Feeling Fear

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A few days ago, a friend recommended a book called The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield.  The book is essentially about overcoming the force which always seems to keep us from doing our work, living our dream or fulfilling our calling.  The author personifies this force, calling it “resistance,” and something about the idea of fighting a malevolent being working to keep me from living my life to its fullest potential really resonated with me.  Within the book were two quotes I especially loved:

“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear, then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there’s no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist. What Henry Fonda does, after puking into the toilet in his dressing room, is to clean up and march out onstage. He’s still terrified but he forces himself forward in spite of his terror. He knows that once he gets out into the action, his fear will recede and he’ll be okay.”

“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

About two weeks ago, I had a nasty fall when I tried to cross my horse, Asterion, over a small creek of running water.  He was nervous but willing, and I think all would have been fine had we simply crossed over.  But just as we crossed and started up the other side, he stepped on a branch which broke and wrapped itself around his foot.  Understandably, this was just too much for him.  I don’t know exactly what happened after that, but I heard him scream and the next thing I knew I was in the air and then breathless on the ground.  It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life and since that day I haven’t had the confidence to ride him at anything faster than a walk, and even then I’ve spent the entirety of each ride in fear.  After reading The War of Art and realizing how important it was that I do the thing I was most scared of, I remembered something else I’d read in a book recently: “Fear is just a feeling.”

Just a feeling.

Like pain, fear is just something that exists in the universe, something I can learn to simply experience, rather than fight or avoid.  So today I made the decision to ride – and trot* – my horse.

When I put his bridle on, my hands were shaking.
When I picked his feet, my hands were shaking.
When I saddled him up, my hands were shaking.

I kept reminding myself to pay attention to my feelings.  I knew I couldn’t talk myself OUT of being afraid (I’d been trying!), but I could allow myself to simply experience being afraid.

Funny thing is, as soon as I got on him, the fear vanished completely.  It just didn’t exist anymore.  It was the very first time I’d experienced a fear-free ride since my fall.  We trotted around the field several times and at no point was I at all nervous or afraid.

It was wonderful.

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.”
– Steven Pressfield, the War of Art

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*It sounds silly, when I say it, that I’ve been so afraid to trot him.  But many years ago I was trotting a horse who decided she wanted to go faster and broke into a full gallop across a field and I wasn’t able to stop her.  I didn’t fall, but since then I’ve always had that lingering fear when riding in an open area.  I had trotted and cantered Asterion several times in the past, but the fall had shaken any scrap of confidence I’d gained.  Until now.

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