Looking Up: A Reminder

Back on my shizz.

I noticed I was looking down again, as I went about my day.

The difference between the two views is striking, and it reminded me of this excerpt from Many Brave Fools


Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley, a horsewoman, writes in her memoir A Year at the Races about how her position on the horse influenced not only her work in the arena, but also her presence in the world:

I practiced keeping my heels down and my eyes up. The effect of this was to orient my body properly on the horse, and, indeed, properly on the planet, so that, as in walking upright, gravity would promote stability rather than undermine it… To look down is to enter into a trance of self-consciousness, and potentially, to fall. A rider looking down is already beginning to part from her horse, because her seat and thighs are already beginning to lift and tilt forward. Her horse is already beginning to react to her shift in weight by shifting his own weight. He is getting ready to stumble.

—A Year at the Races

I’m fairly certain I’ve spent most of my life walking with my gaze glued to the pavement. When I lived in New York City, I was pathologically obsessed with picking up pennies, mainly because I always saw the stupid things. And I always saw them because I was always, always looking down. I was walking up Seventh Avenue once, saw a penny, picked it up, and some dude passing on my right smiled at me and said, “Good luck!”

I replied, “I think I should be looking up at the sky, or something, you know?”

He laughed, and we went our separate ways.

In Ireland, that’s where I began to see everything: On the north side of Dublin, walking past Connolly Station, I saw the people swarming out of the station itself, I saw the crowd surging against the light to cross to Talbot Street, I saw the taxis pulling out of the rank, I saw the buses trundling back up the coast road, and in the distance, I saw one of the trams from the Luas line, the light rail system that runs in city center, curving away toward Abbey Street. I saw it all, because my head was up, my eyes were forward, and my chin was down.

One of my lessonmates once said that she’d started to drive a car like she was riding, meaning she was very, very aware of both sides of her body at the same time. I’d started to correct my walk the way I would correct myself in the saddle. I would catch myself leaning forward, and I’d consciously sink back into my hips, tuck the back of my neck into my collar, drop my chin. I would swiftly catch myself spacing out, gazing into the gutter, and pick up my head.

It’s as easy to drop your gaze in real life, as it is in the riding arena. A forward gaze is confident, assured, and the rest of the body follows, up and out and forward. Is it mind over matter, or matter over mind? I think it’s actually about healing this dualistic split, about making the self whole. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. Sometimes I need to think with my head, but I also need to allow my body to speak its own mind…


Many Brave Fools: A Story of Addiction, Dysfunction, Codependency… and Horses is AVAILABLE NOW.

Preorder your copy today:
> In the US, click on over to Trafalgar Square Books’ site.
> In the UK and Europe, visit Quiller Publishing’s page.

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