Monday, September 24, 2012

Confronting the Darkness

Earlier this year, I posted a video of a ritual in which I had been inspired to indulge.  The movie showed me burning a scrap of paper with the word “fear” scrawled on it in felt-tip marker.  It came about as an offshoot of my Solstice Fire.  Last December, when I sat down to contemplate the things I wanted to “burn” in my fire, the things that no longer served, I realized that FEAR was the most crippling affliction of my life.  By performing this intentional ritual—incinerating fear and flushing the ashes down the toilet—and physically turning away from fear whenever it threatened to undo me, I was making real progress.  After a month or so, I abandoned my daily mini-Fire Ceremonies.  I must have thought I was “cured.”

Of course, I’m not.  One does not negate fifty-seven years of chicken-hood by merely stiffening one’s spine and declaring, “I’m not going to be afraid anymore.”  It would be like saying, “I don’t want brown eyes anymore” and expecting to look in the mirror after six or eight weeks to find Liz Taylor’s hypnotic violet eyes blinking back at me.  Dream on!

This year’s extended Indian Summer made me itch to get away again, into the woods, among the trees and the birds, somewhere that was not my own back yard.  On one of our weekend wanderings, we discovered a wonderful little park with a campground, back in the “wild” hills of Columbia County.  Yes…this is my home county, and the park is little more than twenty miles from my own back yard.  But it feels wilder and farther away than it is…and it seemed a perfect place to take our “new” trailer for a shakedown.  Husband helped me transport the trailer out there after work last Wednesday.  But since he does work, he can only be here on weekends. 

Hence, I am on my own—well, me and my dog—the rest of the time.  Exactly what I craved; exactly what I needed.

So, you ask…why did this post begin with a reference to fear and my not being cured of it, and then segue awkwardly into a log of my most recent escape?

Because here—all alone in my slightly unfamiliar new digs, parked in an unfamiliar place (notwithstanding that I am a hop, skip and jump from my own front door)—I discovered just exactly how much of a weenie I really am.

Now, this park is small and not heavily used, especially this time of year, when children are back in school and weekend camping trips have been relegated to the realm of fond summer memories.  I was depending upon that, actually.  The woodland experience I craved did not necessarily include interacting with other human beings.  So the less people there were around, the happier I was.

Last Wednesday evening, the husband drove the trailer out to the park (I followed in my van), helped me set up, and then went home.  I shrugged off a little shudder of nerves as I waved goodbye.  After all, here I was—alone with my music, my crafts, my laptop, my books, my sage and my rattles.  Exactly what I needed to be.  By myself.  Independent. 

All alone.  In this new trailer in this new place.  With nothing but my half-blind, half-deaf old dog—who was never much of a watchdog in her prime—standing between me and…anything else. 

Night fell and the darkness closed in.  I retreated inside; huddled in the trailer and locked the door.  The long, dark night stretched before me like a holey bridge over a bottomless chasm over which I would have to crawl—in the dark, surrounded by god-knew-what—to reach the next morning.

I was petrified.

And royally p.o.’d at myself.  Here I was, the intrepid earth-loving, nature-craving searcher, planted in a place that was, in truth, a pale sham of the kind of experience I thought I wanted…and I was afraid.  I started at every noise.  Fretted at the sound of every vehicle going by on the highway (which was, ridiculously, only about twenty feet from the back of my trailer—THAT’S how remote this place actually is…)  I was trapped inside that little box, because I was scared to death of what—or who—might be out and about in that unfamiliar pitch dark.  When a chorus of owls took up a call and reply of hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-wah, I couldn’t quite decide whether to be completely geeked out by the pure wild coolness of it, or go hide under the bed.

So this little exercise upon which I was determined to embark has turned out to be NOT the transcendent, affirming experience I craved.  It has instead proven to be humbling—almost demoralizing, really; informative (not in a good way), and a source of more questions than answers. 

I want to believe that the spiritual path I have chosen is good and right, for me.  I do not want to discover that I haven’t the spine for it.  I do not want to know that I am afraid of nature.  I don’t think there is any such thing as a “daylight Shaman.”  I have to be able to embrace the music of the night as well as the symphony of the day.  Which is not to say that I should be brave enough to go out into some remote back woods and sleep on the ground with nothing but the stars and the trees and the beasts all around me.  But I should at least be able to camp by myself in a trailer in an unfamiliar place without soiling my undies.     

So…do I stay here, in this lonely but not-very-remote place, away from my familiar things, and grapple with my fear, mano a mano?  Do I grab it by the throat and spit in its eye?  Or, at least, tap it on the shoulder and kick it in the shin before I piss my pants and run away?

Or do I go back home to my little shrine in the safe confines of my bedroom; go back to scribbling “fear” on a scrap of paper every morning, incinerating it in a candle flame and flushing the ashes down my ensuite toilet, and believe that’s going to help?

Let me just say this:  The husband arrived Friday night; we were supposed to pack up and go home on Sunday. 

Given what I had been through on my two nights here alone with my fear, I looked him in the eye and said:

“I need to stay.” 

He’ll be back on Wednesday night. 



  1. "The long, dark night stretched before me like a holey bridge over a bottomless chasm over which I would have to crawl"
    beautifully described Lisa.

    Remember what FDR said "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" and I might add FOX news!

  2. That was my thought, too. You need to stay. Some of your fear is just the unfamiliarity of sounds or no sound...but once you settle into the place and become less sensitve to the strangeness and more sensitive the place as it is - you will love it.

  3. "I don’t think there is any such thing as a “daylight Shaman.” 

    This sentence caught my attention. For a long time my guide would not tell me his name. He shrugged off the question and just said, "I am simply one who sees in the dark," and for years that's exactly how we spoke his "name:" one-who-sees-in-the-dark. Then one day it hit me (like a light?) that is what a shaman is - one who sees in the dark.

    Bravo to embrace your fear! The Buddhist would encourage you to "lean into it" and while you are experiencing it, think on all the people over the world that experience exactly what you are feeling.

    Look into the dark and tell us what you see.