The Gentle Way of Never Lost

My French mare’s French name is Ja’mais Perdu, which translates as, I am never lost.  I’ve been calling her JP for short lately.  We’ve been together for ten years; however, it hasn’t been until the past month that we actually learned to communicate.  You see, we were both brought up the same way, in the rather abusive hunt seat world.  That’s a generalization of course, there are many good hunt seat trainers, but ours were not kind and gentle.

I leaned the best way to control a horse was with a chain over the nose, and a shank backwards.  I learned to pull their faces in with the reins, and to put a martingale on them to keep their heads down, artificially so.  I learned that to calm a horse down you should just let them run around on a lounge line until they were exhausted, I learned that horses shouldn’t be allowed to be disobedient, they should be whipped over jumps and polls and hollered at.

The result…a fearful horse that is pretty much like a galloping trauma head case with severe anxiety.  Then these horses are thrown away, because no one has time to deal with an animal that triggers easily.

Good thing I have a “thing” for head case horses.  I think it’s because I get them, it’s not that they are “bad” it’s just that they are highly sensitive, and highly sensitive horses are by far and away the best.  You turn your head in the direction you want to go, and they move there.  You think it, they move off that thought.  Highly sensitive horses though, need sensitivity and a lot of patience.  This is why they don’t do well with most people, most horsewomen and men don’t have time to deal with such an animal.  They take years to get quiet.  They are a lifetime commitment.

This is how I ended up with my beautiful JP, she was a reject of several trainers.  Fine breeding, fine form, but a psychological nightmare.  When I first got her she was totally “inverted”.  Meaning, she ran around the ring so much with her head above the bit running away from everything, that her muscles developed incorrectly under her neck.  Instead of creating a “topline” in her back and muscle development on the top of her neck, the type of muscle development would allow her to drop her head relaxed and low.  Getting low allows her to get underneath herself and carry her and a riders weight with strength and balance.

The only way to achieve this is through complete relaxation.

Before I continue, I would like to say I have made every mistake with JP, I am guilty of using the same horrible techniques on her as I was taught.  Not now, but when we first purchased her.  But that’s how we are, we do what we are taught, until we are taught differently or until we wake up.

That’s a whole book in itself-waking up.  But let’s start at awake, like I am now… to the gentle way of doing things.  The gentle way of leadership, the gentle way of love.

Changing behavior is a lot like building a muscle, relaxation actually can be learned.  A horse like us humans have to be taught, and it begins in yourself, your own awareness.  It is important that riders take a leadership role, and we can do this through the gentle way, a way that is inviting, it is firm, it does not use a harsh tone.  If you are fearful, which happens even to me still, you must learn to acknowledge your own fear.  I often wonder in my own mystical thinking sometimes if our own fear is actually us feeling the horses fear.  When two creations are as intimately connected as a horse and rider, I think they may be able to feel each other and that takes a lot of presence to balance your own emotions while you are feeling another’s.

As I worked JP on the line this evening, my goal was softness and quiet relaxation.  To achieve that, I needed to be quiet with my voice and gentle with my hands.  I wanted to teach her that work in the ring, was relaxing.  The work was the release from all the anxiety she typically ran around with.  Myself, as the leader was the rock she could balance on.  I wasn’t going to reflect back to her any of her anxiety or my own.
She walked, she trotted, head high…then low and deep and as soon as she got there, I released her from the work, gave her a pet, and a soothing “good girl”.

We moved on to the polls, which absolute terrified her.  She was not allowed to go over them until she was relaxed.  Which she did.  And she looked lovely.

And everything was great until…she tripped over the poll, spooked and ran halfway across the arena.  Old pattern returned.  In an old life, she would have been hit for that, or yelled at, or put away and not bothered with.   What 20 year old horse acts like that?  Mine does, I thought with a smile.  Even after 10 years with me, she still gets triggered, even when no one is hurting her.

