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The pleasure of being scared in the dark

Frensham Pond in Surrey was where I felt it.

Feeling pretty crappy after a weird virus that left me with really sore knuckle-joints and ankles, I bailed on a team dinner and stayed at the hotel. I thought it would be good to go for a little walk before crashing under the duvet. All week I’d been curling up under the duvet, shivering and sweating. Something told me some night air would be tonic.

I walked along the lakeside road, out of the lights of the hotel grounds, until it became soft and dark. Ben had said it was hard to get to the water’s edge beyond a certain point but I saw a locked gate to a sailing club and jumped over it. Walking towards the jetties through a deserted looking Car Park and a mass of trussed up dinghies.

I could feel the dread of trespass.

As I walked the long wooden jetty, a mass of heavy-winged geese or ducks lumbered away out of the darkness, disturbed from their roost by my human footfall.  I weaved my way through some odd-looking bird-scarers (or perhaps they were some sailing paraphernalia?) and reached the end, looking out over inky purple water, just catching the very last glimpses of the daylight, melting into night.

I could feel the dread of trespass. The falling acorns on the shore sounded in my mind as accusing feet. But I also felt secure in the very-likely unmanned local, free from humans. Locked up for the night. And it made me feel for the geese more. The birds I’d scattered out onto the water. And as I stood there another cluster took off for no apparent reason in a large clattering of wings, honking and flapping out into the dark distance of the water.

The moment could not yet pierce through.

The moment could not yet pierce through. Through the cotton-wool swag of a week’s illness. The almost-imperceived cladding of anxiety. Through the wads of thinking half-thought, ghost-like in the evening mind.

And I remember the evenings – walking in Berlin, standing on the shore in Hampshire, cycling at night in Cambridge – where the moment had pierced through and I was alive enough to feel it. Shards of those moments shimmered through the moment now, walking back down the jetty. Tracing my way across the car park, vaulting back over the gate. Back into a sense of freedom from that anxiety of trespass and the fear of being told off.

But I walked on down the lane away from the hotel.

It was suddenly darker here. Away from the shimmery wet light of the lake. The trees arched over and I was walking into the complete dark, into the sort of dark that happens abroad. In Brazil maybe. The panicky dark is a primordial fear. That makes the heart beat faster.

And I kept walking and suddenly I could hear running water in the blackness and that felt weird. Disconcerting. And then it was just a stream running under a bridge and I was walking away. Up a hill towards a patch of not-so-total darkness. An opening in the road, a drive perhaps?

And I started to feel what I was feeling as fear.

I have come to realise that, so often when I feel things that are acute, I dissociate. My strong feelings cause me to zone out, to float into a numb space, where I stay till I’m back to safety. It’s an old programme probably from childhood. And it served me well until I realised that it was costing me my life. No emotion, no anger, no fear, no delight. Only wave after wave of zone-out. Feeling but not allowing myself to feel.

And standing in that driveway I felt it: the fear of being found out here. Of a car passing or worse a person and me being discovered out here in the dark. What am I doing here? the same fear that haunted me moments before at the jetty but which was obscured in dissociation: ‘What are you doing here? You are not meant to be here. I am scared of you. Go away.’

The focus was fearsome and I felt it.

So I turned – unconsciously driven, and stepped back down into the darker dark, retracing my steps. There where the water flowed. And this time I stayed at the bridge. Listening to the sound of water in the dark. And felt a terror rise up as I listened. The terror of an animal that can’t hear its surroundings. Focusing on one thing shut me out from hearing the background. And without constant background awareness, I was unsafe. The focus was fearsome. And I felt it. I felt it.

Like a rhapsodic song in my chest – a pleasurable terror. Being completely in the music of the water, knowing all the while that my immersion was causing me fear. The delicious baptism into the four-dimensionality of that night sound and the acknowledged terror that it cost me to stay there, deep in the burble.

To be focused on the foreground and forgetting the field

I turned away once away from the water sound but went back and willingly made myself scared again. Plugged back into the blue-black churling of the water, oscillating in all directions around me, and felt that ambient fear of not being able to hear the footsteps, the car, the approaching threat.

It felt delicious and quite foreign. Or like a very distant memory: to be focused on the foreground and to consciously relax my monitoring of the background. How long have I lived my life, frozen in ambient surveillance? Scanning and rescanning the field and missing the figure?

It felt good. It felt alive

When I did walk on out of the edgeless and sentient darkness and up towards the bright artificial lights of the hotel, I had to stop several times. To feel my heartbeat slow. To smell the unique smell of night-time damp oak soil by a lake. So unique. Never smelled before. Feel my trainers in my feet.

To awaken from dissociation. And to feel the feelings that are so smudged over, so erased. It felt good to be scared. It felt alive.

I had to come back and write it all down.

I’d love to know your thoughts about being scared. Drop me a message with any thoughts, comments, questions, queries or insights that pop up while reading the blog. I’d love to hear from you!

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