In 2011, I decided to do one thing per month that scares, challenges, and pushes me past my self-imposed limits. You can read about it here and here and here. And I did this . . . for three months. Then life happened. I stopped with the experiment, I just got busy and lazy, and a couple of years later, I stopped trying to push myself entirely. I convinced myself over time that I should work on acceptance instead of change, that I should not be Type A but Zen instead, that I was too obsessed with results and my own rigid ideals of success. I needed to learn how to accept myself as I was, a person with limitations. But at the same time, I also convinced myself that was a failure. I’ve spent my whole life ensuring my perfectionism. I have years of report cards covered in As to prove it. I’ve failed in many ways over the past several years, and it has silenced me, drawn me into my shadow, and also dammed my creativity. But my path has been the right one. Letting go of my expectations was the right trajectory for my growth; I had much inner work to do over the past few years. I’ve faced tragedies, I’ve faced the darkness and mystery of my inner incubation, “I’ve been one acquainted with the night,” as Robert Frost might say, and it’s made me stronger.
I’m back. I have a new relationship with anxiety, with myself, and with the realities of life. I’m more willing to allow discomfort and uncertainty to exist. I’m getting old, and I’m tired of feeling sentenced to smallness. So I decided to try the experiment again. 2019 will be a year of trying new things, of sitting alongside my fears rather than fighting and feeding them, of ignoring their voices but expecting that they will be present, of living and not just dreaming of a someday, a magical day when everything falls into place perfectly. There is no someday; life starts now. I have twelve months to push myself and to create new neuropathways. And I don’t know where I’ll wind up in a year. I hope beyond my wildest dreams. But maybe not as far as I’d like. Maybe right back where I started. Maybe I’ll fail and stop playing in another three months. But hopefully, if so, I’ll start it up again. Maybe the experiment will take me three years, or thirty. It doesn’t matter. I want to keep trying. I can find both ends of the spectrum—give it all I’ve got, and then let go of the results, or for you yogis out there, abhyasa and vairagya.
Before 2019 officially starts, I did face one small fear on Christmas Eve. I really couldn’t wait until 2019 to get started, so I jumped. It wasn’t something that actively terrified me, but rather something unsettled for the past thirty years that I never got around to doing. Let’s take a trip back to 1987, where I, as a mere girl of eleven, took my first horseback ride. My dad had a friend with horses, and so my brother and I went along with him to the small nearby town of Penrose where the man’s teenage daughter, my brother, and I saddled up their three horses and began to ride down the dirt road. I don’t remember many details. I doubt that this teenage girl gave me much instruction on handling a horse, and I was meek and small anyway. I was also a brat. Not far into the ride, I got scared and claimed that the horse was walking too close to the trees and trying to scrape me off. I got off the horse and walked back to the house, content to play with the family’s litter of kittens and convincing myself that I preferred cute, fluffy animals to large, powerful ones.
Fast forward two years to a traumatizing two weeks I spent at Girl Scout Camp. The homesickness I endured made me an emotional, anxiety-ridden mess. When it was my group’s turn to go horseback riding, I refused to go. I stayed behind and sulked while my group rode horses. The lady working at the stables showed me compassion and encouraged me to pet the horse Tweed, whom I would have been riding. I brushed him and totally fell for him—Tweed was the sweetest horse and had the kindest eyes. She even convinced me to climb up on the saddle, and she proclaimed, “You’re a natural.” With that, my heart swelled with regret that I hadn’t been out there riding Tweed with all the other kids. I longed to ride him but missed my opportunity as my group came back soon after. I had just needed a little more time and encouragement (the story of my life). I spent the rest of camp being jealous of the girls in the horse classes. After camp ended, I even told my mom that I might consider going back to camp the next summer to be in the horse program. By the next summer, I had no desire to repeat camp. I forgot about all of the positive experiences and how I had survived the whole two weeks, how I grew to love Tweed, and instead I zeroed in only on the negativity, how hard it had been, how much I had suffered. And for years, I forgot about ever wanting to ride. Mostly I remembered the fear and my own failure, that is what stuck. I never had another opportunity to ride horses, and it all faded away with the passage of time.
Recently it occurred to me that I’d like to try to ride a horse again, that it would be a small and manageable symbolic way of moving on from one of my childhood fears. I settled on Christmas Eve because it looked like it would be the warmest day of my Winter Break. My dad agreed to come along with me because he hadn’t been on a horse in years. I made reservations at Academy Riding Stables for a ride in Garden of the Gods. This was happening; I couldn’t back out of it. Leading up to the ride, I only felt mild apprehension, wishing that the experience were over. More than anything, I worried that riding might bring on my sciatica, although brief images of me falling off the horse and becoming paralyzed, or of my horse galloping off with me unable to stop him did sneak in. I was paired up with an Appaloosa named Kojack. Stepping up into the saddle, I felt a swell of freedom and love, just as I did with Tweed so long ago. Dad was paired with a beautiful, big, white horse named Silver. As our horses walked in a row with me behind Dad, the very last in our group, all my fears disappeared as one of the staff told me, “I would trust my five-year-old with Kojack.” Right away, I loved riding Kojack. I loved the rhythmic clomp-clomp of the horses’ hooves on the cement as we made our way down the street to the Garden of the Gods. I loved people in cars waving and smiling at us. I loved being in the very back and unable to hear much of what our leader was saying so I could just be present with this horse. I loved the rhythm of the movement, and at times, I even wished that I could go just a little faster. I challenged myself throughout the ride by riding one-handed so I could take pictures along the way. The whole experience was a meditative one; I felt perfectly calm and at peace, enjoying the warm (for December) weather, the beautiful surroundings, and the joy of bonding with this powerful and loving being.
After the ride, I felt a wave of confidence and freedom, a release of old fears holding me back and a welcoming of new adventure, new energy. I loved horseback riding and regret not going back to camp thirty years ago to learn all about horses. But I remind myself what George Eliot once said: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
As it stands now, I’m sure that I’ll never own horses, I’ll never be a hot-shot wrangler, but I can’t wait to go horseback riding again! I already found another stable in town that I want to try and another in Estes Park, which I visit at least every year. I can’t wait to ride horses through Rocky Mountain National Park—what a beautiful way to see the scenery! I have this surge of success now, and there’s no going back. As I move forward and confront bigger fears, I am determined to remember the joy and peace I felt riding Kojack, how I not only freed myself an entanglement of the past, but I found space in my heart for a new love.