Sunday, March 07, 2010

The fight against fear

"Failure is an option but fear is not" -James Cameron

All my life I have struggled to talk to people. As a young child my parents were worried because I would not speak. By my parents account, I was a late talker since I didn't start talking until I was three years old. They even went to a Chinese opera theatre (specifically the Fujian kind, Gaojia) and asked the performers for some food. They gave it to me to eat because of a superstition that it would help me talk.

When I was eight years old, friends of my sister were over at our house. One of them exclaimed, "He talks. He talks!" My sister's friend apparently thought I was mute, or something to that extent. I am a relatively silent person to most people I don't know. As to how much of that constitutes as shyness and how much as just fear is what I have most of life trying to figure out. It may sound ridiculous, and I'll concede the concept is, that I psycho-analyze myself. The question is though that even if I am aware of it, why am I not able to surpass my fear of talking.

It is a constant struggle dealing with my situation to overcome the paralysis that my fear creates. There is definitely shyness and maybe some fear of embarrassment, but there is also one part a fear of the unknown. Sometimes I have something to say and I am vocalizing in my mind, but no sound comes out.

I used to be afraid of the world. Everything was a threat. I held it in. Man up. Don't be afraid. Don't let them see you're afraid. And you won't be. Hide your fears. Unfortunately for me, this is and was self-destructive. By holding it all in, I merely empowered my fears. My silence manifested into fears of trying things. I was bullied when I was younger and I held it all in. I never screamed out my anger and it created a deep hatred in my soul.

The difference between realization and real-ization
It starts as a small doubt. A small annoyance. A small fear.
A shadow waits in your mind like a tiger stalking ready to pounce. Waiting. Seething. Grinning.

The failure to acknowledge its existence is the instant it becomes real. Ignoring it only feeds it to grow; flourishing every time you choose to disregard it. 

 A small doubt. A terror of heights. A momentary dread of talking. A flash of anger. A burst of restrained grief. All these glimmers of doubt and fear controlled and then repressed into the mind as bottled emotions.

These small instances blossom into fully developed irrational phobias, a complete and utter hatred of someone or something, or a terrible sorrow that holds the heart and the mind captive in the grasp of the shadows of doubt.

This is what happens every time you fail to real-ize a doubt. You have to make it real by saying it out loud. To vocalize it. If you hold it in your thoughts and deny yourself its power, you only cause the doubt to bloom into a behemoth of incalculable fear in your heart.

Understanding its existence is insufficient to dissipate its power. Only once you have said it out loud can you truly defeat it and remove its hold over your thoughts. There is a natural resistance to expressing ourselves and that is partly why there is so much suffering. We hold each doubt in our hearts like caged beasts. Ignoring it like animals in a zoo. They lie in wait clawing at the bars of its prison until your mind fractures. Then it feasts on your anger. Your hatred. Your insecurities. It will break you from the inside out.

This is why in the Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort holds so much power even with his name. People fear saying his name, and in doing so, the people empower the fear even more.

Facing your fears
Most of the time, our fears hold us hostage. This is mostly due to the fact that we have not given the fear a physical form or thought. It is incorporeal in our mind and shapeless, and thus unassailable.

Instead of just focusing on the fact that your fear is making you miserable, list out the facts that you can think of that define the fear. Most of the time, if you can assess the actual root of the fear, the fear itself does not look as immense as before. This is required for you to define the wall in front of you and gives you a better idea of how to climb over it. If you try to avoid the thought and resist addressing the wall right in front of you, you prevent yourself from seeing yourself on the other side of the obstacle.

Conquering the fear
I couldn't function normally in high school for the most part. Depression set in and I didn't want to talk. I was a walking cloud of gloom-and-doom. In order for me to be free, eventually I had to let all the pain in my heart go somehow. My outlet came to me in poetry. I wrote all my sorrows and misfortune into verses of pure expressive grief. When I read the words out loud, I released all the years of confined doubt and emotions. 

To not speak its nature. To hold your breath. Is to open your heart to darkness. Speak its name.  And hold your flame to its face and tell it that you do not fear it. Only then shall you conquer your doubts.

Expressing your fears and getting it out into the world will instantly resolve fears for some, but not for all. However, the importance is in releasing it from its jar so it does not keep building pressure, imaginary or otherwise. By expelling it, you have given it a form that you can now face instead of a mere essence that looms around your heart.

The next time doubts arise in your mind. Before they have the strength to gather a storm, describe it and it shall be gone. To conquer your fears, you must define them.

A journey into my roots

My current trip to the Philippines has mostly been to attend my grandmother's (on my father's side) 2nd-year death anniversary. This trip has become a journey into exploring my roots and my ancestry to discover more about my grandparents. I just returned from a journey down to Bicol, the southern region in the Bicol peninsula, by the southeastern region of Luzon.

I was able to visit where my mom grew up, Naga City. I never met my grandfather on my mom's side as he passed away before I was born. I didn't attend my grandmother's funeral when she passed in 1996 and never got a chance to visit either of their graves until now. The day we visited was a good day to go as by coincidence it would have been my grandfather's 100th birthday.

Journeying into the province gave me a glimpse into how people in the rural areas of the Philippines lived. The countryside is filled with rice fields tended by farmers and as expected most of the towns are poor rural communities. As we travelled around Bicol I was able to find out more about my family's story. The details are mostly fuzzy and not entirely accurate because they are mostly told from my parent's memory (and guesswork on details they're unsure of).

All of my grandparents were born in China. Three were born in Amoy, China while one was born somewhere else in the Fujian province (I will have to look it up). All of them moved to the Philippines because of civil unrest in China that lead up to the Chinese Civil War. They first arrived in Manila, then each ended up in adifferent part of the Philippines.

On my mom's side (Lee family):
My grandmother's family ended up with roots in both Manila and Aparri. My grandfather met my grandmother in Manila. They ended up moving to Naga City and starting a rice mill company. That's where they ended up starting their family and most of their kids (including my mom) moved one by one back to Manila. There's more complicated details about my grandfather's family and cousins/step-siblings (though I won't go into it because I don't exactly understand all of it either). My mom's family also has an interesting story of intrigue regarding property disputes and family rivalries. The dispute has already been going on for a long time and is mostly history though still unresolved because of the end result. It's exciting to note that there's still bad blood between the families so that there is a family feud (that I inherit from my mom's family) that I may have a rival family to shake my fist at.

On my dad's side (Qua family):
My grandfather (on my dad's side) was a copra trader. My grandfather's job had him based in Legazpi. His job eventually led him to travel between Daet and Manila. He met my grandmother who was already in Daet and they got married. That's eventually where my father and his siblings grew up.

Though the details of my ancestor's voyage down to the Philippines are vague, I feel that it gives me a better connection to who they are and where I come from. I didn't really know much about this before and I never thought about asking. I wish I had the opportunity to ask my grandparents themselves though that chance is gone. The details about my ancestry doesn't change much about who I am as a person, but it does give me a better perspective on who my parents are.

This picture of my parents and I are at the remnants of the buried town of Cagsawa. The bell tower of the town's church is the only remaining structure of the town which was bombarded with tephra from the an eruption of Mayon Volcano.