Monday, June 23, 2014

Who's in charge here?

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My  new barn hand has a real-life job at Wild West City, a live-action western recreation village not far from here.  The workers (actors) there ride horses for the entertainment of the crowds who love reliving that time in history when cowboys ruled.   I spent many a happy hour there over the years, so I've been delighting in his stories about the horses, who they are, how they're kept, and what fun the riders have with them.

What tickled me most was an offhand remark he made about one horse and rider pair.  The horse obviously was the better-equipped of the two, and there was much razzing going on from the rest of the crew.  "Are you riding that horse, or is he riding you?"  That's what they say when a horse obviously is getting control of the situation.
"Don't say a word!"

I loved that image, and it got me thinking about what the words describe.  I've been on both ends of that ride.  I'd love to believe that the majority of the time, I'm doing the riding.  I know it happens more often now that I'm older and have spent decades in the saddle.  But then there are also those times, even now, when the horse is in control and I'm just along as a witless passenger.

When my horse gets antsy and a little nervous, and I tighten my stomach and wish for a calm moment...

When my horse refuses to be go somewhere that for some reason bothers him, and I opt to change direction and pretend it's my idea...

When I don't get on the horse at all because he's wide-eyed and prick-eared and I guess he'd be better off in the pasture....

I'm going to guess that most riders have these moments, just as most humans have out-of-control experiences in every phase of our lives.  We can't control everything.

What we can do is reframe our reality.

Here's something to ponder.  This quote [thanks to Lifehacker.com] is by David Eagleman, neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine and author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain:


We open our eyes and we think we're seeing the whole world out there. But what has become clear—and really just in the last few centuries—is that when you look at the electro-magnetic spectrum we are seeing less than 1/10 Billionth of the information that's riding on there. So we call that visible light. But everything else passing through our bodies is completely invisible to us.
Even though we accept the reality that's presented to us, we're really only seeing a little window of what's happening. There's so many examples of this, but one that's interesting to third-graders, but also neuroscience is optical illusions. [Illusions demonstrate] that these really simple things that you think are going on in front of you are not actually representing physical reality but instead your brain is constructing something.

"Uh...no.  I don't think I want to do that."
If we can't even see the barest edge of reality, how can we expect to control anything or make good decisions?  We frame our own reality.  We create stories to explain it. We act based on our beliefs about the stories we created.  We are mere neophytes in a world so complex we can't imagine it.  So we wind up in situations like the photo to the left, where it's obvious that I'm not doing the riding in any way.  Reality that day was framed by my assumption that a horse advertised as a Western Pleasure Show Horse actually was, and by the horse's assumption that I had a few functioning brain cells.

Perhaps the biggest downfall of our lack of contact with reality is that each of us believes in our own so strongly that we go on happily ignoring the ones created by others.  My way or the highway.  When the "other" is a 1200 lb animal with teeth and hooves and an attitude, the highway starts to look like a better option.

So let's try reframing our viewpoint, not of who's in control, but of our disappointment in ourselves when we're not.  We can only work with what we have on hand (or in brain, as the case may be), and we can narrow our sights, redefine success, and check our emotions at the gate, because getting angry at ourselves or our mounts (or anything else, for that matter) is a rather fettle-less venting of something very human.  Get off; step back; try again with a new framework in place.

That's what we've got, so run with it!

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