Comon'. We've all done it. Ok, maybe not literally, but we've all had a moment when things didn't quite go to plan. Blindsided. Knocked down, without knowing if you'd be able to get back up.
After 49 years and 8 months of life, I can report knowing that feeling better than I‘d like to admit. This latest incarnation happened yesterday afternoon, when I was, quite literally, thrown off a horse. He was a large, spirited fella, made all the more so by the gusty winds that continue to sweep over this fair isle. We'd had a good hack and were actually winding things down (no pun intended) when a big gust and a 💥bang💥 spooked Rodeo (you can't make this stuff up) into rearing up and tossing me off.
I saw it happening in slo-mo, like a bad car crash or a bowl of spaghetti marinara spilling onto white carpet. I landed hard, my bag of bones and skin and organs and fluid hitting cold, packed sand. I heard my voice screaming out, again, and again. At first I didn't dare move. My back, I thought. My fragile back.
I realised my glasses had bounced off my face only when they were handed back to me, unbroken. As I tested out some basic joint movement, I rolled around in the sand first onto my front, extending my legs and arms, and finally onto my back, where I was able to bend and extend through my knees. I crawled to vertical, and was able to walk. At first.
After a good twenty minutes of slow breathing, pacing the yard, and trying to establish if I could drive, I did manage to make it home. But, having had acute injuries before, I knew it was only a matter of time until the pain kicked in, and my body would sieze up.
Getting out of the car was infinitely more difficult than getting in, and walking proved impossible. As I laid on a pile of cold packs, all with their own story to tell, on the sofa in the reception, I felt foolish. What propelled me to choose this activity, with all it’s known risks, when living in my body over these nearly 5 decades had surely proved risky enough?
If Covid taught me anything, it’s that life is short, and each choice is a negotiation of risk and reward. Riding horses for me was an activity that was relatively safe (Covid speaking) but perhaps more importantly, it symbolically represented youth, joy and present-moment connectedness. And… I never thought I would be thrown.
So, this is the point in the article where I say, “there is a lesson in everything, if we care to look”…and boy, do I. First off, how fortunate I was....how fortunate I am. I wasn’t trampled, I can feel my fingers and toes. As I write, I’m in my own hospital room in A+E with fresh water by my side, and even a working mobile phone. I am grateful the ambulance came to my house and were able to help me navigate getting to the hospital.
In looking at my history and all the funky things that happen on a weekly basis in my world, many people would be quick to point out the opposite. They’d call me Unlucky. But to that, I say, luck has nothing to do with life. Life is a river, and a river has obstacles. The obstacles in a river aren’t good or bad in themselves, they are there for a reason. There they are, nonetheless, as sticks, leaves and boulders - intermingling as stirring up of sorts, adding, ultimately, to the river’s unique rhythm. It’s never about the obstacles, but our beliefs about them, and how we learn to navigate.
Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati used to say, 'year 1 students get year 1 tests. Year 4 students get year 4 tests. You are always given the challenges in life that you are ready for. You might not realise it, but these problems are a chance to apply the practice.' So, what then, is practice?
I've been contemplating this a lot lately, as mine changes and meanders over time in an aging body - as I attach myself to different teachers as my path broadens and curves and narrows again. What is the common denominator, what stays the same throughout all this change? Whatever the practice, it involves getting out of my mind, it's beliefs and stories, and into the present moment experience, by means of my body. Afterall, my body has a lot to tell me, if I'd only stop to listen.
This description of practice might sound easy, but in truth it has it's many challenges, no matter how many rounds of surya namaskar or Sanskrit words one knows. The thing is, sun salutations and the understanding of words alone doesn't change a mind or dismantle beliefs about oneself. The Buddha said 'with our minds we create the world'...but before our minds create the world, the world creates our mind. So the beliefs each of us hold so dear, are an outcrop of that. Whether we are lucky or unlucky; self-critical or compassionate; whether we are able to take risks and participate in the world or close ourselves off from fear. It all goes down in the mind, and our mind is made manifest by our environment, caregivers, culture and society during those crucial developmental years.
So, whether it is a genuine or proverbial falling off a horse, sooner or later we’ll have the choice to get back out there and into the saddle again. But in doing so, what are the beliefs about ourselves we carry with us, and how do they define our experience? Is there a way to unburden ourselves of these beliefs, to be more wide awake to the experience, risks and rewards? Because after all, what is life without risk and reward?