Getting Back on the Horse: Literally and Metaphorically

We hear from many sources from Ram Dass with his seminal Be Here Now, to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now about being present in the moment. By now, we are well-versed in the benefits of mindfulness and the awareness of what is right in front of us. We know that living in the past limits our potential and worrying about the future inhibits our behavior. But every once in a while it is helpful to look back, to acknowledge growth and expansion. This is especially true with regard to healing after a break-up. I wrote this piece nine years ago. It serves not only as evidence of my own progress, but as a reminder of the value of resilience.

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In the last several months, I’ve taken up horseback riding. Until recently, I had had a single experience on a horse when I was 17 on a camping trip in upstate New York with my high school boyfriend. Let’s just say that it was short-lived and ended with the horse running back to the stable after nibbling my feet. I asked for my money back.

My mother is a classic New York Jew who believes if you perspire, you are working too hard and should immediately return to the air-conditioned salon to dine on chopped chicken liver and cucumber sandwiches while reading a good book.

I was never what you would call an athletic kid. It’s not that I wasn’t fit. I danced from the age of three—ballet, modern, and tap. I was raised by intellectual, artist-types. My mother is a classic New York Jew who believes if you perspire, you are working too hard and should immediately return to the air-conditioned salon to dine on chopped chicken liver and cucumber sandwiches while reading a good book. My father is a tenderhearted, philosophical Norwegian. His Scandinavian stoicism allows him to endure root canals without anesthesia and shovel snow in little more than a T-shirt, but somehow that stoicism didn’t make its way into his workout ethic. My parents could not have been more loving and supportive, but they did not push the sports.

In my 20s, I discovered yoga and hiking. In my 30s, I started snowboarding and kayaking. In my 40s so far, skiing and horseback riding. Though I have slammed my body against the mountain numerous times by “catching an edge,” what happened yesterday morning was far different.

It was about the ninth or tenth time I’d been riding. I was alone with David, who has been on horses his whole life. He is English and a retired polo player as well. We often ride with our kids and take it easy, trotting with an occasional canter if one of the horses decides to cut loose. This ride was intended to let us run. We were riding horses that we often ride; he was on Twister and I was on Cherokee. After a little warm up, David took off and I followed. He cantered ahead of me. Cherokee was reluctant to go and being inexperienced, I didn’t force her. Recognizing we were falling far behind, she decided she’d better catch up and she picked up her feet. We got a good pace going, but when she lost sight of the others, she broke into a full gallop. It was faster than I had ever ridden and it was magical.

This time, when Cherokee took it from canter to gallop, it was smooth and graceful. For a moment, I got lost in it. I was flying.

One of the things I have learned is that you have to hug the horse with your legs. Standing in the stirrups, your lower body must be engaged as if it is part of the horse, providing an independent suspension system. With my very limited experience, I am very comfortable walking and trotting, but as soon as we start cantering, I become conscious of every nuance of the motion and how my body feels in that moment, making sure I stay balanced. This time, when Cherokee took it from canter to gallop, it was smooth and graceful. For a moment, I got lost in it. I was flying. We caught David and Twister and took a breath.

Palos Verdes has a bridle path covered in mulch. It winds around behind “horse properties” and through some commercial stables. It’s beautiful, even on a grey morning threatening rain, as it was yesterday. When we reached a straightaway, we decided to run some more. Again, Cherokee and I watched our friends disappear in front of us. I stood up and pressed my heels into her ribs. She responded and started to run.

This would be a good place to acknowledge that there is a tremendous amount of trust required to get on the back of a horse and ask it to gallop away. I am not sure I really grasped that until I was in the saddle doing it. I can’t think of another experience in which my wellbeing has been in the hands (or hooves) of a living, breathing being with whom I can’t even have a basic conversation. Feeding her a few carrots as the ranch hands saddled her up is not the same as if I had been able to share a few laughs over a beer, or at the very least, discuss the weather.

