Sunday, October 25, 2009

Three Breaths

It rained and rained yesterday. Then, it rained some more. The horses chose to stay in the barn all day. Siete was like a kid who was bored and looking for trouble. I never bothered to put the halters on or open the gate to the pasture. I would wait until it stopped raining for a few minutes to run out to give the girls more hay. Each time I did, another deluge would begin just as I got to their stalls, and I would end up soaking wet by the time I got back to the house.

So, on the third time that the skies opened up on me, I decided to just hang out with the horses and pick their feet. Silk was glad for my company, as usual. She’s been really anxious the last couple of days, staring into the woods like there’s something out there that might try to get her. I can’t see anything, but she’s acted like this before. I know it will pass eventually, and for now, I just try to give her a little extra attention to reassure her that everything is okay.

Siete let me pick out her front left foot, but as I reached for the front right, she grabbed my jacket and tried to bite me. I threw my arms up over my head, said “Quit!” in my deepest most I-mean-it-no-kidding voice, and stepped into her space, making her back up. She put her head down, but she was still thinking about challenging me.

That’s the point at which I tried something I’d read about called “The Three Breaths Practice”. Ezra Bayda, a Buddhist meditation teacher from San Diego, writes about it in his book, “Zen Heart”. It’s very simple. When something goes wrong, you simply stop, and for three breaths, stay completely present in the moment. You feel what your body is doing, not changing anything, just bringing your awareness to the overall feeling of being in this place at this exact time.

He points out that often, the resistance we are feeling and trying to avoid is making our difficult experiences even more difficult. Sometimes, what we are resisting are only deeply entrenched thoughts and strong physical reactions."The more often we enter into and feel these moments of discomfort, the more we understand that it’s more painful to push away the experience than it is to actually feel it.” Bayda explains.

So, I took my three breaths, while Siete pinned her ears and stood braced for what I was going to do next. And by the end of the third breath, I felt different. My mind wasn’t racing through all the options of what I should do to punish her for trying to bite me, and freaking out about whether this was a big new behavior problem that was only going to get worse. I noticed that my body was way too tense, so before breath number three, I loosened everything up. Then, I just stepped over and picked up her hoof and cleaned it like I normally would. Everything inside me was calm and yet alert, observing what would happen next. Nothing happened. Siete stood watching me until I left the stall, and she started eating her hay. Walking away, I made sure I didn’t take the incident with me and chew on it. I just let it go.

This morning, I asked Siete to step back and wait while I put the flake of hay in her stall. When I told her it was okay to eat, she came forward with her head lowered, not the least bit aggressive. I thought about how we all have our grumpy moments where we lash out, only people usually use their words and tone of voice. I resolved to try this three breaths thing again next time one of my two-legged family members gets mad at me. If I snap back out of fear or frustration or a need to control, it only escalates. If I don’t instantly react, it creates a space that allows each of us an opportunity to consider the consequences. Even though she doesn’t actually live inside my house, Siete is doing a pretty good job of mirroring and leading me through some relevant life lessons.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lighting the Night With Hope

I have some new heroes. For two nights this week, my husband and I videotaped the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society’s “Light the Night” walk in Manhattan and Queens to raise money for a cure and treatment of blood cancer. At the South Street Seaport, in pouring rain, thousands of people turned out to walk on the Brooklyn Bridge and show their support. I was soaked to the bone, but it was worth it. What an inspiring sight! Saturday night, we were in Forest Park, Queens, with another huge group carrying balloons with little lights inside. Red balloons for supporters, white balloons for survivors and gold balloons in memory for those who have died. It’s very moving to look at these enormous rivers of people, holding their balloons high, carrying banners that honor their loved ones and tell their stories.

One man, whose daughter is in her 20’s and has leukemia, told me that despite the Recession, more people gave money this year than in all the eight years that his family have been participating in this walk. They say that every step saves lives. It also reminds me of the generosity and compassion we have for each other.

