Presence and Peace

A Tale of Horses, Rocking Chairs and Hearts


There once was a suburban gal named Beth who loved animals–except, perhaps, reptiles and amphibians, actually primarily mammals–but had never spent any time around horses.

One day, she met another gal named Kellie.  Beth and Kellie hit it off because they both love helping people, especially people who struggle with addiction.

Kellie told Beth all about her work as a mental health professional who specializes in equine therapy.  The next thing Beth knew, a few weeks had passed and she found herself standing in a pasture talking to four horses.

The beautiful mission of equine therapy

Yes, that was me, just a few days ago.  Thank you TONS to Kellie Schriver at The Stages of Change Equine Therapy in Celina, TX, who hosted Becky and me.

Truth be told, I thought we were driving an hour out into the country northeast of Dallas to learn about Kellie’s program.  I was just along for the ride; after all, I don’t really work in the addiction and mental health field (though I live in recovery).  Becky is the professional and I’m the writer having experiences.

Oh, how I loved this experience with the horses!

To be sure, Kellie did show us how she presents The Stages of Change program to her clients.

We began in her office–a converted horse stall in the barn–with the three of us sitting in rocker/glider chairs. Turns out the forward-back motion you get in a glider or rocker/glider provides a means of helping the brain do a little self-healing.  Kellie says there is an entire science behind how the movement can actually create new pathways in the brain.

Of course, I have to be willing to let go of the habit of thinking the thoughts that are entrenched in the old  pathways and that’s a different post for a different day.

The back-and-forth motion also replicates the gentle gait of a horse.  Ahhhhh, you’re thinking . . . rhythmic riding. You’re getting the picture, aren’t you?

There’s so much to learn about the science, Kellie’s program (check it out here), and yes, the horses.

The heart  of this horse story

Eventually we ended up outside with the horses.   Kellie explained that horses mirror the relationships in our lives.  I’ve since read that horses serve as a metaphor for the emotional states we carry around with us.

Here’s an example:  As we stood in the pasture and talked, one of the horses repeatedly walked over and stood with his head very close to me.

Kellie applied gentle pressure to his chest and pushed him back several steps.  He walked back to me.

Finally, she said, “How are you feeling about the horse being so close to you?”  I replied, joking, “This horse needs a lesson in boundaries!”

Kellie asked, “Does he remind you of anyone in your life right now?”

Bam!  Yes!  So I told her about a situation that was kind of bugging me and we talked about ways I could handle it.

Then she told me that people are like horses.   When you approach them gently and with love, applying a little, not a lot, of pressure, they usually respond well.

As our time to leave drew near, I asked Kellie if I could say goodbye to the Paint horse who had been in my face an hour before.  By this time, he was grazing way out in the pasture.

She whistled to the Paint who came trotting to us.  He came right to me, muzzle to my chest.  Kellie said he was going for my heart.  Unconditional love.

Then, out of nowhere, the Arabian–the only one of the four who remained far out in the field the entire time we IMG_2074were there–galloped toward me, presumably a little jealous of the Paint.

Suddenly, I stood facing both horses, the Paint a little off to my left and the Arabian a little to my right.

Kellie said, “Do you see the outline of the heart in the space between their heads?”

Oh boy, did I ever!

There were so many moments of joy that morning, enough for me to thoroughly understand how Kellie’s clients receive huge benefits from their time at The Stages of Change.  I’m so grateful for mine.

18 Timeless Quotes By Maya Angelou


Much has been written in the last week about the astonishing life and legacy of Dr. Maya Angelou.

Years ago, I attended one of her readings at the Unity Temple on the Plaza in Kansas City.  I remember sitting transfixed, spellbound by her melodic voice.

I can’t recall the book or topic on which Angelou spoke.  Heck, she could have read from The Kansas City Star and I would have been a happy camper.

There are a precious few people in this world who can captivate a crowd the way she could; even fewer who can touch that tiny space of raw vulnerability deep within each soul.

