Darkness, flying, heights, clowns, crowded places, small spaces, spiders, snakes, public speaking, needles, blood, becoming your parents. Fear finds its way into the mind in various guises. For one reason or another, these guises trigger the sense that danger is afoot. Often, this danger is imagined, but to the individual, it is very, very real; our ability as humans to project ourselves into future scenarios is both our blessing and our curse, both nurturing our present and crippling it.
Universally, fear is felt towards the unknown or loss over control of our lives. Danger, in any shape or form, presents the potential of these occurring: madness, pain, sickness, abandonment, rejection, judgment, failure, loss, change, death.
In the novel ‘Life of Pi’, as he sits alone in a lifeboat on a vast and empty ocean, with a tiger, Pi says comments that fear is “life’s only true opponent.” The heroes of our stories, such as Pi, are those that not only confront their fears, not only overcome them, but sit with them, accept and learn how to co-exist with them.
One of the exercises we do in Writing with Emotion (part of our Writing for Wellbeing course) is to objectify an emotion or feeling and imbue it with a physical shape, texture, colour, even a voice. The idea is to externalise that feeling so it is no longer a part of us, and study it from different angles, just as we would an object. It’s a step towards taking control of that feeling, making of it what we want, rather than it making what it wants of we.
Fiona, who attended our last Writing course, chose to objectify fear. Her poem describes something alien, something unknown with the power to transform our world so that we can no longer navigate our way through it. It’s a power to which we’ve all been subjected. But we can learn how to avoid submitting to that power. In her poem ‘An Alien Spider,’ Fiona describes fear as an ‘exile from another plane’. It doesn’t belong to her world, just as the source of Pi’s fear, Richard the tiger, doesn’t belong in a small boat at sea. Pi doesn’t allow fear to warp this reality. Instead, he uses it to harness his knowledge of how to survive that empty, ocean-bound reality. Pi knows the sea, the boat, the survival methods better than Richard the tiger does.
Danger has a vulnerable face too. And when we can identify this, fear is no longer life’s opponent but its facilitator. Like Pi, we just have to learn to trust in our own knowledge of the terrain.
An Alien Spider
Fear is an alien spider. The unknown and the known distorted.
It feeds on thoughts and attention,
shrinks to fit into any space
and creeps across the skin like icy fingers.
It wraps around the heart like a cold jellyfish
and hides anywhere – in dark alleys, under beds, in busy shops and empty rooms.
It is impossible to face or hunt down, slipping and sliding
into the peripheral vision, where it pulses and grows larger.
Fear is an exile from a demonic plane. It warps reality,
shivering spindly legs, sending web-like cracks out and out
until the world shatters like a broken mirror
and the pieces fall back in all the wrong places.