Thursday, December 3, 2009

How We Were Haunted

How We Were Haunted (Part 1)

Bardo is the interworld: Every Tibetan child knows this. It’s the forty nine days between the death of one body and the birth of the next, when the soul is untethered -housed in the womb of the universe- ready to birth at any opportune moment as any sentient thing – a man, a fly, a horse. So essentially, you can see bardo as life’s backyard, or lobby, as this time-space continuum wherein a soul hangs out, has a few sangrias before putting its cigarette out and rejoining the party. And every so often, an unhappy soul dissatisfied with bardo, will wreak destruction. Being unhampered by a body, a soul is free from the laws of nature, from constraints on its movement, restraints on its power.

All of which is to say, I spent much of my childhood being terrified out of my mind. This is an exaggeration on some level, because my childhood was a relatively happy one. However, it is true that, every night when darkness fell, if I was alone, I grew afraid. We were all afraid. Not only of mundane things like sadu babas, child-snatchers and bridge-builders. We were afraid of old witch-women, churels with hollow backs, people with faces without features, we were afraid of shadows in the window and footsteps in the dark.

We were conditioned to this fear of course. By our elders who were themselves afraid of the dark and all it hid, by older kids who told us not to go to the toilets at night, and by stories endlessly passed around about pyre fires that would not go out, dead people who have returned to claim an object they left behind, men and women who have walked when they have no business to.

This childhood fear; it was unspecific, and it was as large and amorphous as the dark itself. Sometimes I wonder what the psychic cost of this bucket load of childhood fear is. Fear is friction, isn’t it? It wears the mind. And of course, it freezes the brain, shrinks it, reduces the contours of consciousness until all you are aware of is the weight of fear itself, an unbearable weight heavy and dull like a dead pond frog rested on the brain.