Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Eyes Wide Shut

Fear is a funny thing.

Most people are afraid of something. Rationally or irrationally, mildly or deathly, we all have our fears. For some, it's heights. For others, depths. Some are afraid of snakes or spiders; some of dogs or cats. Some have more philosophical fears, like meaninglessness or emptiness. Some, social fears like relationships or public speaking. It might be safe to say that for every possible thing or concept there is on earth, there is probably someone, somewhere, who is afraid of it.

And fear can sometimes be a helpful thing. There are certainly situations in which fear is wisdom's response to a certain stimulus. But have you ever stopped to consider what your fear is making you miss?

It's weird to think about. Because fear is generally a hypersensitivity. It makes us feel like we're looking wide-eyed at our world, always alert, always on guard, always ready in case we should encounter the very thing we're afraid of. In one sense, that is true. In another sense, not so much. Fear keeps our eyes wide open, certainly, but only to see the things we're afraid of.

Think about this. Let's say you're afraid of bees. And with good reason - perhaps you're allergic to them. Obviously, you're going to have a heightened sense of awareness any time you're outside, making sure you stay out of the path of any potential stingers. If you're scared of bees, you're more likely to notice everything that flies, which makes you feel like you're noticing a lot. But what you're actually noticing is only two things: bee or not bee. Your mind can only classify the flying object as dangerous or not dangerous. Which means you just missed that butterfly that flittered by. Because it wasn't a bee. You saw it, but you did not delight in it. Your mind only had one classification for it.

Or maybe, with your fear of bees, you notice everything that is sort of round and dark. Like a bee on a flower. Or...a seed on a flower. You notice this certain-shaped dark thing on the flower, classify it as bee or not bee, threat or not threat, and look away having not seen the flower at all. You could not see the beauty of the flower for your fear of the bee.

The same is true, let's say, of a fear of snakes. (Sorry. These nature illustrations are highly visual, so they work great.) If you're afraid of snakes and decide to go on a hike anyway, someone might ask you when you get back what you saw. And your answer is likely to be primarily centered around the number of snakes you encountered, even if that number is 0. Then they ask you about the waterfall and you realize you missed it entirely. You can't even recreate a mental picture of any waterfall, although you can sort of remember the snake-less ground in that general area.

Fear convinces you you're living with eyes wide open, but you're really living with eyes wide shut. Fear makes you miss the trees for the forest. You see the overarching theme of life, but you miss all the details. Because all you've got is bee or not bee, snake or not snake, threat or not threat. Your eyes aren't open to life through fear; they are only ever open to fear through fear.

Dealing with fear, then, is about opening your eyes. It's about seeing all of the things you've missed. Maybe you're afraid of bees. Maybe you're even afraid of bees with good reason. But take a look at a butterfly sometime. Let yourself see it. Truth is, I'd rather see one butterfly than a thousand bees. Take a look at the flower. They're rarely ever alone. You see one flower, deliberately see one flower, and it opens up your eyes to the whole bush of them. Suddenly, your sight is overwhelmed with beauty...and not one bee. And if there is a bee, so what? Would you un-see the flowers to see the bee? Really?

It's always like this, by the way. Nature's an easy place to see it, but all fears share this feature. On the other side of fear, there's always beauty. Always something breathtaking that you cannot see. Put it to the test. Go ahead. Pick a fear, any fear. Then ask yourself what that fear keeps you from seeing. Search your mind's eye for all the things you've noticed but only classified as not my fear. Isn't it beautiful? Doesn't it make life...richer, somehow?

There are bees in the world. That's a given. But if you spend your life looking for them, that's all you're ever going to see. And you're going to start thinking that's all this world is. But this world is more than bees. It's butterflies and flowers and praying mantises (manti?) and clouds and sunshine and rain and rainbows. It's footprints through the fresh-cut grass, moss growing up the side of the tree, birds flying all about. It's a million little things you never noticed before. And if you can get yourself to see them, you won't miss them again.

Not for all the bees in the world. ...Or even for one of them.

Open your eyes. For real. And see what you're missing.

No comments:

Post a Comment