‘…if God has included them in his plan, how can monsters be ‘monstrous’ and insinuate themselves into the harmony of creation as a source of disturbance and deformation? …even monsters are divine creatures and in some way they too belong to the providential order of nature. It was the task of many medieval mystics, theologians and philosophers to show how, in the great symphony concert of cosmic harmony, monsters contribute, albeit purely by way of contrast (like shading and chiaroscuro in a picture) to the Beauty of the whole.’ Umberto Eco.
I have no recollection of monsters as a child. No claws, no teeth, no ‘mummy can you leave the light on?’ I remember being frightened by things… The wolf who started the nothing in The Never Ending story and the moment the baddies face melts off in Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark. But they never entered my room once the movie finished.
What did were real world monsters.
You hear about them sometimes. Anger, self doubt, jealousy, judgement, …and they are deemed monsters because they are the ‘unpleasant’ feelings, the ‘toxic’ emotions as I heard them once described. I would never agree to calling these feelings toxic however because that deems them poisonous and destructive, and if we allow them this, we do the very thing our parents teach us not to do as children when confronted by monsters, we give them power.
Monsters as this quote from Umberto Eco’s beautiful book ‘On Beauty’ suggests, have existed since the beginning of our time here on earth to provide a contribution to our experience in their contrast. Their contrast to light by providing darkness, their ‘edges’ to things that are soft, their fear, anger and hurt to happiness, contentment or a state of love.
Though we may find ourselves in the dark, in ‘shade’ as Eco suggests, when we are confronted by real world monsters, the opportunity to learn from them is great, the contrasting light ever present.
I remember working with a student in this regard who had to confront one of her biggest fears, singing in front of a camera. We arranged to meet to rehearse a few times but every time she opened her mouth she stopped. There was a monster in the room that was causing her to hold back. I realised we couldn’t even begin to sing until we had confronted the monster in the room. To look at it, to ask what it wanted to teach us.
As often is the case, the monster was a being created of my students own mind, a series of ‘what if’s’ born of her own insecurities; and so here do we find where all monsters are created, from our imagination, from where we make giant leaps from small pieces of information we receive from our world and how we marry that information with our own internal question marks. They are not Godly at all, they are born of us. So too then can they be confronted and spoken with. One might even find themselves shaking their hand and saying thank you from time to time.
I shared this quote once and will share it again as it not only surmises the above but sheds light on what monsters really are and how we might learn to work with them rather than run screaming. It was an idea born of a quote by Faulkner, that sharp things are those that haven’t been done before, haven’t been explored or made familiar. That, ‘if you can find lightness in newness, you can find softness in sharpness’.
For this very reason, the best writers and movie directors know to never reveal the monster, not in its entirety. Without information, without knowing what it looks like, what we are left with is our own minds and only we know what is terrifying to us. What we can create is always much scarier.
To diffuse the monster then we must come to know it more as Faulkner suggests.
And so, this morning I am wonder-ing, what am I frightened of and how can I diffuse those creatures I have created in my mind?
The answer that feels gentle and caring this morning as I continue to wrestle with thoughts flying since 5am, is taking shape in a memory of a class I took once this year at the wonderful ‘Laneway Learning’ here in Melbourne’s CBD. Held at the quaint cafe ‘The Little Mule’, this particular class enjoyed the process of drawing monsters, building scary creatures from our minds through our textas and pencils onto the blank pages in front of us. It was a great exercise, a exorcism of sorts as once you put the monster on the page it didn’t look so scary. Similar to a diary entry, once the fear was put on the page it wasn’t all clogged in the head. It took form and shape and it was therefore malleable.
As I get out my textas and look again on the quote above, I also wonder if I can begin to see how the ugliness that are my monsters contributes the the beauty of the whole, the whole me; and how on an even greater level, my monsters can contribute to a ‘cosmic harmony’, the harmony of my immediate world as much as the harmonising of the planet.
To think that those parts of me that are ugly have just as greater purpose and place in my being as much as in my external life seems confronting only in so much as our current world tells us that ugly has no worth. But history tells us that some of our greatest discoveries have been made from accidents and mistakes, from those things often deemed ugly. Did you know for instance that penicillin was created at the very moment Sir Alexander Flemming gave up and threw all his trials in a petri dish? He took a moment to look at his monster, the mess that was all his trials and efforts in the dish…and there it was. The answer.
No wholeness or harmony can be achieved without confronting monsters.
So. Time to stop serving them dinner, to stop feeding them and bring out the red wine. Time to get honest. Time to get real.
After all, we are the ones that invite them to dine at our tables, and most certainly dinners at my house have always been about good conversation.