I’m a big Buffy, the Vampire Slayer fan. Indeed, a big fan of any of Joss Whedon’s mid-90’s to mid-2000’s work, actually. In addition to the exceptional ear for language that permeates his work, there is a talent for metaphor that reaches into the depths of what common experiences feel like, regardless of the actuality of the situation.
Tucked away in Season Four’s inconsistent story telling (which I feel works for a season about Freshmen year at college) are several episode gems, including the Halloween episode “Fear Itself.” Essentially, one of the frat houses has the “awesome” idea to use this occult symbol from some old book on the floor of the attic for their annual haunted house party and, in a coincidental plot mechanism, some blood is sprayed on the symbol during a speaker repair that begins to activate it, creating a semi-portal for the Irish fear demon Gachnar, the Dark Lord of Nightmares.
Gachnar wreaks havoc on the house quite subtly at first, but as each character’s internal and deepest unconscious fears are drawn out, it begins to affect their reality until they become separated and are each forced to deal with their fears on their own. This episode departs from the Season One fear episode in which the lesson is to face your fears. Rather than the simplicity of punching a clown in the face who scared you at your birthday party, the fears center around the much harder to face feelings of invisibility, inadequacy, isolation, and loss of control. The kinds of fears that, when you start punching the people who make you feel them, the fears become reality.
The episode resolves comically and simply – Gachnar is (accidentally) brought physically into the dimension and turns out to be quite tiny, easily squished by the Slayer’s Red Riding Foot. We could say that by acknowledging the fear, it is defeated, however, in my opinion, they may have slayed the demon, but they do not deal with their fears. They blame it on the singular situation and those themes come back throughout the rest of the season: Oz does lose control of his inner beast leading to a painful breakup and departure from Sunnydale, while Willow, Xander, and Buffy drift farther apart until it takes only a few words from a known antagonist to have them fighting and off on their own. They hash out some things for the finale, temporarily putting those fears into remission. But they come back in various forms throughout the series – Willow becomes addicted to magic in order to deal, to “fix” things; Xander leaves Anya at the alter and struggles to find his niche; Buffy gets into an abusive relationship and shoulders ever more responsibility.
These fears are universal. They are insidious. And we often ignore them. We medicate or we “fix the problem.” Feeling lonely? Go out with friends, have a drink. Not sure what to do with your life? Try harder, work harder, network more. Something didn’t go your way? Do your damage control and control for it next time.
And sometimes this helps. Maybe for the short term, maybe for longer. If often depends on how deeply rooted the feelings are and whether we’ve addressed them in depth. And they are never truly overcome. We will feel them again and again, in various situations and iterations and intensities.
The key to getting through all this is a more healthy and connected state, achieved through vulnerability. I know this logically. I know this! But it is so easy to wall up or disconnect.
My challenge this week is to really sit with these feelings, to acknowledge them, to know the situations when they come up and what is triggering them, and to accept these feelings as they are without judging them or judging myself for having them. Just like telling someone with depression that they have so much to be happy about or that things could be so much worse doesn’t help and actually harms, I’m not going to tell myself that I shouldn’t feel isolated because I have so many people around me or that it’s really my fault I feel that way in the first place. It doesn’t help. It’s not productive. It isn’t actually true because that’s not how isolation operates. Instead I want to dwell in the concept of being there for my feelings, to allow them to express, listen patiently, and remind them I love them. Because they are part of being human, part of existence, and, though they may not feel pleasant, experiencing them in their fullness allows for healing and the opportunity to connect with others.
This is the heart of shadow integration.
One blogger that I follow mentioned an actually scary Halloween idea: go to a cemetery alone at midnight with a candle and a stick of incense, thank the spirits of the land, and pay attention to your relationship to the dark. Based on the principle of “as above, so below,” our relationship with actual darkness mirrors our relationship with our own darkness, our subconscious, and that needs to be addressed to be whole. In order to be whole, to be empowered, we cannot simply dissociate from the things we don’t like about ourselves. So, that’s my Halloween plan – I going to spend some time in the dark and figure out what is there, love it, work with it, start to pull it back in. I’m going to try letting go of control and discipline for a bit. I’ll keep you posted.