Many years ago, shortly after I discovered my passion for horses, I had the benefit of having regular access to an outstanding horseman named Carl Reihl. Like most outstanding horsemen, he had lessons to teach me far beyond the work with horses – universal truths that would change my world for the better if only I would listen to them. The one I am pondering most often recently is in appreciating the opportunity to see where there are holes in my preparation.
The lesson originally appeared when things would happen during a riding lesson that I couldn’t control, and my horse would spook or misbehave. A dog would run into the arena, some piece of equipment would be moved from a previous location, a tarp would move in the wind, someone else would be practicing roping nearby – all things I knew were harmless, but my horse wasn’t so convinced were harmless. My nervousness transferred to my horse. I was not the leader he needed me to be, and my lack of leadership only caused him to be more jumpy. It took years for me to figure out that horses never figure out that their anxiety makes us humans nervous.
At first, I tried very hard to book my lesson at a time when no one else would be there so that the distractions would be minimal. My goal was showing, so Carl continued to patiently remind me that I would not be able to control things once I got to a horse show, and it was much easier to deal with them in a familiar environment. He also convinced me, over the course of five years or so, to be a little bit thankful when the issues showed up so that I would have an opportunity to work on the holes in the foundation. I can be a slow learner, so I got there over the course of many more years after his passing.
In my personal life, I have been much less welcoming of being given awareness of the holes in my foundation. Because of that, I have had the “gift” of repeating several mistakes many times over. There have been times when I have blamed others for issues in my life rather than searching for my part in the problem and dealing with it so that I did not repeat that mistake. For me now, one of the quickest routes to seeing my own part is in surrounding myself with caring friends that will tactfully and lovingly provide me with the criticism that will help me discover the error of my ways. That’s the easy way. Then there’s the method where someone criticizes me without what appears to be a loving intention. Then, it can be much more challenging for me to look at that nugget and pick the seeds out of it (just like those little birds that pick the grain out of the horse poop). Byron Katie said, “Until you look forward to criticism, your Work’s not done.” It takes courage to understand that if I am triggered by someone’s criticism, there is a nugget of truth in it that would probably be helpful for me to look at if only I can get my ego out of the way.
Intertwined with this realization is one related to my criticsm of others. When I am critical of another, I try to anlyze where there is a “hot spot” in my own self perception. If I am aware of that “fault” in another, it is likely that there is a piece of that fault in my own make-up that I may not have acknowledged. The gifts of criticism are many. I am learning to appreciate them. My work isn’t done, but I am on the journey to get there.