I went and collected the wide eyed warm blood and gently put her back to the work of relaxing.  Ironically, I felt serious anxiety in my stomach, picking up on her own nervousness.  I took my own deep breaths, relaxed my body, pulling myself into a present and meditative state, with laser like focus and feel of the line I my hands. I cooed low, and as soon as she relaxed, we walked and trotted over the same poll.  When we were done, she looked at me, and I at her…we took a deep breath, and I’m almost positive if horses could smile, that’s exactly what she was doing.


If we are a bit more forgiving and gentle with each other, and remain in partnership for the long haul-committed, practice relaxation as a way of achieving success, I think we will be peaceful partners; whether it is with a horse or a human.

When you practice the gentle way, you are never lost.

Words That Shimmer

“Words matter.  Words that shimmer.  Poetry is the language of which we have no defense for.  The canvas of truth that facts cannot convey.”-Krista Tippet

Krista Tippet and Neil Gaiman in the same week, I am awe struck, inspired, reminded of my own beauty…and transformed by shimmering words.  Krista was a writer and speaker who, like Neil, embodies presence.

Words do matter, what you say, matters, and we take words for granted, we speak without thinking, we write without thinking how what we say will make the other person feel.

“You know prophets by their disarming language.  They are poets, poetry is the human voice.”-Walter Bruggerman

She continued with her own words, “Listening is not about being quiet it is about being present.  It is powered by genuine curiosity.”

Her voice was kind and soft of the ears, her words were everything I believed in:

“Hope is not frivolous, it is reality based, it takes in the darkness and the light.  It is a virtue, like patience, compassion, courage and love.  Hope is a choice, a muscle that we flex.  When we choose to live with these qualities we are called to surround ourselves with others like us.  We should have companions who can carry hope for us on days that we can’t.”


No…That’s Okay…I’m Good

I was fortunate to listen to Neil Gaiman read his short work about a single woman who finds a genie.   The Genie grants her three wishes, to which she responds, “No…I’m good.”

The genie, shocked continues to give her options, a handsome man, or maybe a  beautiful woman, all the riches in the world?

“No…I’m good.” She responds.  “Would you like some tea?”

This may be one of my favorite short stories I have come across.  You see, it is a parable for a strong love and whole relationship that starts with being whole in oneself.   There is nothing to be given, demanded, some gaping hole to be filled…there is only life to be shared.

This is a peaceful love, but it starts with the greatest wish…which is wishing for nothing at all; nor desperately searching to give someone something (the Genie).

It is an invitation.

“Flowers, dinner at Bocca, a trip abroad?”

“No…that’s okay, I’m good..   But if you would like to sit and drink tea with me, or go for a walk with me, or eat soup with me, or read with me, or snuggle with me while watching 1940’s movies, then yes, but that’s not a wish…because…it’s just what I do…

….And I am good.”

Maybe I’ll get my own genie someday, maybe I won’t…either way…I’m good”




Truth in Fiction-The Tao of Neil Gaiman

The lights dimmed, and Neil Gaiman walked to the podium. 

His presence was that of an old friend you would have a cup of tea with.  Everything about him reminded me of everything… everything that I held dear.  He began with a speech he gave about the importance of books, and libraries, and why we should dream, and his childhood, and how books were saviors and libraries safe places, and I sat in timeless rapture as I felt my own childhood run back to me like a clumsy kid and wrap me up in it’s unconditionally loving arms.  He spoke to my soul, he was a part of that same fabric of stars that I came from.  Tears ran down my face.  I know ….weird right?  I’m crying at a perfectly non-sad fireside chat with a distinguished author.   But it was such happiness to hear someone speak like I speak and think like I think and dream like I dream.  And be writing…writing ….the joy of writing.

In the dark, I took off my heels and placed my bare feet on the floor.   

“Fiction can show you a different world.  It can take you somewhere you’ve never been.  Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world you grew up in.  Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different”-Neil Gaiman

Books created my discontent at an early age.  My summers, like Neil’s, were spent at the local library, I would sit for hours, reading, and exploring other worlds and lives.  I learned how to live in books, they taught me what my parents wouldn’t or couldn’t.  They allowed me to travel and think  without fear or shame or retribution.  Books were escape back into reality for me.   My love of books is something bordering on the sacred.

