Sound Judgment

“As far as patience is concerned, which is powerless if used alone; there is no need to call upon it when one knows what one can ask of the horse, and only asks what he is capable of giving. Instead of patience, the rider must have sound judgment and knowledge, never impatience; he must have perseverence in choosing those methods which result in the daily progress of the horse.” General Alexis L’Hotte (1895; translation: T. Ritter)

I love General L’Hotte’s assertion that patience is powerless if used alone. I’ve never really thought about it that way, but it makes perfect sense. If you know what you are doing – not just in training horses but in the living of life – there is no need to be overcome with frustration or worry when obstacles come along. There are simply problems and eventual solutions.

You must apply yourself to studying the fundamentals of any activity you undertake, be it a sport, musical instrument, craft, job or what have you, and your mastery of the fundamentals prepares you to tackle the more rigorous challenges inherent in the activity. If you skip over the fundamentals or arrogantly pooh-pooh them you will eventually come face-to-face with the holes in your foundation. And that, dear readers, is not a comfortable place to be.

If, however, you apply yourself earnestly and wholeheartedly to “choosing the methods which result in…daily progress,” you quickly find that impatience is the very last thing on your mind (or heart for that matter).

Patience and Tranquility

It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Right action for right action’s sake – righteousness – is the central goal of truly generative living. Righteousness is not strictly a mental exercise, neither is it solely a matter of the heart. It comes as body, mind and heart are unified in purpose and function.

Aligning body, mind and heart is much simpler than you might imagine. To realign these three elements that make up what you have to express who you are, you must first cultivate in yourself an often overlooked, frequently misunderstood and regularly discounted quality of being: patience.

Patience relates primarily to your physical nature. Patience is an active state of abiding, not a passive state where you are holding back, twiddling your thumbs or biting your tongue. To be patient in this sense, you must deliberately focus on the beauty in the physical world around you while remaining unmoved by the misapplications in the world around you.

Once you’ve begun aligning your physical nature, you can move to bring your mental nature into alignment through the spirit of tranquility. Tranquility is not a reactive or a reflective state produced from the inside-out, rather, like patience tranquility is a radiant stance.

Tranquility is known when your feathers are no longer ruffled by outer circumstance, not because you steel yourself to them or live in denial, but because your mind is centered on the       wonderful one within – the real you. When you maintain this mental centering and alignment over time, you come to the point where the vicissitudes of life no longer consume your thoughts.

Right action for the sake of right action is within your reach. You need not withdraw from the world to be righteous, in fact, you need the world around you to ground the positive charge moving out from you. You have everything you need to get started here and now, so don’t delay!

Take your time, have fun with it, don’t beat yourself up and relax! You have something tremendously valuable to deliver to the world but you cannot manufacture it according to concepts about what would be right or good. Your gift will find expression as you gather yourself – your body, mind and heart – into one accord and one place. 

The Ascending Spiral

There exists a remarkable parallel between raising children and schooling horses. Both horses and people move through a period of intense physical development in their youth, followed by mental and emotional growth and maturation.

Handled rightly, this process oscillates back and forth between tension and relaxation. In the moment it might feel like you are going back and forth, but getting nowhere. Zoom back sufficiently, however, and you will see that the overall movement, despite the oscillations, is ever onward upward like an ascending spiral. Conversely, if it is mishandled, growth in any one or all three of the areas is stunted, at times temporarily and occasionally permanently. These stunted areas form “cysts” which typically come to the surface at the most inopportune times.

Classical horseman Egon von Neindorff astutely observed in his excellent book The Art of Classical Horsemanship that:

The horse’s obedience can only develop from trust and understanding but its continuance depends on the horse and the rider’s combined discipline. The rider’s mistaken leniency with the horse or himself will not be without side effects. Only the rider’s patience and knowledge combined with methodical and simultaneously individual increases in demands, accomplished without haste, will protect the horse from being overtaxed. This approach will prevent the many battles and facilitate solving unavoidable problems that may arrive.

You’ve no doubt heard a parent talk about the “terrible twos” or roll their eyes when talking about their unruly teenager, but the fact is that had the foundation been better laid in the “wonderful ones” in the first place and the pre-teen years in the second, it is very likely that the weeds would not have taken over the garden of the child’s expression. It is almost never the horse’s fault. He may have unwittingly become part of the problem, but trace it back and you will see an error in development. Look carefully and you will see that something was glossed over, improperly set or missed along the way.

