Tag Archives: Fear

Fear of Falling

It is the first unreasonable fear of every child…,

Before the boogie man and whatever waits under the bed…,

Before the cluttered darkness of the open closet…,

Before the things hot and the things sharp…,

Before stranger danger or scarlet fever…,

It is the first gift that our parents give us, after the fear of being alone.

“Don’t fall.”  “Don’t Fall!”  “DON’T FALL!!”

“You’ll hurt yourself.”

And we do.

But most of us get up again.

Only to fall again.

That’s okay.

And maybe, somewhere along the way, we might learn to enjoy the falling, just a bit.

We tuck into a ball as we plummet back into the soft spring of the mattress.  We crave the momentum in the downward arc of the playground swing, the stomach-knotting lurch of the rollercoaster car as it crests that first big drop, those precious seconds before the bungee cord snaps us back, the dizzy spin of the earth below as we wait for the parachute to deploy.

Most of us don’t go that far, of course.

We stay on the ground where we are safe.  And that voice in the back of our minds, our parents voice, and their parents, and the whole of society contained in a single strident whisper, telling us that it’s too dangerous, that we’ll hurt ourselves, that we will fall down.

Because falling is bad.

Falling means that we have lost control.

Did you ever wonder at the words certain people use to explain the human condition.

We are “fallen” my christian friends are so eager to remind me.

There is a story they tell, about the first two people: They lived in a garden where everything was perfect and (almost) everything was safe.  This couple had none of the worries that we face, on a daily basis, because their creator had not given them a moral compass with which to guide their actions.  What he did give them, was a free will, independent of his own.  This, one must assume, was a design flaw, because the very first time they exercised this ability, they were punished.  They were forced out of their perfect protected garden.

They fell.

And, we are told, they took the whole lot of us along for the ride.

As that story has spread, as it has been accepted as the root of all truth by so many, we have built a culture that is infected with a desperate fear of falling, a fear that stands in complete opposition to the most basic urge of our species.  A desire that is imprinted into our DNA as surely as it has been woven into the fabric of our spirit.

We are born with the desire to hurl ourselves out of our perfectly safe little nests and into the unknown.

Falling, we are told again and again, is bad, is terrible and dangerous.

But that, my friends, is a lie.

falling alice

The fall is an act of discovery.  Falling is how we open our minds to possibilities we have never known or imagined.  Falling is at the heart of the human experience.

Why else do we call it ‘Falling in Love’, if not for the simple fact that our perceptions of the world are changed and opened, even as our former illusions of control slip away?

There IS danger there, of course.

No journey worth taking is without risk.

But, I suspect, the more desperately we cling to our fears and our misguided perceptions of safety and control, the more perilous our eventual landing.

Better to take the leap running.

Falling is not punishment.

Falling is not failure.

Falling is Freedom!

Little Alice fell
d
o
w
n
the hOle,
bumped her head
and bruised her soul.

—Lewis Carroll

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Filed under Culture, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey

How many more weeks of Winter?

My first sculpture, in clay, was of the groundhog.

I was in the second grade.

And it was awful.

Why had my teacher picked the end of January to bring a couple bags of clay into the classroom and tell us build sculptures in commemoration of the February 2nd holiday?

I do not know.

Perhaps there was some message there, about working with earth and water and fire, and about the living cycles of a world we were only beginning to explore.

Or maybe, it was just a random collision of events and the groundhog theme seemed, to her, like a good idea.

So we wedged and shaped the lumps of clay with our little hands, and then she took them off to be fired.  When they came back they were hard and crumbly, and we painted them…, garishly.

I vaguely remember that some of my fellows had, roughly, approximated the look of a large rodent, sitting up on its hindquarters.

I had not.

There was a greenish lump (the ground) upon the crest of which stood a rough brown cylinder (tree trunk), and next to that another brown blob resembling a brazil nut with ears (the critter).

It was bad, really, REALLY bad.

I was so embarrassed by it, that years later, when a friend of mine in college was twisting my arm to take the Intro to Ceramics class with him, I was filled with an irrational fear that my secret shame would finally be exposed.

“I paint, I draw,” I told him, “I’m a 2d artist.  I’m just no good at 3d work.”

“Come on,” he countered, “you’re gonna love it.  Have you even tried?”

And in my minds eye…, green and brown lumps of earth…, and people laughing, LAUGHING!

“Yeah, I’ve tried.”

But in the end, I relented and took the class.

And my friend was right, I loved it.

That first class was followed by a second, and suddenly the focus of my studies had shifted from painting in oils to sculpting in clay.

There was something deeply powerful in the manipulation of those basic elements, earth, water, fire.  There was a ritual quality to the process that touched the spirit, and there was the careful science of manipulating chemical reactions to occupy the analytical portions of my mind.

