…begins with a single step”, according to the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu. Everyone’s heard that. But guess what? It’s almost exactly 1,000 miles from Chehalis WA (my former home of 25 years) to Bishop CA (east-central CA, near Nevada), my new home. An avalanche of changes and challenges on every level – how did it all start? What was that step? And would I do it again? Yeah, I know that’s kind of a useless question, but maybe some of you are thinking about making big changes too!
It’s quite a switch, from the verdant cathedral forests of the Northwest, to this desert oasis at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the highest in the lower 48. David Young, the man I married five and a half years ago, lived here before we fell in love. I came to Bishop on visits while we were courting, and we rode together in the desert sage and rocky high country. I developed friendships and attended worship in Bishop; on long walks I saw tantalizing evidence of the ancient people who once inhabited this region.
After David and I married, we tried splitting our year between our two homes – but that turned out to be way too cumbersome! It’s 1,000 miles and they are not easy miles—it’s some of the toughest miles you can cover and still be on a state highway.
So we decided to stay in Chehalis. My business had evolved in Chehalis, where I was a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with a ranch-based practice. My practice incorporates Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy and Learning. In EFPL clients are encouraged to work with horses as part of their pathway to recovery and emotional growth. Our 9-acre ranch in Washington was the ideal setting for my practice. It was also the home of HEAL, which is a non-profit 501c(3).
As founder and president of HEAL (Human-Equine Alliances for Learning), my practice has another aspect. We have seen the horses provide healing breakthroughs for people, that might never have happened with only a human psychotherapist to guide the process. I like to say that allowing a horse to function as your co-therapist is like cracking the door that will allow God to come sneaking in to your client’s session. David gladly joined me in the ministry of supporting and promoting the employment of horses in mental health therapy and personal growth. We joined families and he and his two Arabian horses came to Chehalis. And almost as quickly turned and asked ourselves, “What are we doing here??”
Our thoughts about moving were full of paralyzing ambivalence. We never felt fully ready to move; living in Bishop was like a dream that we wanted, but could never be ready for. Our prayers seemed to wait for us to catch up. We were fully immersed in day to day life. I was writing a book (finished in 2013: The Listening Heart: the limbic path beyond office therapy). I felt both challenged and fulfilled by my growing private practice; David labored at his research on health and the autonomic system. When my book was finished, his article was in full production mode – not an easy stage! Here is the title and the link to the peer-reviewed online journal Frontiers in Physiology.
Then it happened. You’ve also heard the sayings, “when the stars line up” and “be careful what you pray for”. Because suddenly – Whoosh! My world changed rapidly in a matter of months (although, the real estate details seemed to unfold at a snail’s pace). But in no time at all, God presented me with all that I wanted, if only I could be big enough to accept it. I had my moments; some torrents of tears. I had to face the loss of friendships and sustaining circles of community. I had to muster the courage to open up to new things. Much of the wisdom that I drew on came from the horses themselves.
Horses throughout many cultures and history are known as the most forgiving and generous of animals. The most current research in affective neuroscience has revealed similarities in mammalian brains, including those of both horses and humans who each in their own way are “highly social”. But when we listen to each other, when we relate to each other with reverence and trust, when we use communication instead of force and manipulation, miracles happen. Give yourself, they seemed to urge me. Go.
In truth, the first step was long ago. I’ve known of Bishop since I was 20 years old, as “Mule Capital of the World”. As a young woman I learned to pack horses and mules for high country travel, camping and cooking outside; Bishop was outfitter heaven. My young heart yearned for the mountains and the companionship of animals. I had been to Bishop once, long before — when I took a packing course at Rock Creek Pack Station. Funny that David took the exact same course, different year, and we never guessed how closely our paths crossed then!
To quote TS Eliot:
“…the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
Would I move to Bishop if I had it to do again?
I would, and I expect it would still be as difficult.
As it often is to discover one’s Self.