Monday, February 23, 2015
Thursday, February 5, 2015
Our fears shape the world for us.
For centuries the European world ended at a certain place on the coast of Morocco called Cape Bojador (Bo-zha-door). The ancient mariners were forced to hug the coast by their fear of the open ocean. This Cape, so inconsequential we need a magnifying glass to find it on a modern map of Africa, was a place where the currents and shoals were treacherous, shallow water and dangerous rocks ran far out into the open Atlantic. Sailors were convinced a ship crossing there could never return.
Along came a Portugese Prince — Henry the Navigator in the early 1400's. This man had the vision to see beyond that fearsome cape. He knew if he could send ships around Africa, they could bring back the wealth of the orient. He founded what was, in effect, the first modern research institute at Sagres in southern Portugal. From there he sent fourteen expeditions to try to force a passage around Cape Bojador, and they all came back with the same story — failure. As the chronicle of the time put it: “They were threatened not only by fear but by its shadow.”
When the fifteenth Caravel approached Bojador her Captain grasped the sailors oldest, deepest fear by the throat. Amid his crew’s shouts of protest and threats of rebellion, he steered west, into the unknown perils of the open ocean. The end of the world was mastered at last. The fear evaporated like a bogey-man when the lights are turned on. Africa was explored, the Indies were exploited and Portugal grew rich.
Fear is the great stopper in all of our lives, is it not? While we may not have the shores of continents to trace, we do suffer from the shadows of our own fears and anxieties. I myself have been afraid of countless people, things and events. Everything from solid geometry to pretty girls to the Viet Cong have at one time or another caused me to pause and tremble, fear in my throat and doubt in my belly.
Yes, fear can stop us cold. Or it can prod us on.
Look at the monuments the human race has built out of fear: the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, the Pentagon, these are obvious — but consider — is not civilization itself a direct result of the overwhelming fears felt by a primitive race of primates three million years ago? In their tender vulnerability, with completely helpless infants, they had only just begun to stand erect and look out over the wide savannas of East Africa. And what were they afraid of? Everything. Most of the animal world was their superior in strength and speed and tooth and claw. Fight or flight was the only law. Fear was the spur that has brought us from eating raw snails in the rift valley to eating escargot at the Four Seasons.
What to learn here? Only this. Respect your fear. Do not wish it away. It is primal and essential. It is the mother of necessity and so the grandmother of invention. It is a source of power that we carry with us always. Even into our dreams.
Some years ago, I was deep in a conflict with my therapist. A transference battle. One night I had a nightmare. I dreamed I was being chased by a killer with a gun. Have you ever had such a nightmare? This was one of those awful chases in which you feel as though you’re wading through molasses while the killer comes toward you inexorably. Cornered at last, I was about to play my last hope for escape — I knew I was dreaming and I could wake up and be out of this awful terror. But something told me that if I did that, if I woke up, the killer would return more powerful than before. I knew I must turn and face him. Quaking all over, I watched the hideous ogre approach, weapon raised. I held my breath. . . and he put the gun in my hand and began to show me how to use it.
It turns out that my greatest fear is a fear of my own power. I am afraid to succeed, to surpass my father, to become who I really am. That has been the Cape Bojador in my life.
What is keeping you from the unexplored continents of your life? Face your fears. Sail on. The riches of the east await you.
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