A little bit of fear is a good thing. It keeps us safe and tells us when to run. But have you ever been so afraid that you are paralysed into inaction. And worse, has that fear been completely and utterly irrational? If this sounds like you, then maybe you have let fear drive your bus.
Recently I attended an equine therapy course. It’s an amazing program where you spend time with horses in order to get to know yourself better. Sounds a little out there, but horses have an amazing way of reflecting how you are feeling and what is going on in your world. We were in the most beautiful place in the Hunter Valley surrounded by grape vines and wineries. I thought that spending five days playing with horses in this beautiful playground would be seriously fun. I had no idea how emotional, taxing, satisfying and enlightening this week would be.
The first thing we had to do was choose our horses. Well that’s not entirely true. You see the horse chooses you, not the other way around. Sounds unlikely hey, but that is exactly what happened. My horse was Flint or maybe I was his human. Flint was the biggest, boldest, bossiest, prettiest horse in the whole herd. He was the alpha male. He was just beautiful. I felt so lucky to have been chosen by Flint to work with for the next five days. And it took all of about ten minutes for me to realise that Flint was the most terrifying creature I had ever encountered. I had never been so afraid and anxious. Flint was massive, strong and could cause me serious harm. At least that’s what my irrational fear told me.
We were doing a little exercise where we had to lead our horses around in a circle. That’s it. Very simple. Very safe. The problem was I didn’t feel safe. I was frozen with fear and I just couldn’t do it. My first instinct was to run to my husband, to get his help. But Scott’s horse and my horse couldn’t be within 20 metres of each other. That wasn’t an option. So I decided to quit. I opened my mouth to tell the instructor I was done but the words wouldn’t come out. I tried again. The same thing happened. I kept trying and I kept failing. So here I was standing in a paddock with this beautiful creature on the end of my lead rope, crying and wishing that I was anywhere else but here. And in that moment, the instructor came over to me, put her hand on my shoulder and said gently,
“Where else in life do you feel afraid?”
In that moment awareness struck. I was afraid all of the time, of all people. I have spent my entire life worried that everyone would reject me and hurt me. It was the biggest, boldest, bossiest and prettiest people (just like Flint) that I was most afraid of. In that moment, with that very gentle question and this beautiful gentle creature by my side, my life made sense. I had spent my entire life running away from people and situations that were frightening. Everything that I had ever attempted in my life, I had quit. My degree, my business, my relationships. All because I was afraid of getting hurt. I was afraid of being rejected and I was afraid of losing something I cared about. So I stopped trying.
The instructor told me then about the bus of life. The bus represents your life, the vehicle with which you navigate this world. I like to picture my bus as a big old American school bus like you used to see on Sesame Street. And in each of the seats on the bus sits all of your emotions. Happiness, grief, confidence, self-assurance, sadness to name a few. And at any particular point along your highway, different passengers take a turn at driving the bus. Sometimes, when things are going really well, happiness might be driving your bus. Perhaps when you have an important presentation to do, confidence might be driving the bus. Sometimes when we become unwell, depression could drive. For me, fear was in the drivers seat with a firm arse grip on the wheel and he was not letting go for God nor money. Fear had been driving my bus for as long as I could remember. Every interaction I had with people, every decision I made, every effort that was put in was based entirely on my fear of rejection. It was as clear as day and it was time for change!
So as I realised who was driving my bus, after a few more tears, and a thank you cuddle for Flint, I made a decision. I chose to stand up and face my fear. I stood up and thanked fear for his service and said politely
“Please go to the back of the bus. I’ve got this.”
I put fear in the back seat where he belonged, still available in case I ever needed him, but right at the back of the bus. And I chose to have my confidence drive us for a while.
Now i’m still not sure who is driving my bus for the most part, but I do know that my fear is now not driving all of the time. Occasionally he sneaks up to the front and I have remind him to step to the back of the bus. And once or twice I’ve had to have stern words with him about grabbing the wheel. But the more I practise driving without him, the more fulfilling my life is becoming. Don’t misunderstand me, I still struggle with feeling fear and apprehension, but now I don’t let it stop me. I feel it, I sink into it and I keep moving forward. I’m not through it yet but I’m making progress and on the highway of life isn’t that all we can truly ask for?