Rhiannon and the Art of Side-Saddle

jo weddingRiding side-saddle is both easy and difficult. It’s a strange dichotomy of being securely “locked in” and feeling like you’re going to slide out the side at any moment. I took lessons riding side-saddle, and also did some jumping. I even rode down the aisle at my wedding side-saddle!  When I compare this to working with the goddess Rhiannon, I can see how she is often portrayed as riding side-saddle, and I think the fact that she’s wearing skirts is only part of the reason.

If you have a voluminous skirt, it’s quite easy to ride in the normal fashion. Your ankles may be showing and perhaps even your calves (gasp, shock and horror!) but really, it’s quite do-able. But side-saddle just looks more elegant, even though it perhaps fits in with the conformity to “keep your legs together” so as not to be considered a “loose woman” in any shape or form. However, all that nonsense aside, side-saddle is fun and a challenge for any rider, whatever they choose to wear, whatever gender they associate with. My husband tried it, everyone in our Western riding group tried it, just to see what it was like. It’s good to try new things.

Riding side-saddle, you usually have your legs hanging down the left side of the horse. Your left foot is in a stirrup as usual, but your right leg is held above the left and “hooked in” with a curved bar just above the knee. This keeps your right leg in place, though you have to hold your right foot flat against the side of the horse the entire time in order to truly maintain that grip correctly. It’s almost like sitting with one leg crossed over the other, but not quite.

You need to have some flexibility in the spine and torso in order to keep the head, chest and hips facing forward as much as you can, while the legs are over on the left-hand side. It feels really good after a ride to get down and stretch out the other side of your body! It also takes a bit of balance, as it can feel like you are going to slide off the other side of the horse. As mentioned above, keeping the right foot in the correct position helps with this, but that feeling is still there. The emptiness on the right-hand side can be a little daunting, even as you feel fully strapped in with your right leg securely tucked under the leaping head, lower pommel or as it is sometimes known, the leaping horn.

rhiannon oracle

Rhiannon from The Avalonian Oracle, written by Jhenah Telyndru, artwork by Emily Brunner

This delicate balance, of security and instability, finds resonance within me with the stories of the Welsh goddess Rhiannon. She is often portrayed as a horse goddess, riding a white mare from the Otherworld and marrying into the human realms, there to face the trials and tribulations of such. She works to re-establish order, correcting her husband and fixing his gaffs, seeking her lost child, and enduring hardships and injustices while remaining true to herself. She literally carries the mantle of sovereignty, as a horse carries a rider, to take it where it needs most to be, to work in the world in co-operation and in compassion.

It can be a tricky ride. One minute you can feel secure, locked in and riding in the correct posture. Forget that posture for a moment, and then you are insecure, literally, feeling like you are going to slide down any moment. It’s a great teacher in remembering to hold true, figuratively and literally. Be mindful of everything you do, if you want to enjoy this ride. Because the moment you aren’t, you could lose your seat, whether that’s the seat on horseback or the seat of sovereignty, in the soul and in the wider world.

But once you understand the delicate balance, once you come to terms with this new way of being, it’s glorious. It’s elegant. It’s graceful. And I’m not just talking about riding side-saddle. This is what Rhiannon can teach us as well. To find a new way of being, to be in balance and staying true to yourself, being present and knowing that some things need to be endured in order to find the beauty in our lives. To carry the burdens with grace, to stay true to yourself.  Rhiannon is both the horse and the rider, enduring and carrying, guiding and taking the reins of sovereignty unto herself.

rhiannon bookI’ll be working closely with Rhiannon over the next few months, and I look forward to the insights that she brings. If you are interested in this goddess, there is a brilliant book written by Jhenah Telyndru, called Rhiannon: Divine Queen of the Celtic Britons. Jhenah works closely with Rhiannon and other Welsh goddesses in the Sisterhood of Avalon, which she founded in 1995. Do check it out, and all her work, it’s brilliant.

May you ride forth in the present moment, finding your centre and staying true. And remember, when it all comes down to it, horse-riding is merely the art of keeping the horse between you and the ground.

Finding balance

Finding your balance point is a major part of this season, the season of harvest. We learn of need and abundance, of just enough and not quite enough. We learn what needs to be worked on still, and what we can sit back and enjoy. Having a birthday that falls right in the middle of the harvest season is a great reminder for me to stop, to take stock, in my own personal life. Too often for me the focus is outward, and rightly so in my opinion, working on deep integration and relationship. Too often too many spend their entire lives looking inward, and missing the entire outer experience of being in the world. The curse of self-awareness is a blinkered view of the world because the focus is centred on the self. When the self becomes “we”, however, our views can change rapidly. But right here, right now, I am about to celebrate another year’s passing in my life, camping with my husband, taking our canoe out and enjoying some time together away from all the demands of everyday life. With the equinox approaching, the crops still being taken in, the apples in my garden ripening, I see how everything in nature is working in a balance, where if something is out of kilter, it will more than likely fail.

Taking this time is essential for my own personal balance. Teetering on the tipping point of a situation can be gloriously inspiring, invigorating and exciting, but so can finding that harmony within. So many people feel alive only when they are tipped one way or another, but for me balancing in the middle of that teeter-totter was always the best place to be on the playground. Literally. I loved finding my balance, seeing the ends of the teeter-totter stretched out to either side, knowing that I could keep them both off the ground and in balance through finding my own centre. I didn’t need the drama of a great high or a low bump while sitting on the edge of that playground attraction – that middle place was the most exhilarating, where I found I used the most skill to find and maintain my own balance to affect the whole.

