A few days ago, I intended to clean the schmutz out of the stock tank. For those of you not rurally inclined, a stock tank is a huge, heavy outdoor water container for horses and other livestock. There was still some water in it, so as I attempted to hoist it onto its side to drain it, I underestimated my strength and my mid-back muscles seized up. When I took a deep breath to release my back, my abdominal muscles clenched. Yikes, my entire torso was bracing against itself!
Needless to say, I chose to let the horses drink the water down and postponed my cleaning project for another day. In the meantime, I sent healing energy through my body, did some stretching and used a heating pad that night. Everything felt back to normal the next morning.
But I was left with a question. What am I bracing against in my life? Turns out, quite a bit, and mostly I do it unconsciously. My aim is to begin noticing and letting go.
My bracing shows up pretty clearly in my body even without heaving a heavy object, when I get still enough to perceive it. While meditating this morning, I noticed tightness in my right hip. As I breathed into it, I realized this holding in the hip connected downward to discomfort in my calf, ankle and foot as well as upward into my shoulder and jaw.
Digging deeper, I discovered this old, habitual holding pattern in my body has energetic roots to an inner bracing. An illusion that it is possible for me to hold at bay what is happening to me (and in the world at large). I used to perceive this as strength. The proverbial “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and keep going” approach to life that our culture teaches us. And while the idea has some merit in that it can help us locate our inner fortitude, I have too often used this power to push against life events rather than to soften into them.
I’m beginning to realize that my bracing is actually sapping my strength, taking away from my ability to do my work in the world. My resistance is a manifestation of my fear.
I recently got this message through an oracle card: “Your fears are habit rather than a reflection of reality.” Pondering this, I remembered a habit, passed down through my ancestral lineage, of seeing the glass half empty. I’ve been working to heal this. Noticing when my mind wants to resist rather than flow is part of the medicine.
When we brace against what is, we waste precious energy. We limit our ability to see the fullness of things. Our energy flows toward the emptiness of the glass, and we have little left for dreaming solutions and co-creating with the Universe what can be a more beautiful life. My work now is to flow toward what I fear, not stiffen against it.
When riding a horse who is moving faster than you want to go, the inclination is to pull back hard on the reins. If you can remain self-aware while doing this, you will notice that your whole body tightens up. The experience is often scary, and it is certainly frightening for the horse, who most often will run even faster.
A good riding coach will guide you to find a rhythm of pulling gently on the reins and then releasing, allowing your relaxed body to flow in tempo with the horses’ stride. If the horse doesn’t listen, you move them in circles where they eventually have to slow down. And to stop, rather than yanking back (again, where your whole body braces) you center your gravity low in the saddle, exhale and ask with a gentle tug and perhaps a voice command.
This is likely a riding lesson you will never need. But it may come in handy in life.