The first radio show I remember hearing was The Shadow, circa 1951. Because radio shows required visualization based on memory association, my 3 year old imagination was inspired to add some emotionally-reactive interpretation to the echoing sound of a creaking door opening, accompanied by a voice of barely-contained and mounting mania expounding the ominous conclusion that “Only The Shadow knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.”
At about that point I lost interest in being scared witless and wandered off to contemplate this new experience of self-projected fearfulness in the comfort of the kitchen, where my Grandmother was baking something fragrant. The stress from the fear-poison in the body was felt as myself, so I must be the body. Being the body could include stressfulness, but the stress was also something I was adding to experience. That’s about as far as I was willing to go with the inquiry for the time being. I didn’t want to stay inside, in the shadows, since it was so sunny outdoors, and I was ready for some sky.
It took a few years until I felt up to confronting this fearfulness. I was about 6 or 7 years old, but somehow able to convince my parents to let me stay home alone while they went out for the afternoon with my siblings to do some shopping. I just felt like being alone, seeing what that was like.
I was watching some television show (we had just got our first TV), while the evening slowly crept up on me, like the San Francisco fog stealing in from the Bay, when it suddenly struck me that it was now pitch black night, and that I was in fact alone. My first reaction to this realization was to ease under the couch pillows with the remnants of my potato chip bag and wait it out. This seemed like the best strategy, until I heard a loud noise in the basement.
I tip-toed across the room, and then down that infinitely receding hallway to the door leading to the basement. I had never been in the basement by myself at night before – in fact, I don’t recall ever having been alone at night before that night, and certainly not with something potentially dangerous in the basement.
Now it seemed that I was compelled to open that door and investigate my fear, and it truly felt as if there was no option for me but to do just that. Moreover, something decided to up the ante, and have me go down the basement stairs without turning on the lights. I simply had to go right to the heart of the fear, descending into the pitch-black unknown, as a kind of test for myself – a test to see what would persist past my resistance, my fear.
I took one stair at a time, and with each step, the intensity of the foreboding grew, until it seemed as if I could go no further, so overwhelmed was I by the natural motive to fly right back up the stairs, slam the door, and scream my head off. But I didn’t. I just kept going, until I finally reached the cold damp floor of the basement, and realized I was shoeless.
Now things had become almost hallucinatory — I was in total darkness, shivering uncontrollably, and movement further into the palpable darkness of that basement seemed to take forever. With each step, a little more of my courage was sapped away, until I finally found myself standing in the heart of that bardo, pressed in on all sides by the excruciating weight of all fear itself, and yet, I was not being harmed, I was fine, I had stood in the midst of my mind’s own terror, and I was not obliterated.
The spasms of fear had wrung themselves out, and I was left just as I am. This was so interesting — I just stopped and felt myself as unassailable beingness itself. All the terror had simply been a projection of my own mind, and the recognition of this fact seemed incredibly liberating. I felt a luxuriant warmth spread throughout my body, and a simultaneous deep relief.
I am not sure how much time had actually passed while I stood there, but I was shaken out of my trance by the loud noise of the garage door suddenly being flung up, and the headlights of my Dad’s Buick beaming in at me, flooding the room with battery-powered radiance.
My father jumped out of the car and ran to me with an incredulous look on his face, asking me what I was doing in my bare feet at night down in the dark basement.
I looked up and said, “I heard a sound. . . .”