“They say the opposite of joy is not sadness but fear.” - Ann Robertson The Gift of Imperfection
The horse training came to a halt behind a massive flood of tears and frustration. Something was going further south the more I worked with Pie and Magneto. What was I doing? I started to doubt my abilities and the good connection I'd had with horses all my life.
Both Pie and Magneto seemed annoyed and disconnected. I'd let them out in the pasture, and they'd explode away from me, Pie, with her heels flying. I noticed that on the days my brain was the most unsettled by fear, negative thoughts or frustrations, the more upset Pie would be and the more tense Magneto like they were a mirror of my own emotions.
I was going through something. I realized I'd been slipping into a negative pattern of thinking. I was finding myself having a lot of negative thoughts. I was “catastrophizing” My husband Bernie's and my upcoming long ride around the West, thinking that Magneto and Pie would spook at a bear, throw me off and run away, leaving me to face a grizzly that I would then have to attempt to shoot because the bear spray was deep in my pack.
Perhaps I would not be able to draw the revolver from my chest harness in time. Perhaps my hands and arms would become so weak from fear that I would not be able to hold the gun steady and pull the trigger. Maybe, as I've heard told, even the massive bullets from my powerful revolver might not kill the grizzly before he got me in his teeth. Thinking about these remote and distant catastrophes became an obsession. My fears were getting the better of me. I was looking at everything in a fearful and negative light.
The way I've tried to deal with my fears in the past has been to meet them head-on. I try to be as prepared as possible. That's why I've been taking lessons shooting a .44 revolver, checking out bear spray and learning about bear ecology. That's why I've been working on desensitizing my horses.
Yet somewhere in my earnest attempt to get myself and my horses prepared, I triggered my fears. I was drowning in fear. I tried to hide it and carry on, but my horses sensed it like lie detectors. The energy I was transmitting was shouting, "flee!" like the grizzly bear was right on their asses. They hated the incongruence even more. They felt unsafe with me standing there like I was fine when I wasn't. They hated my inauthenticity, and frankly, I did too.
I despised my fear. It made me look so weak. Fear was making my horses not want to be around me. Fear was making me unpleasant to be around. Fear was concocting unlikely, nightmare scenarios. Fear had me in its grip. It was making me feel crazy. I couldn't get loose unless I could admit it had a hold of me. While we love hearing about other people’s vulnerabilities we hate mentioning our own.
It was a struggle. In a snotty confession to myself and my husband Bernie, I finally admitted my fears and started actively looking for some helpful ways to make peace with them. The most beneficial way I’ve found has been meditating and practicing mindfulness. I call my meditation practice "wheelbarrow meditation."
Every day I roll my wheelbarrow into the horse pasture, climb in it and meditate for 20 minutes with a timer set. It has helped a lot. My horses connect with me again. Fear has subsided, and joy has returned. In the present, where I am practicing living through mindfulness, there are no bucking horses or attacking grizzly bears. My pulse has slowed and my mind has learned how to quiet itself a bit.
The book Fear: Essential Wisdom For Getting Through The Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh helped me find the right path. Also helpful have been Warwick Schiller's podcasts with many sages, Jane Pike's Confident Rider Program and Filipe Leite's documentary, The Long Rider. I'm still in training, but I can see a positive path ahead. My horses are relaxing again because of the better energy around them. I have unwittingly begun my journey before I thought it was to start. The upcoming long ride around the West is again full of joyful anticipation and a lot less dread. Harriet Bighorn is happily on the path of “woo.”
*Click here to go to The artist Andy Thomas' website