When we open ourselves to the pain we have caused – all of us have caused, as humans will – we reach a fundamental point of conversion. It is terrifying to face ourselves, admit of demons, look into the heart. People describe it differently. As fear of exploding. As fear of rejection – a kind of ultimate, complete, and absolute rejection. As vertigo. As a herd of wild horses, trapped in the chest, trampling everything vital. A fear that we will have to admit ourselves as worthless, to lose the masks and crutches we have been trying to salvage ourselves with – as hard worker, as wage earner, as authority on something or other, as a pretty girl, a strong man, someone with a job to do. It is terrifying to admit those things are not really real, that there is something else underneath.
As I approached it, I dreamt and day dreamt often in shadowy, Jungian terms. I wrote about cold forests and empty tundra. Most frequently, it was coldness and dark. Usually, it was nakedness and vulnerability. I had many visions of myself lying down, all skin, on an icy couch.
None of us, really, would choose any of these things. The fear is that what we will find won’t be good enough or strong enough to survive. That we need our delusions – even if we know them to be lies or painful or half life – because they feel more safe than whatever it is we might find if we look within. As the woman said, I know why I should be willing. I’m just not, yet.
None of us, really, choose these things. It is what nightmares, addictions, and alienation are made of. Normal life has us run. Run, resist, defend, protect, deny, construct, or lean away.
Conversion is the courageous decision to lean in, instead.
And of course we are afraid of being swept away, overcome, falling apart.
The point of looking in, of leaning in, of revealing or conversion, is to find reality. So long as we persist in not accepting our past, we contort ourselves away. Fear, failure, and the facts of what we’ve done are intrinsic parts of life; to resist them means to resist life. The point of all of this is to touch, to fall, to widen into the full spectrum of human emotion and experience. What is touched, when we go there, are those deepest veins of feeling. What we realize, if we find the guts to drop, is that the present moment is wide enough to hold all of our past, as well as the vastness of the sky, the depth of the night, the sweetness of visceral things. To look within will not cause us to lose our balance or get lost. It doesn’t mean defeat. Because our usual stance is resistant, to look within serves only as a corrective. Looking allows us to see directly: both the quivering, the shakiness, the gripping tightness that is fear, but also the wellspring of vulnerability, which indicate hope and love. Also the ticking of pleasures. The root of laughter.
Love and awareness, balance and stillness, meaning, I think, lie on the other side of fear. The other side of resisting is freedom. Freedom is everything. Spew of tides, roiling of universe, pounding of heart, thirst in the mouth. All of that is large enough to hold the fear, or the fearful.
The horses spread out across that tundra, once loosed from the chest. The icy couch stung me, scarred me, made me tremble. But the heat of my body melted it, so that I lay on the grassy dirt. The sound of crickets and owls, the wide net of the sky, seem at times to participate in the holding, the embrace. When chaos subsides, we realize stillness. A screaming, thundering cacophony of sound suddenly stops, and we can rest in great silence. Of course we fear heights, depths, unknowing. It is vast and completely empty.
And incomparably tender. Irrevocably strong. Brazenly good.