I’m attempting to maintain an even keel, to not flip my lid or totally lose my cool.
And I keep catching myself doing so in ways that sometimes feel like a cop-out. To preserve a modicum of mental peace, I try to distance myself every once in a while from the chaos of everything (these days, especially from politics, but more than that). One of the ways I do this is to toss out easy, glib generalizations like — “Strange times we’re living in!” — “What a wild ride!” — “It’s nuts out there!”
Which all sounds kind of lighthearted. But the truth is, if I scratch beneath the surface even a little bit, I realize that I’m really scared. The world is batshit crazy, and it freaks me out.
Certainly, we’ve got available to us some good ways to help us cope, to bolster our faith in ourselves and humanity. We can snuggle into communities of kind, compassionate, like-minded humans. Sometimes even better, we can snuggle with our animals and transcend the need for like-mindedness entirely. I often find it refreshing and rejuvenating to take long walks. I also watch The Great British Baking Show on Netflix, temporarily entering a reality in which the highest stakes are whether or not the Genoese sponge will rise sufficiently.
Invariably, though, at some point (middle of the night, anyone?) the fear and anxiety reappear.
Since it’s Halloween and we’re days from the most important national election of our lives, it seems like a good time to reckon with our fears, as directly as we can handle them right now.
A lot of positive spirituality tries to wrangle fear by pitting it against love. For example, “Love and fear cannot coexist.” You’ve heard stuff like that, right? The theory is: if we choose love, really choose it and commit to it no matter what, our love will simply drive out our fear; there won’t be any room for it if our hearts are completely full of love. We can discard those silly fears, which were just False-Evidence-Appearing-Real, after all. We can deny that they have any truthful foundation or any power over us. If we pour love all over that noise — voila, tranquility!
Love your neighbors. Love yourself. Love your enemies. Love God. Got it? Good, nothing to be afraid of, then.
I wish it were that simple.
In reality, I find that my love and my fears coexist all the time. My authentic core is one big, messy bundle of love and fears, in fact. And, no, I don’t believe that’s just my ego or my conditioning or my unhealed wounds talking — I think it’s my very soul.
I’m also darned clear that there are very real things to be scared about. Fear is a rational, maybe necessary response right now. People are behaving abominably. Not just making ill-informed decisions, but actively choosing to be horrible to each other. There are armed militias in the street. Violence, bigotry, and hatred are overt and shameless. Anti-science crowds slavishly cheer for their own ignorance and totalitarian rule. Everyone’s health is in danger from an uncontrolled pandemic. Our relationship to the environment is an existential crisis. The economy is a fucking mess. Every convention of civility and decency in leadership and news reporting has been broken, and I don’t know what’s holding our society together at all anymore.
When I was little, I was afraid of Bigfoot and giant scorpions. Neither of those was much of a real problem in upstate New York, so even as an 8-year-old it was pretty easy to talk myself down as long as I had a nightlight. But now my biggest hairiest fears are of my fellow humans. And illuminating those shadows can make them appear more scary, not less.
God, I don’t mean for this to sound so dark and hopeless. Actually, I have quite a lot of hope. I’m optimistic about where we’re headed. But I don’t think we’re going to get there by denying the validity of our fears, by turning away from them and blithely affirming rainbows and “divine right action” in the face of atrocities.
So… this week when I catch myself freaking, I’m trying to pause and ask myself a couple of questions: 1) Is this fear response proportional and appropriately directed? 2) How can I hold it, manage it, in the most empowering way?
To the first point, this has meant taking a critical look at my reactions and triggers. Asking myself: What am I afraid of here? I’m not afraid of Travis or the advice he’s offering me, so probably I shouldn’t be biting his head off. I’m not really afraid of writing and delivering a talk this weekend, so maybe I don’t need to put a lot of energy into dread and suffering over it. Really, what I’m afraid of is all the world-shattering things I wrote about a few paragraphs ago. I’m also afraid that I can’t fix any of that, that I’m not enough, that I’m powerless, and that ultimately I will be overwhelmed by it all. And you know what? These are rational and appropriate fears.
How to manage those fears, and be empowered in them — well, that’s trickier. I’m still mostly blind in my navigation through this. And I don’t think that I can promise to have any clear all-purpose answers, for myself or anyone, by Saturday night.
I do think, though, that there’s something powerful about holding love and fear not as oppositional forces or feelings, but as complementary and essential components of our humanity.
This may be a weak metaphor, but I’m going to try it out anyway — both because it’s my title, and because I started out with how the world seems batshit crazy. Okay, so…
When a winged rodent flies by, maybe we don’t need to overreact by firing a surface-to-air missile at it. Also, when we get startled or frightened by something — say, something like a bat — maybe we can try to be mindful about not misdirecting our fear into rage against the dirty dishes or our loved ones or a long line at the post office. But that doesn’t mean totally ignoring the bat. A bat in the kitchen is something to deal with. Pretending it’s not our problem and trying to dismiss it by chuckling, “That’s just batty!” doesn’t change anything. What I’m looking for, then, is a way to humanely, kindly, powerfully address the bat problem.
I know that my fears are calling to my heart as loudly and strongly as are my hopes. I owe it to myself and to the world to pay attention and set intentions around all of it. I also know that a commitment to love and kindness can move the world. And I know that together, with honesty and courage, we can create anything.
I can’t wait to be with you online this weekend — fresh talk and music available Saturday night at BOSQUECSL.ORG, VIMEO.COM, and FACEBOOK. New content every Saturday at 6:00 pm, and on demand at your convenience forever after. Take care of yourselves and each other, friends. Vote. Pray. Be safe. Howl at the full moon, and have a happy Halloween. XO, Drew
©2020 Drew Groves