Neil understands this.  Maybe all of us writers do.  We understand the revolutionary power of the word. 

Books create discontent for me now, I write to show often how discontented we ought to be sometimes.  This “real” world is a bit mad.  Look at the news, see how we treat each other, see how utterly disconnected we are from other human souls.   Look at our own lives, how we hurt each other, how we say unkind things, or think unkind things, or shut down and tune out and blame. 

I refuse!  Done with those days.

“In the beginning…there was the word”….And I would add…”And the word is sound”  Stories are live things.  They are real things, they bring us into the most intimate places within the human spirit


705394F8-5C3A-443C-9E30-072A2391D742.jpegLight was  streaming in the windows illuminating the white furniture, and splashing warmth on the walls.  Anna sat tuning her guitar.

“A…A …B…B….G” she sang each note as she plucked.

”Hey Mom…”

I looked up from my latest writing piece.


”I think people need tuning.  Just like my guitar.  Who tunes people?”

I didn’t have to think, the answer sounded in my head much like a ringing A note.

”God does, honey…God tunes people.”

The soul is the spirit that longs for all


The gray sky opened up and a beam of sun hit my eyes and I started to cry.  Home…home was in that light.  I was seeing beams of light through shadow, the intimate focus of light, the colors in that light.  It was everything, it was where I was from, it was where I was going, it was where I created from.  It was All. 

I remember a moment when I was very sad, I started crying while commuting into work.  I just started sobbing, saying over and over again, “I want to go home!”  It was some sort of otherworldly crying out.  I wasn’t referring to my childhood home, it was a primal soulful cry out for home.  I didn’t know at the time what that home was.  Slowly, little by little over the past year, home was being revealed to me.  Home was with All, in this light that kept finding me when I least expected it.  Like this moment right now, as I sit bathed in morning light in my house writing, wrapped up in All.

I had experienced “All” in cooking breakfast this morning for my daughter, in the way the conductor’s hands moved over the sound, in playing the piano, in the way my horse moved with such grace, in his gray eyes long ago.  All.  This is where we are from.  This is where we are going, this is who we belong to, this All, this everything.  We don’t belong to each other, we belong in All, we go back to All.  There is no lack in All, there is no loss.  There is the warmth of sunlight, the light…which illuminates everything.

“She had a glow about her Cindy, it was the strangest thing.  She looked the best she had in months.”  Christine was lost in thought as she talked about the day she spent with her dear friend, the day before she died.  I smiled as tears ran down my cheeks, because I had seen that glow before.  A month before my grandmother died, I was speaking to her.  She laid in bed and had a glow about her, I have always described it as, the soul being drawn up close to the skin.  This light, this light of All in us, seeking to go back home.  This is why I do not fear death, because I will simply be going home to All where there is only light and love.  I have seen All, I have touched it, I have felt it in my hands.

And while death seems a morbid subject matter for a light filled Sunday morning, I think it’s rather a beautiful hopeful subject.  It reminds us of life, what we are here to do, why we came here, to bring All here, to live this life, to learn our lessons, to create, to be light and loving.

“What is Hell, it is a place without God.”  I remember the Sunday school lessons well, as an adult, hell can be something that we experience here, it is when we reject love, when we fail to forgive, when we choose not to see All in another human person.

I know that I have been an epic failure at this a time or two. And when I have, I have suffered greatly.  But then again, All works in mysterious ways.  Ways that we can’t see at the time, but through even the darkest moment, we are being called, closer and closer to this light.  It is the light that we are attracted to the most, not the person, not the music, but what is behind the music, that light, that energy that flows though everything.  It is not in one person, or one place, or one moment in time.  It is everywhere.

And this is why I cry, much, because I am so filled with awe of All.

And I don’t care if people find me strange, or too fanciful for thinking this way, for believing this way, for being awake.

