It’s been a while since I’ve shared anything on here, and a lot has happened since; experiences ranging from dire agony to pure ecstasy and everything in between. There have been travel and vacations, a couple terrifying health scares, a family wedding, an official break-up, joyous lessons and projects at school, and new friends—indeed, I have a lot of things I’d love to write about, but there is one thing that inspired me to write tonight specifically. The last time I wrote, I talked a lot about fear, and how a possible fear of falling off horses (resulting in serious injury or death) was what lead to the “boredom” that caused me to quit riding. Because tonight, you see, a mere two months after picking back up this long-lost love and hobby, I was thrown from a horse, and like a rather spindly cat, managed to land on my feet.
Everything was just peachy as I sat on Daisy’s back while I adjusted one stirrup and my instructor adjusted the other, and I was looking forward to running around on her again. Seconds later, however, she backed up quickly, jumped a bit, and made a tight circle. She was throwing her head up and down and grumbling. My instructor got a hold of her bridle and spoke to her soothingly. I asked if she’d ever done this before, or if I should perhaps get off, as I was quite startled. My instructor assured me we’d get her to calm down, but before that could happen she started jumping about again, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d be airborne. She reared up on her hind legs, came down on her front hooves and kicked her back feet out and up. Having felt it was likely coming, I’d prepared myself by pushing my weight into the front of the saddle, and launched myself sideways with my hands as I was thrown off, landing on my feet, just as she finished her wild little dance.
I wasn’t about to get back on her, I knew something was wrong and I didn’t have the horsemanship skills to get her through it without getting thrown again. But I stood with her while my instructor ran to get one of the trainers. I watched as this young woman neared the horse, looked her over, and got on her back wearing jeans and running shoes. There was such a steadiness to her, a perfectly even keel with which she guided this obviously skittish horse back to normalcy. I admired her nerve, and her confidence. Everyone’s definition of badass is different, but I give a lot of credit to anyone who mounts a 1,200 pound animal who is mid-freak-out and who has just thrown another rider. (And by the way, the woman shown here is not me, just a more talented rider who managed to stay put throughout the very action that unsaddled me!)
Minutes later, I climbed aboard Abby—a horse who, the last time I rode her, tested me repeatedly (Abby is actually the horse I wrote about in my previous post). One reason I was smiling so freakishly the whole way home was because Abby didn’t bother testing me this time. She tried once or twice and realized I was in control, which means my skills and confidence are improving—how is that NOT a reason to smile?! The other reason I was smiling was because I wasn’t afraid. Even after having been thrown off a very tall horse as she reared and bucked, I was still itching to get Abby running beneath me. And run we did. It was the happiest I’ve been all week: cantering around outside, the sun golden and floating just above the horizon, the breeze still threaded with warmth leftover the from the day, her hooves rhythmically beating into the earth below us, carrying us forward with speed and synchrony.
I’ve learned so much about myself and my fears since I started riding again. Most of what I’ve learned is that my fears don’t have the hold on me that I thought they did. Often, as I build the courage to face them, they fall away much like a winter coat on the first warm day of spring—I simply don’t need them anymore—they just make me uncomfortable! Of course, I still have a lot of work to do with the big ones, like death, or losing people I love, but I can only navigate this process one step at a time. I’ve also learned (or I guess re-learned, since I used to know it) that horses are amazing, fascinating, and magical animals. Truly.
It’s funny, the things we can learn from if we allow ourselves to be truly open and receptive to input. I was watching “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” recently (not exactly what you’d call and educational film, but I digress) and one scene nearly moved me to tears. The protagonist and another girl he’d met (not Miss Marshall) were standing at the edge of a cliff after a hike, and he says to her that he’s almost glad he’d gotten so badly hurt, so terribly heartbroken. Because, he said, it made him less afraid of pain. Yes, she quipped, almost like there’s nothing left to be afraid of. Yes, he agrees, like we could jump of this cliff and it wouldn’t hurt us as much as it might hurt other people. And then, rather haphazardly, they jump!
