Conversations with Fear

Anger: May 1, 2001

     "This is one place that I've still 'got ya!'" said Fear, its face lighting up with uncontrollable glee.
     "What on Earth are you talking about?" I asked.
     "The new fax machine that's frustrated you so much."
     "Well, what about it?" I demanded with irritation.
     "You see! You see!" shouted Fear dancing a jig. "You're feeling out of control and that frustrates you, makes you angry just like you made me last time we talked. When you're feeling out of control like this—your ass is mine! Oh how fine it is to bring you down!"
     "Well," I sputtered, "the directions stink! I can't understand them. The onus for clarity is on the author,  not on the reader. How can I possibly understand something that's written as stupid, convoluted drivel?"
     "Holy Hades am I going to love this conversation," chortled Fear. "I hadn't planned on it, but now it seems like a fantastic idea, don't you think?"
     "What do I think? I think I'll get the burned in this conversation, that's what I think."
     "Quite possibly," said Fear, "but you just may learn something in the bargain. By the way, why are you so frustrated with your new fax machine?"
     "I've already told you! Weren't you listening? I'm angry because I don't understand it! Is that plain enough for you?"
     "You have no idea how wonderful it is to see you like this."
     "Great. All I need to make my day is to be the source of your enjoyment!"
     "This may seem like a foolish question," ventured Fear, while ignoring my outburst, "but why is it so important for you to understand things? Ever since I've known you, you've been searching for understanding. That's one of the reasons you got into science, isn't it—to understand how and why things work the way they do?"
     "Yes, that's one of the reasons, but that's not why understanding is important to me."
     "Why then," queried Fear.
     "Because," I said, "my father almost never explained anything to me, such as what I had done wrong, when I asked him why I was being whipped. His stock reply was something to the effect: 'I'm not accountable to you! Besides, you don't need to understand. Just do as you're told!'
     "I never knew why I wasn't allowed to understand what I so desperately needed to know. All I was asking for was a shred of meaning, of understanding—of love."
     "But why was understanding so important to you," Fear asked with insistence. "You still haven't answered my question."
     "No, I guess I really haven't. You remember when I was in college and spent Saturdays taking kids from the Children's Farm Home on nature walks."
     "Yes. The Farm Home—the facility for children whom the court had taken away from their abusive parents. It's still one of my favorite places," confided Fear.
     "Why am I not surprised. Well, anyway, one warm summer's afternoon, I saw a little boy of seven sitting by himself on the steps to one of the group houses. He looked so small and lost as he sat there by himself crying quietly, that I sat down beside him.
     "'What's the matter?' I asked gently.
     "'I miss my daddy,' he said, 'and I want to go home.'
     "'How,' I asked in astonishment, 'can you miss your daddy when he beat you so badly that he bruised you all over and broke you arm?'"
     Before he could answer, I added, "'At least here nobody will hurt your.'"
     "Yes! Yes!" butted in Fear. "He look at you for a long time with moist, frightened eyes, as though sizing you up to see it he would be safe in expressing his feelings. Then, with quivering chin, he said, 'I guess it's because I always know what to expect.' So what? I know this part. I was there! Remember? So, get on with it, will you!"
     "You're quite possibly the rudest thing I've ever met!
     "As I was about to say before you interrupted, I was particularly struck by this little boy's fear of what appeared to be harmless space, the space to get away from abuse, because space from my father was all I could every remember wanting. But it took several years for me to fully understand what that seven-year-old had to teach, and when the lesson became clear, it was in a totally unexpected way.
     "I was working in the 'Brown's Hole Country' of northwestern Colorado, which, you may recollect, was flat and open in every direction as far as the eye can see. Well, one day I came across an old house, which, long abandoned and weathered by time, squatted tired and rickety in the middle of nowhere, surrounded on all sides by seemingly limitless space.
     "I drove over to the house, parked my vehicle, and got out. Only then did I half-way notice the one-rail fence that surrounded the faded building with its haunting, glassless windows and gapping doorway. Although I didn't think much of the fence as I approached the small, creaky gate, once through it, I sensed a totally different feel about the house—almost a feeling of welcome, as though protective arms had suddenly been extended around me. But why? Exploring the house held no clue to the cause of that feeling of 'security,' and it wasn't until I went back through the gate to get my lunch that I understood. The house had nothing to do with my feeling of welcome and security. It was the fence!
     "While the fence might have kept adult horses and cattle out of the yard in years past, it also defined the yard—and that was the point. The fence held the vast openness of unending space in abeyance and in so doing gave the people who lived in the house a sense of human scale, of definable proportion within a boundary they could see  and touch. They could, for instance, lean on the fence and contemplate the vastness of space without being directly confronted by it as long as the fence stood between them and the seeming void of eternity. And it occurred to me that I would have the same feeling of welcome and security within the confines of the fence were it to have a single stand of wire, string, or even a piece of thread, just as long as it was visible, and I could touch it. And suddenly, across the years from somewhere in my subconscious came the face of a small seven-year-old boy sitting alone and dejected on the steps of an alien house in an unknown and frightening world.
