By Alex Gorelik
Dread is a different experience than fear. Fear is experience. Dread is a burden that we lift into experience that acts as a shield against the threat of life. Mostly we dread fear. We dread the idea that we'll be stuck in a situation that might be dangerous. Just the idea that we may have to throw ourselves at the mercy of the moment, of the elements, keeps us working to secure our safety.
Fear is the visceral sensation of encountering the unknown, death, or pain. We should not be encountering fear everyday. Waking up from a dream of falling, or to the blast of bombs in war, feeling our way through a darkness occupied by moving shapes, standing at a precipice, or looking down the barrel of a gun. These are some of the images that conjure fear.
I dread seeing more of these images. I dread having to wait to take the bus home in the cold. I especially dread the thought that I might be in a hostile situation surrounded by uncontrollable forces that intend me violence. I would imagine that most of us dread these sorts of things. Along, of course, with our own personal neuroses and phobias.
Times are scary. September 11th, weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue nations distributed to loosely organized terrorist entities threatening our national and personal security, crime in our cities, financial turmoil on our markets. The news is not pretty. It makes me wonder what other news is out there; why we subject ourselves to the same poisonous negativity under the guise of staying informed.
I woke from a dream that horrified me at 3 am recently. In the dream I'd broken a religious law I didn't believe in and was being attacked by my ancestors. Unable to fall back to sleep, uncomfortable lying in bed while the nightmare replayed over and over in my head, I got up and walked into the cold November night. It was the night of the Leonid meteor shower. Despite the bright moon and the city lights, I was able to see close to a dozen shooting stars. With every meteor I wished for peace: peace of mind, peace of spirit, peace of heart. It hadn't occurred to me to wish for peace on Earth.
By the time I returned to bed I'd relaxed to the point that I fell asleep before I'd even warmed up from the cold. I slept so deeply that I overslept a meeting at work the next morning. I'm not too afraid of being fired. Even in a job economy such as ours, with layoffs looming, and jobs scarce, I know that I have no control over my employment. My promptness and the quality of my work matters very little when the corporation decides to cut their human resources overhead. Dreading unemployment will only keep me from experiencing my precious time off.
My wife and I recently visited some friends in Hawaii. We went to explore their new and simplified life on the big island, and to celebrate their recent pregnancy. On our way to the volcano our friends' car broke down. We waited several hours to see if we could get a ride, a tow, or catch a bus, but we were stuck and had to face it. Eventually, the four of us decided to hitchike the ninety or so miles back to their apartment. We had just started walking when the rain began to pour. We were completely drenched by the time a pickup truck finally pulled over and let us ride in their open truck bed. We huddled together to stay warm from the wind and laughed about the situation.
That moment was a reminder that so much of what we dread is inconsequential. So what if we were stuck on the side of the road… the universe will provide. What is there to fear? Every experience is a story that is survived by our resolve. Coming to peace with our dread of discomfort allows us to appreciate the moment and to live in now.
When I think of the many frightening times I've endured, one idea recurs to me. I am resilient and can survive even the most unimaginable experience. Thinking back to being jumped by teenagers when I was a kid and suffering a broken nose and black eyes, along with the demasculating humiliation of that kind of embarrassment in highschool, I realize that there is little to be afraid of. In truth, even physical violence is shortlived suffering. Few experiences can not be survived.
Yet, with the amazing resilience of the human mind, body and spirit, we constantly burden ourselves with petty dread. We follow the news and fret about crime and politics. We get offended by the misconduct of strangers and the trespasses of friends. We worry about our finances, our jobs, our cars, our mortgages. We create conflict with our loved ones and squablle over trivial details. Much of our suffering is the result of the obstacles we create for ourselves because of our dread.
We often are told to face our fears. We should not be setting ourselves up for situations that we fear. Life is too precious for that. But we should face our dread. We should review the minutiae that we concern ourselves with and inventory what it is that we are afraid of. By asking ourselves what true harm can come from our little aversions, we can better come to terms with the risks we are willing to take in order to enjoy life and the sacrifices we can make for happiness.