Friday, November 6, 2009
When I went out to the barn last night at 6 pm, it was pitch black. There’s something about feeding the horses in the dark that is always unsettling. Now that it’s light in the morning, the dread I feel has shifted with the time change to their dinner hour. Once I’ve turned on the lights and started bustling around in the barn, I don’t mind it. The fear is in that moment of leaving the warm glow of my house and heading out into the total darkness. I sometimes feel like a little kid who is afraid something is going to jump out and get me. I know that’s ridiculous, so recently I’ve been exploring what makes me react this way.
It was probably no coincidence that a friend of mine lent me one of her favorite books this week. It’s called “True Nature” by Barbara Bash, and it’s really a gem. Barbara records, in beautiful drawings and watercolors and handwritten pages, four retreats that she goes on alone at a cabin in the Adirondacks. She is there for one week during each season of the year. It is such an honest and thought-provoking book. One of the big issues that she confronts is her fear of going into the dark woods at night.
“Being here by myself feels like a pause, a break in a pattern. The habitual knitting together of schedules and demands is beginning to unravel. The tight secure knots of my life loosening, relaxing. And then, that raw aloneness rushes in, and with it, the impulse to turn away, run back home.”
I was thinking about the years that I spent living alone, and the nights I woke up, scared by who knows what. When I lived in Los Angeles, in the Hollywood Hills, sometimes the police helicopters would suddenly erupt through the black silence with the beams of their searchlights and the sharp noise of their blades. It was impossible to settle back into a relaxed sleep after that, and I’d sit up running through all the problems and worst-case scenarios in my life until the sun came up. When I got my big yellow dog, Cosmo, back in those lonely LA days, I re-discovered the great consolation I find in the presence of animals, and I continue to appreciate their ability to calm me.
So, I should have guessed that Silk would be sending me a message about my anxiety. As I turned on the lights in the barn and opened her stall door last night, in my head, I heard this very clear voice telling me, “When you take care of your horses, you are taking care of yourself.” I realized that last winter, this same lack of being able to see clearly in the night had felt soft and mysteriously re-assuring to me. The silence, the stars and the moon and the sounds of the horses were all gifts that I looked forward to since my life back then was on more settled ground. Right now, in so many aspects of my day-to-day existence, I feel like I’m never sure what’s going to happen next.
In Barbara Bash’s book, she quotes Pema Chodron: “Exercise your willingness to rest in the uncertainty of the present moment over and over again.” Going into the dark each night is a concrete way for me to do that. The point at which I am able to welcome the uncertainty instead of fear it will be a big step towards taking better care of myself. I joke that feeding the horses is a sacred ritual for me, but in fact, it might also be the path that leads me through these un-nerving times.