Anyway. It’s not exactly “nothing left to lose”, because that’s kind of defeatist. It’s so much better than that. I paused the movie and reflected on my own history, recent and distant. There as been some utter desperation, devastation, agony, and pretty persistent gloaming. There has been piercing pain, a terrible sense of aloneness, and a complete lack of control. But do you know what the gift is, from all of this? Courage. Strength. Growth. A deepened ability to love well, to love better, to understand others and empathize with them. And perhaps best of all: loss of fear, shedding of leaden weight. It feels wonderful to walk around and feel like you are filled with light. And I could be wrong, but I don’t think you can arrive at that place without first knowing total darkness, without being immersed in it, lost in it, completely open and vulnerable and willing to feel it all. Whenever I said that shit about being “afraid to feel pain”, I was fibbing big time. I was doing something I do very well: taking on other people’s problems as my own. I do have my own issues, but that isn’t one of them.
Still—no matter how well equipped any of us are to handle negative emotions, I’m quite sure none of us prefers them to happier ones. So, I too just wanted it to “end”, I want to feel happy and whole and worthy again. I want to feel loved and important, not ignored or insufficient. I want to feel calm rather than panic. I especially want to be “done” with these feelings as they’ve been around for months, years, and have only intensified recently, really garnering my full attention (woohoo!!). But last week, while watching another trashy romance movie, I realized, fully, that life just isn’t always pretty. But that doesn’t have to take away from the richness of existence. Just because we’re sad doesn’t mean we’re not “living”. I think, actually, if we are truly embracing our sadness (or whatever), allowing it to live through us, to be expressed, we are in fact living very honestly and deeply. It’s when we try to rush the process, or escape the pain, that we cheapen our experience, that we avoid truly living. So shit or not, why not jut embrace it and say, like Ms. Tara Brach always recommends: “This too”?
For that, I am endlessly happy. For that, I am a walking ball of light. For that, I am able to fly off a horse and get back on without being afraid. For that, I am learning that I cannot feel unbridled ecstasy while sitting aboard a running horse without also knowing its equivalent in misery. No color can exist without its complement. Real heartache is hard. And complex. And it ebbs and flows and is sharp and dull and long and short all at once. It is constructed of both confusion and certainty, dark absences and rivers of light. It is so sweet it stings, and so painful it floods. I’ve cried so hard I was not sure it would ever stop. I’ve been so angry I wished I could scream loud enough to tear holes through the sky. And I’ve also been so elated I felt I weighed no more than a single atom. It is a process that has a mind of its own, and, in the end, will lead to a new gift that I won’t be able to open or understand unless I endure.
So here’s my cheesy summary. Perhaps the only way to really feel grounded is to first be thrown. Thrown around by life, or, more literally, off a horse’s back. Perhaps we cannot really trust ourselves or anyone else unless our (or their) limits are tested. Perhaps another reason I was so happy after being thrown off Daisy was simply because it hadn’t scared me away as it has in the past. I can’t say I love riding horses, truly, if one frightening fall scares me away for good. And of course, I can stretch this further: How can I say I am a good and dedicated teacher if I haven’t had to work through a really difficult situation and survived or grown without giving up? How can I trust my ability to make good decisions in love when I don’t allow myself to experience everything on its wide spectrum? How can one know they are good at anything if it has always been relatively easy or non-threatening? If it hasn’t also scared them shitless or made them uncomfortable or made them face difficult things or made them doubt every molecule of their being? Perhaps the only way to feel grounded, to feel solid rather than airy, is to stay the course. To stay the course rather than escape, rationalize, fantasize, excuse, blame, quit, or complain. It is so easy to do those things, but then, who do we become? I, for one, need to know I can be thrown off or about and either figure out how to land on my feet, or learn how to get back up on my feet and continue forward, no matter how frightened, disoriented, sad, or (insert unpleasant emotion here) I might feel.
I am just so thankful to be alive, to be learning life inside and out, up and down (or airborne off a horse’s back!), backwards and forwards, and perfectly still ❤