And to All a Good Ride

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!

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13 comments on “And to All a Good Ride

  1. It’s nothing earth-shattering but I say to myself “In 100 years, this will not matter.” Yes, it matters a great deal right now but unless it’s a true life-and-death situation, it doesn’t really matter. It also gets easier as I get older because even though I’m still passionate about many things, I have the experience to know what I can realistically do/change.

    I’ll miss the blog while you’re off but I hope you and yours (Grace and usual commenters) have something that makes you happy for a while. And see you all in 2024 (good grief)!

  2. Pingback: Lord Julian Is In the House!!! (Again.) | Grace Burrowes | I believe in love.

  3. I’ve learned that my imagined upcoming Christmases (or many other events) rarely coincide with the reality. Sometimes they are just as good, but other times—like this year—when the living room still looks like a train wreck December 11th (and I’d planned for everything to be perfect by December 1st), I adjust my expectations, hope for better next year, but best of all, still have those beautiful mental imaginings and the memories of other years when everything really did look just right and family gathered together happily. Those memories and mental images still evoke the warm Christmasy feelings that matter to me even when today’s physical reality can’t quite get there.

    I don’t allow nostalgia or grief for the past to impinge on happy memories or warm cozy imaginings. I just won’t allow joy in my favourite season to be stolen.

    I am also learning slowly that when I am overwhelmed or stressed out, I need to stop and have a frank conversation with God about it all. When I unload all of my feelings and frustrations, my failures and hurt feelings and release the mess to Him, I regain perspective and a whole lot more peace.

    And on blue days or truly black days, I have learned that praise is a powerful tool. Whether or not I can actually feel worshipful doesn’t seem to matter. Simply declaring back to God who He has said He is, and His promises, lightens my mood almost immediately. This truth I stumbled upon and proved in the crucible of major depression when seriously considering suicide. In that pit of despair, I praised, and by the following day my mood was 50% better.

    Those three are my go-tos for “eyes up and soft”, looking at others and myself compassionately.

  4. There’s very little a hot bubble bath in a locked bathroom with a relaxing soundtrack can’t fix. For the rest, allow me to quote a very effective therapist, “Sometimes you’re stressed & depressed because life really IS that bad. Take a deep breath, remember you’re worth it, & do your best. Don’t forget to ask for help if any is available.”
    If sleep escapes me, audiobooks I’ve already listened to & adore are lovely for reading me back to sleep on a sleep timer.

    As for dealing with others in this season of stress, I fall back on Daddy’s formula for life: If it’s naked, clothe it. If it’s hungry, feed it. If it’s homeless, build one. If it’s lonely, love on it. All the rest is mere details.

  5. In addition to all the gift shopping, baking, decorating, etc., we do for family, we always try to have at least one “friends” party around the holidays. So I will be prepping for not one, but two big holiday dinners within a few days of each other. I love to cook and bake, and I am unwilling to cater meals or outsource the baking, so to get it all done on time, I have a few strategies. First is that I carefully plan out everything, the invites, the food, the gifts, the decor, etc. I also schedule all the tasks, using lists and spreadsheets to organize what needs to be done and when. The second strategy I use is to do as much cooking and prep as possible ahead of time so I am not going crazy in the kitchen the day of a party. It’s amazing how much food can be prepared in advance and frozen, with no loss of quality! I routinely start baking my Christmas cookies in early November, preparing a batch or two a week so by Thanksgiving six kinds of cookies are closely wrapped and sitting in the freezer. The same with dinners…not everything needs to be cooked the day of an event. Many main courses and sides can be either prepared and ready to bake off or completely cooked and simply warmed the day of an event. For instance, I sauté the veggies and sausage for my turkey stuffing weeks in advance of Thanksgiving. I bake the cornbread and crumble it into plastic bags , portioned into the amounts I need for my regular and vegetarian versions. Everything goes into the deep freeze. Thanksgiving morning I simply combine everything and bake it off. Simple! I also choose menus keeping advance prep in mind. For our friends’ holiday party a few days after Christmas we are doing a “Make your own Pizza” event. The sauce, meats, white pizza topping, grated cheeses, etc. can all be prepared in advance, only to be defrosted a day or so before the party. All I will have to do the day before the party is make batches of pizza dough and let it rise and lay out the salads and fresh ingredients like sliced peppers, tomatoes, onions, etc. Again, easy! Have a wonderful, safe and happy holiday everyone!

  6. Darn, I wish I had understood what eyes up & soft meant years ago but I’m afraid I wouldn’t have listened. But now I go with the flow, give myself enough time to do what I can (mostly) and try not to worry about the rest. I get through this time of year by telling myself the days will be getting longer soon, I’m more a solstice person, best wishes for the coming year

  7. I try to decide what must absolutely be done to get through Christmas and try to start my days before Christmas with a project I really dread to get it overwith and be able to say “that wasn’t so bad. What’s next?” I’m the one who puts most stress on myself so I want to cut myself some slack. Cards may be New Year’s or Valentine’s cards this year!
    Thank you, Grace, for all your wonderful stories that have this year a whole lot better for me.

  8. I have been reading your books for a while now and truly have enjoyed them. I must say this last series of books about Lord Julian, I am thoroughly enjoying. I love your writing style and the way he thinks through problems in the first person. I’m looking forward to the series and any other writings you have in your mind in your heart. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and holiday season with your friends and family.

  9. Love your stories- but don’t t start reading before bed if you want to sleep!I love the deeply painted flawed but beautiful humane characters as they face their demons. I love that the story is not predicable and happens with unlikely heroes and not just the cream. So glad you started writing and can give such wonderful, advice for life