Monday, January 12, 2009

Greeting the darkness

I passed this fearsome creature on the way to the ferry dock a day or two ago. I was going the back way, down a road I rarely travel, but surely I have seen this gorilla before -- or is he meant to be Darth Vader? Nonetheless he was so arresting that I stopped and backed up to take a photograph.

It's obvious that he stands out more in snow -- and surely his eyes are much more noticeable. But it seems to me this would be a menacing figure no matter what environment surrounded him. Something about the thrust of the shoulders, the threat of a forward step...

Isn't it interesting, the conclusions that we draw about a person's state of mind from looking at the posture of his body? That makes me wonder again about that study cited in Blink, where the scientists discovered that curving facial muscles into frowns made them feel irritable and angry. And yet when we try to cover our anger with false smiles, it rarely seems to work: the anger not only remains but leaks out.

To see what was more threatening about this guy -- the darkness or the posture -- I decided to use PhotoShop to dress him in pink. At first it seemed to make little difference: that thrust of menace was still there. And I thought, this creature's dark surface is a given, part of the metal of which he is made. But actually it is how he carries himself that makes him scary.

Which for some reason makes me think of a conversation I had last night with a friend about that Buddhist take on the difference between pain and suffering. Pain and darkness are inevitable in life: it is what it is, and often hard to bear. But it's really our attitude toward it, how we deal with it, how we carry our darkness into the world, that creates our suffering and influences those around us.

But as I continue to look at these two images, the pink one is becoming less threatening. And, interestingly enough, the more I stare at the pink, the less threatening the dark one becomes as well. So now I'm wondering if our task is really to reach out past our fear of the dark, to embrace it, to make the effort to befriend it, to choose to mentally clothe it in light. Perhaps the menace wasn't captured in the form at all, but merely a projection of my own fears and shadows.

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