One of the little lectures I used to give myself before court every Thursday was, “Eyes up and soft.” No glowering at the judges, bailiffs, or opposing counsel. No fumbling around, nose in the file, as a child tries to tell me why she doesn’t want a chambers conference with the judge. Eyes up–look where you’re going, Grace Ann, see the world around you–and soft. Not combative or anxious or pre-occupied. Look out upon the world compassionately.
“Eyes up, and soft,” was a good mantra for keeping me present, effective, and as relaxed as an attorney can be in the midst of a long day of litigation.
The mantra originated (for me) in the saddle, where at the first sign of trouble, it’s soooo tempting to look down–at the reins, the horse’s neck, the ground. If my instructor said, “Eyes up and soft,” and I could comply, the tense moment shifted in several ways very quickly. First, that bowling ball sitting on my shoulders got aligned over my spine. By moving my chin two inches up, I made the horse’s life easier.
Second, I did something affirmative at a point in the ride where my circuits might be shutting down because “He spooked!” “He’s gonna spook!” (and now that I’ve cued the horse that panic is order,) “He’s gonna spook again!” In court that equated to, “My client is pissed at me!” “The judge is pissed at me!” “Everybody’s pissed at me, and the witness is lying like a rug.” By invoking the eyes-up strategy and taking charge of even my own chin, I move one step back from the anxiety and anger.
The third benefit of “eyes up and soft” is that I relax (if I can do the soft part). Equestrians learn that it is possible to override automatic physical responses (such as, say, the urge to leap from the saddle and never ride again, or in the case of attorneys, the urge to give opposing counsel the finger). The feelings (I’m gonna die!”) and the bodily reality can be at least somewhat separated with enough practice.
Truly accomplished riders can “sit chilly” while the horse bucks, dodges, bolts, and so forth. They sit up in the saddle, patiently contending with whatever nonsense is on the horse’s agenda, and they don’t get sucked into an escalating cycle of deafness (or worse, cussing). To ride like this a beautiful super power, one that has saved many an “impossible” horse from a bad fate.
So here we go into the holidays, when dark days, disturbed schedules, finances, and family can all converge to make us want to leap out of the saddle and/or say bad words and lots of them. Do you have any go-to strategies for restoring calm? Any aphorisms or rituals than can head off the bad words or blue moods?
I will put the blog on hiatus hereafter until Jan. 14, 2024. Wish me lots of great words in the intervening weeks (Looking you, Your Grace of Dreadfulness), and not too much great cooking. I wish all of you a safe, peaceful, happy end to your year and a joyous start to the next!