Not sure I can explain why exactly but about 40 years ago it seemed like a very good idea to study bull fighting in Mexico. This was the passage during which I also liked to parachute out of airplanes. It had all to do with proving something to my self, some primal sense of survival. Anyway…off I went to Mexico with my dearest gal pal, a Hollywood stunt woman, who was also up for this folly. As we had but 10 words of Spanish between us most of our instruction was given by our leather faced instructor, Rodrigo, in sweeping gestures, bold illustrative body language and the occasional holler which needed no interpretation when we were in harm’s way. Standing in the middle of our classroom, a dusty arena under the blazing Mexican sun, we two gringas did level best to keep up with the choreography of our nimble, in spite of being arthritis riddled, vaguely tequila scented instructor. Rodrigo broke the steps down, illustrating them with utmost patience and articulation, hour after hour with the grace of a dancer. He was spell binding. The firm yet ready planting of our feet in the direction of the bull, the arms framing the outside of our bodies holding our imaginary cape a precise distance away from our torsos and strictly perpendicular to the imaginary animal. Then ribcage shift to the left, holding (and this was crucial) the cape exactly where it had been whilst stepping to the left vacating the space behind the cape in order that the beast could charge through the now emptied space, foiled again.
Even in practice Rodrigo’s eyes remained laser focused on the beast that would be there. In time we graduated to holding an actual cape. Ours, to my surprise, were a sun bleached dusty rose color. We were made to understand this would not hamper our safety, that the scarlet red cape of my imagination held no secret power. I remained unconvinced. We were now learning how to deal with the sweep of material. On the rare occasions we executed the crucial move with proper momentum, perhaps even grace, Rodrigo would break out into a broad toothless grin that would make our day.
At long last Rodrigo deemed that we had built enough muscle memory thusly earning the right to have a baby bull in the ring. I likened my baby bull to a great dane. An angry one to be sure as he had metal pricks lodged in his neck for the sole purpose of agitating him. Thinking of him as a dog assuaged to some extent, my trepidation. My girlfriend and I seemed to pass the test as class by class our bulls were getting bigger. To this day when I think of facing the biggest one, my heart beat quickens. Even at a distance from my seething bull, our eyes were locked with the intensity of lovers. His were deep black holes that didn’t seem even to blink. My every inhale and exhale were magnetized to his as his juicy nostrils flared. Contrary to every instinct Rodrigo commanded me to approach the beast…to in fact get as close to him as I could. Slowly, ever so slowly with a focus I had never before nor since experienced, with one rooted step at a time I walked toward my enemy and partner in the ring. Thing was the closer I was to him the safer I was as he’d have less time to build up speed, build up power in a charge. In other words the safest place to stand was facing my fears head on. The metaphor was not lost on me. Facing your fears is safest. Doing so fear is not your enemy but rather effortlessly, you become the enemy of fear.
I was reminded of that experience recently. I’ve been dealing with an emotionally painful situation. Not devastating, just painful and a new life circumstance I must learn to live with. Everything in me says to ignore, excuse, build around it but actually I’m finding that the best place to be is square in the middle of the discomfort. If I stand there in thought, breathing with it eyes locked, the beast gives way. I am not impaled. The beast charges by on his own path which has little to nothing to do with me or mine.
Having survived our encounters with our largest bulls our course with Rodrigo drew to a close. That night we took him and some of his stable mates to a nearby bar for margaritas that never tasted so good. Tired, happy and just a wee bit wiser for having been in the ring, facing the bull, facing our fears, dusty rose cape and all.