As someone who has recently faced death, I’ve learned that fear is triggered by the unknown. I’ve been thinking lately about fear and about what it really is, and why we feel it. So often what we fear turns out later to be insignificant. In the creative world I live in, fear is constantly with you: panic when you think that people won’t like your script, fear that the movie will never get made, worry that people won’t come to see it if it does, fear that readers won’t pick up your new book.
I think that most fear is triggered by uncertainty, although there are times when we fear events we KNOW are coming, such as when a loved one has a terminal disease or in the moments before a car crash. But those of us who have lived through such moments have learned that you find yourself strangely calm at these times.
Fear can make people dangerous. Whitley and I have been attacked and threatened many times over the years, usually because of his writings about the visitors, and of course we fear this. Now that The Grays is about to be published, I’m sure it will happen again: In fact, it has happened recently. People who have anomalous experiences are facing the unknown, and this always produces fear, no matter how much dogma they create to try to reassure themselves, and to assure others, that they know what’s going on. I’ve gradually come to realize that the people who lash out at and frighten others are themselves filled with fear. However, this doesn’t help when you’re on the receiving end.
Visitor experiences can be compared to religious experiences, in that they are enlightening (or can be, if seen in the right way). They are also similarly frightening. The intricate rule-filled religions that human beings have built up over the centuries are the result of their fears and uncertainty about their experiences, as well as about their fear of the unknown. Our lack of understanding brings with it the fear of being out of control. This fear causes people to try to regain control over their lives by creating rules, and to lash out at those who don’t follow their rules or who disagree with their dogma. This is why religions, which are supposed to be about love and spiritual growth, seem to be constantly attacking each other instead.
Now that I’m back in the rhythm of ordinary life, I’m again living in the world of the ordinary fears that we all recognize so well: will the dinner party turn out well, will he ask me on a date (will she say yes), will I get into the college I’ve applied to, will I get a raise, ever be able to afford to buy a house, and on and on and on. I’ve realized that fear is a constant companion in everyone’s life.
But when I should have feared death (if death should be feared), I wasn’t aware enough to do so. And when I remember all the ordinary things I feared so much yesterday that have resolved themselves, one way or another, today, I have to admit that I feel pretty silly about having had any of these fears at all.
Whitley woke up one morning on the day after Christmas and found himself suddenly thrust into the unknown, a place where he lived, on and off, for over eleven years, a place he still visits today. Even after all his experience with the visitors, contact with them still frightens him occasionally.
I’m writing this early on a Monday morning. As I look ahead at the week coming up, I notice that I anticipate almost every upcoming event with at least a small nuance of fear. Fear walks through my days with me, keeping me company. I suspect I’m like everyone else in that way.
And this is all because, for us human beings, the future is unknown. But Whitley and I have each, in our own way, stood on the edge of the abyss, and been pushed suddenly over against our wills, and when we came back up to the surface, we realized that we had learned many valuable lessons from our terrifying experiences. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t scary.
I read a wonderful quote today from Mahatma Gandhi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” I would like to live in a less fearful world, because in such a world, there would be fewer wars and a lot less hatred. There would certainly be none of the unprovoked attacks that Whitley and I have both experienced from people who are reacting with fear to his visitor experiences. But according to Gandhi, this won’t happen unless I deal with my own fear and anxiety first.
As I wrote this, I said to myself, “You must put on your fearlessness necklace.” Or maybe I will simply gird myself in it metaphorically. That’s something we can all do.
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