Friday, February 04, 2005

One of my dad's friends once posited a theory that one cannot experience panic within a submarine, as panic is only possible in a place where there is a possible or at least an imagined escape route. Because there is no escape from a submarine, he explained, there is no true thing as panic when one is fully submerged.
Which ties in nicely with a theory I came up with, that the elimination of the fear of death brings perfect freedom. The opposite of perfect freedom, I believe, is perfect fear; for nothing is so restricting as fear. Most negative emotions are complex expressions of fear. Anger is fear expressed in an agressive and explosive way that is either defensive or offensive, depending on the cause of the passion; envy is fear that someone may have more than you; cynicism is the fear borne of the realization that the world isn't perfect; sadness is the fear that one might not be happy again for some time. So the more one refuses to let fear rule their actions, the freer they are in so many other regards. There is a freedom from anger and stress, a freedom from reactiveness and tension...a freedom from one's own demons.
So why am I writing about this? Because fear is what I struggle with every day. It is my irrationality. My fear that I will die alone, that I will make a fool of myself, that I won't get enough credits to graduate, that my friends don't really like me that much...I could go on. But the panic sets in when I start to think or imagine that an escape route possible, "if I only do [x]." Panic is the feeling born of desperate and forlorn hope that somebody or something besides ourselves can fix us and make us feel better. (The realization that that one person/thing doesn't exist can lead to despair, resignation, or determination.)
So I can tell when I'm being ruled by my fear. I still, however, have no power over this affect, as Spinoza would say. I am in bondage to the more primal aspects of myself; and sometimes I start to think that my analysis and introspection only makes it worse. But fear and overanalysis are two main parts of my can I free myself from their grasp?


Blogger Dymphna said...

But fear and overanalysis are two main parts of my character...

These two attributes are not part of one's character. Rather, they are how we spend our time in our head. Fear is the belief in scarcity--of love,of community, of the world's goods, of freedom from whatever we define as suffering. Free-floating fear is simply anxiety...or maybe the fear of fear itself.

Character is the accumulation of those acts we do in the face of fear.

St. Paul says that "perfect love drives out fear." Some of us believe, as you say, in the opposite: fear drives out love. We are so busy attending to our fearfulness that we cannot let go this exquisite self-absorption long enough to truly engage another except at the level of what they can do for usto assauage our fear or whatever other negative affect is plaguing us at the moment; shame is more prevalent than fear, by the way..

There is another way of being, and that is the one of gratitude. Of waking up grateful, going to sleep grateful.Recently I ran across some ideas on this in a letter from prison. The man who wrote the letters was the only chaplain in the Vietnam War to win the Medal of Honor. He deserved it, too: though wounded, he personally crawled across a field of fire to drag back twenty of his fellow-soldiers. President Johnson awarded him his medal and told him as he placed the medal around his neck that he'd give up the Presidency to have "one of these."

Years later, Charlie turned against the war, rejected his medal.He wrapped it up and left it at the apex of the Vietnam Memorial(I think someone retrieved it and gave it to the Smithsonian. They put it on display). He gave away the life-long pension. He began what was to be a life of anti-war activity and many jail terms for his work.

I suddenly thought of him the other day. His parents were family friends and lived several blocks from us. I used to go to church with his brother and saw Bud sometimes. This was long, long before his chaplaincy, though he was already a Trintarian priest at the time. He came to my wedding rehearsal dinner to wish us well, and sent me a beautiful card reminding me that in order to preserve a relationship, I needed to keep in the mind the necessity for "sacrifice from the heart"...

...he's been on my mind of late so I went looking for him on line and found a few of his letters from prison, along with an Indian "Code of Ethics" a fellow prisoner had given him. Here is part of the list:


1. Each morning when you wake up and each evening before sleeping, give thanks for the life, for the good things the Creator has given you and others, and the opportunity to grow a little more each day. Give thanks for yesterday's thoughts and actions and for the courage and strength to be a better person.

2. Respect! Respect means "to feel or show honor or esteem for someone or something; to consider the well-being of, or to treat someone or something with deference or courtesy." Showing respect is a basic law of life.

* Treat every person from the tiniest child to the oldest elder with respect at all times.
* Special respect should be given elders, parents, teachers and community leaders.
* Don't make anyone feel "put down" by you, avoid hurting other hearts as you would avoid a deadly poison.
* Don't touch anything that belongs to someone else (especially sacred objects) without permission or an understanding between you.
* Speak in a soft voice, especially when you are with elders, strangers, or others who should be especially respected.
* Never walk between people who are having a conversation.
* Listen with courtesy to what others say, even if you feel that what they are saying is worthless.
* Listen with your heart.

3. Respect the wisdom of the people in the Council. Once you give an idea to the Council or a meeting, it no longer belongs to you.

4. Be truthful at all times and under all conditions.

5. Always treat your guests with honor and consideration. Give your best food, your best blankets, the best part of your house and your best service to your guests.

6. The hurt of one is the hurt of all, the honor of one is the honor of all.

7. Receive strangers and outsiders with a loving heart and as members of the human family.

9. To serve others, to be of some use to family, community, nation or the world is one of the main purposes for which human beings have been created.

10. Listen to and follow the guidance given to your heart. Expect guidance to come in many forms; in prayer, in dreams, in times of quiet aloneness and in the words and deeds of wise elders and friends


You are not in prison, though college life bears some strong resemblances to it. Perhaps my friend's words will get you through some of the rough patches.

Be well.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Dymphna said...

And if it comes to pass that my friend's words -- passed to him in prison by the Indian -- don't do the trick, then I humbly offer these lyrics by Robert Earl Keen:

Whenever Kindness FailsI crossed the desert on a dining car
In the spring of ninety-one
I met some people drinking at the bar
They were laughing having fun
I told 'em that I hadn't heard the joke
That was so hilarious
They said that I was just a dumb cowpoke
I didn't want to make a fuss

So I shot 'em down
One by one
Then I left 'em 'long the rails
I use my gun
Whenever kindness fails

A most refreshing philosophy, don't you think?

11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dance like no one is watching.

10:12 PM  
Blogger Dymphna said...'s the gratitude thingie coming along? Hope it was firmly in place when your computer died and your bro showed up to fix *there* is a miracle. I wonder what the other kids on campus do at the demise of their hard drives?

Anonymous is ab-soluuutely right:

work like you don't need money,
Love like you've never been hurt,
And dance like no one's watching


8:05 AM  
Blogger grenich said...

The saying actually goes:

Dance as though no one is watching you,
Love as though you have never been hurt before,
Sing as though no one can hear you,
Live as though heaven is on earth.

I just wanted to apologize again. No hard feelings please.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Gryffilion said...

Usually the person who does the blocking has the hard feelings. My conscience is clear enough.

4:24 PM  
Blogger grenich said...


6:57 PM  
Blogger grenich said...

And I never siad I was a princess. sir!

7:00 PM  

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