Dr. Angelou was one of those people.

Outside, after her talk in Kansas City on that long-ago autumn night, I touched her coat sleeve as she walked to her waiting car.  It was an impulsive action, one I don’t regret, one that set up a lifetime of smiles each time I recall the memory.

Thank you for your peace, Dr. Angelou.

In the spirit of commemorating her life, here are 18 snippets of Dr. Angelou’s timeless and ageless wisdom.  Please enjoy.

My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.

My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.

Nothing will work unless you do.

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.

Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.

Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.

You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.

I’m convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.

In so many ways, segregation shaped me, and education liberated me.

A cynical young person is almost the saddest sight to see, because it means that he or she has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.

And lastly, these words of Dr. Angelou’s that make me laugh out loud:

I’m a serious aficionada of country music – Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Montgomery Gentry. I’ve even written some songs. They haven’t done anything of mine yet. But it’s only a matter of time.

The time may be closer than we think.

Photo courtesy of pippalou

Who Creates the Wind Beneath Your Wings?

photo copyWho helps you rise above challenges?  Who pushes you to move past the crappy situations in life–without inflicting bodily harm?

Who is always there for you, no questions asked?

Who tends to irritate you, usually when you’re a stubborn nincompoop?

Who are your teammates, your tribe, your go-to peeps?

Who are your people who say, “What do you need?” when you call (and mean it) instead of “What do you want?” (and hope you don’t tell them.)?

The circles of Team Beth (please replace my name with yours)

There is a ring of people close to me–I can count on one hand the people who are unconditionally, unequivocally, even unconventionally there for me no matter what and no questions asked. Oh my God, these are my lifesaving heroes because I know they’ll go to the mat for me.

There is a secondary ring of people I can call and they’ll listen, express concern and offer to pray.  I need these people too; they play an invaluable role.

The third ring is my cadre of social connections–the people I respect more than really know, but their reputation for spreading love, generosity and kindness is real.  Sometimes I turn to these folks when I can’t yet reach out to the first or second ring because I’m caught up in fear.  These people help me find the courage to move closer to my heart, tighter to my inner rings.

Getting through the sucky times

I’ve shared here that I’m walking through several growth situations right now.  None of them is life-threatening (or sobriety-threatening, for that matter), but lump them all together and these are some crazy-making times.

A couple of weeks ago, as I headed out-of-town, my sweetie handed me a bundle of greeting cards sealed in envelopes.  She’s an old-fashioned paper card giver–love it!–so giving me a couple of cards to read while I’m gone is not unusual.

This was a thick bundle, though.  Nine cards.  Yes, nine.  Even a couple from our dog.

They were covered in stickers and funny notes.  The cards were heartfelt and hugely comforting.  Several of the cards even held those little 2×2 cards with tear off tabs revealing an inspirational quote.

I teared up more than once as I read those cards over the course of the few days I was gone.  Here are the quotes:

We are most alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~ Thornton Wilder

There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart.  Pursue those. ~ Michael Nolan.

I am so glad you are here.  It helps me to realize how beautiful my world is. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

The best thing to hold onto in life is each other. ~ Audrey Hepburn

Caring is everything. ~ Friedrich von Hügel

The most precious things of life are near at hand. ~ John Burroughs

My sweetie did it right, didn’t she?  That’s why she’s my #1 fan, superstar of my inner circle and wind beneath my wings.  Everyone should have a sweetie like mine.

Maybe you do.  That will be my prayer for you.

12 Gifts From Mom to Mother Yourself


This past weekend was an exceptional one as I traveled to Kansas City to celebrate impending motherhood for my oldest niece.

Her baby shower helped diminish the sadness of four Mother’s Days without my own mother.  While Mom’s spirit is with us as we wait for this precious new life, it’s natural to mourn the passing of our moms who have closed the circle of life.

The best traits of motherhood

Much has been written in the last few days honoring mothers and their contributions to our lives.  I believe we can keep those sentiments alive and well throughout the year by holding them close to our hearts.

