Living with fear

Last Sunday I attended Men’s Work, a men’s group that Anthony has run for several years now. We talk about men’s issues and how we deal with them. I was not game to physically attend. I attended by Zoom.

Anthony had convened the gathering to discuss how we were living with the rapidly escalating coronavirus crisis.

The format of the meeting is that after some reflective settling we briefly share where we are at. This is followed by a significant period of personal reflection while music is played. It is my experience that this music significantly shapes the movement of my emotions. The selection of the music is therefore critical for a successful reflection. The music was chosen by Anthony. Each participant then has an opportunity to share their response.

On Sunday there were four tracks played. Three of them affected me profoundly.

I approached this event consumed with anxiety if not fear.

That night, when I introduced myself, I indicated that the little residual knowledge that I had retained from 30 odd years as a pharmacist (some part time) had me fearful of what this pandemic might mean for all of us, let alone myself, locked as I am solidly within the vulnerable demographic with many compounding health issues. It feels like we are all living in some sort of science fiction movie I said. (The film Contagion, and many others like it have certainly generated fear in me).

Then the music began. The idea is to relax into the music and allow it to raise up emotions within us, emotions that we seek to identify and then share.

During the playing of the first track my emotional state remained dominant. In my mind the music had a strong Middle Eastern flavour and the fear within me seemed to shaped how I interpreted it. My emotions pushed my reflection into the violent interactions that frequently occur between Muslim extremists and hegemony of my western world. I wondered how I was going to share this reaction without revealing its racist bias.

The second track, by the same artist, was significantly different. There was a change in tone and flavour. The sound was much more tribal, much more joyful, as the voices swayed back and forth, tempting the listener to move with the music, even to edge into a dance.

At first the fear stayed with me, but my interpretation of the music shifted significantly. Now I was hearing a group of black South Africans singing and dancing.

This geographical shift shouldn’t have surprised me. I was fortunate to visit South Africa back in 1991, the year Mandela was released. It was also the year many local branches of the ANC were launched. I went in alone, as a guest of the local branch of Urban Rural Mission, a part of the World Council of Churches. And I went underground into the African communities. The only white folk I met were when I was travelling between different locations. It was a very challenging time for me, certainly radicalising me for my future work with the First Nations peoples of this land.  But it was also a time of high anxiety, even fear. I was so totally dependent on the gatekeepers that facilitated my entry into these communities. And they were never present 24/7.  Fear bridges these two geographical locations.

But as my mind embraced this now distant experience, my emotions began to change. The music and my emotional state had brought me to this place, but the African people had taught me something that was quite profound. These people had lived under the oppression of apartheid for many, many years. They were extremely poor, and experienced racial and physical violence on a daily basis. But even when confronted with such extreme adversity they refused to surrender to a negative hermeneutic dominated by fear. They resisted. They sought ways to celebrate their lives, to sing and to dance; they sought ways whereby the human spirit could be released from bondage, that it might soar wild and free, holding up the spirits of all those who struggle to live life.

If these Africans could act like this in the face of such devastating adversity why was I allowing a virus to break my spirit? My mood began to shift. My perspective began to change. If I focus on me I will remain vulnerable. If I focus on my confidence in the human spirit I will find courage.

The next track confirmed my reinterpretation. This one was an instrumental with a rolling, regular rhythm. Almost immediately my mind was filled with images of rolling waves as they rolled regularly, and inevitably toward a distant shore. At times they softened and became small and gentle, at others, they swelled becoming strong and powerful, more urgent. But always they were there, rolling toward the distant shore, to break inevitably onto a sandy beach. A comforting image, a reassuring image, reminding me of the times when I have sought out God and the solace only God can offer, sitting on a high cliff overlooking the ocean at Airey’s Inlet. The reinterpretation of my fear is confirmed. Have faith in God. Have faith in the resilience of the human spirit. Have courage. Wait it out.

I am most grateful to Anthony for facilitating such a helpful reflection in such a fear filled space.

John Rickard

March 2020

If you are on Spotify or would like to listen in some other way to the music involved. The first and the last tracks are by Mongolian singer Soinkho Namtchylak They are entitled Naked Spirit and Inuit Wedding. The second track is called Lugu Lugu Kan-Ibi by David Darling and The Wulu Bunun, The third track is entitled Children by David Darling