I had never…, have never…, felt so entirely within my element.

And then the long winter began.

When I left school, I left the ceramics program behind.

I lived in a cramped apartment without the financial means to acquire the tools and materials I’d have needed to pursue my interests.

So I focused on my painting, and I told myself that a brief hiatus from clay would do me good.

And the years passed, and I painted less and less.

I got a job as a graphic artist for a magazine.

I learned new skills.  I won awards.

And the paints came out less frequently.

By the time I changed jobs again (this time repairing computers) my easels had been stowed in the attic and my paints were congealing in their tubes.

And so I came here, and I began to write.  And always, ALWAYS there was the intention that the writing would be a portal into something bigger, something that would utilize all the other skills I have acquired along the way, something that would make me feel like I used to feel before this long winter took hold.

But after a while, the writing seemed to be using up all the creative energy that I had to spare, and keeping to my self imposed deadline was chewing through what little free time I had.  I felt like I needed to take a break and get my head on straight, and finally get a start on whatever that next big thing was going to be.

And so I stopped writing.  I withdrew further into the day to day grind and I waited for the creative well to replenish itself.

But that was never going to happen.

The well didn’t run dry because my creativity went away, instead it has been filled up with silt and debris, the grit and grime of a thousand little things that we like to call ‘living’ but which have nothing to do with being alive.  It is plugged with worries about money and home and transportation, and with all the things that come from being a cog in someone else’s machine.

The waters are still there, but they will never rise above all that junk.

To find them again, I’ll need to grab a shovel and climb down into the well.

I need to get my hands dirty.

I need to start digging.

I know this.

I WANT it.

But wanting and doing are two different things.

Part of the problem is not knowing exactly how to get started.

But far bigger than that is the fear of failure.

And so hear I am, I have become the groundhog, curled in his burrow, desperately wanting the winter to end, but afraid to peek out for fear of seeing his own shadow.

And tomorrow I’ll get up and eat my breakfast and head off to work like a good little citizen.

And I’ll wonder – How many more weeks of winter?

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Filed under About this Blog, Art, Holidays, Modern Life, Spiritual Journey

There are plenty of ways to die.

We are, as a species, both fearful and fascinated by death.  And the more time passes, the more we push back against certain boundaries, the more interconnected we become, the more preoccupied we seem to grow with the most unlikely of threats to our well being.

We spend too much of our time living in obscure ‘what-ifs’ and not enough in the now.

We give ourselves over to fear, and we grow smaller in the bargain.

So let’s take a moment and go through it.


The vast majority of us will succumb to simple mechanical failure…,

Hearts stop ticking.
The vessels grow clogged with gunk.
Oxygen delivery becomes less than efficient.
The lightning in our minds that form thought and feeling becomes turbulent.


Most of the rest of us will fall to some kind of disease…,

Infections that taint the blood or clog the lungs.
Cancers that turn our own cellular building blocks against us.


Your next most likely exit is through simple accident…,

Our balance fails us.
We regularly handle objects which are sharp or heavy.
Often we run and jump and fly and drive, because these are the things of living.
And sometimes it is the living that kills us.


A tiny few of us have our lives taken away by another…,

War takes some.
Acts of terrorism account for a handful.
But far more often, it is our own neighbors who kill us.
Or the people we love best.


There are plenty of ways to die, and the statistics don’t lie.

But we see big flashing numbers on the news and we are convinced that the thing which is least likely to take us, is the thing waiting just around the corner to do us in.  We become convinced that someone is coming for us, someone wants us dead, the knives are sharpening, the explosives are being wrapped in duct-tape, there are clocks and triggers and backpacks and high profile targets and you’d better be safe and you’d better stay safe and you’ll never be safe…!

You’ll never be safe because we are going to die.

But any one of us is 35,000 times more likely to die of a heart attack than we are in a terrorist attack.  Yet, by and large, I don’t see that many of us suddenly laying off the cheese-burgers.

Which brings us to another way to die, one I haven’t mentioned yet.

Sometimes we kill ourselves…,

And here is one place where I think the statistics DO lie, because it’s not always as straight forward as a gun to the head or an overdose of prescription meds.  Sometimes, yes, we kill ourselves all at once.  But more and more I think we’ve begun to do it so slowly that we don’t even know it’s happening.

People won’t give up eating fatty foods, but they’re sure wiling to give themselves over to fear.

Some of us can’t face a world full of (mostly imagined) boogymen without the security blanket of a weapon in our pocket.

Some of us would rather not face the world at all, when it’s so much safer to just sit in our homes and watch the news and fret about all the growing dangers outside.

And here lately, all too many of us are happy enough to switch off the very traits that make us human: our sense of compassion, our willingness to endure personal sacrifice to ease the hardship of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

Make no mistake folks, we have become a culture which is living in fear.

