J. Luo and colleagues, The function of the anterior cingulate cortex in the insightful solving of puzzles.

On such a rare day how hard it is to be disciplined and not be carried away by your emotional response. But to retain the detail of what led to the insight and not affect our horses we have to do it. How many times have these amazing experiences unfolded and then pouff, they drift away in the stream of emotions magnetised to them and we find ourselves in tears on our horse, or having to have a quiet moment afterwards. Importantly for coaching or practise if we feel wrung out by the emotions we have opened ourselves to we just can’t retain the learning so well. What was the recipe for that last segment? I have no idea, I felt incredible…. How do you make ‘incredible’? It used to take me days to sort this out and I would give my horse headaches. His mind felt like one of those metal pan scrubs. Emotions are a bit like mind crocodiles. I agree with this thought, even it’s a little bit paternalistic.

“Life becomes more efficient and inspired once we learn how to channel the energies feeling our consciousness into mindful avenues that become more creative and adaptive, not into trivial pursuits and unfruitful fantasies.”

James H. Austin (2006) Zen-Brain Reflections – Reviewing Recent Developments in Meditation and States of Consciousness. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It seems a bit like growing up to responsibly steer myself away from emotional watercourses, but they can easily become torrents and I aim not to implode on my horse. He has no choice but to experience it and he won’t thank me for that. He might not feel gratitude like I do, but the biggest thing I can leave him with is to set him up positively for the next time we are together.

While I write I am listening to a song from an album made by my brother and his band Salthouse (they are well worth seeing, they are touring all this year, try and catch them https://www.salthousemusic.com/). I got up to turn it up because it is so much of him, and it sounds so much of me, it’s ‘us’. It has family resonance, and that feels good although I know and feel grateful for being lucky to have a close family. I choose to identify the ‘us’ in the listening and when we’re together. In comparison my horse has to listen to me and experience my internal state whether he wants to or not, because he has evolved that way. We can be a calm and outward looking ‘us’, or emotionally conflicted and inward looking. I can tell myself the story that I have given him choice, but it’s not technically true.

Gratitude is like the full stop at the end of a sentence. It’s the point at which effort is over. It’s where striving and yearning has stopped and we are calm, happy and complete for now. The amazing thing about gratitude is that it does some really useful things to the brain. In gratitude studies people showed greater increases in determination, attention, enthusiasm and energy compared to other groups, and feeling grateful can cause a reduction in physical ailments (The Grateful Brain (2012) Korb, A. Psychology Today Magazine). In feeling gratitude for your riding you can cherish it, then close the end cover and put it on your mental shelf and it will still be there when you need it.

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