Of Broken Things

Master Chef

Watching Master Chef the other night, a thought crystallized in my head.  To get to this point in the show, the chefs are very knowledgeable, talented, and they have that indefinable thing that makes their food so much better.
          So, here they are:  a room full of the best chefs I've ever seen.  They are being challenged, and stretched.  They have to create beautiful dishes with impossible ingredients in a 20-minute window.  As they worked, sweat dripping off their brow, Chef Ramsey walked around the room.  His commentary was not encouraging.  He didn't lift anyone up, he didn't offer kind suggestions, or tell someone that they were making the right choices.  No, he was belittling.  He tasted their work-in-progress and he frowned, spit it out, and made awful sounds.  He used words like "ruined" and "ugh."
          In watching the show, I saw what Chef Ramsey was doing.


If you are not familiar with horses, the breaking process is imperative.  It is visceral, and connects the rider to the horse in ways that could not happen otherwise.  In breaking, the cowboy introduces the horse to a variety of stressful stimuli - a halter, a plastic bag, a crop.  The horse, a natural prey animal, learns to trust the cowboy.  The horse learns to accept new things, and to work with the cowboy towards a mutual goal.
          Each horse responds to this process differently.  Some horses readily hand over trust, and accept each challenge willingly.  Others are resistant.  They fight the control, and begrudge the trust.
          One of the first tensions between the cowboy and the horse is halter breaking.  Once the halter is in place, the cowboy tugs on the lead rope.  The horse responds to this pressure by a) giving in and stepping forward, or b) resisting by pulling back against the pressure.  A horse that steps forward is rewarded with a slack in the rope, petting, and encouraging words.  A horse that resists is met with more pressure, until they choose option "a."


There's a reason cowboys call it breaking.  What happens in the process is not just physical, or even mental, it's spiritual.  The result is a bridge of trust.  The horse is malleable, and ready to learn.  For some horses, this process is breaking down the ego, stripping away the will, and opening the soft core.  Once the horse is there, blowing hard and covered in sweat, training can truly begin.
          That is what Chef Ramsey was doing with his chefs.  He was breaking them.  Once he breaks through the ego and false confidence, he can begin the work of a true master chef.
          When I am being pushed to grow, I go through the same process.  I have had riding lessons where we may have been working on a maneuver, but what we were really working on was breaking me.  My coach's tone gets hard and demanding.  I hear them tell me "do it again" and "I've told you five times..."
          My heart constricts and I am frustrated.  I get angry.  I engage my will, as if I can make my body obey.  I loathe myself and my inability to do this one.  Simple.  Thing.  I try again, and again, and again.
          Finally, finally I break.
          Now I am ready to work.  Now I am ready to listen, really listen to my coach and to my horse.  I can do what I need to without pride or willpower.  I soften.  It is exactly the same thing I see in a horse when he takes a step toward the cowboy at the end of the lead rope.

Living a Broken Life

I wish I could say that I was like the compliant horse, who feels the pressure of the halter and steps forward, into the release.  My first reaction is to lean against the pressure, as if the growing process is an act of willpower alone (specifically my will).
          I used to commute 50 miles to work one way.  I did this for seven years.  In the beginning, I was excited about my job and what I was learning.  When that wore off, I made the drive because it was going to make my next career move so much better.  My attitude was to make the drive because that's what I was asked to do.  Mentally, I kept testing the lead rope to see if the pressure was still there.  I was moving the the right direction, just at the end of a taut rope.
          Then one day, I heard about serving joyfully.  I began commuting to work excited about how I would be able to serve that day.  Surely I had something special to offer, since I had to come from miles away to deliver it!  My drive shifted from a drudgery to time spent in reflection and, yes, joy.  I was stepping towards the rope, allowing it to sag in the middle, as I followed where I was led.
          Very shortly after that, I was released from the burden of commuting.  I was able to land a good job in the same town as I lived, and I was home in time to eat dinner with my family.
          I have continued this pattern in my life:  pressure, resistance, pressure, softening, release.  I hope that the cycle gets shorter, as I learn to recognize the pressure and step into it.  This last round has resulted in a beautiful new home, and a place for our horses.  I am so very excited to joyfully serve, whatever the next challenge may be!

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