to live with fear is not to live at all*
Horses do this thing when they’re afraid or in pain. It’s an instinct, born from an old wildness. Whenever a horse feels pain, its first instinct is to flee. In the wild, they have exactly two defenses: their speed and their hooves. When they’ve been cornered or beset upon by, let’s just say, a mountain lion – the choice is inherent: fight or flight. On a different scale, whenever a horse is injured (doesn’t matter the type of injury), its first instinct is movement. A horse that’s colicking will roll on the ground, which can cause the intestines to twist…making the colic that much worse. Even still, that horse is trying to get away from the pain. The same can be said for when a horse is startled by something it doesn’t understand or something that caught it off guard: it runs. A passing car revs its engine. A hunter somewhere within earshot fires his gun. And if another horse starts running? The herd instinct kicks in, and more often than not, a whole field of horses will start to run.
We, as people, are sometimes very much like that. When we are in pain, when we think there’s danger, or when we are afraid – we go on high alert and often flee. We try to get away from it – whatever it is – and we run. We try to outrun the feeling, the situation, or even the person (the perceived cause). But the thing that people understand that horses don’t, darlings, is that you cannot outrun a feeling. You cannot outpace yourself. You are not fast enough to beat your heart. So, whatever’s in it? It will still be there tomorrow, no matter the distance you tried to put between in and yourself.
Ever since I was a kid, one of my methods of coping with emotions is to sing. If I can pour out my emotions into song, if I can get the feelings out somehow, it might function as a kind of emotional exorcism. In theory. But in practice? Welllll, it doesn’t actually work. Usually it makes whatever emotion I’m experiencing all the more amplified. I realized this the other day, when I was singing along to a song. In a total panic, I realized that my tried-and-true trick wasn’t working. It wasn’t helping. So, without thinking, I got up out of my chair and started pacing around the room. Why? Because like a horse, I was trying to outrun myself. Obviously, that didn’t work, but thinking about it in retrospect, it made me curious.
How often do we try to genuine outrun our emotions, thinking that if we put some kind of distance between us and them (figuratively, usually), that it will make things better? Instead of assessing, reassessing, and honoring what’s in our hearts – how often do we spend time being afraid of what’s there? Of being terrified of its fathomless depths and possibilities? It’s scary, sometimes, to think about what we are really capable of feeling. And, stemming from that, what we are capable of doing because of what we are feeling. If we stop and dare to really think about, the heart is really what allows us to dare and dream – it renders miracles.
The thing about me is that I’ve always been full of hope. Even when it might be considered stupid or naïve. I don’t often flee a situation, and there is a very narrow set of circumstances in which I would. But unlike a scared horse, I know that running doesn’t change what’s chasing you. It doesn’t change what you are feeling. It doesn’t fix anything. And yet, sometimes, we panic. Our first reaction is not always the best. And while I think we’re all entitled to our emotions, I don’t believe that we should ever worship fear.
Because unless you are running toward something or someone, what are you doing? Are you reacting, instead of acting? That’s the question I suppose.
So, my method of trying to redistribute my feelings (the singing) isn’t foolproof. It might only substitute one kind of coping for another (I hate to cry, for instance). But if it keeps me steady enough to stay in one place, to be brave, and to be honest? I’ll take it.
Think about the last time you found yourself overwhelmed by emotions. Think about the last time you just didn’t know what to do with yourself, because of something you were feeling. What did you do?
*“But this is a thing that I know–to live with fear is not to live at all. A man will die every moment he is afraid.” ― Deanna Raybourn, A Spear of Summer Grass