Buck Brannaman & the lesson of solvitur en modo, firmitur en rey.


My sister and I have something in common when it comes to two of our closest friends. My sister’s college roomate, now a wife and mother of three and my best friend, a husband and father if two. both suffer from significant depression.

Each has issues with their spouse and children. But, I’ve identified a significant difference between the two and the difference was manifest in the one of two sentences that each of them chose to sum up their condition.

My sister’s friend says, “I just don’t want to feel like this any more.”

My buddy says. “I know there’s no help for me. This is just how it is.”

A while back, I felt motivated to share a DVD I own called Buck. It’s the now-famous story of horseman Buck Brannaman. I saw it on TV years ago and I never forgot it. It’s one of a handful of DVDs I’ve ever actually bought and I take it out from time to time just to watch a few scenes.

Now, the funny thing is that I have very little interest in riding horses. I’ve probably been riding ten times and on seven of those rides my steed was made of plastic. Still, I am fascinated with the way Brannaman conveys information. Earlier this year I went to see one of his clinics at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. It was fascinating. Now, Brannaman is not always a little ray of sunshine. But, what attracts me to his method is that it’s heavy on sensitivity and what I call, self-discovery. By that I mean that he’s not merely encouraging sensitivity toward the horse. Rather, he’s saying that sensitivity toward the horse is mandatory and that developing a sensitivity toward the horse you’re riding leads to sensitivity towards oneself and other people.

As I’m prone to do with nearly everything, I apply this to golf. Golf is nearly always taught as a prescribed method of creating a specific series of movements. Of course the golf swing is comprised of motions, so this make sense on one level. But, if you scratch the surface with the best golf instructors they will often admit that what they’re really trying to teach is a feeling that can be hard for some players to feel. I’ve even spoke to one teacher who told me he sometimes tries to trick his students into buying into a motion he thinks will create a feeling that will somehow unlock a better swing. Talk about tricky, but learning isn’t always easy and straightforward.

I’m sure you’re wondering how this applies to the first couple paragraphs. I have to admit that at the time I loaned my friend the DVD I wasn’t sure either. I just had a feeling. Now that he’s watched it I think I have handle on what I wanted him to get out of it. Some of the lessons resides in a line Brannaman refers to in the film:

Solvitur en modo, firmitur en rey.

This is Latin for gentle in what you do, firm in how you do it. Like I said, Brannaman should have been a golf teacher. I think my friend has lived most of his life believing that something done out of the gentleness of love must always be done in that same gentle way. Over the decades, this gentility-first ethos has spawned inaction and passivity where verve and action were needed. That first quote of his, I know there’s no help for me. This is just how it is rings like the very bell of negativity derived from passivity.

I think this is a heck of a difficult thing for my friend to become aware of at this point in his life. He’s gotten so good at applying this mentality to himself even though he would never prescribe it to his children. He has created a bizarre and damning corruption of the old line, Do as I say and not as I do. He has failed to see the real lesson he’s passing on to to children through his actions and his words.

My sister’s friend went out and got help because she didn’t want to keep feeling as bad as she did. She was prescribed with antidepressants and got better. Of course, science has found that people get better from depression for a number of reasons. For the fortunate, the brain’s chemistry normalizes over time all by itself. For some, antidepressants assist in the recovery of this balance. Sometimes the brain recovers from the causes of the depression, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, only with time and perspective.

But, before people get better they have to want to get better. Do we really need to talk about the connection between attitude and health?

I watched Brannaman work with a person as his clinic who told him, “Buck, I think all this leg work (in getting the horse to turn) has numbed my horse up.” Brannaman looked at the back end of her horse and said, “Well, a fly just landed on your horse’s flank and he flicked it away with his tail. If your horse can feel a fly, he can feel your knee. The question is, can you become sensitive to how your horse feels what he feels?”

Sensitivity, or what I prefer to call awareness, is what we should all be looking for. It doesn’t matter if we’re learning a new golf shot or we want to learn how to tell a horse to stop or go or we want to know how to relate more effectively to ourself or other folks. We must be aware in a way that gives us the best chance to learn what we need.

