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When I was about 19, I was recommended to read Stephen King’s The Stand, so I did. It was the scariest book that I ever read (even more so than Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs) and I had nightmares for weeks afterwards. In many ways this book captures all of my deepest fears for humanity, that is, that a plague will wipe out 99% of the world’s population to be followed by a battle of good and evil in the post-apocalyptic world. Just like when the character Joey in Friends put his copy of The Shining (another Stephen King) in the freezer so he wouldn’t have to read the scary bits, I picked up that little, well-worn second-hand copy of The Stand and stored it in a box. My logic at the time was that I would never read it again, and neither would anyone else. By keeping it in some sort of storage, I thought that no-one else would ever feel that way that fear, that horror, that pseudo-reality that Stephen King had taken me to. I refuse to watch apocalyptic movies based around the plague theme and when Ebola appeared again last year, I wondered if my worst nightmares would come true, so I pushed those thoughts again to the little box which stored the scariest book that I’ve ever read.
In January this year, all of my valued possessions were shipped here to Perth from my hometown in Tasmania and in the bottom of one of the book boxes was the nightmare again. A few months earlier, I had met GSM (see post below) and he said that his FAVOURITE book was Stephen King’s The Stand, you can imagine my shock and surprise at this coincidence (the first in a series of many). Anyway, I digress. I held this little book in my hands once again, now even more aged and the front cover missing and I made the decision to sit it beside my bed on my pile of novels to read in the future. I would look at it frequently over the next few weeks, the little nightmare taunting me with its scary allure and diving into a world which I knew would probably leave me traumatised, again.
Then it was time. I would read it. I chewed through that book in a couple of days, riveted to the twists and turns and re-living the nightmare of the apocalypse of 1970s America. Then came the dark character which has given people nightmares since diabolism was used by Christianity as justification for the witch trials in Europe in the Middle Ages (Greenwood, 2013). But curiously the “devil” goes back further than that. According to Greenwood, the Sumerian story of Gilgamesh was the first narrative to record combat between good and evil, or the dualistic nature of humanity and spirits, “prior to this God was omnipotent”. I find this concept fascinating. The epic poem was recorded in 2100BC (dates vary), but it is considered the first “great work of literature.” But by the fifth century, the theology of the devil was “firmly established and accompanied by demons” (Greenwood).
Surprisingly, it didn’t keep me awake with nightmares and because I knew the basic plot, I spent most of the book critiquing the writing, trying to get tips from one of the world’s most prolific authors and storytellers. Rather than scare me, it was almost amusing to think that this deep held fear I had from more than 20 years ago has kept me hostage in a way. I’ve been holding onto this story as a fear not to be looked at or touched, ever again. GSM challenged me in that he unconsciously forced me to address my fears that were deep within my sub-conscious – not only about the book, but in many areas of my life. I’ve wondered how many of us have a fear, or hurt or disappointment and put those feelings deep into dark boxes in storage. I never thought for a minute that I would have EVER read that book again, but I’m glad I did. I faced my mortal fear of being in a world in total destruction, of feeling fear, of stepping up to my fears face-on and accepting whatever response would come.
My lesson from The Stand has been to allow my fears to come to the surface and in the Buddhist way, be a witness to them. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel anger, sadness, fear or doubt, but rather than let those feelings dominate, I would rather detach myself from the feeling and observe it, observe what it’s bringing up for me. What was I most afraid of? I was afraid of the story coming true, of me thinking about it that might create it. The reality is, a plague might very well wipe out most of the human population, but there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop that except be healthy, hygienic and accept it. But now, instead of thinking about it, about the possibility, I can see that it was an incredible concept and story written by an amazing author who really has become the master of the horror genre. My fears around the book, of intimacy, of success, of actually getting what I want are merely an expression of deep wounding that is coming up for me to see. How many times have you had a moment in your life when you feel like you are repeating the same “lesson” or situation only to realise that you had the power to change it by detaching yourself from the feeling? We can get caught up in those emotions we have labelled “negative”, but I prefer to view them as guideposts that help us to learn and grow and to let go of things that no longer serve us.
In every moment of my Stand journey, I have focused on the breath and remind myself that it is another person’s creative storytelling, that I am safe and that I am absolutely wonderful. In that way, it has taught me to be the witness to my own narratives that I have told myself for years, to witness other people’s stories and the news but simultaneously trust in the fact that I am safe and an absolutely wonderful expression of love. These little lessons may seem trivial, but it has helped me to hold on to my truths, of what I know to be real and authentic and that I can still be a compassionate being, no matter what comes up. Bring it on!
©2015 Alyssa Curtayne
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