I’ve been watching the news these past few months, seeing large groups of disgruntled Americans protesting various things. It struck me that being in a crowd of people who were filled with love and courage and hope is a great antidote to all that negativity boiling around us. It puts everything in perspective.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I was just standing outside as the sun was rising, listening to the horses munch their breakfast and appreciating a V of geese that honked their way across the sky. This morning is the first truly cold frost that we’ve had. It’s so clear and quiet except for the sound of the rooster crowing, the geese calling to one another and the girls chewing contentedly. I felt very centered.

Late last night, I spoke to an old friend who lives in Los Angeles. We had lost touch for about ten years, and I’m so happy that she tracked me down again. We immediately fell into a comfortable conversation catching up so that it seemed like it was only ten days ago that we spoke, not ten years. It gave me cause to reflect on how many changes I’ve been through since those days when we would walk our dogs together in the Hollywood Hills every evening. I had only one animal and one man in my life at that time. Now, my world is full of family and creatures that sometimes seem to all need my attention every waking minute. It makes it harder to stay balanced and remember what it takes to be true to myself.

I thought about a moment of chaos that happened yesterday as the sun was setting. My daughter was having a teenage meltdown in the house because the computer wasn’t printing out her science project correctly. My husband was thousands of miles away in an airport, having missed a very important connecting flight, so the airline was sending him in the completely opposite direction to a different city in hopes of connecting there to a new flight that could get him to where he needs to be today. My mother was stressing out because she was hungry, and I wasn’t even close to making dinner for us. And the horses’ stalls had never been mucked because I’d been too busy all day to get to it.

To get some space and fresh air, I left the humans to fend for themselves and headed to the barn. Instead of feeding the horses and tucking them in for the night, I turned them out. Silk stood by the pasture gate, patiently waiting for me to let her back inside. Siete freaked out and exploded, bucking and squealing and giving voice and motion to all the frustrated, chaotic energy that was swirling around me. It was such a perfect visual for what I’d been feeling that I had to stop and laugh.

In that moment, I remembered something I read from author Lynn Andrews: “All of the distractions and pandemonium of your life are of your own choosing.”

Then, I also thought of a quote I saw earlier from Cesar Millan, the dog whisperer. He was talking about dogs, but it could have been horses: “They accept you as who you are - one leg, two legs, no eyes, no problem,” he says, “But they won’t accept unstable energy. That’s how much integrity they have.”

Thanks, Siete, for once again, bringing me back down to earth.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Game of the Week

We’ve got a new team sport going on in our yard. It’s the Wild Turkeys vs. the Chickens. The front lawn is the playing field.

You may recall from an earlier post this summer that a white rooster, known around here as the Chief, is the Quarterback for the chickens who live across the road. Our yard is their “free range”, and my mother feeds them liberally with all our leftover chips and bagels and grain products. Starting last fall, the wild turkeys discovered our property, and the mother birds enjoy trooping around like Girl Scout leaders with babies of all sizes. They teach them to sit on the fence rails and find goodies in our garden and sleep in the hidden island of our forsythia bushes. This year, they’ve got a new leader, Big Mama, and she is going to give those chickens a run for their chips and bagels.

The wild turkeys are very bold. They come right next to me when I weed the garden without any fear. When the horses are in the pasture, all the turkeys, including the smallest babies, march right around them like they own the place. On sunny days, the ladies like to roost on our fences and work on their tans.

The chickens are not pleased. Since Big Mama and her band are much larger than even the Chief, the skirmishes are few and quick. The turkeys chase them across the front yard, return to their position by the big pine tree and then, the chickens gradually peck their way back to the center of the field. As soon as the turkeys realize that their opponents have gained ground, they race towards them, pushing the chickens back towards the road. Silk and Siete are the official umpires, but if there’s a new flake of hay dropped in the pasture, they let the game run wild while they chow down. Our two cats provide play-by-play coverage, running back and forth between the windows inside the house with their teeth positively chattering with excitement. It keeps my mother entertained endlessly, which is such a good thing.

I’m wondering if ESPN would be interested.