My dear friend has lost this awareness. He can’t bring himself to flick that fly off of his leg and so it’s going to keep tormenting him until he does. My sister’s friend felt the same way but she acted on her awareness that help was close by. I remember hearing Dick Cavett say that in the depths of depression the cure could have been as close as the other side of the kitchen table but he just couldn’t bring himself to reach for it.

I spend a couple hours each week talking to my friend and thinking about his plight. I try to monitor how he’s feeling without asking about it relentlessly. I try to point out options when it comes to his work and his life and his family. I encourage him to try new courses of action, new ways of doing things and different ways of thinking about his ife. He speaks frequently of his experience of what he terms existential dread and crisis.

He’s not joking…

So, I wonder about the internal force that pushed my sister’s friend to reach out for help and the internal deficit that makes my friend unable to do the same? Is optimism a prerequisite for a willingness to ask for help or even the belief that help exists? If it is, I’m quite sure I don’t know of a way to motivate optimism in anyone, even someone I know as well as my old friend. You can lead an horse to water or a friend toward help but in the end it’s up to the horse and the friend to care enough to help themselves. Ever the optimist I’m confidant my old friend will have a quenching drink from the fountain of help this year.




Buck Brannaman & the lesson of solvitur en modo, firmitur en rey.

Optimism and cardio vascular health

If you’re smart, you’ll ignore this blog post and read this article from Scientific American Blogs by Scott Barry Kaufman immediately.

Here’s the most relevant quote from the article:

“Since that 2012 review, two additional studies have come out that further point to the robustness of this association. Rosalba Hernandez and colleagues focused on the American Heart Association’s definition of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which involves consideration of 7 metrics grouped into two categories: health behaviors (diet, smoking, physical activity, BMI) and health factors (blood pressure, blood sugar, total cholestrol). This was the first study to consider the association between optimism and CVH as defined by the American Heart Association, and this was also the first study to utilize a large sample of ethnically/racially diverse sample of adults.

Using data collected from 5,134 adults aged 52-84 over an 11 year period, they found a significant association between optimism and cardiovascular health (CVH), with the most optimistic people showing twice the odds of having ideal CVH profiles. The association remained significant even after controlling for socio-demographic variables (i.e., age, sex, race/ethnicity, marital status, education, income, and insurance status) and measures of psychological ill-being (e.g., depression), again supporting the notion that a lack of ill-being doesn’t necessarily indicate the presence of thriving.”

OK, so you’ve insisted on hanging around. I’ll tell you why I find it so relevant.

An old friend of mine is becoming ever more prone to pessimism. He’s always had an inclination toward mild fatalism though he’s married, has a family and fine career.

Still, he experiences the word no more strongly than any other:

No, I can’t do anything I might enjoy.

No, I can’t get any meaningful exercise.

No, I can lose any of the weight I’ve packed on over the last year or so.

To put the cherry on the sundae of this guy’s life let me tell you that he had an emergency angioplasty a couple years back. The artery that was blocked is nicknamed The Widowmaker by cardiologists.

You would think (and I thought) that this and the other normal stuff of life in the 50s would wake my old friend up to the need to take better care of himself. But it hasn’t…yet. I am ever the optimist.

Another quote from the article is this:

“When individuals are confronted with challenge, they may succumb or they may respond in one of three ways: They may survive (continuing to function, but in an impaired fashion), recover (return to previous levels of emotional, social and psychological functioning), or thrive (to go beyond the prior baseline, to grow and flourish). Through the interactive process of confronting and coping with challenges, a transformation occurs.”

I readily admit that for many years I trended toward an acceptance of mere recovery as opposed to a quest to thrive. I have since learned the error of my ways. Some days, perhaps more days than I would care to admit, I have to beat back the temptation to accept simple survival and recovery as good enough. But they’re not.

Pushing my old friend back from the brink and on toward his better self can be an emotional challenge. And, it would be nice to have someone encourage me as I have encouraged him. I will always believe that he’s one clever bit of encouragement away from changing the way he treats himself. Someday he’ll thrive.

Optimism and cardio vascular health