I went snowboarding today: first time in over a year, only one of about 5 days doing this in my entire life. It didn’t get off to a good start.
Picture the scene: me, sitting forlornly in a pile of soft snow that wouldn’t allow me to easily stand up again. I had fallen repeatedly on the way to this point, hitting my head more than once and getting into a panic that I couldn’t keep up. My legs shook with tiredness as my fella disappeared over the horizon and two cross-country skiers trudged up the mountain without paying me a glance. At this point, I whimpered, looking at them with pleading eyes. Rescue me, said those eyes. Help me stand up. I feel so alone!
Oblivious, they carried on and left me behind with my fear.
By the time I had picked myself up and wobbled back onto the piste, I was hugging my snowboard close to me and ready to curl up into a ball and sob. I looked longingly up at the lift that would take me effortlessly back to the car park, then glanced down to my fella who was waiting on a corner for me to catch up. I knew I wasn’t going to take the easy way. I headed down to meet him with my board in my arms.
I somehow regained my sense of humour on the rest of the run, remembering the sheer joy of the moments where you find a rhythm, where your body knows what to do and the fear steps out of the way. I slid and tumbled back to the car for a rest and a cup of hot soup.
I wanted it to finish there but my fella had other ideas. The times you don’t want to go, he said, are the times when you must.
He was right. (He usually is, damn him!)
I think I always thought that when you find something you want to do, it will simply be easy. I thought you just had to step up to the things that give you joy and you’d just know what to do. I’ve tried snowboarding just a few times, but I know one thing:
The times when I’m not afraid are the times when it is most likely to work. But at first there is a lot of fear.
In the good moments, I find the flow and settle into a rhythm and simply love every inch of a run. I’ll take greater risks, my body relaxed, my whole being ready to respond to the terrain. But it takes a few knocks and I’ll fall back into the fear, my body stiffens and I fall into a new rhythm – of falling, complaining, getting tired and wanting to turn around and be carried away. Each time I take a tumble it seems to increase the inevitability of it happening again.
I fall into patterns of ‘safe’ behaviour – like sliding sideways rather than down – that feel less of a risk but actually increase the chances of a fall. The safest route, however, is to actually point myself straight down the hill!!
It is highly unlikely that a new activity, no matter how exciting or fun it feels, is going to be easy at first. That, it seems, is lesson one.
Lesson two – when it gets hard we are likely to beat ourselves up about it, decide we’re no good after all, wait to be rescued, or simply fight our way to the end and hope no one ever makes us do that again, no matter how much we want to. The risks are just too great.
Lesson three – we find safe patterns of behaviour that give the impression that we are making progress but repeatedly prove to us that we’re no good.
Lesson four – the easiest way is almost ALWAYS the one that seems the most terrifying.
There are always beautiful moments of no-fear, but these are often few and far between. The success comes from managing to relax with the fear – or despite it – and carrying on. Fighting the process is what makes it so hard.
Am I still talking about snowboarding here? Not so much.
Am I going back next week? You bet I am!