And I don’t think I’d call that ‘living’ at all.

I find it disheartening that in this season of thanksgiving, when we are urged to count our many blessings, that bravery and generosity of spirit do not seem to number among them.

There are plenty of ways to die.

The real question is, in the long run, will we be able to live with ourselves?

Refugeess

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Filed under Culture, Death, Holidays, Modern Life

Out from under the Umbrella

The rain falls with a steady hiss.  It makes distant objects and people indistinct, isolating us, driving us into our own little worlds that extend no further than the reach of our fingers.  The rain thunders around us, drowning out every other sound but its own relentless drumming.  The drops sting our skin where they strikes us, pelting down from on high, driving us to seek shelter wherever we may find it.

Once, a long time ago, I was just this weird kid who believed in the gods that everyone else had forgotten.

I did most of my growing up in a small rural town where difference was not readily tolerated.  The rain there, the disapproval and scorn for thoughts and feelings outside the norm, seemed constant and brutal.  Like any child caught in a downpour, I found myself running from place to place, seeking refuge from the torrent.

I might have found sanctuary in droning confidence of The Church.  The rites and rituals certainly carried a comforting familiarity with them.  Yet, as I huddled there with so many others, I chanced to look upward and noticed that the roof, a patchwork of borrowed traditions and beliefs, was leaking.  The rain still pattered down around us in those cloistered halls, and I knew I could not hide from the truth inside someone else’s lie.

And so I ran instead, to the Halls of Science.  If I was not allowed to believe in the Many, and could not convince myself to believe in the One, I would have to settle for None at all.  I closed the door against the questions of Why, and busied myself instead with the business of How.  But the rain, which I had thought so safely locked outside, came running in through the gaps under the door.  The more I tried to convince myself that the water wasn’t there, the more I slipped and fell on the cold wet floor of spiritual experience.

And finally, as I left small-town life behind, I began to meet others who believed as I did.  Time passed, and the internet came along, opening all corners of the world for us, and more and more we spread the word about the shelter we had found beneath the Pagan Umbrella.

The Umbrella

The Pagan Umbrella has become one of the first things we explain when we speak to newcomers, or interested outsiders.  “Paganism is an umbrella that includes many different faiths and traditions,” we like to say, “now please, won’t you join us and come in out of the rain.”

And I did.

Of course I did.

It seemed like the smart thing to do.

Standing together under an umbrella has distinct advantages.

Together we stay dry, and warm, and safe.

Isn’t that what we have been told that we need, again and again?  A place of safety, away from the dangers of a society that does not approve?  A place where we can be what we want to be and say what we want to say, without judgement from outsiders?

There is a comfort and a power in numbers, and while standing together the strong can better safeguard the weak.  We have stood together for many years under that ever-expanding canvas, while the rain beat down around us.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it.  And a bit more fuzzy and romantic than the reality, I think.

The truth is never as pretty as we might like it to be, and if you crowd enough people into one small space, there is going to be conflict.  Usually, the arguments come from differences over just how big the Umbrella is, and who gets included within its reach.

But lately, my questions have begun to run deeper.

I’ve been wondering if maybe the Umbrella isn’t the worst possible metaphor we could have come up with?

What does an Umbrella do?

It shelters us from the elements, yes?

Great.

So here we are…,

However many thousands of us, crammed under a single Umbrella, unable to move in any decisive way unless the entire group wills it, unable to see where we might be headed if we did move, and unable to decide if we even approve of the company we find ourselves standing in.

So the only thing that the Umbrella is really good for…,

…is hiding.

And here we are, cowering in fear of the deluge of criticism and disapproval which we imagine society will rain down upon us.  We stand here, arguing about who gets to be under the Umbrella, and who doesn’t, all the while hiding our faces and our beliefs from those around us.

Oh sure, we talk about how we want to be accepted by the world around us.  We prattle on about how we want to make things better.  And we never bother to ask how we can hope to accomplish anything at all, if we’re so very afraid of getting a little wet in the process.

We’ve allowed Paganism to become a safe-house for the spiritually damaged instead making it a force for change in a world which almost all of us agree has gone terribly wrong.  We bring no honor to the gods by hiding ourselves away from the world.

I understand the impulse to seek shelter.  I remember well my own struggle to find a place of refuge.  I only wish that, instead of reinforcing the impression that we must hide ourselves away, our time under the Umbrella was used instead to build people up and send them out again into the rain, to face the challenges that rise before us.

We have cowered for long enough, don’t you think?

It is time to come out from under the Umbrella.

Come out and let the world see us for who we are!  Let it judge us!  Let it rain its objections down upon us!  Let us stand together, facing the storm, where everyone can see us and know who we are.

