Monday, January 26, 2015

Leaning into Love (and HeartFull Living)

An interesting side-effect of grief is in the upheaval of emotions, memories and stories long forgotten come to the surface and in this new place of identity (who I am now that I no longer have my mother reflecting me back to myself?) they take on deeper meaning.

I remember being a little girl with my mother at a department store and deciding I was ready to step onto the down escalator all by myself. Or maybe my mother was ready for me to be more independent. I can't recall, but no doubt her unwavering belief in me encouraged a momentary flash of bravery unusual as I was a somewhat timid child.

I stood at the top, my foot hovering in the air, trying to figure out the timing of placing it upon the swiftly moving step. Finally my mother moved in front of me to demonstrate how to step on ... "Like this!" she said with a bright red lipstick smile. And off she went down the escalator and away from me.

Of course I then panicked and I could see in my mother's face her realization that this was not going to go as planned.  I stood there, frozen on the edge of the second floor of Hanes Department store, blocking the other customers ready to exit the Ladies Lingerie and Nightwear section. Just as I was about to descend into full blown despair, a woman reached down and taking my hand she glided me forward and onto the cascading metal stairs and down down down to my much relieved mother.

Life, after the loss of my mother, feels like that disoriented panic where moving forward seems beyond my abilities.  The days spread out before me like that moving escalator and calculating how to step squarely onto the step - to step back into my life - seems inordinately complicated and confusing. All sense of timing is off.

I hadn't realized it, but I've been waiting for a competent hand to find mine and swoop me back into the flow of living.

Apparently, I needed more than a hand - I needed an entire horse.  Well, his belly.

Right before my mother's death, I signed up to volunteer for a local equestrian therapeutic riding center whose mission is to provide emotional and physical healing to children and adult with a wide range of disabilities. Shortly after my mother's passing, I trained as a sidewalker - my job being to hold onto the client and walk alongside the horse throughout the therapy session.

My first shift came and I arrived at the barn eager to begin. The therapist I would be assisting greeted me and then immediately asked "How tall are you?" Um ... just slightly above average height for an American woman (my stock response whenever I feel I am being labeled diminutive). Apparently the first client was not a child, but a young woman and I would need to support her with one arm fully extended, hand under her armpit, and my outside arm over her leg and holding onto the saddle.  The.Entire.Time.

I was instructed,"When you feel your pecs starting to burn - and they will burn - let me know so we can switch sides." Not for my comfort, but because the slight turning movement of the horse could pitch the rider off to one side and if my arm was burning, no way would I be able to keep her from falling off the horse.

The rider arrived with her mother and therapist.  It is humbling to witness the full on dedication of all involved - therapist, rider, her family and the horse.  The determination, patience, persistence and passion each member brings to the endeavor was a privilege to experience.  As I watched the assisted mount (via a wheelchair ramp and hydraulic lift) I was aware of my role in this formidable equation.  

Sidewalking - sounds simple? Well, simple in the sense that my task was to hold on at all costs. I could just barely reach up to meet the rider's ribcage and shoulder wing. I wasn't sure if I was supporting the rider so much as clinging to her and clinging to the horse.  With the horse's first steps, I was leaning my full weight into his rounded side and to his credit, he carried me forward.  I quickly discovered I could keep up as long as I leaned into Charm, my new horse buddy. 

The session lasted 28 minutes and while my arms and pectorals did tire, I never felt like I couldn't keep up or hold up the rider.  Resting upon Charm, I was aware I wasn't so much doing the work (of holding or supporting), as I was acting as conduit for energy to flow through me.  It was a quietly miraculous experience.  Effort was involved, but not in the sense of "I alone must do this."  It was a beautiful expression of being in service to something greater than my small self, but which both contains me and is contained within me.

Driving home, I recognized the sensation.  Leaning fully upon Charm and allowing him to support me, was no different than leaning into Love itself. This is the hand I've needed to guide me back into my life. This is the way I move forward into an unfamiliar, but welcoming world.

I am excited to announce HeartFull Living: Conversations in Loving 2015 begins on February 16.  I wasn't planning on a session this year, but Charm convinced me. I want to consider fully: What would it mean to live my life devoted and in service to Love?  What would that look like? How do I nurture and support that intention within myself and for my family?

HeartFull Living is a month-long virtual chat session, offered to inspire and support community, conversation, and loving intentions. This year I am excited to have weekly guests offering their perspectives, their experiences in approaching life with an open and trusting heart. These are the people I turn to when I am needing to be inspired, filled, or supported.  I am certain the exchange of ideas will be a catalyst for a HeartFull Living renaissance of Love, respect and trust. 

 Full details for HeartFull Living 2015 (and to sign up) can be found HERE.  

To honor the inspiration of Charm, I will be donating 50% of the proceeds to HETRA (Heartland Equestrian Therapeutic Riding Academy) and specifically to sponsor Charm for Horse of the Year in the organization's annual fundraiser Horse Penny Race

I'm totally smitten,in love and charmed by this fellow.


  1. Thanks for inspiring me to join you! This really resonated with me. I could use this time to reconnect with my inner self, and with intentionally creating love in the world around me.

    1. I am so excited to have you joining me old friend! Exactly what I am intending for the new year: connection and re-connecting! xo

  2. so beautiful, I love the power of animals to connect with us and they know exactly how to help in ALL situations of grieving, directly and indirectly. I guess you must have read the Tao of Equus, such a moving and inspiring book, this reminds me of The Horse Boy too, another book which made me cry with its depth of feeling.

    what heartfelt drawings you have made too ;-)
    lovely x x x x

    1. Oooh ... no! I don't know these titles ...thank you! See, this is why I crave conversations ... I want to leave an exchange learning something new, gaining some insight or at the very least a few good book titles! Glad you enjoy my dashed off drawings ... when all else fails, add color to transform any glitches :) xo

  3. oh, great! so glad that you now have a couple of new titles to delve into. They are both about the healing power of horses, and both have sequels, so can actually be four books if you want ;-) The Tao of Equus is remarkable, and will change the way you think about horse/animal - human relationships.

    I just love the drawings, esp. the colours, they are healing in themselves x

  4. Be still my heart! Now that I've dried my tears, I want to thank you for this beautiful post. I'm so sorry about the loss of your mom - I know what a deep hole in your heart that leaves. Your story of Charm will stay with me forever.