With tears in my eyes I finished the powerful children’s book A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay. It tells the story of 13-year-old Conor O’Malley. His mother has cancer; he is terrified to lose her. The failure of anyone to address the reality of the situation exacerbates Conor’s bewilderment, anger, frustration, guilt and internal loneliness. Then one night, after one of his nightmares, he is visited by a terrifying monster – a yew tree in his garden that takes on a human form.
Visualize your fear
The monster visiting Conor represents his deepest fear: Loosing his mother, admitting to himself that she might die, that he probably has to let her go.
We all have been visited by one monster or another. The fear of loosing someone we love, the hopeless feeling of seeing a friend suffer, the uncertainty what might happen if we lose our job or the long wait for the results of a medical test.
The best way to deal with a monster is to visualize it.
Here a not so scary monster (the monster visiting Conor is MUCH scarier). A monster this size and color might represent the fear of failing an important test, or not getting the dream job you have been longing for.
Look fear in the eye
Now that we have a vivid visualization of the monster we can turn around, look it in the eye and begin to study it up close. This is exactly what Conner did. With so much going on in his life his biggest fear was not the monster. He was afraid, but at the same time the monster represented his last hope to save his mother. Sometimes our fears can be our saviors.
Confronting a monster takes a lot of courage. It’s admitting that we are afraid, that bad things are happening. Most monsters will look less scary once you got a good look at them. They will not disappear, but by getting to know them better we might understand what they are trying to teach us about life.
Don’t run away if you sense someone else’s fear
Knowing about a difficult situation in someone else’s life can affect our behavior towards that person. It is, as if we are afraid of the monster we feel standing behind someone’s back. Instead of going towards that person we try to avoid all contact. Simply because we know how difficult it will be to provide support.
At school the teachers and Conor’s friends had heard about his mother’s cancer. Overwhelmed by the situation, incapable of getting through to Conor, afraid of his monster, everyone started to act differently towards him. A turning moment in the story is when Conor thinks he is slowly turning invisible, because some of his friends are ignoring him. Everyone around him is whitewashing the situation, justifying his unacceptable behavior, while his deepest wish is to be treated like everyone else. Hoping that like this he could bring back a little bit of normality into his life.
Don’t be too afraid of other people’s monsters. Don’t turn away. Acknowledge the monster and then turn towards your friend.
In a difficult situation we all long for a little bit of normality. Having a friend who still is able to treat us the same despite the monster breathing down our neck can make us realize that some parts of our life are still quite ok.
Invite your friend and his monster for tea (or beer)
The monster appeared to teach Conor an important lesson (read the book if you want to find out more). His fear helps him to accept the situation and open up to his mother. The moment he conquers his fear, the monster disappears.
Monsters are ugly creatures.
If they appear, look them in the eye, they will seem less scary if you know them up front.
If you see a monster standing behind someone’s back, say hello. Acknowledge the monster and then give your friend a big, mexican hug.
Invite them for a cup of tea or a couple of beers. Spend a few moments together. While the monster is sipping its tea, lounging in the sofa, you will be able to enjoy some quality time with your friend.
Thank you so much for making a deep teaching simple and easy to get.
Thank you Nico! I had great teachers. I started the blog around the time when we met for the first time. Your wonderfull storytelling motivated me to read the Bhagavadgita and start illustrating.
Great post. A few years back I challenged my fear of deep water. I visualised the fear as an ogre at a doorway and I had to swim up to it, as I did I had the feeling that as soon the ogre’s facade gave way to reveal the frightened child beneath the surface, me. Looking fear in the face, especially around the big stuff like death, is indeed scary, but it’s also beautiful, powerful and basically real.
Everytime I put on snorkel and goggles and look out into the deep, dark ocean, somewhere in my mind the soundtrack of “Jaws” starts playing. This made me think that many of our fears are not “real”, that they are triggered by the remains of an article, book or movie which engraved itself in my brain.
The remnants in my mind were from a time when I got caught in a rip in the surf and started to drown until I was saved by a surfer. After about 15 years I decided to reframe my story from one of failure and not being able to cope to one of fortune survival and goodness in people. A more useful takeaway than what I’d been living with 🙂
Your story made me realize how close together fear and failure are.
I kept thinking about your comment how it can be poweful, to look the bigger fears like illness or dying in the eye. True. It’s so easy to forget that these fears are part of our human existence, part of reality.
I turn fear into a form of motivation. Great post.
Good strategy! My first step to handle fear is to admit to myself that I’m afraid. If I fail to do this, my fear will turn into anger.