Empowerment through Fear: The Wild Things in Your Bathtub
- 2012 May-June
I have a wild room. It’s full of snakes and rats, Komodo dragons locked in battle, and most especially, spiders. Standing outside the door, I know the wild things can feel me. They respond as a body, like a heart beating. As I walk closer, the animals turn, and look, and slither toward me. Then I realize they don’t want to attack; they’ve missed me. They want to touch me, because they love me; they are mine. Then I wake up.
I don’t literally have a wild room, but this dream has been with me all week. Unquestionably, it’s about fear, and fear is something we all know, in large and small ways. What I’m coming to understand is that sometimes our deepest fears are our best mirrors. They can show our ugliness, but our fears also can expose the best of who we could be and already are. I’ve always been afraid of spiders. As a child, I lived in an old house covered in vines, and twice I watched an egg sac burst and release hundreds of baby spiders across the room and over my head. I still remember the terror, awe, and beauty of those moments — but mostly the terror. So I decided to do some research.
I learned that our English word “text” comes from the Latin texere, which means “to weave.” Spiders are weavers. They represent creativity, especially in writing, and are often totem animals for poets and other creative types, like me.
I also learned that a totem or “spirit” animal — an animal that acts as one’s personal guide, messenger, or protector in various spiritual traditions — isn’t always the animal you like the best; sometimes it’s the one you fear the most. These animals reflect an aspect of ourselves that we don’t totally understand. I love writing, but it does have its shadow side. When I write poetry inspired by my very frequent nightmares, I get the feeling that I’m channeling some evil thing. Take, for example, this line, written after a dream about being covered in horrible scars: “In your disfigurement, you are a chosen one. Loved by God, written on in a strange language with a knife-like pen.” That creeps me out, man, and I wrote the darn thing.
I have a friend who literally is afraid of an alligator jumping out of her bathtub drain at night. She’s an incredibly strong woman with a painful family past and a fully managed personality disorder. Now, she’s filled her home with love and children. She goes to her bathroom for a half-awake midnight pee, and she thinks about that alligator — every time. Alligators. They are powerful, almost undetectable hunters, at home in the constant shift of the river. They represent our reptile brain, which houses fear, emotion, and the wild things a personality disorder might want to set free as a sick prank. My friend is not afraid of the alligator, really. She’s afraid of herself in the dark. Her unique powers helped her escape from her past, and those very same powers threaten the world she’s built. She is her own villain and superhero.
Choosing love over fear sure sounds like a good idea. In order to discover ourselves, though, I’m thinking we need some of both. Rather than repressing, ignoring, or trying to conquer our shadows, we can try to get to know them and accept them as part of our nature. If we want to see beauty and grace, we need to go up to the locked door in our hearts, where our deepest fears and most amazing powers reside together, and jiggle the knob.
And if you get scared, just remember: there’s a wild thing in the bathtub drain waiting to jump out and help.
Think of a creature you fear.
Imagine all its qualities — scary, powerful, mundane. If it helps, look up its mythology online.
Now ask yourself: which of these qualities would help you in your life?
Which qualities do you already possess?
Consider taking this animal with you this week. Approach your work, life, and relationships with your wild thing in mind.
At the end of the week, check in with your fear/spirit animal. You may have made a new friend.