Excerpt from “Continuing The Ride.”
In the summer, I like to keep a few pots of herbs and vegetables on our south-facing porch. The growing season is short where we live, and between the weather and the deer who like the same herbs and vegetables I do, growing food in pots means the odds that I’ll be able to enjoy the herbs and vegetables go up.
When we’re home, I check on the tomato plant at different times of the day. I make sure the morning sun reaches it first, and give it water. In the afternoon, I smell the tangy leaves and think of my Nana, who grew tomatoes the respectable way: in the dirt, in a good old-fashioned southern garden. In the evening, I water it again and admire how some tomatoes have grown in size and others are in various stages of going from green to red.
The leaves feel scratchy. The stalks refuse to be contained in their bamboo supports. I don’t know much about gardening, but I’ve discovered that tomatoes are a most unruly plant. I’m sure there are other unruly food sources out there, but the potted tomato plant on our summer porch is my only frame of reference.
During my care of the tomatoes, I’ve often thought that a fear of returning to being with horses is unruly, too. Fear likes to visit unannounced and horses don’t conform to our rules. They are, for all their domestic ways, quite wild. They can seem unruly to us, but what they are doing is following their own true nature.
It occurs to me that we allow our fear to be like that tomato plant. Despite constant tending, or maybe because of it, it grows wild and unruly even when we try to contain it. Fear is being true to its nature as well.
All of our emotions have a job to do. They serve a purpose—positive or negative—whether we like it or not. Though there have been times I wished I were more like Spock from Star Trek, when I think of the times I’ve felt any intense emotion, I realize that as unruly as those emotions are, they come and go. Nothing is permanent, even if it feels like it is. I often remember what Pema Chödrön says: “You are the sky. Everything else—it’s just the weather.”
The sun rises and sets and each new day is different. My tomato plant thrives and ripens and then withers as the days grow shorter and colder. I mourn this, the fall into the darker spaces of winter. I am sorry to see the flowers go from green and colorful to brown and brittle. Sad to put all the cheery pots away until the next spring. As often as I’ve thought about the seasons and the cycles of life that we all participate in, it doesn’t lessen my grief to see the flowers’ colors drain away. But it does do wonders for my learning the constant lesson of acceptance of the passage of time, and the cyclical nature of life.
Our fear and anxiety around horses thrive in the sunlight of obsession. The more we focus on the fear, the bigger it seems to be. It’s like doing shadow animals in the light of a candle; the shadows our hands cast are much bigger than our actual hands.
Our fear doesn’t need tending or befriending, but our confidence does.
After any kind of accident with a horse, fear feels vast and insurmountable. After my accident with Bree, I naturally attached that fear to everything that was involved with it: the horse, the soft line of a black mane, the dirt, the saddle, the state of Florida. I wanted nothing to do with any of it. I hoped that shunning my fear in a cold blast of emotional winter would cause it to wither and die.
But it didn’t. For all my ardent wishes that I wouldn’t be afraid around horses, for all my wanting to “move forward,” or “get over it,” nothing changed until I owned the fear, and then figured out ways to tend to my confidence.
Just like my little tomato plant, I put my confidence somewhere safe. I protected it and counted every fruit as it burst into life. I made sure the soil was nourished and kept moist. I was mindful to avoid setting it out in conditions that might cause it to be knocked over.
What did this mean on a practical level? I decided to only put myself in the proximity of our own herd or horses I was familiar with. I chose practices that had a noticeable effect on my state of mind (numero uno is putting attention on my breath) and that I could do anywhere. I started a brain-supplement regimen and a way of eating to help my brain heal.
Whatever you want to do, there are creative ways you can do that thing. It may not look like anything else anyone else is doing, but so what? It’s your life, and your peace of mind that’s important. When it comes down to it, the fruit of ripened confidence is about the most delicious thing there is.
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