The wind forcefully whipped my hair back, pulling it straight out behind me as I leaned back and tried to slow my runaway horse. The heavy clapping sound of his hooves pounding into the packed earth set the rhythm of our gallop. Tears were tugged from my eyes, even as I let out short breath of laughter. The excitement of the gallop tickled my heart, distracting me from the fact that I was bareback on an ex-racehorse galloping with no bridle or real method of control. Still, I tried to coax him to slow, pulling hard on the lead line that was attached to his halter. Without a bit in his mouth my efforts only seemed to encourage him, his speed picked up and he charged ahead. I gripped Doc’s bare belly with my knees, grabbing fistfuls of his mane, my heart suddenly in my throat as I looked forward and saw the outline of the high-tensil fence. I yelled to him to slow down, pulling again, my words taken away on the wind and thrown behind me. As I realized there was no stopping him I leaned in, close to his neck, I could hear his heart pounding as loudly as my own, my knees came up, clutching his withers as I prepared for him to soar above the five foot fence. I committed to the jump, smiling quietly and now urging him on. Suddenly, there was only darkness.
Life has a funny way of picking up speed when we are caught up in the moment, things begin coming fast, almost as though by domino effect, and as they do we embrace, we lean in, and we think we are ready for everything all at once. But who is ever ready for everything at once? How on earth can you be? We are, after all, only human.
As I ushered in 2015 the momentum of things here in Chile was palpable- the swiftness with which opportunities arose, took shape and became things was almost surreal. It was a swift transition from traveling around a foreign country to getting down to business and actually living in one. And yet through it there was that little feeling in the pit of my stomach saying wait. Slow down. That small tug on the lead line as I was blasting full speed ahead was easily ignored as so much that was happening felt as though it was just falling into place as it should.
The rapid pace of the past four weeks reminds me of this memory galloping my ex-racehorse Docerty’s Legend through that field one late evening. The feeling of excitement to be moving at such speed, was comparable to the speed at which I had found a work opportunity in Pucon, and with it a work contract in Chile and temporary residency. With my work in Pucon I was suddenly fully immersed in Spanish, speaking, reading and writing daily, feeling energized by the prospect that this was going to push me and my Spanish to the fluency I had hoped for. Yes! It went hand in hand with the exhilaration I felt when I was contacted to do some outside consulting work- work that I had missed during all these months of travel. So of course I said yes. Then came the inspiration to establish my brand as an independent consultant as I began doing work with a start-up company that was bringing exciting and fresh perspective to an industry I am so passionate about. Yes, yes yes! Bring on the opportunities! I kept embracing, but my arms were full.
I hadn’t written a word for this blog since my last post just before the New Year. I was working in Pucon 6 days a week, getting to bed around midnight each evening. By the end of the day I was mentally exhausted from the constant translation to cope with Spanish; meanwhile my brain felt as though it was doing somersaults as I learned the ropes of this new company, tried to contribute to the broader corporate strategy, taking on the stress that is tied to the success of any company I join. I skipped meals without thinking, trying to keep pace with my new work schedule and find time to climb, do yoga or get in hikes. I dug into any creative energy I had left to build a website for my personal consulting projects, and wrap up the consulting work I had picked up on the side. Even as I felt I had my mind in too many places, I was thirsty for the inspiration that was coming from my conversations with the start-up in the States, and I pushed for that to continue. Somewhere in between I was trying to be a supportive wife, and struggling with the still temporary living situation we had pulled together shortly after landing local jobs.
I just kept telling myself I could power through the first few months and things would settle down. Feeling as though I was doing a whole lot of everything without clarity of where any of it was going, the speed just kept picking up and rather than bailing or simply saying no, I tucked up my knees, grabbed the mane and leaned in, until I was once again surrounded by darkness.
When I hit the ground I couldn’t breathe and was disoriented. I pushed myself into an upright position, spitting the dirt from my mouth, looking back just in time to see my beloved horse on his back, his legs flailing in the air, his moans filling my ears as the power of the fence not only stopped him but sling shot him backwards. I had landed on the other side, flying straight over his neck, clearing the fence and landing in a manner that somehow managed to spare me any broken bones or injury. As I raced over to Doc I found he was not so lucky, struggling to his feet he hung his head low and shook it softly. I approached him with a soothing voice, picked up his lead line and surveyed his bloody legs. Oh my poor beautiful friend, what had you done to yourself? Slowly we walked back to the barn together, to get bandaged up and recuperate.
The darkness that overtook me here in Chile was in the form of pain. Pain that stopped me in my tracks entirely, just as that high-tensil fence had halted Doc’s advance so abruptly. It silenced the emails, deleted the texts, drained the batteries of all my devices. I didn’t hit a fence, I didn’t crash or have a major accident. But I did experience an attack on my nervous system that has been one of the most painful things I’ve ever dealt with. With its assault it brought a clear acknowledgement that my immune system was depleted and I had not been managing the stressors that I had convinced myself were smaller than they were. The stressors I had justified because the opportunities seemed too good to say no to.
Why is it so hard to say no sometimes? I have an incredibly difficult time saying no, especially when I think I can help, or I think I should help. Especially when I think I can handle everything all at once, as long as I am making time to get out a hike, or climb, or do some yoga. The problem is, when you say yes to everyone else, you stop listening to yourself. You only hear the needs of others, and it can overwhelm, consume, and overtake. The clarity of mind that can be found from time spent within can be overcome by the busyness of everyone else’s demands.
I am still in the midst of the physical pain, but as I emerge, I do so with a much clearer mind. Sometimes it is essential to say no, it is the thing that can keep our head above water. One of the dangers to being open to all opportunities that come from all angles is that you can easily lose focus and exhaust your energy trying to keep up with seeing everything through. Your mind can keep saying yes even when your body is screaming no. Sometimes, most times, that is simply too much. Personally, I have to begin by saying no to some things, and setting boundaries for others. I have to draw my focus back to the intentions I set before I moved down here, the intentions for this big beautiful life I am so blessed to live, and those things that are not helping me on a path toward those intentions, they have got to go.
We only have so much space in our arm’s embrace- so it is essential we always leave a little space in there for our own retreat. And when all cylinders are firing at once, when the sound of galloping hooves racing across the dirt can distract with the excitement they invoke, don’t forget to pause and see if there is a tug on the line, if there is a voice in the wind asking you to slow down, just a bit, for your own good.