The other day Jayne and I rode horseback in the back field. The wind was up, and Esperanza was in Arabian dance mode rather than her sensible, grounded Morgan. I call it her Arab spring.
I haven’t been riding much lately because I don’t want to ride alone, so to play it safe, I wait until Jayne is in town. The problem with waiting is that riding horseback once every three weeks or so doesn’t exactly hone the edges off a healthy and spirited horse.
So when the Arab spring dance began, I realized that my comfort zone had shrunk radically, like a sensitive plant that retracts into itself when touched. I jumped off Esperanza and walked along the fence line, circling her around me when she got bored or distracted, stopping and asking her to back up when she started to lead me instead of the other way around, until finally she joined up with me, kinda like getting a dog to heel. That’s when I should have started the ride. I told myself it was okay, smart even, to get off when I didn’t feel safe. I was just recovering from my first Avastin treatment, the wind was coming up, horses are tuned into spirits invisible to us, the coyotes in the field might’ve been actively lurking, perhaps I’ve adopted a shut-in mentality due to the dreaded virus… I have a whole saddlebag of reasons.
Here’s the truth: I’m noticing that my comfort zone is much smaller and sensitive than it used to be. This is hard for an old battle-scarred warrior like me to admit. I startle easily at loud noises or Henry unexpectedly showing up in my peripheral vision. When I accompany Henry on an errand into town, I grind my jaw and hold my breath when in the presence of aggressive drivers, who seem to be in abundance these days. I generally don’t want visitors to come around, and when they do, I talk too much, embellish too many stories, and exhaust myself. For all my talk and years of practicing aikido, it’s hard to actually walk that talk and attempt to negotiate some kind of DMZ between fear-based common sense (are you crazy to be riding horseback when you have brain cancer? Without a helmet?) and the imperative to not allow fear to run my life while at the same time still listening to the sensible and wise voice of my intuition (get off the horse… Now!).
So today, Jayne and I went on another ride and I practiced pushing back against my shrinking comfort zone. We rode on a new route, one that involved many challenges: getting off near the highway, going through a narrow gate that would likely bump the stirrups, finding a way to get back on, and traversing unfamiliar territory to the horses, including buildings, junk piles, mud puddles, an irrigation ditch, the wind coming up, and a bridge. We chose not to cross the bridge, but simply to allow the horses to accustom themselves to new terrain as they stood on the levee of the ditch.
Even though we didn’t cross the bridge, today’s pushback expanded my comfort zone more than I thought possible. Not to its previous size before cancer or when I was actively doing aikido. Not even close. But I felt it expand and become more flexible in response to the outward extension of my will and courage, and that will help me face tomorrow.