As we come to the end of Action Week, we contemplate all the different kinds of doing. Action is not just suiting up and charging into battle. It doesn’t even have to be physical. (Although we do find that if we are getting the lockdown blues, a blast of music and a manic dance in the kitchen often sets us right.) It can be something more subtle than that, like learning to change your mental habits.
Building helpful mental habits doesn’t sound very romantic or headline-grabbing, but we find it fantastically useful. A clever man once said, ‘When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.’ We’ve learnt to practise this partly for the sake of our horses. Good horsemanship starts in the human mind, and we can keep our herd happy and relaxed and ready for the work they do if we concentrate on maintaining our own emotional equilibrium.
We also do it for the sake of our veterans, and the work we do at HorseBack. We’ve taught ourselves to see opportunity where other people see disaster. In the very early days, when we had a lot of veterans with limbs missing, we did not stare at the prothesis and think of the loss; we thought, ‘How can we get this person up on a horse?’ They might not be able to run and jump as they once had, but they could still ride into the hills.
We learned to concentrate on what was possible, rather than what was not. We saw always the human being, not the injury. We’ve had a lot of pretty broken people through our gates, but we focus in like a laser on the unbroken spirit, the remnants of hope and courage and comradeship. We knew that was still there, even if it was sometimes buried deep under pain and suffering.
How you think changes what you do. We’re not going to pretend that this long, uncertain time has not been difficult for all of us at HorseBack. We’ve all had our absolutely crappy days. We’ve all hit the wall. We’ve all felt unsettled and grumpy. (Luckily, each member of the team seems to cycle in and out of the bad days in turn, so if one of us is feeling rotten, the others will be there to pick up the baton.)
But the mental habits we’ve built over the years have stood us in good stead.
Very simply, we know that there is a choice.
The choice is sometimes quite stark. ‘I absolutely can sit here and feel furious and dwell on the bad news. Or, I can go hunting for the ray of hope, the spark of light, the moment of consolation.’
We’ve learnt from our horses that putting on a fake smile and forcing oneself into positivity never works. Horses are prey animals, and they have a finely tuned sense of the phony. (They really hate it. They can deal with raw emotions; they can’t deal with that false ‘I’m fine’ front.)
So we honour the bad days. We admit the painful emotions. We step into our times of vulnerability. We’ve found that part is incredibly important.
And then we make our choice – to find one good thing in the midst of the turmoil, to do one kind act, to reach out and ask for help if we need it. There is always the possibility of joy, even on the dourest day, even if it’s only the thing of a moment. A moment is better than nothing.
Changing the way your mind works takes time. It’s like learning an instrument; we do our scales and arpeggios every day. But if you get into useful mental habits – acknowledging the negative and then choosing to move towards the positive – you find that everything starts to shift.
It becomes easier to find the light. The darkness becomes less overwhelming. The despairing times grow shorter; the hopeful times become longer and stronger.
Most of all, you can’t do this alone. We’ve learnt that too. The team here all rely on each other. We’ve also got our individual friendship networks and we are working the blazes out of those. One day, we will be the empathetic listening ear; the next, we’ll be the one who needs a good old moan and groan. Then it’s shared, and then it’s gone, and we can keep on walking forward, literally and metaphorically.
(Glorious photograph of Maurice the Sheep taken by Emma this morning. He is definitely a moment of joy in every day.)