Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Facing It


hello again my insatiable sidekick

nasty little bristle-covered shadow
                flashing big teeth

I don't even know me without you

nibble nibble chomp chomp thanks
     this must be my usual death

jumpy as a deranged cyborg
  I lurch round and round in circles

all those windmills I've lanced
                           oozing like boils

but nothing changes         nothing

and I know next time        just as
   I'm chugalugging the rosy glow
                 of almost sanity

   once more you'll scuttle
from the woodwork of my brain

purring your mindless little dirge
   spiked with horror and pain
           delusion and loss


     From the tireless labyrinth of
dreams I returned as if to my home,
to the harsh prison. I blessed its
dampness, I blessed its tiger, I
blessed the crevice of light. I blessed
my old suffering body, I blessed the
darkness and the stone. There then
occurred what I cannot forget nor
communicate. There occurred the union
with the divinity, with the universe.

-- Jorge Luis Borges


     Waking early this morning from a fitful, restless, dream-haunted sleep, I immediately plunged into an inner litany of horrors and woes. This time they weren't even about my personal life. I was absolutely convinced the world was going to hell in a handbasket--and in a God-awful hurry too!

     So I whipped out my own custom-made string of apolcalyptic worry beads--the miserable economy, global warming, overpopulation, world poverty, runaway pandemics, rampant terrorism, nuclear proliferation, those rabid, right-wing Republicans...Whatever my fevered imagination seized on, it stuck to, like iron filing furring a monstrous magnet.

     Yet each of these threatening goblins could just as well have worn the mask of anything--from a certainty our planet's about to be struck by a Manhattan-sized asteroid, to my current quandary over how to safely switch anti-virus programs on my home computer. Once again, I had to force myself to step back for some much-needed perspective. What's really going on here?

     The supposed life-and-death issues that triggered my obsessive preoccupation, I realized, weren't actually the underlying causes at all. They never are when my brain runs amok this way. Crouching behind even their most frightening mask always lurks that "nasty little bristle-covered shadow flashing big teeth"--ANXIETY: not an emotion, but a smokescreen obscuring cathartic emotion; not my real problem, but a distraction camouflaging that crippling problem; not a solution, but a retreat, at all costs, from coming to grips with the long sought solution.

     To put it bluntly, anxiety's the self-protective straw I clutched at as a child to shield my consciousness from directly experiencing a devasting soul wound, a terrifying trauma to which I was totally exposed, and one which I was utterly powerless to prevent. As a desperate survival ploy, this tactic worked--sort of. Here I am, still alive if not always kicking! But the price was exorbitant-- relentless stalking by a hoard of phantoms; addiction to an enslaving compulsion; estrangement from the essence of my truest nature.

     There's only one way to break out of this paralyzing trap. With my heart in my throat and my fate in my hands, I need to tear off every garish mask of anxiety, no matter how mesmerizing, until I confront at last the naked face of death itself--that primal soul wound which has always been there, gaping behind them all. As T. S. Eliot wrote, this risk will require "a condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything."

     What I discover though, if I have the courage and humility to take even one shaky step into the scary Unknown, is this: the worst wound I've ever suffered is also, paradoxically, the crucial eye of the cosmic needle through which I must unavoidably thread myself if I'm to be reborn--healed, whole, transformed!--into a new and greater life.

     Only in that greater life will I finally be released from my imprisoning anxiety--an ancient, rusty, chaffing suit of armor I'll strip off eagerly and pack away forever in an old trunk in the attic of my mind. Or, maybe, I'll take it out again every few years just to look at it--to remind myself of where I've escaped from; to make sure I never forget what it means to be free.




  1. Bob, I've needed to hear this. Thank you.

  2. Shawn--

    It's great to know my words make a difference. Thank you!