Bourbon, Honey, Hot Soup and Gentle Hands

My head had the weight of a brick weighing down on my sinus’s and my eyes were a watery mess, in between sneezes I had a hacking cough.  I should have been in bed, with someone feeding me soup, and cuddling me while I felt sorry for myself.  Illness was not something I did well; I tried to run away from illness by ignoring it’s affect on my body and pushing past it to do what I wanted to do.  Yesterday evening, that was music…and the companionship of my music minion friends.  Music, honey,…and bourbon I was convinced was the cure to all aliments.

So I dressed up and took my sniffling self to Music Hall. 

“What would you like to drink?”  DP texted as I put my coat down.  

“Ugh…something with bourbon in it, I have a bad cold.”  Lucky for us Catholic’s we officially get a day off from our Lenten fast each week, mine was alcohol, so I figured I would take the evening to indulge for medicinal purposes.  It was that or hack during the whole performance.  What I didn’t’ realize was that DP was going to hand me bourbon…no mixers…straight bourbon.

“This might kill me.” 

He laughed.  

“Well, what a romantic way to die…here…listening to Wagner.”  Who was I to argue with that.  In my overly romantic brain, taking my final breaths listening to Wagner in the ornate splendor of Music Hall while I was consumed by consumption seemed delicious. 

DP escorted me to our seats where MM, the life of the party with a hilarious sense of humor, warm personality, and a “Can you fucking believe what happened to me today??”  MM used “fuck” in the kind of way that it was simply elegant.

I got my honey throat lozenges, my tissues, sipped my bourbon, and relaxed into conversing with my tribe. 

“Are you going to make it to the second half?” 

“Of course I am!  Music is healing.  But I would kill for soup.  In fact, I think starting a Non-Profit that delivers soup to sick single people is brilliant idea.  Can you imagine how wonderful that would be?  You make a phone call, and at your door comes steaming hot soup…hot chicken noodle soup…or tomato soup and grilled cheese…”

“I can see the bourbon is kicking in…” DP said with a grin. 

A few minutes later, the maestro entered the hall.  He was the kind of conductor who was so seasoned, that as soon he walked on stage, you already had the most fantastic music without a note ever being played.  What I enjoyed the most about his conducting were his hands.  He had the most gentle hands, he made the littlest movements, soft and kind to watch.  I could not pull my eyes away from his hands.

His hands reminded me of gentle moments and kindness and love, and as the music swelled underneath his fingers I was lulled into a remembering of truth.  Truth and love lie in gentleness.  Presence and command do not need harsh words or brute force, strength is gentle.  It comes from confidence and repetition, and knowing…the gifts of imperfection.  As his fingers beckoned members of the orchestra to play louder or softer, I thought love is a lot like that-it’s an invitation, a sharing.  When we love someone, we don’t try to control them, we simply invite it to join with us, we beacon them.  “Come here, come here with me and let us share in this beauty of life together.”

The evening was perfect, “Sniffles’ as MM now calls me, made it through both halves and stayed late to speak with friends after the show.  I went home and immediately went to bed.

Got up this morning and made my concoction of healing medicine:

Mango, Peach, Orange Juice

2 Spoonfuls of local honey

For lunch …Chicken Pho noodles and broth with hot sauce to clear my sinuses. 

And by the end of the day, as I was lounging my mare, practicing using gentle hands and gentle words.  I also practiced “inviting” her.  When she became frightened of a task I asked of her; trotting polls terrified her, got quiet and patient, let her be afraid, I did not get angry, just encouraged her, and found myself saying, “come here…come in and join me.”  My daughter echoed, “Yes, Perdu, come here..come join our family, we trot polls in this family, it’s okay…we’ve got you.  See I’m trotting polls too…it’s not scary.”  A hopped over the polls and soon Perdu followed. By the end of the lesson we were all trotting polls together and laughing.  Perdu, who was inconsolable only an hour earlier was now as gentle as we were.

I started to feel better again.  Thank the stars…there is nothing that a little bourbon, honey, music, and soup and the wisdom of gentle hands can’t heal.

But more importantly, getting sick and slowing down a bit reminded me that strength lies in gentleness and love is an invitation, not a command.