When these flat spots in development are revealed, it is best to look first at yourself as a parent to find the causes of a child’s disobedience. A basic, foundational element of parenting was likely missed and must be addressed, healed or repaired if there is to be further sound and sustainable development of the child.

The same principles applies in riding. When you increase your demands and receive an evasion or a disruptive reaction of some type instead cooperation and progress, you must take the time to analyze and discover exactly where the fault lies in the foundation. The answer will likely be something more basic that you would like to admit to yourself, so be prepared to address it humbly, carefully, respectfully and completely before expecting much more from the horse…or the child!

One final point: never discipline a horse or a child in anger. To do so is an absolute violation of the sacred responsibility entrusted to both parents and riders. Discipline is of course necessary, but a parent or rider who poisons the tip of the arrow of correction with anger will invariably do more harm than good. Trust built up over years can be violated by one false move in this regard, so please, take note.

Masterful Living

The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators.” ~ Edward Gibbon

Wise is the man who uses every type of circumstance to greatest possible advantage. When others complain, he handles the discomfort quietly while looking for the openings. When others curse he gives thanks, no matter how grim the outlook. When others fold up and blow away, he stands steady and assured, his face to the wind.

Nothing that comes your way will ever be greater than your ability to handle it gracefully, courageously and with dignity. Some have resigned themselves to “losing it” when the slightest winds of misfortune blow, while others bite their tongue, hold back for as long as possible yet finally lose it when their self-assigned “breaking point” is reached. Rare is he who stands serene, remaining poised to deliver the right thought, word or deed at exactly the right moment. The world needs more of the latter and less of the former two. Wouldn’t you agree?

If you do agree, you have taken the first step in becoming such a person.

The next time you find yourself under pressure in any field of circumstance, instead of reacting mindlessly or habitually, take as much time as you’d like (or can) to watch how others around you are handling it. Does their expression change? Are they kinder or meaner, more alert or more distant? Does their temper shorten or their patience deepen? Are they “acted upon” by exogenous forces or do they take great care to assess the forces and factors at work and “act upon” them when the time is right?

Distancing yourself slightly from your habitual patterns of reaction can go a long way, much farther than most would assume. Your observations of others in the situation can provide you with starting points for handling the situation creatively rather than reactively. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll likely be able to see your own habits more objectively, which will give you more room in the situation to think, talk and act prudently if not wisely.

Masterful living requires that you navigate the seas of life with poise, humility and reason. You don’t “try” to do the right thing, you do it. You don’t “hope” to be a good person, you be one. You remain calm, cool and collected, not so much by steeling yourself against what the world is throwing at you, but by giving thanks for the privilege of representing the voice of assurance, by allowing your inner resources to find their way to the surface without being distorted by fear or victimization and by waiting upon the small, still voice of wisdom that says “speak” or “act,” invariably at the perfect moment.

Working Together

Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.” ~ Henry Ford

It is interesting to watch teams form up in the workplace. The phases a group of individuals move through as they bond to form a unified team are somewhat predictable, yet the pace of that development varies wildly from group to group. Of particular interest to me are small teams, say of two or three people, as much of the work done in small businesses depends on the company’s ability to quickly form small teams under frequently changing circumstances.

The first step as Henry Ford so succinctly laid out is for the individuals involved to come together. This rapprochement is facilitated by certain attitudes and approaches, such as civility, patience, careful listening and respect and retarded by other less dignified modes of expression like hostility, impatience, pushiness and disdain.

You would think that shared vision would equate to cooperation, but I have witnessed on far too many occasions groups of individuals dedicated who share a common goal fail due to an unwillingness to (1) put aside differences in style, (2) forgive past transgressions or (3) grow internally in relation to the need at hand. Such failures are a sad testament to human stubbornness, really.

To come together, you must be flexible, capable of seeing even the most familiar people in new ways and willing to give people a fresh start…every time you meet. Grudges and other forms of prejudice are the death knell of a potentially generative collaboration.

You can’t really keep together until you’ve come together. Mutual respect is the glue that binds teams together. Anything less than respect dissolves the bonds, oftentimes more quickly than they can be formed. Teams that are held together on the basis of “mutually assured destruction” (I can destroy you and you can destroy me so we had better just get along) will not withstand much pressure, neither will they be much fun to work in or around. The atmosphere of such arrangements whiffs of poison.

