(written in reflection of The New York Times piece, Fear on Cape Cod as Sharks Hunt Again, by CJ Chivers)
Most of the time, we do not know peoples’ life stories regarding the emotion of fear. In passing you will not know if someone was in combat or experienced intimate partner violence, or if they are currently processing an internal cue of ‘danger’ in the very moment that they are standing in front of you, in a line, at CVS.
While in this case (in the article) it (fear) takes the form of ‘shark’, I present that we all have a metaphoric shark. The monster lurking beneath the surface, sometimes deeper in the depths of the unconscious.
For some it (fear, or the catalyst for fear) is more present, then for others. For some it bobs on the surface, while for others it lurks deep down in the dark. For some it is always looking to feed, while for others it is just cruising around (it is manageable). For some it has razor sharp teeth, while for others it is a fin passing by at distance.
The quality of the fear/fear response and the ‘charge’ of it, is influenced by the quantity and depth of exposure to the emotion and traumatic life experience(s). We know this from the ACES study. If you are not familiar, I would encourage you to scan over it for personal understanding and/or as a means to foster compassion for others. Can we respect each others’ process(es)? Can we be kind? When you see someone getting squirmy in a line, take note that you might have stepped a little too close. It is the little compassions of daily life that can go a long way.
Some peoples’ shark is a liquor store. Some peoples' shark is leaving the house. Some peoples' shark is going to sleep. I am epileptic so my ‘shark’ takes the form of a grand mal seizure.
I say this because there is such a great range of what might induce fear… the situations, images, smells that might trigger intense physiological reactions and/or set our nervous system into a state of dysregulation. My body holds a memory of being out of control and unconscious and I know that I engage in activities that help me re-gain control and empowerment in my body. I move towards my ‘unconscious’ as a place that is not that scary through my artmaking and dream journaling.
What does it mean to respect fear, but not amplify it? We put things in place to reduce the risk. We create a container to hold the fear. We utilize a flotation device in rough surf. My container/surfboard (in regards to my epilepsy) takes the form of medication acceptance, sleep, healthy diet, decreasing levels of stress, minimal alcohol consumption, no substance, and yoga/ meditation to nurture my nervous system. Oh, and a loving community! I have a great respect for my fear because it has guided me towards a healthy lifestyle. It has helped me find moderation (which was not always the case). Respecting my fear (without amplifying it) has allowed me to travel the world.
Sometimes the container will crack and we will need to repair it (see KINTSUGI). Sometimes your leash will snap if the surf is too rough. With time and practice the container becomes sturdy. With time you learn that you should not go into rough surf, without the ability to comfortably swim to shore. With time, our psyche is able to hold the fear (physiological states and mental rumination/obsession). And yes, there is a CHANCE that the container will shatter or you won't make it to shore. That is why we GO SLOW in the process (of processing) and have a guide (see Joseph Campbell's A Hero's Journey) available; an expert potter, a surf buddy.
The presentation of the shark in my life has helped me reflect upon, and refine, my relationship with the emotion of fear. The shark as a ‘projective hook’ that lead me to explore my personal process with the emotion. These days my shark is mostly cruising around as a fin in the distance, but there are days when it might unpredictably breach the surface right next to me. These are the days that choose to stay on the shore. As I have honed in, through personal reflection, I am better able to sense when it will be what kind of day.
I am thankful to CJ Chivers for the thought provoking discussions and exploration of the emotion of fear, and for opening up dialogue on a sensitive subject. It was invaluable.
In closing, I present…. Can we utilize opposing views/perspective for conversation and dialogue, knowing that there isn’t always a ‘solution’? … or before solution presents we might need to tolerate ambiguity or uncertainty. It is that building of ‘tension’ that can be a necessity to inciting change.