When I grew up, we had a kind of adage that if one were to be bucked off a horse, one should get right back up on it again. It makes a bit of psychological sense. We have many bad or frightening experiences in our lives. When we fail at something we know we ought to be able to do, the consequences of failure can be painful. Maybe just a sore butt or maybe something broken or maybe psychological pain from the fear experienced while we were falling off.
Returning to the fray as soon as possible gives the logical mind and human willpower supremacy over the emotional mind. Getting back up on that horse is important self-help first aid. It prevents the pain from being solidified as a permanent association with the event. The person who is bucked off and cannot bring themself to get back on (perhaps under more controlled conditions or with a better plan) is at risk of being psychologically traumatized. The fear is set in emotional concrete and may become extraordinarily difficult to overcome. It may become so central to their life the person doesn’t want to overcome it and keeps it as a treasured part of their emotional baggage.
From my perspective, acute fear is something you should always challenge before it
becomes chronic fear. If you do not, that adrenaline rush that hits when you hit a car veering into your lane or when crossing paths with a mugger can become a permanent fixture. Without reclaiming that figurative “saddle on the horse”, you may never be able to drive a car or walk down a street or pass ordinary people on it without fear. Your life will be much the less for it.
I ran into some fear on an ordinary backpack recently. That kind of fear is something unusual to me. At the time, I suddenly became very ill very quickly. At 6 in the morning after a terrible fever, I felt very much like I might die (been there before). I hit the panic button on my satellite communicator. I think I felt most of my fear for my dog Oliver, who was with me. He would not do well alone up there. Then there was my wife and her likely reaction to my death. And my two adult children.
Way, way down the list was my own life. I don’t think I minded the concept of my own death by itself. I didn’t particularly want to die but death and I have been good friends since before puberty. It’s not the “dead” part that scared me it was the dying process.
As it was, I wasn’t going to die but I did feel almost dead for a couple days.
It has always been that way for me. Death is inevitable and while something to avoid, it is nothing to fear. Dying can come in many forms and I am averse to the prolonged and painful death, the death of the vegetative state, or the slow death of wires and IVs and chemicals.
Fear, in the sense of dread or panic, is usually a stranger to me.
I’ve been very close to dead before. As a child, I was hours from death from a ruptured appendix. I was in so much pain I didn’t have room for fear.
I once sat on the ledge of the 9th-floor dorm window, contemplating death. Just lean
forward and it would be all over. At that moment some other dorm inhabitants wandered thru the room behind me. They mocked me and I got pissed off enough to forget my pain.
I remember once getting myself stuck on a decomposing cliff face where I had to make a sketchy jump to a bush and hope it held because the rock I was on had started to crumble and I was losing strength. I was so full of adrenaline I landed in the bush and bounced to a safe ledge beyond, something I would have earlier said was impossible even on solid level ground. The fall to jagged rocks below would probably have killed me but I was more worried that I’d just be broken so bad as to die from exposure.
Another time I was on my motorcycle heading up Laurel Canyon, a very narrow, twisty road thru an uber-affluent and mountainous section of LA. A car I’d passed a mile back because it was stopped at a green light in an intersection suddenly pulled up on my right in the same lane as me and swerved left, pushing me into heavy oncoming traffic. I gunned it and managed to get back onto the Botts‘ dots dividing the lanes, threading the needle between the car ahead of me and the oncoming traffic.
The irate driver had indeed tried to kill me and very nearly had his own head-on collision for his efforts. I zoomed ahead until he was well out of sight and then got off the road to where I could safely begin to shake. That adrenaline can save your life but it doesn’t go away quickly.
Most recently I had a minor bladder infection that went septic. I went from deciding I needed to visit the doctor and planning to drive myself, to asking my daughter to drive me in, to lying on the driveway and telling her to call 911 in about five minutes. Twenty minutes after that I was unconscious and on life support.
So, I have dodged the bullet a few times. I don’t know if it gives me wisdom or just experience. Never mind lesser issues like being beaten to a bloody pulp by a bully as a little kid. Attacked by a jealous ex-husband who tried to strangle me when he suddenly burst in on us, in flagrante delicto. And actually being bucked off a horse.
The one thing I have always tried to do is to get back on the horse. I got back into climbing rocks. I kept riding the bike. I nailed that bully later, even if it cost me dearly. I went back to the divorced lady. And I got back up on that horse. Several times. I didn’t let my trip to the ER lead to fear about my health.
The most difficult horse to climb back on is the horse of everyday rejection.
The girl who turned you down, maybe even with a bit of gratuitous cruelty. Crawling back into the social market with a crushed ego and no sense of self worth. And then, once past that, the the gf who found someone better or the lover who walked away. The next time you let yourself be vulnerable can be filled with fear.
The job that turned you down, more because of your social awkwardness than because you lacked the skills required. The promotions you didn’t get because you don’t know how to schmooze. The education you didn’t get because you were burnt out. The times you never got the memo. The parties and class reunions you didn’t get invited to. The times you suppressed yourself because other people around would find the “real” you disgusting or ridiculous. I’m not so good about these. They wear on you. They fatigue you. They leave you sitting on a high ledge and yearning to end it all.
I traveled through a desert, dotted with little oases here and there but nowhere I could stay for long. Nothing else around but trackless desert. Until I get close enough to see signs of water, I don’t know where to go or how far it will be. I cannot even know if I’ll ever get to the next one or if I’ve just passed the Promised Land but it was over the mountain to my left and I missed it.
I have at last found a small patch of turf and water I can call my own. Not luxurious but I don’t need luxury. I don’t really belong anywhere and never will. But here I can survive. I kept climbing back up on that horse, even if “FUCK THE WORLD!” had to be my life’s motto until it wasn’t.
I think it is interesting how the ancient philosophy of Stoicism, the modern philosophy of Existentialism and the even more recent psychological approach of Radical Acceptance all seem to evolve and converge into the same set of understandings. A bit of Buddhist philosophy reflected as well. When that happens, perhaps there is a hint of truth emerging here.
Life is absurd. Objectively, there is no point. Any meaning you take from it is subjective. You don’t get a choice as to the tools you are born with so even over the short term, status and glory are meaningless. We all end up in the same place so one can only draw personal meaning from the trip. Even as Sisyphus had to find a way to find satisfaction in pushing that rock up the hill only to have it roll down again.
So I’m heading back up to those mountains again. It is one of the rocks I have chosen to push uphill until it rolls back and crushes me. When that happens, I figure I’ll have to just go look for a smaller rock and lower hills.
I just came back from the local mountains. Mt.Pinos is 8848 ft. Nearby Sawmill Mtn., Grouse Mtn., and Cerro Noroeste are all well above 8500 ft. That’s 1500 ft. lower than Cottonwood Lakes but enough to let me know it wasn’t the elevation that stopped me.
Not out of breath, pulse not pounding, no headaches or anorexia or vomiting or diarrhea. The trail is not empty enough to freehike. I passed a couple of hikers and a backpacker. I’m not usually the one doing the passing. Perhaps Nietzsche had it right. That which doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger. Until it doesn’t anymore.
I didn’t fail because I didn’t acclimate or hiked too quickly. It was just a fast-moving infection of some sort. Had those before. I’m not going to worry about it. Cottonwood Lakes are still waiting.
I may leave the dog behind. That is one less thing to worry about.