"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wild Fear

Recently, I was talking with a friend about fear.  We have both recently taken transformative road trips out west.  We both have intentions to leave our current, urban/suburban lives and live in the wild as soon as possible.  We both have hesitations and fears about making this happen.  We spent about five hours discussing what in our lives has led us up to this point, what is currently holding us back from living as our wild, free selves, and what role fear plays in all of it.

What is fear, exactly?  Where does it come from?  Where does it live?  What does it look like?  How does it gain and lose its power?

In an effort to unpack these questions, we compared stories of times we have overcome fears in the past.  I told about overcoming my lifelong fear of sharks by swimming far out into the French Riviera, lying on my back, ears underwater, feet far above the ocean floor, melded with the surroundings and reminded of my interconnectedness to sharks and all of life.
He told of overcoming his social phobias and leaving the state of Maryland for the first time in his life to travel to the desert and live out of his car and tent.  We both told of overcoming self-consciousness and self-doubt by starting to rock climb.

As our stories unravelled over bottomless cups of hot tea at Silver Diner at 3am, I began to see a thread to connect them all. Fear is a completely created construct.  It does not exist as an observable phenomena in the real world.  If, as Emily Dickinson says, "Hope is a thing with feathers," then fear is a thing with teeth.  Cartoon ghosty teeth, to be precise.

An image of, "Boo," the ghost villain from Super Mario Brothers from old school Nintendo, came to my mind.  He was the one who would follow Mario in the dungeon levels, chasing ominously behind, sharp teeth bared, ready to bite Mario's little Italian head off.  But everyone knew that all you have to do to make him stop chasing you is turn around and look at him.  The second you look directly at him, he closes his mouth and hovers humbly and non-threateningly in the air.

In some ways, I always thought Boo was one of the scariest bad guys.  He looked so menacing.  I remember flinging the controller frantically around as I ranranranran as fast as I could with my little Mario, away from those teeth, away from those eyes.  Every now and then I would make Mario turn and appease Boo with a brief stare, at which point I would realize that I had stopped breathing and was way too into the game.

But in other ways, Boo was the easiest bad guy to deal with.  You needed no weapons, no mushrooms, no stars, no special powers.  You needed only to look him in the face.  Furthermore, he caused you to run faster and further toward your goal; the small amount of pressure his presence contributed from behind was a positive catalyst for forward motion.

Do you see where I'm going with this metaphor?  I bet you do.

With each of the stories that my friend and I told, I saw how the instant we made the decision to stop running from our fear and look it directly in the eyes, it's toothy jaws disappeared and it lost all power.  So with Boo and my friend as my teachers and my inspiration, I will remember to carry on in this wild journey, keeping my goal in front and my fear behind.  I need only to turn and look that ghosty fear in the face every now and then, pay it the attention and respect it deserves, and it will remain a friend, not a foe.

1 comment:

  1. I keep re-reading this one. It impresses me to no end that you used Boo. Brilliant. I'm sure Dave agrees...he said he liked it when I spoke to him briefly on Skype from around the world tonight. He got cut off before we got to discuss it at length. This could have been plucked from his brain....he definitely would use any opportunity to use old school Nintendo characters to make a point. There's got to be a good one to be made with Little Nemo or Milon's Secret Castle...