I’ve always had good balance physically. Learning to ski and ice skate from a very early age, riding bikes all summer long, I knew how to find and work with that sweet spot to my own advantage. With ice-skating in particular I loved spinning, finding that spot on the blade of my skate that allowed me to spin at speed in one place, ignoring the dizziness and simply being in the moment of perfect balance, often one leg lifted, creating beautiful shapes and feeling physically present and wonderful in that moment.

Spiritually, my work in Buddhism has helped me to understand the wisdom of the Middle Way. This is not to say that my life isn’t full of spiritual or emotional ups and downs, but instead the focus is to incorporate the teachings of harmony and balance into everyday life.

I simply don’t understand the need to create huge dramas when life is so utterly wonderful. I’m not saying my life is wonderful, for again there are equal amounts of pleasure and pain, work and enjoyment, life and death. But being in that moment of moving beyond opens me to the wonder that is so utterly inspiring to Druids the world over. It is that exquisite taste of awen, of inspiration, where souls meet and worlds are broken open into new and deeper meanings than ever imagined. That wonder is not just found in great highs and at the turning point of the lowest lows, but also in perfect balance.

This harvest season, as we approach the equinox, I’ll be working further with balance, opening my eyes to see it in the world around me, to allow it to inspire me further in my work. In the heathland and forest of my home, where the ecosystem maintains itself without human intervention. In the cycles of water and wind that roam over our blue planet. In the dance of stars and moons that hurtle through time and space. And at the centre of it all is balance, even as the world spins without, here, at the very centre is a stillness that is so exquisite there simply aren’t even words to describe it.

Choosing your battles

We often spend so much of our energy needlessly. Disputes, arguments, feuds, grudges, long-held anger and frustration are just some examples. We need to choose our battles wisely, for they are not all worth fighting.

Sometimes there is nothing we can do. When faced with ignorance or denial, we are often facing an impassable wall upon which we can either hurl ourselves time and again, or simply shrug and walk away. It is not our duty to make the ignorant wise, or to force someone into changing their mind. That can only change from within. Our energy is a precious resource that must be used wisely. There are many fights that are worthy of our time, but we don’t have to attend every argument that we are invited to.

Think about the energy used in holding a grudge against someone, for a few days, a few weeks, a few months or a few years. How could that energy have been better spent? How much energy is involved in a family feud, from all sides involved? How much time is wasted arguing on social media, trying to prove your point and making a stranger change their mind? How much energy is spent talking behind people’s backs, trying to get people “on your side”? Is it really worth it?

Even if it’s something you truly believe in, proselytising the issue doesn’t really do much. In fact, it can even have the adverse effect of pushing away those who are either in agreement or disagreement: they’re simply tired of the hearing of your message over and over again. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have opinions, and that we shouldn’t share them, but when we spend so much energy shouting into empty space then maybe it’s time to rethink the situation.

People fall out with each other over the silliest of things sometimes. Letting ego get in the way, they don’t want to listen to anyone’s version of events other than their own. To do so would compromise their reality, the story that they have told of themselves. People often don’t want to change their story, for it may put them in an unflattering light. We have to evaluate the situation and say, “Right. I can offer my version of events, I can try to communicate with compassion, but I will only spend X amount of time of this. I’m not here to change anyone, because I know that true change must come from within. I can walk away at any time, for there are no “winners” or “losers” in this situation, only wasted time”. When we set these parameters, we can work with others without losing our minds.

People are going to behave in any number of ways. We can’t change their behaviour. What we can change is our response to their bad behaviour. We can let them know that we do not approve, and then we can walk away, wishing them well and focusing on the things that really matter in our own lives. Let it go. Walking away is not losing. It is opening up a new path for you to find better things to spend your time on.

I have seen ridiculous grudge matches and people trying to save face on all manner of social media. I have known families who don’t talk to each other for reasons which are entirely inaccurate, the transgression being entirely made up in their own heads. I have seen people treat others very poorly in face to face interactions. We need to find the balance point between standing up for ourselves and learning when we are expending energy needlessly.

Some battles are worth fighting for. We just need to have the right goals in mind when we are fighting. If we are trying to change all our friends’ eating habits to match ours because we are vegan, what really is our agenda here? Instead of spending time arguing or posting social media comments about it, why not spend time volunteering at an animal shelter if your ultimate goal is to help ease the suffering of other animals? If we are spending time trying to undermine someone’s work or persona, what is the real agenda there? Why would we want to do that? Wouldn’t the time be better spent focusing on yourself? Blowing out someone’s candle does not make yours burn any brighter. If we refuse to speak to a family member because they did something wrong in the past, shouldn’t we look to our own lives and remember the ways that we too have failed or wronged someone? These are only a few examples, and some may be rather simplistic. They all have multiple ways of dealing with the issue at hand.  What matters most is our intention.

We don’t have to put up with anyone’s crap, if you’ll pardon my vernacular. But we don’t have to start slinging our own either. Either way, you’ll just end up with a stink in the air.

I’ve walked away from people and situations in order to focus on what really matters. Even when I was totally “right”. It has saved me a lot of time and trouble. I could have spent months trying to change other people’s minds, but instead I worked on what really matters to me. I can say with all honesty that the energy was well spent, and the outcome even more positive than I had dreamt of in terms of benefiting myself and my work/goals/life. I can’t change other people, they’ll do what they will do, with their own demons to fight, their own achievements and successes to encourage them. I have to live my life, not try to please or fit into theirs. I can walk away into better experiences.

Choose your battles wisely. This present moment is what really matters. Live it, instead of losing yourself in a battle that doesn’t or shouldn’t even exist. Life has difficulties enough already. Be kind, be compassionate and be mindful. You may find the battles beginning to lessen, and a peace of mind settling deep within. Enjoy that, for that is what life is all about.