The spa seemed like any other new, fresh, relaxing parlor. No cracks in the walls due to past earthquakes. No broken pillars or windowpanes. And as I sat in the peaceful lounge waiting for my turn, I thought of fear.
With the ground shaking I considered leaving Bali. And then I thought of a wise woman who would say you must still your instinct to flee and stop in that space of pain, loss, grief, anger, or fear. To just be there with it, accepting it as it is. And I thought of another wise woman who encourages to say hello to fear, have a conversation with it, hear it out, and then firmly tell it that it has been acknowledged and the decision is still to stick around.
So I sat down and said hello to Fear. It greeted me back with a bellowing HELLO. I began to prod around my body with my mind, attempting to feel where exactly did Fear live. In my upper belly, it turned out. I discovered that the feeling of Fear living there was similar to when Loss lived there for many years, not so long ago. But whereas Loss is a hard pain, a knot, Fear is a softer, slightly undulating pain. And whereas Loss likes to sit at the solar plexus, forming a knot so tight it is hard to breathe, Fear is slightly lower, coiling across the belly like a softly moving snake lying in wait.
My intention was to work on my fear of earthquakes, and the emotion of fear as a whole. But the moment I had identified Fear, greeted it, and felt around every angle, it slowly dissipated into a heightened alertness and nothing more. Just like a Boggart in Harry Potter’s magic class. Poof. What a surprise.
Before Fear of Earthquakes disappeared completely, I grabbed the tail of its coat and asked where it came from. “Your mother”, it said. How very Freudian. And yet true, it slowly dawned on me: my fear of earthquakes is one of two irrational fears that have transfered to me from my mother, in her attempts to protect me. She has never been to an earthquake danger zone and she will never go. Even Italy is scary enough for her to visit. When I travel somewhere she always asks if the destination could have a remote possibility of a quake, and she never likes it when I travel to California or Asia.
Knowing from where Fear has hitched along for a ride is good, but it does not help to blame anyone or anything for what has happened. And so it is entirely my own choice if I wish to carry Fear of Earthquakes in my upper belly, coiling like a snake – or not. I choose “not” and I choose to stay on Bali. For better or for worse. Besides, I also have a massage in five minutes.
Who were those two wise women? The first one is Pema Chödrön. The second one is Elizabeth Gilbert.
(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)