Friday, November 6, 2009

Early Dark



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.

14 comments:

Grey Horse Matters said...

This post gives me something to think about. I never like walking back to the house in the complete dark after night check. When all the lights are out and the ghosts of the night, real or imagined, swirl in the darkness. I've got to get batteries for that flashlight hanging out in the kitchen drawer!

Bones said...

Sacred ritual? You betcha! I think of all my animal chores (so, so many revolving around poop) as pujas, from the Hindu practice: "showing reverence to a god, a spirit, or another aspect of the divine through invocations, prayers, songs, and rituals." I certainly think we're accessing a facet of the Divine when we share our lives with our animals.

Thanks for the thought-provocation to start the day!

Kate said...

Horse rituals - feeding, grooming - are sacred in a fundamental sense, just as something like cooking is (or should be). Lovely post!

Just by coincidence, I'm reading and thinking about Pema Chodron's Awakening Loving-Kindness right now!

billie said...

Great post and thanks for the book title - it sounds wonderful.

detroit dog said...

I wish there was a "like" button for posts.

Wolfie said...

The first time I had to "lock up" at the stables where I board, the walk in the pitch black down the lane to my car had my heart racing. An anxiousness that I hadn't felt since I was child gripped me. Funny. I now carry a flashlight with me when I visit the stables. That little beam of light when I am walking back to my car gives me great comfort. :-)

Lori Skoog said...

Hey Victoria...We have a barn light between the house and the horse barn that comes on automatically. I have not had that scary feeling as it is not pitch black. But I'm with you, there is nothing like being in a barn with the lights on...heavenly! Non horse people don't know what they are missing.

Adamantine1 said...

This was a very interesting post to me, as we live on a 68 acre farm and there are four horses here. my charges. I began staying outdoors each night since they arrived here about two years ago, and I've continued it to the present.

Horned owls, coyotes, the occasional opossum, fireflies, and always the weather...just some of the denizens of the dark.
The horses' run-ins have little LED lights in them, but not regular lighting. I carry a battery-powered lantern as I do chores. Sometimes the same lantern accompanies me to the tent, sometimes I dispense with it.
On full moon nights such as we just had, it doesn't get used.

There's no finer feeling than communing with your horses under a full 'beaver' moon

Anonymous said...

For me there is something extra special about checking soon-to-foal mares during the night - my intense fear of the dark falls away!

LJB said...

I use those moments of feeling scared to check into what fearful tales I am telling myself and proceed to re-write the inner narrative to something that feels safe even when it is pitch dark. It is fun to listen to the horses' footsteps and see if I can identify which horse is where.

deejbrown said...

Fear of darkness is something we all have in common, yet it is the earth turning and spinning, with us as amazed passengers....

Callie said...

I like the dark, except when I trip over something, but I like going in with the girls and giving them some cuddles. They seem to appreciate it somehow.....and trust me.

Debbie said...

I recall being in the barn late one night and hearing a noise I couldn't identify -- it sounded, to me, like a baby's cry. As it continued I began to panic -- the flight sense started to be very overwhelming. . . until I suddenly realized that the chickens were making the sounds as they settled on their roost for the night. Whew!

Pony Girl said...

Good thoughts. I too, am scared of the dark at night, alone. In fact, that book you mentioned, wow, I can't imagine going to a cabin in the woods alone for a week! It sounds delightful in many ways, but at night, I would have some major anxiety! I have an overactive imagination, unfortunately.
I have gone out to see my horse at night, but usually with my sister or her OH, we've checked on the horses and taken a flashlight. It's no big deal when I'm not alone. And the OH feeds them in the early morning hours, in the dark, every morning before he goes to work, so they are used to that.
I'm glad you've been able to find a way to make it easier for you.