Keeping together, without the usual careless expression of snide remarks, disparaging comments and declarations of self-righteous indignation is real progress. Rare is the group that works together cleanly, efficiently and seamlessly, so my suggestion is that you do not wait until you find one, but instead, raise your personal bar to the level that you know is possible and stick to your guns! Don’t take offense if it is offered, never quit and don’t resort to the “devil’s tactics” to get a job done. Gentlemanly and ladylike conduct is of the utmost importance no matter how ugly things may appear round about.

If you manage to keep together over time, through the good times and the bad, you are then entitled to claim that your team does in fact work together. And as Henry Ford said so well, “Working together is success.” When a team works together, the hard earned respect and trust is not compromised by shifts in configuration, changing tactics, differences in opinion the loss or gain of team members. Neither is the level of camaraderie as the pressure rises and falls around the team. Respect reigns supreme when a team truly works together.

If you value friendships, live in a family or work in a company, you are wise to consider the true significance of Henry Ford’s words today. A compromise on any one of these points will tear at the fabric of your team. Conversely, a breakthrough on any one of these points will introduce a unifying, harmonizing force into the team dynamic.

The choice is yours!

The Habit of Making Excuses

“Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” ~ George Washington

The lasting measure of a man is established in the way he meets the difficulties in life. In my estimation, life’s challenges earn the appellation by virtue of the fact that they push the limits of present capability. When circumstances don’t ask more from you than you think you are capable or at least try your patience or push your limits, you don’t call them difficult, do you?

The best way to succeed in life is to eschew the nasty habit of making excuses. Every excuse you make represents a loss of energy that could have been expended in the effort to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of accomplishment.

You are strong enough, smart enough, talented enough, skilled enough, connected enough and sufficiently worthy of a successful outcome. The most successful managers in my company are those who are expert at helping others realize that simply being themselves – all they can be at any given point in time – is the perfect starting point. No excuses are necessary!

Rudyard Kipling once said: “We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.” I am inclined to agree and I encourage you to refrain from being the person in the group whose most active participation centers on the elaboration of excuses. We’ve all been there. It’s not pretty. Instead, dare to represent the one percent who addresses the potential points of failure intelligently, efficiently and confidently and most importantly, without excuse.

The Middle Part: Lessons from South Park

I had the opportunity several years ago to watch an episode of the sophisticated and intelligent animated show called “South Park.” It was a linguistic smorgasbord and I learned several phrases that I cannot repeat in polite company. The story line, however, tickled me.

The main characters of the show are foul-mouthed children who go through life highlighting the absurdities of the adult world, a raunchy version of Antoine de St. Exupery’s Little Prince. This episode revolved around a number of Keebler-like gnomes who rushed around stealing underwear from people’s bedroom dressers and occasionally from their bodies!

Bear with me, there is a valuable point here.

They stole them and hurriedly took them back to their workshop in a hollow tree. The boys decided to follow them after a particular raid and to their surprise, the workshop was thriving. Gnomes running around stacking the underwear in curious yet seemingly meaningful piles. One of the boys (I don’t recall which) asked the foreman “What the *&^$% are you doing in here, man?” To which, the head gnome replied: “Look on the wall Our business plan is simple!”

The camera pans up and over to a whiteboard on the wall that outlined their plan for success:

Phase 1: Collect underwear

Phase 2: ?

Phase 3: Profit

I had to laugh. How many times have you heard of someone who had a lofty goal in mind but no plan for achieving it? They sit at “A” with a vision for “C” and no clue whatsoever as to what must be done in “B” to make it happen!

The middle part typically involves hard work, focus and determination. Obstacles tend to present themselves in this phase and a successful crossing of this “no-man’s land” requires extraordinary diligence, patience and a sense of timing.

Consider my own experience with this battlefield – my several victories and many failures – I would like to share a few points that will hopefully save you time, money, and therapy! Here goes nothing:

1. Dare to dream. Think big, not impossible.

2. Believe in yourself. Enlarge the borders of your tent whenever and wherever required.

3. Believe in others. Invest in their success.

4. Recognize the oscillation between work and rest.

5. Never complain about anything. Complaint wastes potentially useful time and energy.

6. Keep a “to do” list and a “to not do” list. Don’t be your own worst enemy

7. Refrain from blame. Accept responsibility when it is yours to accept.

8. Never underestimate the power of thankfulness. A starting point is a starting point is a starting point.

9. Receive correction with equanimity, no matter who or what offers it or how it is delivered. Don’t let yourself off on a technicality.

10. Look for ways to be a blessing to others. Your fulfillment depends on your ability to assist others to theirs.