“…meditative awareness shows you how to regain your balance when you lose it and how to use the messages from the phenomenal world to further your discipline. The practice of meditation also allows you to be completely grounded in reality. Then, if someone asks, “How do I know that you are not overreacting to situations?” you simply reply, “My posture in the saddle, my seat on the earth, speaks for itself.””
– Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
When podcast guest Fleet Maull references the quote above from his spiritual teacher in this most recent episode, the barn babe in me naturally decided to make this whole post about what it means to find your seat, or to ‘take your seat’ as we often say here at Reboot. Taking your seat takes place in a boardroom or office as much as it takes place as one becomes an adult, a parent, and the leading role in your own life.
As an avid equestrian with two equine athletes, I spend a lot of time in the saddle. Compared to other practices that help me explore my inner landscape such as therapy and rolfing (a form of bodywork that works with fascia), both of which reflect how I am being and exploring the range in movement and growth in my inner workings, my time at the barn is my most informative (and formative) practice.
For me, riding takes the cake for being the best mirror for how I am growing up as a human. How I take my seat in the saddle determines how I can respond to whatever arises with my 1200 pound dance partner who has lightning-fast reflexes powered by 55 million years of well-honed instinct and lots of hay. How I am in the saddle is full-body awareness and inner-and-outer body mindfulness act of presence-practice in order to have a soft, relaxed, fair, and forward feel with my horse. Can I be with him with a calm heart? Or, am I cranky and easily frustrated?
The art of horsemanship continues to be the arena where so much of me is shaped by informing me of how I meet the world, especially in the saddle. If a ride doesn’t go well, I know the problem is how I’m showing up that day, or if there’s clutter clouding my heart and mind. If it works well, and we have a good ride, I know I’m on the right track. There is a (mostly) compassionate feedback system at play, and I always know when I could have done better. Mostly, I could have done better at managing my inner space–my harder feelings and thoughts, because they all affect my reactions and subsequent actions (which I’m not always proud of).
Good riding is always called for, though, even on the not as grand days. Good riding means not only good posture in the saddle, and the inner strength to have a steady seat, but the inner fortitude to be very clear with your self about what’s happening, and what’s happening within you.
Riding instructor Dr. Josef Knipp could be giving us advice for a lifelong meditation practice when he says: “True riding is an endless search for synchrony and harmony—you can get it today and lose it tomorrow. This search is no overnight affair. It is a progression of steps, measured in tiny increments of success, in an endless journey of challenge and discovery.” This is the stance I aim to meet life with, both in the barn and out.
A smooth sea does not make a good mariner, however. Lucky for us, life ensures we’ve got plenty of material to work with. Last week, Gil Hedley, one of my favorite bodyworkers and somanauts, posted this note:
“Sometimes life gets a bit harum-scarum, and you just have to ride it out. Whether you do so railing against “the unfairness of it,” or holding on white-knuckled and bracing for the worst, or squealing at the thrill of the uncertainty, arms linked with friends or thrown into the air, or even zen-sitting your way through it as best as you can while the wind blows through your hair, there’s just no getting off until it rolls to a final stop. How you take the ride is up to you!”
At the barn and in life, you know a good seat by the way it adjusts to the horse’s movement. When your center of balance is constantly in harmony with that of his horse, your rump should never leave the saddle. A rider with good seat can ride most anything. It allows you to respond with creativity and poise to whatever just landed in your lap. For whatever arises, you stick with it and do what needs to be done, sometimes with a bit of grace.
This requires a graciousness in your way of being with yourself and the world to not be knocked off balance, or off your rocker when the manure hits the fan so to speak. To remain well-balanced in yourself when you want to revert to old tendencies (like the traps of shame, blame, and guilt that pull us out of the reality of the present moment and out of the reality of our inherent goodness) in the face of what’s coming at you is how to stay and face it–whatever it is.
Our ability to stay with ourselves in these moments is a testament to our becoming better humans. It’s not only a mark of deep self-care and self-respect, but it allows you to better care for others even if that means having all of your own stuff in check so that you can be present for what is, and be present for the people in your life.
In his book The Art of Power, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, echos what the horses tell us about good riders: “Your action, what you do, depends on who you are. The quality of your action depends on the quality of your being. […] So there is a link between doing and being. If you don’t succeed in being, you can’t succeed in doing.”
It’s that being business–that’s the real work.
What happens when the world tries to unseat you? What’s your go-to reaction? How does that play out? How can it happen differently?
“Is it too late to remind you that the first runaway is usually the one inside your own head?” writes horsewoman Anna Blake. “Because riding isn’t about putting up a huge fight; it’s about having the mental control not to.”
(Let’s substitute the words “work” and “parenting” and “being a good partner” and “being with ourselves” with the word ‘riding’ in Anna’s words above.)
Managing our psychology is where it all starts. And, by now, we know that is not a one and done thing. Developing a greater awareness of ourselves, of all of our parts, and the parts of our psychology is an indispensable habit. If we have the courage to unpack what’s tangled in our heart, and what clouds our minds, and what keeps us contorted and small, we can strengthen a muscle that can support us as life unfolds before us so that we can meet life as it is and see the possibilities and challenges in front of us, clearly.
Taking your seat is a well-earned place back to the very seat of who you are. To get there, we have to sort through all of the things that we’ve picked up along the way. Not everything is useful or makes sense anymore. Yet, so many of these things we’ve come by honestly thanks to our histories. Gratefully, many of these things can be revised so that we can cut through to the heart of our lifeline–that is, to the presence of our very own heart so that we can hear our own voice with crystal clarity. To come home to ourselves in this way requires the Marie Kondo-ing of a lifetime.
If tidying is confronting yourself, Jerry echos this by reminding all of us, that “To be a better leader requires that we be a better human, which requires that we confront the reality of who we are.” The result of taking responsibility for our lives in this way frees ourselves and allows others to do the same. Over time and repetition, there’s a peace that settles in you and comes with you.
It does not mean to be in
a place where there is no
noise, trouble, or hard work.
It means to be in the midst of
those things and still be calm
in your heart.
I’ll see you in the saddle.