Funny thing about fear: you defeat it in one place and it promptly crops up in another. Right now I’m afraid of my next riding lesson. Last Wednesday we rode out onto snow-covered fields for the first time. The horses were full of themselves, ready to go at top speed, but the terrain was uneven and the ride rough. I tried to canter twice and almost lost my seat. I know that tomorrow we will go into the fields again and I will have to canter. It would be easy to call in sick or say that I was too busy for the lesson. But I won’t. First, because I have booked a horse trek in Mexico in February on which we will have to canter across meadows (and so far I have cantered only in an arena). Second, I just hate to let fear get the better of me.
As a mountain climber, backcountry skier and solo backpacker I’ve faced fear many times. Fear keeps me alive. I know that I have to check and recheck every belay point on a mountain, avoid slopes that are likely to avalanche, proceed with caution in bear country. Realistic fear drives me to prepare for danger, and being prepared, I am less afraid. Two summers ago I was face to face with a grizzly bear while I was lunching with food spread all around me. Because I was prepared, the bear didn’t get the food and neither of us came to harm. I have dealt with my fear of bears by learning how to deal with them. But I’m terrified of cougars; where they are concerned I take refuge in statistics – in the areas where I hike cougar attacks are very rare (scant consolation if the “rare” attack is on me). The danger is there but I find the level of risk to be acceptable.
It’s so easy to yield to fear, to stay within a safety zone. Scared of spiders? Squash them! Scared of snakes? Stay out of snake country. Scared of public speaking? Stay silent. Scared your kids will be abducted? Never let them out of your sight. How our lives become circumscribed by fear!
I followed a conversation on Twitter the other day about fear. Most tweets gave ugly critters like spiders or the death of a parent as the primary fear. I tweeted, “Not facing up to my fears.” I know that my wonderful, exhilarating life of adventure would never have happened if I had yielded every time my stomach played host to squadrons of butterflies. I live by two rules: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” and “Failure is more rewarding than not trying.”
So tomorrow I will give my horse the signal to canter and will keep doing so until I can sit firmly in the saddle – or go flying off, break a bone and have to cancel my Mexico trip. Or I could slip getting into the bathtub with the same result. The world is not a safe place.