"A man’s Self is the sum total of all that he can call his."
William James (The Principles of Psychology, 1890)
The article's author begins with the quote above, and I can't imagine a better summation of what we humans are all about. I can probably stop typing now, because I'll bet that, like me, most of the horsemen reading this blog immediately jumped to the sensation of how miserable we feel when we are not finding success with our horse-human interaction. It doesn't seem to matter at what level we feel we've failed, just that Failure is upon us, which makes our "stuff" inadequate on several levels.
|At 19 months, Dillon thought this horse was Da Bomb!|
His fondest wish was for teeth.
Level One Fail
Coming at this horse life as a beginner, we immediately confront several realities. The first of these is that owning a horse gives us some cachet among non-horsey types.
NEWBIE OWNER: Well, I finally did it! I bought a fabulous horse, and I can't wait to get started riding and showing and talking endlessly about all the horse-related stuff I'm doing. Would you like to see some photos? I happen to have forty-seven on my phone....
NON-HORSEY CO-WORKER: Sure! Is that what a horse looks like? Is it supposed to have--what are those? Shrubs?--stuck to its head?
NEWBIE OWNER: Uh...well...he needs a little sprucing up, but just wait till you see him in a few days!
CO-WORKER: I'll wait.
But there's a great deal to learn at Level One, so it's not long before the formerly awesome horse is revealed to be an unruly, poorly trained cuss happier in the pasture than under saddle. Oh, the pain! It's really hard to feel that this particular bit of "stuff" is enhancing our Self. We begin to grieve almost immediately as the loss of status of our stuff pretty much takes the punch out of our reality.
Level Two Fail
We're a semi-accomplished horseman with some miles in the saddle, and we've begun to notice that there's other stuff involved that we can be accumulating to add sheen to our Self Image. We become aware that there are other riders in the barn with saddles that aren't duct-taped, reins that aren't made from neoprene, and tossing about names that we've never heard. Suddenly it's not enough to just have a horse, because everyone who's anyone has one of those. Now we need to level-up the horse stuff that goes with it.
INTERMEDIATE OWNER: Want to see my new saddle? I got it on eBay for a third of the retail price! Isn't it pretty?
ADVANCED INTERMEDIATE OWNER: If you paid more than five hundred for that, you got ripped off. See this rivet? No stamp. It's not original. Someone reflocked this saddle, and it's lumpy. [snorf!] If I were you, I'd save up and get something a little better like my Belle Reve Awesome 44. [poking the flap] It's padded with pure baby lamb fuzz and the leather has been tanned six times by naked Australian men. You might find a used one for under four grand if you look hard enough.
At this point we realize that not only do we not get to add our saddle to our "good stuff" ledger, but our job is also no longer good stuff. If it were, we too could afford naked Australians. We drive home mentally rewriting our resume.
Level Three Fail
We've moved up to a highly-regarded career, and we've put the excess income into a better horse (or two), better boarding facility, and incredibly cool tack, clothing, and sunglasses. Our helmet cost more than our first car. We are coolness personified, and our Self is patting us on the back so hard our teeth are chattering.
Then we discover that our top-notch trainer has moved down to second-notch, and the new Top Dog takes one look at our horse and our not-quite-perfect seat, and his expression clearly says we're done for.
TOP DOG: Were you planning on showing this year?
ADVANCED INTERMEDIATE OWNER: Well...uh...yeah. I've been showing and doing very well. we took a fifth at a rated show just last month, and I've clipped an American flag into his butt hair.
Once again, our stuff needs an upgrade in service to our Self. Once again depression sets in as we grieve the lowering status of our stuff and the resultant damage to our formerly shiny Self.
At what point to we stop all of this? Never. Our horse is never going to be good enough. Our horsemanship skills will never be the best. Our saddle, boots, trainer, ribbons, house, car, truck and trailer, spouse, education credentials, body shape, list of Facebook friends....none of it is ever going to cut the mustard because that's the way we humans roll.
If we really work at it, do a little meditating, and try to get past the longing for material proof that we are Good (forget Awesome), we might make some headway. There are a thousand authors writing a thousand self-help books as I type, and many of them will be geared to getting past the reliance on stuff as a measure of Self Worth. But the reality is that for most of us, there will always be a voice in our ear telling us "If you just do one more push-up, you'll have shoulders to die for" or whatever. On the one hand, this is the drive that keeps us moving forward, but on the other, this is the reason for Depression being the highest-ranked mental aberration of the current century.
Tonight we're all going to go to bed thinking about this and about how we can stop letting stuff rule our minds and our lives. Some of us might find it a little easier tomorrow to just go out and have a good time with whatever stuff we already have. The rest of us, well...
There's always better stuff out there, and some of us will die trying to get it all.
More on this subject next week. Now I need to take inventory of my stuff because I'm feeling funny about my bathroom wallpaper, how low my cross-rails are, and about two of my six horses having unclipped bridle paths in plain view of the UPS guy. My garden has weeds. I can feel my Self crumbling. Oh, the horror!