Horses, Not Zebras
Weekly Reading Topic for May 30, 2020:
Well, good morning, love! I just opened a Reading for you, my newsletter subscribers and here’s what I heard in answer to the following:
What do my readers most need to hear this weekend? What is the most important message to send to my beloved readers?
The answer was: “horses, not zebras.”
What follows is your weekly reading, dear one.
Weekly Reading │ Horses, Not Zebras
Q: What do we need to know about “horses, not zebras?”
Ah, this is really interesting. At least, it seems so, to me, right off the bat — let’s see where this goes and you can judge for yourself. (As you inevitably do.)
OK. Horses, not zebras, is a phrase most often heard in medical circles. The full version of the medical proverb is “when you hear hoofbeats think horses, not zebras.”
It’s a reminder to medical students that when you encounter a symptom in a patient, it’s most likely caused by a common problem (horses), not an exotic one (zebras).
If a patient is coughing, it’s much more likely it’s a cold than it’s emphysema.
A morning spent on their knees vomiting is much more likely to be food poisoning or a stomach bug than advanced stomach cancer.
If they are fatigued, it’s more likely that they are not sleeping well, and less likely that they have a severe autoimmune syndrome.
Medical students are doing little more than memorizing lists of symptoms at some points, and when you see how many illnesses have a symptom in common — fatigue, say — it can be easy to think “oh no,” it’s the WORST illness with that symptom.
But calm down, their mentors say. When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. Horses are a lot more common, and you are much more likely to see a horse appear on the horizon than a herd of zebras.
Start with the simplest diagnosis, the most common diagnosis that matches these symptoms, and treat for that. Then if that doesn’t help your patient, move to the next most common diagnosis, and see if that fits. Then treat for THAT, and so on, and so on, until you have really run out of horses and can see that yes, you are in fact dealing with an exotic zebra, an uncommon diagnosis.
So how does this relate to us, this weekend?
It’s been a hard week on planet earth. There are lots of seams showing, lots of instabilities rising, and even more “releases” coming in the next couple weeks and months. As we navigate our own lives and our collective life together, we’re all hearing a lot of hoofbeats. In fact, it sounds like a stampede, doesn’t it?
We’re making all sorts of thinking mistakes as a result.
We’re tired, and we’re thinking it’s because there is something wrong with our health. Maybe, or maybe, you know, you’re just not sleeping well because you’re watching the news right before bed.
We’re tripping over our words in meetings, and we’re afraid we’re making the wrong impression or saying insensitive things, or that we look like a monster. Maybe, or maybe we’re just dealing with our own and everyone else’s insecurities as best we can, and we’re just like everyone else, stressed out and feeling inadequate to meet the moment.
We’ve gained a few pounds, and our hair’s a mess, and we start thinking we look older and uglier. Maybe, or maybe we’re just looking like we’ve gained a few pounds and haven’t been able to get a haircut in ten weeks. (Just like everyone else.)
We see a terrible thing on the news and think “what is this world coming to?” and we start thinking we are in a Truly Different Time. Maybe, or maybe we are just seeing things we didn’t use to see. Because: cell phones and social media.
We feel regret over the many, many things that are wrong or unfair or bad in the world, and we start thinking This Is the End. Maybe, or maybe we’re just ready to start making some changes, and so we’re thinking harder about problems that have been there for a Long Long Time.
Still, these are normal horses. Not a zebra in sight. Take a deep breath. It’s not a bunch of brand new things to be worried about. It’s not an exotic species of horse we don’t usually see in these parts.
Nope, this is a herd of horses, the kinds we know only too well. The horses of our own and our collective illnesses. Sure, they’ll all here at once, and that’s kind of unusual:
The horse of inattention.
The horse of apathy.
The horse of denial.
The horse of forgetfulness.
The horse of self-absorption.
And all the ills these horses bring with them — the lack and the misery and the fear and the desperation and the holding on. The civil unrest that has been under the surface, the bank accounts running dangerously low, the inability to see a certain future. It’s all coming with these horses.
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There are too many horses to count or name here, but there they all are, galloping toward us, knocking us off our feet. We are worried, and overwhelmed, and feeling a little smug, too, watching all these horses trample everyone who deserves to be messed around a bit. (Including ourselves, we think.)
It’s a time when it’s really easy to sink into the ground, head for a foxhole and hide as the hooves flatten the world.
And you might need to do that, for a while, to find a foxhole and hide, so you don’t get trampled. But make good use of that foxhole, because these horses are not going anywhere any time soon.
These horses are going to be running and snorting and kicking and charging for as long as it takes for us to decide to change, decide, and rebuild.