     "Then and there I understood what he had meant when he said that he missed his daddy because he always knew what to expect. Always knowing what to expect was his fence, the one inside of which he had learned to cope with life in his own personal scale. But outside that fence of known expectations, where no one would beat him, loomed an unknown world so vast and frightening that the abuse he  expected to suffer at the hands of his drunken father was his sense of human scale, of definable proportion. In short, the abuse he always knew would come—that he could always count on—was, in a surreal way, his sense of 'security,' his fence against the larger terror of the unknown, where the enemy  is the 'unknown,' which is just another name for you, that has neither form or face of recognition or substance to touch.
     "I also learned that people in our modern society tend to have a fear of seemingly unlimited, uncharted space, which lies within the bowels of uncharted time. Space and time without perceptible boundaries strikes terror into the hearts of most people, especially those whose minds are enclosed within the box of the current social trance of success and acceptability."
     "Long-winded as usual," muttered Fear. "But you've got the essence of it. Had your father complied with your need to understand, he would have stepped outside of his fence into the unknown because, in his demented thinking, he would have been out of control, and that was something he could not tolerated. His fence, his human scale, as you put it, was to be the one with the understanding, the one in control. Therefore, he set you up to be the one out of control—because understanding was your fence also, and he knew it, albeit unconsiously.
     "All people define their fences in different ways, but to the extent a person is insecure and thus psychologically immature, that fence takes on the form of anger, which is often expressed as violence."
     "By 'demented thinking,' you mean the kind of thinking you taught him?"
     "Yes," grinned Fear. "Is that all you heard?"
     "No. I heard what you said."
     "Good! 'Demented thinking' does have a nice ring to it. Doesn't it?"
     "If you say so," I conceded to avoid an argument. "But this is the second time you've brought up the notion of being out of control. What's that got to do with 'anger,' and why did you equate anger specifically to 'frustration?'"
     "Because anger is the outcome of frustration, and frustration is the prelude to anger."
     "Now, what does that mean?" I asked.
     "It means," said Fear, "that when things don't work the way you want them to, you begin to get frustrated as you unconsciously start to realize that you're increasingly out of control. At some point, this realization becomes a conscious thought, at which time your growing frustration crosses the threshold into full-fledged anger. That's when—'I've got ya!'"
     "Then what is 'anger?'"
     "Well, look at it this way," replied Fear. "There are only two emotions in the world—'Love' and me, 'Fear,' although virtually all professional people will disagree with this statement. Nevertheless, every other 'emotion' is only some dimension of us. Humm. How can I explain this.
     "Let's suppose," continued Fear after a moment's thought, "that you are having one of those rare days in which everything is going your way, so to speak—everything is right with the world, and you feel in control of your destiny. All of a sudden, one of the tires on your car goes flat about a mile from the nearest gas station. Because you feel a sense of inner harmony, which means you're momentarily in Love's realm, the flat tire doesn't bother you. You simply change it and get on your way. But on a day in which you feel out of harmony inside, that same incident would make you angry because you would feel out of control, instead of in control like you did the time before. And of course, in your anger, you've forgotten the Zen notion that every step of the journey, 'good' or 'bad,'  is the journey.
     "In the first case, you were guided by Love, who not only lacks ambition but also is the epitome of patience. Of course, Love will tell you that the reward of patience  is patience, which to me is total nonsense.
     "In the second case, however, you come under my spell, and  I take control. And, as I said, Love's 'patience' is just a lot of hooey, so I  make things happen. After all, my ambition is to rule the world—and I shall as long as people turn to me for guidance, which they do every time they become impatience with a circumstance, lose their equipoise, and give in to anger."
     "You sound supremely sure of yourself."
     "As I should! Because I know that people can't stand to feel out of control inside and outside at the same time," acknowledged Fear with an obvious sense of superiority. "Thus by planting a seed of self-doubt, I can cause impatience to germinate, and then I can nurture it to fruition by reading the appropriateness of an upcoming circumstance."
     "I never thought of you as opportunistic," I said thoughtfully. "But it makes sense. After all, you're  not in control of circumstances. You just take advantage of them to suit your cause of world rule."
     "Precisely. All circumstances that in one way or another try your patience, are but tests of your inner harmony, and most people have neglected to do the inner work necessary to find peace, which is synonymous with inner harmony. The result is the quicksand found in any unexpected circumstance, especially an unpleasant one that throws you off balance even as it sucks you in. This imbalance causes you to react in anger, which is only  your fear projected outward onto a handy object or person in hopes that your own sense of being out of control will somehow magically disappear if only you can sling it fast enough, hard enough, and far enough. Provided, of course, that someone else will catch it, personalize it, and thus 'own' it."
     "Give me an example."
     "Gladly," said Fear. "Remember the man in the boat, the one you watched get so mad that he injured himself kicking the boat?"
     "Yes," I replied. "Some little thing happened, and it set him off. He reacted really badly, which cause some other thing to happen to which he reacted even worse. It quickly became a self-reinforcing feedback loop of negative thinking acted out in an increasingly inappropriate way to counter each successive circumstance. In essence, the circumstances progressively controlled him and his thoughtless behavior, rather than the other way around. In the end, I think he broke his toe kicking his boat while he swore at it as if it had purposefully defied him."
