An “existential” fear arises when we can’t find meaning in life or assurance that the world is a nurturing, supportive, or good place to be. It can haunt us and destroy our quality of life with endless, unanswerable questions about God, the universe, and life’s purpose. Normal reassurances, reasoning, and simply staying busy doesn’t remove their nagging presence in the background of our thoughts and lives. What to do?
In the following interview, Terry finds a part of himself that shares none of his concerns. When he becomes it, they go away.
Terry: “When I look at the sky I get butterflies my stomach. I wonder where the world is and how large is the universe. I think of how small humans are.”
If there was an animal that was causing those feelings of anxiety in your stomach, what animal would it be?
“A fast mouse running around in there!”
Mouse, would you please tell me about yourself and what you are doing?
“I’m not scared! I just enjoy running around. It’s fun! I like to run every day! I’m trapped in here! Otherwise I wouldn’t run here all the time! I like that I’m cute, small, fast, and I enjoy the simple things in life. I’m not too complicated – I’m a mouse! Sometimes I would like to be bigger. It is not always an advantage to be cute! Maybe I represent Terry’s wish that he would enjoy life more without complicated thinking…”
Mouse, if you could be anywhere you wanted to be and take any form you desired, would you change? If so, how?
Mouse: “I like my life! It’s not that I want to change! Sometimes I would like to be an elephant, but not every day! I would want to when other animals try to eat me! Elephants don’t have natural enemies. Or to become an elephant when I think other animals might try to eat me…”
Become the elephant. How is that for you?
Elephant: “Pretty relaxing and cool! I’m not scared. I don’t need to run laps. I don’t need to run away from anything as an elephant.”
Try turning back into a mouse. How’s that?
Mouse: “Great! But sometimes life as a mouse can be pretty hectic. So to be an elephant for two or three hours a day would be very mellow! I would score myself a ten in confidence, a seven in compassion, a seven in wisdom because the life of a mouse is so short. So how can I have as much wisdom as an elephant? I have a ten in acceptance and inner peace, and a seven in witnessing. That’s because I am a little hectic drama mouse! But as the elephant I am closer to ten! If I scored all tens, my life as an elephant would not be different. I don’t know if I would still be a mouse then…If Terry scored like I do his life would be a lot different! When I look up at the sky as an elephant, I don’t care! I don’t spend my day looking up at the sky and wondering how big the universe is. It’s just too stupid for me! It’s mentally exhausting! If Terry had the ability to become me, the elephant, when his little mouse is running around, it would solve a lot of his problems! It would solve his problems right away because I’m a part of him that doesn’t share his fear! He needs to become me when when he feels queeziness in his stomach! The mouse will stop running! When he looks up at the sky, if he will remember to become me, the elephant mouse, he won’t be scared any more! Regarding his girlfriend, I would stay alone and drink water out of the river instead of having a hectic mouse around me! She is cute, but she is hectic and stressful! Regarding his fears of being alone, it’s not easy, but if he did it the chance that he would improve on his fears would be a lot bigger. He could concentrate on getting over his fears instead of on senseless relationship trouble. Maybe it would be good for him to live on his own for half a year…”
“As a mouse I represent more of Terry’s life than I thought in the beginning! As an elephant I have everything he needs to be happy! I don’t do drama; it’s just too stressful. I have other things to do. If Terry were more like me he would ignore the stressful talking! It’s difficult for him because the mouse moved in with him!!! (laughs)”
It would be good for him to become me when he has fears about looking at the sky, if he has heart fears again (they’ve gone away…) In business, on the surface be a mouse and deeply within be the elephant! Always be the elephant around his girlfriend!
Terry :”I heard myself say that as the elephant I have everything I need to get away from my fears. If I remember and talk to the elephant a lot I definitely have the chance to win the fight against my fears. Too many things in my life stress me unnecessarily. I need to work on getting more inner freedom. I can handle my work a lot better, but it’s still stressful.
The trick for Terry is to remember, when he experiences butterflies in his stomach, to remember his mouse. From there, he can choose to continue to be the mouse or he can choose to become the elephant. In either case he is moving out of his habitual state of victimization by his existential fears into a perspective of either chosen drama, in the case of the mouse, or no drama at all.
From this interview we can see both how important and easy it is to learn to objectify our fears, emotions, and drama so that we can see that they are choices and that we do not have to allow them to define us. Having a self-chosen visual metaphor for a fear or emotion gives us something to identify with for recognizing it and a means of transforming it into an emerging potential – something that the fear or emotion wants to grow into.