So there we were, running on the path and I felt her stumble. My mind raced. What was I supposed to do?

So there we were, running on the path and I felt her stumble. My mind raced. What was I supposed to do? I remember being told to put my feet forward and flex them so if she went down I might project forward and land on my feet rather than my head. It’s mostly a blur, but I do know this. She recovered her footing. I did not. I was thrown to the right and lost my left stirrup. For a short time as we were galloping along, I thought I might be able to hoist myself back up into the saddle. I was hanging on with everything I had and trying to figure out how to pull back on the reigns to slow her down. But it was happening so fast, and I was sliding further off-center. There was a definitive point at which I decided I’d better bail if I wanted to have an ounce of control in how I was going to fall.

I can’t believe I am falling off a galloping horse.

I was shocked at the sound my body made as it hit the ground. If I was going to try to describe it, I’d say it went, “thud.” The impact was hard enough to knock the piss out of me…literally. And then the pain. I couldn’t form words. I moaned. Apparently I had yelled for David on the way down because he was riding back towards me asking me if anything was broken and if I could move all my parts. It took me a minute to be able to answer him. For one thing, I hit my head really hard. I was smart enough to be wearing a good helmet correctly. I also know how to fall: Tuck and streamline your body. Whatever you do, don’t stick a limb out trying to break the fall. The only thing you’ll break is that limb. So after wiggling each identifiable body part (intentionally), I got up. No permanent damage. My ribs are sorely bruised and I’ve got some road rash (or mulch rash), but I am lucky, and made some good decisions on the fly. A stronger rider would not have gone down. But given the particulars of my situation, I believe I did as well as I could. At least that. I got back on Cherokee (who was standing over me looking concerned) and we rode back to the stable.

In the day and a half since the accident, I have thought about the next time I ride. Suddenly the phrase, “getting back on the horse” has new meaning.

Early this year I ended a ten-year relationship. In an overarching kind of way, I am happy and healing and thankful to have my life back. As is normal, I continue to work through feelings of hurt, betrayal, disappointment and anger, the legacy of which tends to surface in facing new relationships. A classic dilemma: How do I surrender to vulnerability? How do I know that the person I am entrusting with my emotional safety—my heart—is not going to stumble along the way, throwing me so far off center that I have to bail. The parallel is not lost on me. In some respects, I had been riding a creature with whom I couldn’t have a basic conversation.

In the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I will be riding again. I am sure I’ll find some challenging moments. When I first break into a canter, I will have to fight the urge to associate that sensation with the feeling of falling. The memory of the pain as I hit the ground will be tangible. The thing is, I don’t plan to give up riding horses. I could analyze the fall over and over and try to figure out what went wrong and what to do differently. This kind of reflection—like therapy in the wake of a break-up—is helpful, or even essential to progress. But in the end, it’s about applying what you’ve learned by putting yourself in the very situation in which you were once hurt. And so…I will get back on the horse. Hopefully, he will be more solid and I will find new strength and flexibility.

Why Sex is Important for Women

Throughout my years of working with women, there is a conversation that I have over and over. The specific details vary, but the bottom line is that an enormous number of women have lost their desire for physical intimacy. We are too tired, too busy, too angry at our partners—at the end of the day, the last thing we want is to let someone into our bodies. For many women, sex has become another thing on the To Do List—an obligation, a favor. What is most surprising and disheartening about this pervasive attitude is the idea that sex is not important for women. Culturally, we give our brothers permission to want sex, to claim its importance, but we don’t do the same for our sisters.

“…lest we forget, the survival of the species depends on women wanting to have sex.”

