Sometimes, our desires are a little, or a lot, beyond what we believe we can do. Carrying the American flag for the rodeo is one of those dreams of mine that I struggled to believe I could actually accomplish. A little less than a month prior to the rodeo I sat in my kitchen crying to my husband about how worried I was about carrying the flag. I had worked a few times with the horse I was planning to use and felt confident in her calm demeanor, but I had little confidence in myself. The large flag was proving more difficult to manage than I realized and I’d had a couple nights of practice that didn’t instill much confidence in me. I felt sick with worry at the thought of the event and that I had less than four weeks to get myself into flag-carrying shape.
About a year ago, for reasons I cannot recall, I found a hypnotherapist in my town and had been interested in what she did. I now thought about her and wondered if she could help me, if she could put a spell on me and help me succeed in carrying the flag. The day after I cried to my husband about my worries, I called the hypnotist’s office. She asked me what I was hoping to work on. I told her. She asked me if I was physically capable of carrying the flag, I said yes. She asked me if I had been practicing with the flag, and I said that I had. She told me to keep practicing, that hypnotherapy wasn’t magic. Her blunt statement made me laugh.
I ended up meeting with her twice, each time we chatted for about a half hour before getting into the relaxation/positive visualization/hypnotherapy portion. She used the pre-chat to guide what I was looking to get out of the experience with her and what I was hoping ultimately to achieve on my own. My first session she focused intensely on me being capable, confident, proud and honored while carrying the flag. She helped me to stop my mind from going to the worry place and dumping adrenaline in my body and increasing my anxiety. She helped me to shift my focus to the place of honor, the place of confidence. It was a remarkable shift. It was a shift I can feel in my body. The worry place is in my stomach and makes me sick, the place of honor, of pride, is in my chest and feels light and joyous.
After my first session with her, every time I would start to get a little nervous, a little worried, start imagining all of the horrible things that could go wrong, I would just shut down those thoughts and think of the people I was really carrying the flag for: my two Marine Corps brothers and my Navy Veteran father. I would think of the absolute gratitude I felt for the chance to carry the flag. It sounds so simple, too easy really, but it worked. And I kept practicing with the flag, and my practice got better. Not just because the hypnotherapy shifted my mindset, but also because I had a wonderful trainer helping me work with the horse I would be using.
My second session with the hypnotherapist we focused again on the place of honor and gratitude, but she also asked me why I called carrying the flag an opportunity. And it made me realize that this lifelong dream, something that I had always secretly envied and loved and watched with adoration, was also something I never imagined I could do. I never even really told anyone that it was a dream of mine to carry the flag. It only came out a little at a time to a close friend, granted a close friend who regularly carried the flag. But it was she who really made me name the desire. She outright asked me if carrying the flag was something I wanted to do. I told her absolutely yes but that I was also terrified by the idea.
Now maybe some of you are wondering what the hell is the big deal. But I get nervous showing my horse in front of about 50 people, now add about 5000 people and a giant American flag that you can’t drop under any circumstances. Add the noise of the crowd, the cannon fire in the middle of the song, the shapes of the sponsor flags around the arena, the smell of the stock animals. It’s a lot for a horse to manage. It’s a lot for a rider to navigate. And there is an emotional component to it. I have pride in my country. I come from a military family and have experienced both of my brothers being in war. The flag isn’t just a decoration taken out over a few summer holidays and shown at sports events, it means something to me. People have died fighting for what our red, white, and blue flag represents.
So during that second session with the hypnotherapist I realized that if I wanted to keep dreaming bigger and bigger dreams, if I wanted to keep striving to live just beyond my comfort zone, I would have to name my desires. I would have to believe that my ridiculous, audacious and inconceivable dreams could be possible, that they could come to fruition. I might not know exactly how, I might not know where dreaming such dreams could take me, but I have to be bold enough to put it out there. In carrying the flag I was lucky, I had a friend who pulled my dream out of me, she urged me on. But there isn’t always going to be someone who cares so much, who teases the dream out little by little and pushes me on along the way. I have to own the role I play and reach as far as I can on my own.
The second session made me feel like I had received a small kernel of enlightenment. How can you ever expect to achieve a dream you’re not willing to name? How can you ever expect to get something you’re too shy, too insecure, too whatever to ask for? In that moment, I realized that I couldn’t. I couldn’t expect to receive anything that I haven’t asked for, reached for, worked for. It’s not magic, you have to work for it.
If you’re wondering, the hypnosis portion of our sessions was a little like being between sleep and awake. There was vivid visualization of what we discussed. It was a type of deep relaxation with an imaginative picture-story. It was a little awkward at first, but I decided I was paying to try and help myself, I might as well dive into the experience whole heartedly. So I let myself be lost in the visualization. I could remember most everything that happened during the session, I was conscious of what was going on around me. This is important because I am a cynic and did briefly wonder if the woman was going to rifle through my purse and steal my identity. But she didn’t, and even if she had, I would have come out of the relaxation and known what she was doing. After both sessions I felt as relaxed as if I had just had a massage, right down to my legs feeling wobbly.
When the day came to carry the flag, I spent the morning drinking mimosas with visiting friends. I can think of no better way to start the day. Then I got my ½ inch layer of make up on, applied a half can of hairspray to my curls and headed off to the barn. I was still nervous, quite a bit actually. But we got a practice ride in and I settled a bit. Then I sat with some other friends and had a little whiskey and coke and settled some more. Then I put on my sequin shirt, bobby-pinned my hat to my head and got on my paint horse. We stood behind the in-gate for about an hour, waiting for our turn. You might think that would cause me to be more nervous, but it had the opposite effect. I got to watch the rodeo court riding into the arena, the drill team shifting around and then running in, the sponsor flag runners do their run-ins. Little by little each of the groups entered and left the arena. Then came a memorial ride in honor of my friend’s mom and I found myself all choked up with tears in my eyes. My friend handed the enormous flag up to me, we unfurled it, and then I got really choked up. She tugged my reins to pull me toward the in-gate.
It was finally my turn. I clucked and squeezed my calves and got my horse up into a jog. We had a little bit of a rough start and we ended up going into a lope much earlier than I planned, but we loped around the arena for five minutes, with that big beautiful flag flying and one of my brothers and my father and the rest of my fan club watching. Once I got out there I was actually far less nervous than I thought I’d be because I had a job to do. I could not focus on my nerves or people or what my nervous imagination was dreaming up. I had to keep my horse going and the flag upright. And I did. And it was beautiful. I am so grateful to have had the experience.
Here’s a link to a one minute video of my great ride
I hope you believe me when I say, whatever your big dreams are, they are possible. Whatever audacious, ridiculous, bold ideas are, if you are willing to do the work, if you are willing to inch out further and further onto the ledge of possibility, they can be yours. I really, truly was not sure I could carry the flag, not because I was physically incapable, but because I was unsure if I could manage my emotions and my stress around carrying the flag. But I did, and I feel empowered by the experience. What is your big, audacious, ridiculous dream?
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