We will…, we must, shout and chant and pray and work our collective will upon this world.  Only then will the rain finally pass.  We will never see the sky, our children will never feel the sun on their cheeks, if we do not first stand and face the rain.

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This Season of Fear

Fear is a Superpower

“Let me tell you about scared.  Your heart is beating so hard I can feel it through your hands.  There’s so much blood and oxygen pumping through your brain it’s like rocket fuel.  Right now you could run faster and you can fight harder.  You can jump higher than ever in your life and you are so alert it’s like you can slow down time.”

What’s wrong with scared?  Scared is a superpower, your superpower!  There is danger in this room.  And guess what?  It’s you.”

—The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), “Listen,” Doctor Who

We are a society in love with fear.

We crave it.  We spend hard earned money for the chance to experience it, if even for a moment, and in doing so we prop up a billion dollar industry dedicated to delivering it to us in easily digested packages.  And as we move into the final weeks of October, that industry is in full gear, churning out slasher flicks, haunted houses, horror fiction and ghoulish costumes, all designed to sate our need for a good scare, and to whet our appetite for more.

But why?

Why do we want to be frightened?  Why are we willing to go to such great lengths to lose our nerve?

Think back on those lines from Doctor Who, which I quoted at the beginning of this post.  Fear makes our blood race, makes us stronger, alters our perception of the world around us.  Fear is a drug – totally legal and, given the industry that has grown up around it, highly addictive.

We want to feel afraid because we enjoy the rush we feel when the boogyman jumps out at us from the darkness.

And I’m not standing here saying that there is, by necessity, anything wrong with that.

I myself, enjoy a good scare – from time to time.

All things in moderation, after all.

I’m just not so sure that, for society at large, ‘moderation’ is on the menu these days.

Look at the way certain media outlets, and WAY too many regular people, are simply pissing themselves over the scourge of Ebola, which even now rides roughshod across the United States like Pestilence upon his White Horse, killing fewer people to date than an average drive-by shooting.

We are, by far, the safest, most comfortable, best cared for and educated society, that this world has ever seen, and we are, by all indications, frightened of absolutely everything.

And the only reason which I can find for it, the only reason that makes any sense, is that, missing that essential component of danger which our more ancient ancestors lived with on a constant basis, our bodies crave fear in concentrated doses in order to compensate.  Unfortunately, like the drunk who cannot afford another round of the “good stuff” and must take his ease in a bottle of cheap cough suppressant, we find ourselves fishing about for something to keep us nervous until the next big scare comes along.

The ancients, I suspect, did not have this problem.  While the conventional image many people hold, is one of frightened savages clinging to each other in the dark as lightning crashed above and hungry wolves prowled outside the light of the camp fire, there has never been any real evidence to support this view.

Our ancestors seem to have been a people, deeply rooted in the rhythms of the natural world.  They hunted, and were hunted, they lived and worked and died and I rather suspect, hadn’t the time (or need) for the sort of fear we revel in.

Oh sure, there are stories of kings who were frightened into violent action by the appearance of a rogue star in the sky.  But consider for a moment, it is the royalty in these stories, the most comfortable members of their society, who are driven mad with fear.  Certainly there have been uprisings, inquisitions, executions and mass suicides, which were driven by unreasoning fear.  But these things seem far more common in later ages, when security and comfort were in greater supply.

The days leading up to Samhain have always been understood to include an thinning of the borders between the lands of the living and the dead, but it is only in later centuries that this season has been met with, first religious dread, and more recently with a strangely commoditized variety of fear.

Under the Bed

And so, where is the harm?

If just the thought of a hand snaking out from under your bed to grab your ankle, makes you shiver – what harm?

If there really is some deficiency of experience that is satisfied by repeated doses of pre-packaged fear, isn’t that just what the doctor ordered?

Perhaps.

But I’ve been thinking more and more about that quote from Doctor Who that I used to start this whole thing off.  It’s been gnawing at me for a while now, and I wasn’t sure why until I started to write this post.

“What’s wrong with scared?  Scared is a superpower, your superpower!  There is danger in this room.  And guess what?  It’s you.”

The real danger may not be in the thing that makes us afraid, but what WE do once the fear really sets in.  The casual drug user may be fun at a party, but an addict is a very real danger to both himself and others.

Perhaps we have grown too comfortable for our own safety.  Or is it that we are too safe for our own comfort?  Either way, what we really need may be a world which is less safe, and sure, and comfortable, than the one to which we have grown accustomed.

Above all, we are terrified of change.  We don’t want to lose the things we have gained for ourselves.  Yet, what if the only answer, the only escape from this season of fear, was to let go of our creature comforts and actually live in the world again, rather than despite it, as we currently do.

Are you afraid?

Good.

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