     "Now you're catching on," said Fear with a hint of satisfaction. "He had cast his anger at the boat, rather than accept the fact that he was the one feeling out of control,  because he was the one feeling out of control. But to remain in his state of denial, he had to project his anger onto the boat, which he kick with a vengeance in order to do it harm as he would have another person. The boat didn't accept the man's projection, however, and broke his toe instead."
     "Is this why there's such a thing as a plea of 'temporary insanity' in a court of law?"
     "Yes. And guess who coined that term?"
     "Need I answer that?"
     "No," said Fear, "but it would be nice."
     "This may be a bit off the subject," I said, "but when you say 'most people have neglected to do the inner work,' you mean like in the Persian story?"
     "What Persian story? There are hundreds of them."
     "I wasn't clear, was I?"
     "Clear? Hardly!"
     "I mean the one about the man and the pearl."
     "'Enlighten me,'" came Fear's sarcastic reply.
     "There once was a young Persian man who went up to the mountains, found a cave, and wandered in. In the cave, he found a pearl of great price, but it was in the claws of a dragon, which appeared so overwhelming, that he knew he had no chance of getting the pearl. So, he went sadly away, reconciling himself to an ordinary life, which was uninspiring once he had seen the pearl. With time, he married, worked, and raised his family.
     "Then in old age, when his children were gone and he was again free, he said to himself, 'Before I die, I will go back and look again at the pearl.' He found his way back to the cave and looked inside, and there was the pearl, as lovely as ever, but the dragon had shrunk to almost nothing. Picking up the pearl, he carried it away.
     "He could take the pearl because the dragon, which he had been fighting all of his life in the very practicalities of his daily existence, disappeared before the eyes of a wise, old man who was rich in life's experiences.
     "To me, the mountains represent higher consciousness or insight, which the youth was not yet prepared to handle. I think of the pearl as wisdom and of the dragon as youthful ignorance, or, put differently, what the young man lacks is life's experiences that will prepare him to be worthy of the pearl. By working and struggling in the 'everydayness' of life, he gradually changes himself within, represented by the cave that he must go  into to find his inner pearl, until such a time as his life's experiences become distilled into the wisdom he seeks. At that time, having grown in consciousness, he has unknowingly slain his dragon and has earned his pearl.
     "The 'truth,' the wisdom of the ages, is found in the simple and the commonplace, and when one knows the truth, one is both wise and free. Such freedom is expressed as joy, a secret once divulged by Albert Einstein in four simple sentences. 'I am happy,' he said, 'because I want nothing from anyone. And I do not care for money. Decorations, titles, or distinctions mean nothing to me. I do not crave praise.'
     "Beyond personal freedom, however, wisdom also holds its measure of freedom between and among generations. This is the central thought of Confucianism, which can be summed up in the simple premise: the wisdom of the past sustains the virtue of the present, and the virtue of present insures the well-being of the future."
     "I have to admit that's an interesting story, especially your interpretation," said Fear, "and it seems to fit here, considering the 'everydayness' of your fax machine."
     "You could have gone all day without bringing that up again."
     "I know you didn't want to hear that after telling such a fine story, and I know you may not be in a mood to hear this," prefaced Fear, "but the only way you can ever control a circumstance, any circumstance, is to control yourself, which means how you respond to the circumstance. If you control yourself, you de facto control the circumstance—and me. Uh, I mean my influence on you."
     "Well, forget it," I retorted as I sank once again into a well of frustration and self-pity. "I'm not feeling particularly nice right now, and I'm certainly not in the mood for your prattle!"
     "I didn't think so. But why not? Don't you understand 'anger' better? After all, you ended your story by talking about wisdom."
     "Yes, I understand anger better, and, yes, I gave a mini discourse on wisdom, BUT I still can't decipher these so-called instructions…
     "I don't want to talk about this anymore."
     "What a pity," sighed Fear. "I've so enjoyed this conversation. And another thing, look at yourself! You can't or won't let go of your anger, which leaves me in control of you just as I'm in control of almost everyone else. Besides, it's only your shadow coming out."
     "What do you mean, 'shadow'?"
     "You know, that part of you that you don't want to deal with."
     "Not now!" I said. "I'm done with this conversation!"
     "Well, maybe next time," beamed Fear. "This time, I've still got ya!
     "Remember," came Fear's parting shot, "you're never angry at the person or thing you think you are, or for the reason you think you are. You're always,  always, angry because you feel out of control and that frightens you, which makes you mad. In your case, your fence of understanding is broken, and you have trouble dealing with that.
     "Having told you this, bare in mind that professionals in psychology and psychotherapy will disagree with me, as they always have, but I'm correct nonetheless."
     "Then why are you telling me this, this kernel of wisdom?"
     "Because," answered Fear, "those who should know will deny the validity of what I've just told you since it doesn't fit their intellectual paradigm of the 'learned,' so what have I risked? Nothing!
     "'til next time then."

© chris maser 2001. All rights reserved.

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