It’s the middle of winter at 8885 feet in Colorado. A snow storm has blown in and is slamming our ranch with howling winds of 50–60 miles per hour and temps in the single digits. It’s snowing sideways and the conditions are miserable by any standard.
I watch my horses standing out there in the storm. They’ve chosen to stand downwind of a stand of trees rather than under their shelter. They stand with their back to the wind, side by side, motionless.
The conditions are unpleasant and the horses uncomfortable. But here’s the most important thing I’ve learned from them: they’re uncomfortable, but they’re not suffering.
They’re not suffering for a very simple reason: they’re fully in the moment, they’re not thinking about their discomfort or its causes, they’re not resisting the experience.
Here are some things that humans in the same situation might be thinking that the horses most definitely aren’t: Why the hell is this happening to me? Why did this storm have to blow in today? Why me? This always happens to me. I hate storms. Maybe I should move. Maybe I’d be happier on a caribbean Island. Why doesn’t Sumaya come out here and feed us more hay? She must not care about us. She definitely doesn’t care about us. I really hate this wind. I just can’t stand it. I have to do something. I have to fix this.
Thankfully for their mental health, the horses aren’t thinking any of that. They’re simply standing out there, their minds clear and calm, fully feeling their discomfort but not thinking it’s a problem in any way.
And here’s the real magic: When the storms blows over, the sun comes back out and they’re standing out in the warmth of the sunny morning enjoying a big pile of hay. Their eyes are soft, half closed, slowly chewing their food and you can see the contentment, the joy, the pure bliss they’re experiencing in the moment. It’s utterly palpable, and so beautiful to witness.
In the same situation, here’s what a human might be thinking, that the horses most definitely aren’t: That storm was awful. I hated that so much. Why do bad things always happen to me? What’s wrong with me? Why is life so hard? I need a plan to be sure I never have to experience a storm like that again. Maybe I need a new ranch, a new feeder. Sumaya sucks. She doesn’t feed us enough. It’s all her fault. Actually, it must be my fault. Clearly, I’m not good enough for a better life. I don’t deserve a ranch in Florida. It’s me. I’m broken. I need help fixing myself.
You get the picture. If the horses were having thoughts like these, they would miss the bliss of the moment, of the beautiful experience they’re having when the storm is gone.
Instead, they don’t overthink and resist when they’re uncomfortable, and they don’t overthink and ruin the moment when the discomfort passes and they have a chance at a blissful moment.
What they model for us is a powerful image of how we too could live our lives with more resilience, more grace, more bliss and joy. Because we too are capable of weathering our “storms” with that kind of grace and ease, no matter what those storms consist of.
Unfortunately, most of us humans do the exact opposite.
Unlike horses, we humans have a highly complex brain and a highly complex intellect, which makes us awesome at learning, inventing, writing, exploring, thinking about the past and future, and making meaning out of our lives and the world around us. That capacity is absolutely awesome. But it comes with a downside. Our highly developed brain also means we have the capacity to seriously derail our innate wellbeing, wisdom and resilience. If we choose to let it.
And we do choose to let it. All the time. We choose to do all the things that I just said horses don’t do: we think about the past, we think about the future, we think about who’s to blame, we think about how much we hate the discomfort, we think about how to avoid it or fix it. And with all that thinking, we create our own suffering. We suffer rather than simply being uncomfortable.
The beautiful things is that you don’t have to do anything for that to start to change. You just have to understand how it works and notice it in the moment. That’s it. No technique, no method, no six-week program, no effort or hard work, nothing to buy, no list to keep track of. Just the understanding of how we create our suffering can give you a new relationship to your experience. One that involves a whole lot less suffering.