“The release is the reward,” said Horse Teacher Number Two.

Jake and I were on a lunge line, he circling at a walk then a trot, first in one direction, then the other; me standing in the middle of his circles driving him with my hands and voice.

Number Two is a proponent of the Parelli brand of natural horsemanship, and she was teaching me games to ease communication between equine and human. Circling is one of the games. She’d already taught me Friendly, Yo-yo, Porcupine, Driving, and Squeeze. I’d inadvertently done Sideways one day: Jake stepped sideways when I reached over and touched his hindquarters.  (I found out that these games also work on humans. I used Driving at the DMV, even without a car.)

In How to Speak ‘Horse’, Andrea and Markus Eschbach write that “the best way to tell your horse, Good Job! and Yes! is as follows: at exactly the same moment your horse has followed your command correctly, direct all your energy and attention away from him…this is called the release because you are ‘turning off’ the pressure of your body language and focus. For your horse, this means he has the time and space to take a deep breath.”

I was having a hard time remembering to release.
This is also true of my non-equine life.

“Break these chains around my heart,” sings Deborah Allen. “Cut me loose, and set me free.”

Before toxic mold forced me to evacuate my home and release 99% of my possessions, I kept almost everything “just in case.” Art supplies I hadn’t used in years; my mother’s wedding dress even though my parents divorced when I was six; pretty, cracked ceramic pieces for a mosaic I never made; fabric; sewing notions and recipes that belonged to my grandmother. I’d been hauling this stuff around for decades, and adding to it from free boxes and curbside finds.

I will never forget the feeling I had driving toward the ocean after the evacuation, only the clothes on my back and my computer in the trunk. My lungs were so damaged that I could barely breathe, and my heart was rat-a-tat-tatting with adrenaline. But I felt a peace that I had not felt in a very long time. I was — finally — doing what I wanted to do: going to the sea.

I did not want to die in Olympia. It was not my home. I’d washed up there because of college and had stayed, out of inertia. I didn’t choose it, it just happened to me.

Like carrying around all those heirlooms over the years, appointing myself the family historian. But guess what? Nobody cared about that stuff, nobody needed it. Nobody in the biological family reacted to the fact that I was dying.

Except me. Finally, I chose me. Finally, I released everything tangible that was weighing me down.

And — quelle surprise! — I didn’t need any of it. And I am still alive more than three years later.

The release was the reward.
Let it all go.
Possessions are easy to come by, I’ve found out.
Now my task is to keep only what brings me joy. Every. Single. Day.

So I toss the empty stationery box P gave me today, even though it has a horse on it. It’s shabby, though the gesture was not. I can keep the gesture — she appreciates me feeding the horses when she was ill — but I don’t need the box.

This concept is hard-won. Because I am a sentimental person, highly romantic. I’m a keeper. But right after I put the box in the recycle bin, I took a deep breath of relief. Release. I don’t need another thing to weigh me down.

The release is the reward.

writer Elizabeth Shé rehearses for Global Water Dances 2015
writer Elizabeth Shé rehearses for Global Water Dances 2015