Fear can be a difficult emotion to work with. It tends to make people squirm. They want to get away, to someplace more comfortable. There are a lot of dysfunctional relationships people can have with fear. Here is one of them…
The following is an excerpt from Kristen Ulmer’s book, The Art of Fear:
The weather had been overcast for nine days . . . nothing to do in town but wait, eat grocery store food, and read cheesy paperbacks. Exasperated, knowing the weather was not going to get better, I finally changed my airline ticket to fly home the next morning.
Before leaving, wanting to get a refund for my [unused helicopter time], I walked to the edge of town and stuck my thumb out, looking to hitch a ride to the heli office, thirty miles each way.
Within minutes, a thirty-something guy in a van pulled up. He seemed nice… it was a hippy van — who doesn’t like hippies? I got in, and as we drove we started chatting. He was a local who worked at a house for mentally handicapped adults, and it was his day off. He would gladly drive me to the heli office and back because it was such a pretty drive. Such luck!
We had a pleasant conversation on the way out, which took just under an hour. I got out and did my heli business, then got back in the van for the ride home. As soon as we started driving back to town, everything changed.
“You know,” he started, “I just got out of three years in prison.” Feeling comfortable with him at this point I innocently asked, “What were you in for?” “Selling drugs,” he replied. Then I asked the wrong question, “What was prison like?”
“What was it like? What was it like? I’ll tell you what it was like!” he started screaming.
Like snarls out of a lion, ten minutes of high pitched details came at me. He finally yelled, “It taught me how to scam people. That’s what this is about. You think I’m some nice guy. I saw you by the side of the road and I thought, ‘Now there’s a piece of ass.’ You’re nothing but a piece of ass to me. There’s nothing to prevent me from having my way with you then slitting your throat. There’s nothing out here. I could throw your body out and nobody would find it, ever!”
Sitting there, driving along in this psychopath’s car in the middle of Nowhere, Alaska being screamed at, that is when my insight came. For in a moment, all I felt was relief. Relief! My mind said, “finally! After nine days of boredom, something interesting is happening to me!”
I loved it! I was thrilled! And that’s just not right.
I just sat there, genuinely perplexed but thrilled, as he continued to scream and rant. I kept asking questions and commenting as if we were having an interesting chat. He would speed up and slow down, and I thought about jumping out of the van, but then I would just have broken my legs and he would have come back for me and I would be helpless then.
After an hour of this we were back in town, and he stopped screaming to drop me off. As I stepped out of his van, I looked back at him and said, “You know, you really scared me back there.”
He scoffed, “It’s nice to know I can still scare people.”
Kristen Ulmer is known as one of the world’s “most extreme female athletes.” She is an acknowledged expert in daredevil big mountain extreme skiing, a death-defying sport.
Her book on fear is a useful look into the dark places that drive us to do crazy things, and the things that prevent us from moving out of our comfort zones to the point that we never face ourselves and our urgent needs and healthy drives.
She leads us down into the dungeons and catacombs of our minds, where we can do the much needed “dark work” that is necessary in order to free up all the parts of ourselves — including parts of us that we may be ashamed of or afraid of — so that we can take all of our stifled energies and anxieties and use them to face that world out there.
It is a useful look into the netherworlds of mind that underlie the modern epidemics of anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction, and yes — perverse ideologies and corruptions. The choice to run away from these dark places and this dark work is a decision that our society will regret — unless we wake up soon.