I was thinking a lot lately on how difficult it is to comprehend those deeper elements of our psych in times of serenity and calm. It seems that we only are able to confront them when in crisis mode. This came in startling relief recently for me as I dealt with the excruciating pain associated with acute pancreatitis. I had felt this pain before, back in 2003, when I had emergency surgery to remove my gall bladder. But this time I did not have the overarching pain of Fibromyalgia masking the severity.
As it dawned on me how much intense pain I have endured … for years … I was hit with such a wave of sorrow and compassion … for myself. So here I was … almost delirious from pain, weeping over how much pain I have endured in my life. It was a moment that sort of proves how much of “mad” mystic I am.
It was when I was laying in my hospital bed, trancing in and out of consciousness due to the morphine, that I was readily admitted into the recessed areas of my psyche. And what I found there was amazing, humbling and thrilling at all levels.
There was storehouse of images, symbols and “hidden” truths that I discovered but I will save those for another time. This long post is about what I uncovered about some of our deepest collective fears.
One of the overarching fears worldwide is of being engulfed – flood waters, landslides, and collapsing structures along with the threatening tide of too much change, technology and information. We fortify ourselves with rationalizations about these fears --pretending as if each them are separate issues. But the reality is that this fear is universal and we project that fear onto world around us. We project it onto cancer and fear cancer patients. We project it onto those who migrate into our countries and forget that humanity itself is a migrating species. We resist even changes that benefit us like universal healthcare simply because it is new. We keep trying to close the door on a room without walls or place our fingers into a dam that has already been breeched – too little, too late.
It manifests itself in my psyche as flood waters slowly encompassing more and more of my life and removing my agency. So I fear that my life seems to be out of my direct control. So an illness can roll in like a tide, knocking me off my feet and sweep me out to sea – at the mercy of waves and storms.
But as I lay in my hospital bed, a new awareness sprouted -- one that sees this onslaught as impersonal and larger than I had imagined. And how it had nothing to do with me personally. It has a name, and it is called, Life. And just like standing on the beach, facing the oncoming tide does not have to mean being thrown over. I can brace myself and participate in the movement, allowing myself to be buffeted, changed and cleansed by embracing the very things that are challenging me. And yeah, sometimes I will be knocked off my feet. So what? It is the nature of Life and shit happens.
I am still challenged by Life, but I am learning not to fear its waves. Because, yeah, I may lose even more agency as I age – and it will suck big time. But Life is not out to get me – Life is the gift I get to participate within, that is fucking fabulous at all levels.
Another major fear is of being alone. Not just being physically alone, but being alone with our fears, hopes, and ideas along with our secret desires. We feel as if no one would truly understand us. We harbor deep-seated shame over things that when examined are actually not so bad. It is one of the tenets of the 12 Step movement - that when we actually do a fearless moral inventory, we find out that we are not as horrid or bad as we imagined. One of the benefits of the web is that so many of our imagined singularities can often find community.
But even if we have found the other 1000 people in the world who wished they were born with a tail, we can still act as if no one else lives in our bones and walks our path of pain or fear or grief or shame. And when we find a person who seems to get us as any level, it is such a relief, such a balm to our troubled soul.
My version of this fear is manifested in a sense of being different wherever I go. I am the only black bi-sexual, left wing, Wiccan, warrior, poet, techno-mage and mystic I know. Oh sure, there are probably others out there, but I haven’t met them. I could parse my self-definitions enough to fit in with several groups, and I do, but I always feel like an outsider. So when I find individuals or groups that seem to fit, it often feels like I have found my long lost home … that is until my essential uniqueness raises its head. And I am left feeling so adrift and ultimately … alone.
I usually blame the group or individual for not living up to my hopes and expectations. And then my practice of self-examination kicks in, and it all comes back to me and I feel the space surrounding me very keenly.
The reality of course is that we are all alone. That is what hit me in the hospital. I was alone with my pain along with hundreds of other people alone with their pain. And if I focused on the alone part, there was no way out of my essential dilemma. So I focused instead on the parts we shared, and instantly, I was no longer alone. I gave my religion as Wicca and boom … a fellow Wiccan sent me a lovely poem from the hospital. I shared my fears, and others shared theirs. I laughed and others laughed with me in spite of themselves.
We are all alone, and in that we are together whenever we choose to be.
It is a choice not a destiny. And so I choose community, friendship and intimacy. And when I need to, I also choose to be alone in my uniqueness. And that is the best choice of all.
The Smallest Pebble
The last fear I noticed was the fear of being insignificant – a small pebble amongst a pile of pebbles or worse boulders. The “No one will know that I was ever here”, fear is one of the ways it manifests. I have seen this fear beneath the surface of so many people over the years.
One of my roles as a mystic is to “imbue value by acknowledgement.” I say “thank you”, hold doors, look people in the eyes and smile, and just acknowledge a person’s existence … a lot. It is one of the easiest and most satisfying parts of my practice. But what I had not understood was how far down this fear resides in our collective psyche.
This fear lies beneath the “It doesn’t matter what I do”, “I am not important enough to make a fuss”, and the “I cannot make a difference.” It is the burden we carry that stops us from taking action in our own lives, or in the lives of our loved ones. It causes well-meaning engineers to give up on safety measures, medical personnel to have lapses in judgement concerning patient care and inspectors to ignore blatant violations.
Closer to home, it causes me to purposely wander in the creative desert when faced with another rewrite for my book. And it cripples me in reaching out to my dear friends even in times of need. It also blinds me to the impacts of my decisions, actions and statements.
All in all, most of us feel pretty small compared to the world or to the universe. But the reality is that we are all small in comparison to all that out there! But so what -- we are small but we are not insignificant. Our Life matters to the world and to the universe … or we would not be here in the first place!
My job is not only to imbue other lives with meaning; I am the one that imbues my own Life with meaning! In other words, I realized that whatever meaning my Life holds comes from my own actions. Just like all those African-American college graduates who worked as janitors to make a living, whatever I do with my Life has value as long as I bring value to it.
And as I lay in that hospital bed, I thought of all the work I‘ve done these almost 55 years, and suddenly I did not feel so insignificant. I realized that whatever my faults, mistakes and challenges, I have done good in this world with my own hands … and if given half a chance, I will do it again and again.
And lastly, just as my stay came to an end, I was reminded that all I had ever needed to do in this world was to be myself. And that was my deepest fear. I was afraid that at my core, I was insufficient. And here is where the outer world mirrored back me to me truth. “Yeah, you are insufficient to meet the demands of all that Life has to offer, but that is why there is community.” And as I looked at all the people who cared for me, who stood up for me and yes, even stood up to me – I let go of my need for control and replaced it with gratitude. And with that, I could finally be who and what I am, a person recovering from an illness and who is deeply loved.