There are many things that shape our sexuality without us even realizing it—the way our parents expressed affection with each other when we were young, and the way nudity was treated in the household. What about our relationships with our fathers and brothers? Did you hear comments about being so pretty your father would need a gun when boys started to want to date you? What does that say about sexual desire in general and how does it affect us to be told we are vulnerable and need one man to protect us from another one? Much has been written about how the media shapes our feelings about ourselves—the advertising industry portrays women in a very specific way. What if we fall outside the range of what we hear is HOT? From booty-licious to thigh-gap, we have many criteria of desirability by which to judge ourselves. From the time we are young girls, we receive a constant stream of mixed messages about our sexuality. With all noise interfering, it’s nearly impossible to cultivate a healthy relationship with a very tender part of ourselves. We are given little context for our identities as sexual creatures. And yet, it is exactly this expression that spawns life and sustains humanity—lest we forget, the survival of the species depends on women wanting to have sex.

There is scientific evidence of the physiological benefits of sex for women. Engaging in sex regularly has the following effects:

  1. Increases DHEA—Hormone that boosts immune system. Produces healthier skin, and decreases depression.
  2. Increases Oxytocin—Hormone that causes the release of endorphins, a natural opiate that relieves pain.
  3. Reduces Cortisol—Sex reduces stress, and thereby reduces cortisol levels which means more balanced blood sugar, blood pressure, and lower acidity in the abdomen.
  4. Increases Immunoglobulin A—Antibody which boosts immunity. Women who have sex twice a week have 30% higher level of immunoglobulin A.
  5. Some studies even show evidence that the increased blood flow and muscular contractions that occurs with regular penetration and orgasm promotes the structural health of a woman’s pelvic floor.

Though the facts are compelling, ironically the very nature of looking to science to prove we should be having sex is an obvious symptom of the reason why we are not having it. We are so caught up in a world that worships the masculine, that we have neglected the feminine. The most powerful evidence that sex is important for women is arrived at intuitively.

“The most powerful evidence that sex is important for women is arrived at intuitively.”

As women, we play many roles: partners, wives, daughters, bosses, employees, mothers. We deliver, nurture, manage, and please. We are accomplished jugglers, master manifestors; we make things happen. The bi-product of navigating our hyper-connected, multi-tasking lives with poise and grace is the suppression of raw emotion. To perform these many roles effectively, we contain, conform, and control our feelings, our words, our behavior. As a matter of survival we adapt to a culture that values our rational minds. In the process we become alienated from our innate, intuitive nature, often feeling unseen, unappreciated, and misunderstood. When we lose our sense of self in this way, we suffer in our relationships. We get angry; and we shut down. Our confidence takes a hit, along with our self-esteem, self-care, and our precious sex lives—the very thing that should be our source of power.

We can measure hormones and proteins in our bodies in connection with sexual activity, but what is even more powerful is the energetic, psychological, and spiritual benefits of sex as a form of creative self-expression.

There is a fire that burns inside each one of us. It is the flame of passion, of desire. It glows, it roars, it’s wild in nature. It is our birthright. This fire is our feminine essence. It is the stuff that is uniquely ours, that gives us eyes in the back of our heads, that makes our hearts twinge when a loved one thousands of miles away is hurting, it’s our spidey sense, the way we can heal with a hug, our ability to feel when a decision is the right one.

“When we step away from our contained, controlled lives, and soften into the expansive formlessness of sexual arousal, we create a space for the feminine to rise; we stoke the fire.”

When we step away from our contained, controlled lives, and soften into the expansive formlessness of sexual arousal, we create a space for the feminine to rise; we stoke the fire. Passion is a necessary nutrient, desire, an essential ingredient. To pretend otherwise is to deny ourselves—and the world—a vital part of who we are, and how we can serve. Whether we are in the kitchen, the boardroom, the yoga studio, or the bedroom, our practiced access to our feminine fire is a source of vitality for ourselves, and in turn for our families, communities, and organizations.

So if you feel like the only reason to have sex is out of obligation to your partner, consider this: It’s not about getting someone else off, it’s about turning ourselves on, so that we can light up the world.

PS:  It might be helpful to know, self-pleasuring counts!