Eventually, you’ll need to come out of that foxhole and jump on the back of your horse, your own beauty, and ride bare back for a while, knotting your fists in his mane and gripping his sides with your strong thighs, until you find your seat and he decides that you are his rider. And, oh, dear, when that happens? Magic. It’s magical to ride a horse. They are so … big. And strong. It’s like the whole world is rising up to support you, and you alone.
Horses are quick ways to change, and they are here, let loose in our world, to help us to decide WHERE to go and to TAKE us there.
They are here to assist. They just present as a horde of mostly-wild animals.
So if you’re ready, leap up and find your horse. The first one you can convince to take you, that’s yours.
Say to your horse what you want to change and listen as she sets a course to your destination and tells you about the journey. She has such kind wisdom for you, if you just pay attention, and stay seated, and give her little lumps of sugar once in a while. Maybe an apple, red and cheeked.
The ride will only be wild at first. You will feel your own speed, so acutely. But reorient yourself to your change, and I promise, after a while it will feel you and she are still, in the center, while the world is all motion passing you, until it rearranges itself to be the place you whispered in her ear.
You told her “I’m so scared to write that” and she took you to the reality of writing it.
You told her “I want to be closer to my son” and she forced an interchange that brings you closer, albeit awkwardly.
You told her “I’m afraid I’m losing everything” and she showed you how you were only losing things you no longer need, that your new life is right there, different, yes, and also, possible.
You told her “I’m afraid they will hate me if I say the truth,” and she showed you that the truth, simply stated, is powerful.
You told her “If they do that thing, I will not want to live,” and she showed you that you have more worth and strength than you realized.
And if you’re not ready for your horse(s), that’s OK. There is no shame in being overwhelmed by so much change, so much uncertainty. It’s OK to go into the cave, the dry and safe cave, and gather strength of mind and purpose.
Just make good use of it! Listen hard, and see if you can hear what other humans are whispering in their horses ears. Listen hard and see what the horses are trying to tell us. Look at the dark walls of the cave and hear what the earth has to tell you.
There are endless stories in the natural world, and they all are here for us, for our brains to pick up and rewind and play again. Let the time in the foxhole be restful, and loving, and cozy.
Just don’t stay in there forever, because it’s not going to be safe to be there forever. You’ll need to get out, and jump up on your horse, and run, run, run with the rest of us. It’s time to make choices.
And the best way to do that is to Remember Who You Are. You can do that on horseback, or in the foxhole.
So don’t worry too much about anything new or exotic. All the horses here are just horses, not zebras. There isn’t anything you can’t handle — there’s just a LOT of it at once.
We don’t have to corral all the horses, and we don’t have to tame the herd. We just have to find our horse, swing up, and ride until we’re at our next destination. Some of us will have another ride after that, and another, and another.
But getting used to the idea that you can keep your seat and simplify while the world is burning will serve you well.
So, you know, get used to the idea that you can keep your seat and simplify your thoughts and get centered and clear-minded, even while the world seems to burn around you.
Because you can, and you will have to.
I cannot stress enough how prepared we should all be right now. We should assume nothing, hold no beliefs, and meet each moment as it is. Tall task, right? Entire religions were born on this planet to try to teach us to do that.
Now is the time to use every single bit of wisdom you’ve ever collected.
Yes, that one, too, the one you just thought of. Your friends, family, teachers, and leaders have been giving you the tools your whole life. Now’s the time to use them.
Think horses, not zebras. You already have what you need, and the problem is simpler than it first appears. You just need to focus on the most logical, simple ideas, the root of the actual reality in front of you, and ride that horse until you get as far as you can go. If there is still a problem, look for the next simplest idea, and ride THAT horse.
Stay healthy, stay strong, and stay hydrated. It helps us to think.
And if you notice other riders on their horses, headed in the same direction? Say hello, and reach out. We get there/here faster when we are a We, not an I.
Keep your ears open and your heart open and your eyes clear.
Our great Poetry Grandfather, Walt Whitman, knows how to ride horses. He says in the preface to Leaves of Grass, the book that got him fired from his job at the Department of the Interior:
Who troubles himself about his ornaments or fluency is lost. This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
Grandfather Walt is giving us the rhythm and the rhyme to live by in this season of change, a season so very similar to the one he knew.
So go about your life this week, and argue not about God. Have patience, and indulge in others. Go freely and feel yourself in your soul. Even when we are locked in a foxhole, or worried about a trouble, we can still reach for this great, interior sense of freedom, Grandpa promises.
Let’s do it, because without freedom inside our minds, we cannot swing ourselves up onto a horse. They throw off the tense, the unwilling, the timid. Horses love freedom. Let them teach us to be free!
I am always here to serve in any way I can.
Much Love to You,
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