It begins with acknowledging that each of us–guys and gals–hold within us the best characteristics of motherhood.  These are traits we can use to mother ourselves.

Think back to when you were a kid.  Did your mother praise you, encourage you and tell you that you could be or do anything you wanted?  Mine did.

My mom stood right behind my decision to go to journalism school and when I graduated on her 45th birthday (The anniversary of that momentous event is actually in two days, on the 14th.  I’ve been out of school for 31 years and Mom would have been 76.).

She told me I’d given her the best birthday present ever.

In her later years, especially after I went to work for a national non-profit, Mom took great pride in telling people I flew all over the country to help keep kids off drugs.

Speaking “Mom-isms” to yourself

The idea came to me over the weekend that I can use those same mothering gifts with myself.  Why not?

When I’m quiet and concentrate, I can nearly hear the sound of my mother’s voice giving me advice or talking me through a challenge.  Why not channel her voice and make it my own, say the things to myself that she would say to me?

Here are the 12 Mom-isms that best summarize my mother’s advice to me:

Encourage yourself to always give your best and be your best.

Passion and creativity will take you a long way in life.

Accept yourself just as you are today.

Some days you have to light your own fire under your dreams and ideas because no one else is lighting it for you. And that’s just the way it is.

You give birth to a new you every day.  Take care of you in every possible way.

Swaddle yourself with loving thoughts and nurturing ways.

Never judge yourself too harshly and forgive unceasingly.

Add zest to your life with laughter and playful silliness.

Push and prod yourself, expect the best.

Love with abandon.

Open your arms wide to receive the gifts of each and every day.

Always know that you are blessed beyond belief.

I’ll cherish her words of hope and encouragement and love forever.  And I’ll honor her every day by keeping her words alive.

What words from your mother can you use to mother yourself today?  Please share below.

Photo of jeltovski

La Vida Brinca: Life Jumps


While in Mexico two weeks ago, I lost track of how often we were offered tequila.  Seriously.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner, our resort hosts were a bit befuddled by the two non-drinking women from Tejas who politely asked for water or Coke Light.

Vacations are for celebration, they said, and had I been at their resort prior to 1991, I would have definitely agreed.  At breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Mucho tequila.

Today is Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday commemorating victory over the French military forces of Napoleon III in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.  Of course, through the years, the holiday has spilled into a time for folks in the United States to celebrate too.  More tequila!

La vida brinca

A photographer and screenwriter named Bill Wittliff brought the phrase to life when he used a camera technique called pinhole photography to depict everyday Hispanic living.

He published a book called La Vida Brinca filled with photographs that have a soft, fuzzy edge.  Without the aid of a lens, the viewer gets to interpret meaning from a raw, unadorned image.  Texas Monthly Magazine pondered the “spiritual and mystical” element of the photos when the book was published in 2006.

The University of Texas Press wrote that Wittliff’s method of shooting tranquil landscapes, religious ceremonies, siestas and, yes, celebrations, “is an ideal vehicle for finding profound meaning in the commonplace, for seeing beyond what the eye can see.” 

Life jumps. It frequently surprises, even mesmerizes the person living the life. @bheretoday (Click now to tweet!) Yet, what if we could bring our visual aperture down to the size of a pinhole, then close one eye and squint through the tiny opening with the other eye?

Would we too find profound meaning in the commonplace and apply imagination “beyond what the eye can see”?

Celebrate the simple, watch for the profound

It’s tempting this week to carry around a piece of paper with a tiny pinhole in the center for the times when life starts jumping.  If I close one eye and squinch up the other, I’ll bet that what I think I’m seeing–the crazy, shifting, startling images that my mind’s eye conjures up, will soften.

I really want to see the simple and profound this week.  In fact, in the spirit of acting as if, I’m stating right now that this week IS simple and profound.

Let life jump.  I’ll watch through my pinhole.  Trust me, it’s better than drinking tequila.

Photo courtesy of pippalou