When I woke this morning, I contemplated what ‘new’ activity I would set out for today. You know what my essential* self said? “Walk your dog backward.”
Every day, three-times a day, I take Tucker on a half mile loop around our neighborhood. Our first walk is at 7 a.m. and we interact with quite a few other dog lovers who are taking their pooch out before work. We also pass a lot of neighbors who are driving to work or sipping their morning coffee on the patio. It’s a fairly busy time of day.
“Are you crazy?” responded my social self.* “Do you know how many people will see you?”
“Who cares?” said my essential self. “Just trust me.”
“Everyone will think you’re nuts,” my social self pleaded. “Why are you so weird? Remember that time in 4th grade?”
I flashed back to Opposite Day in school. I believe their intent was for us to wear our clothes backward, maybe? Always the overachiever, I thought I’d get extra credit for swapping my pants with my shirt. I thought that was super-creative. When I got dressed that morning, I wore shorts and a t-shirt base. Then I took my bulkiest sweatshirt out of the closet and put each one of my legs through the arm holes. I used a belt to keep it up at my waist. I put each of my arms through a pant leg and rolled up the ends so that my hands stuck through. It was restricting, but I was determined to impress everyone with my genius.
When I got to school, my classmates and even kids in other classes all pointed and laughed. I was made fun of all morning and in a defiant effort to pretend it didn’t hurt, I kept them on all day…even when I was sweating and the teacher asked if I’d be cooler taking off a layer. As soon as I got home, though, I ran crying to my room and screamed at my mom for letting me walk out of the house like that.
As I watched my essential and social selves argue, I realized this is exactly why I needed to do this. I, therefore, set ground rules to this challenge:
(1) It must be from door to door. The moment I step off the front mat until I return to it, it’s game on.
(2) Up and down steps, across streets and grass, and while picking up poop are all required to be done backward.
(3) I must smile and say hello to each and every neighbor I see. No hiding my head.
Ok, let’s do this.
“Why don’t you wait for your lunch walk? There are much less people around then,” said my social self.
“Nope, we’re doing this now,” I said and ended the debate.
As soon as I hit the steps on our patio, I realized that the harder physical challenge would be holding the leash against my dog, Tucker, who pulls, especially first thing in the morning when he really has to do his business. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as simple a challenge as I thought. I contemplated whether to capture video, but self-preservation won out when I prioritized my right hand on the railing and my left hand holding the leash. I paused long enough for a picture:
We hit three sets of stairs before we ran across our first set of neighbors walking their Lhasa-mix. She was with her young son and when my eyes met hers, we exchanged “good mornings.” When I got a house-length away, she was still watching me and called out, “There have been coyotes in the mornings. You may want to be…careful.” It was much more polite than what I experienced in 4th grade.
“Thank you,” I responded. “I’ll be on the lookout.”
Had I had my coffee, or maybe been less self-conscious, I would have responded, “We’re like Zebras…He (Tucker) watches that way for predators, and I watch this way.” (If you’ve ever wondered why you always see Zebras next to each other facing opposite directions, that’s why. It decreases the chances of a sneak attack from behind.)
As we continued along, I started wishing I had worn athletic shoes instead of flip-flops. They’re not the easiest to walk in backward. When it was time to cross the street, I took extra side to side glances before stepping out onto the asphalt. We passed a few more neighbors who ignored my cheerful greetings, and one gentleman walking his cocker-spaniel decided to cross the street away from us. I also became very aware of how slippery the pavement was from the sprinklers. Something that exists every morning, yet today it caused visions of slipping and falling.
I could hear my social self saying, “I don’t know this woman. Never seen her before in my life. I can’t look. Tell me when it’s over.”
I did a quick body scan for physical sensations (in Martha Beck’s style of Life Coaching we call this “climbing into your body”), and noticed I was sweating profusely. I checked my phone, it was 68 degrees. My heart was pounding and I was holding my breath. Realizing this, I stopped, closed my eyes and consciously took five deep breaths. Then we resumed.
We were about three quarters of the way through our loop when my social self suggested that we had done enough, that we proved that we could do it, it was time to turn back around and walk forward like a ‘normal’ person. Admittedly, I considered it for a millisecond because it would be so much easier. Plenty of neighbors are witness to my walking backward around the community. Who would know that we didn’t complete it?
I would. So we kept going. We were almost home.
I started to relax more. Maybe it was because the hardest part was over, or maybe it was my body getting accustomed to a different muscle-use pattern. As I focused less on what was directly behind me to navigate, I started seeing things in the neighborhood I’ve never noticed before. Like a yellow wheelbarrow hidden behind bushes, a red hummingbird feeder in a neighbor’s tree, and as I opened the gate to our patio, I saw the tiniest of black and white spiders spinning a new web between the iron bars.
That was my reward for a new challenge completed. While I was braving my neighbor’s opinions, this itys-bitsy spider was braving to spin a web on my gate. Normally I would spray it down with my hose. Today, this little guy gets to stay. I hope he catches something.
* Essential Self and Social Self are terms used by Martha Beck and her style of coaching. The essential self is what makes one uniquely that person…their tastes, preferences, personality, talents, innate abilities, etc. The social self is the learned self, the side of us that is molded by our culture, upbringing and experiences and it concerns itself with “fitting in.”