What my horse whispered today: “Chop Wood, Carry Water and Carry On.”
My friend, Susan, who is one of my favorite horse people, gave me some awful news a few days ago. The results of her biopsies revealed she has an aggressive form of breast cancer that has metastasized.
I met her at the stable, cried, hugged her and gave her my love. Typical of Susan, she said she was sorry that her news made me upset. She’s sure everything will be okay.
Me: “But you said ‘it has metastasized’.”
She: “I know, but I’ll be fine. Everything will be okay.”
She was scheduled for a double mastectomy the following day.
She had to leave and take her husband to the airport. I turned back and walked toward the barn. Nautic greeted me with his typical nickering. I gave him a treat and began stroking his head. He leaned in, lowered his head and stood really still. I was a sad, tearful mess. The fear and sadness of possibly losing Debra to cancer jolted my soul. I asked myself three questions: How can I help my friend? What can I do right now? Is there a lesson I need to learn from this?
I believe that everything comes to us as a gift, intended to teach and enlighten us. Both the good and the difficult guide us toward our own North Star, helping us find Home. Our journeys are fraught with obstacles, surprises, challenges, defeats and victories with lessons coming in all shapes and sizes: rude people, an injured horse, unrealistic demands you’re trying to please, a sick child, a grim diagnosis, chemotherapy, annoying relatives, traffic, a 17.2 hand Warmblood refusing to take one step closer toward a plastic sack on the trail, a courageous friend. Everything is designed to shine a light on daily, ordinary moments, revealing the Truth we need to hear. By paying attention, letting feelings flow and trusting that there will be enough light to lead us out of the darkness; we eventually, become the authentic, loving creatures we were born to be.
There is a story about a man who went to his teacher and asked: What must I do to find enlightenment?
The teacher answered, “Chop wood and carry water.”
Several years later the man returned to his teacher and asked: “I haven’t achieved enlightenment, what must I do?”
The teacher answered; “Chop wood and carry water.”
The man went away and many years later returned to his teacher and said: “Master, I have achieved enlightenment. Now, what should I do?”
The teacher replied; “Chop wood and carry water.”
Her life has been turned upside down. My life remains pretty much the same. What changes is my commitment to stop wasting time and energy fearing the possibility of bad or scary news. Almost everything in my life will take on a new shade of grace, because Susan’s journey has gifted me with a new perspective.
The answers to the three questions I had when she told me about her cancer have become clear: Be still; patiently wait, watch and listen. As my friend embarks on her new adventure with breast cancer, I will stand by her offering my love and support as she faces days of feeling awful, more surgeries, chemotherapy and doctor visits. Selfishly, I’m hoping that being in the presence of raw courage will shed some light and teach me more about confronting my fears.
Fearful, troubling situations are part of life. In fact, if your life stops encountering scary, fretful or anxious moments, you’re probably dead. For me, the essence of living my best life means accepting the daily challenges that are right in front of me; the big scary fears, the everyday annoyances, and allowing all of them to teach me the lessons I need to learn. Great or small, it means being still, facing whatever is terrifying me and promising myself that I won’t run away. Most likely, I will need to reach out for a hand to hold, or grab some mane and hold on tight. I’ll let fear be my teacher and let my courage grow. I’ll live life a bit more enlightened and brave as I continue to chop wood and carry water.
P.S. One of the ways I can support Susan is to offer Equine Days for breast cancer patients, survivors and their families. Like my friend, we want others to experience the powerful healing and strength that comes with being in the presence of horses. I’m already finding funding sources willing to help me provide this gift to honor my friend. Knowing Susan, she’ll probably insist that I use her horses and her arena; her way of chopping wood and carrying water