First, it convinced me that I am in danger of being locked up in an asylum any minute now. Indeed, I was familiar with all of the pitfalls on the road to madness she described: negative chatter, high levels of stress, dominant right brain, being single, to name a few.
Then I discovered that my chances of staying sane are directly proportionate to my riding experience: non-existent. It is Plato who compared human soul to a chariot being pulled by two horses. The charioteer represents reason; one of his horses is rational and moral, while another is impulsive and irrational. Try to control the pair!
But before I threw the book away in despair, I read on to find four practical ways to keep insanity at bay, suggested by Perry.
Self-awareness is crucial for our wisdom and sanity. To cultivate it, we need to practice self-observation in a non-judgemental way and give ourselves space to decide how to act and how to marry emotions and logic. Toxic chatter, providing unhelpful negative commentary to our daily activities, can be mitigated substantially by regular self-observation and by disarming it of its power.
"We all need safe, trusting, reliable, nourishing relationships”, says Perry. A nurturing relationship does not have to be a romantic one - a friend, a child, a lover, a teacher or a therapist could fit the shoes as long as this is someone who can listen, read between the lines and even gently challenge us.
In its extreme, stress is our worst enemy, as I’ve explained before. Perry, however, talks about moderate stress, which creates positive stimulation. Getting out of our comfort zone, learning new things, taking on challenges creates new neural connections, which is what we need for personal development and growth. Challenges can be both intellectual and physical; the purpose is to keep ourselves fit.
A friend of mine, a mother of two, has signed up to do a sprint triathlon. She is an experienced runner but she has not done much swimming or cycling. It seems insane, but experience of fear, just enough to tickle your toes, the butterflies in your stomach before a race, the audacity of jumping into unfamiliar waters are actually ingredients of genuine happiness.
The stories we tell ourselves can sometimes be perpetually damaging, as our minds form narratives from our experience and seek out the same pattern in any new future context. My friend Dan once attempted to climb Aconcagua, a 7,000m peak in Argentina. It is a horrendously difficult climb with unpredictable effects of mountain sickness. He did not make it, and upon return home he felt so devastated that he projected that failure onto other aspects of his life. Suddenly everything appeared in the same gloomy light: his work, his fitness routine, his family.
The great thing about stories is that they are flexible. It is up to us to change the script, to look at things in a different light, to seek out positive experiences every day. Dan, I am eager to say, picked himself up and bagged many other peaks. Positive mental attitude is key to give any story a happy ending.
My close and challenging (me!) friends may still question my sanity at times, but overall it seems I’ve got my chariot under control.