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LJ Idol: Fear is the Heart of Love

I fear I have nothing to give
I have so much to lose here in this lonely place..

When Inanna approaches the Second Gate in her journey through the Sumerian Underworld, she is asked to give up her fears. In order to walk forward, to continue the journey that will bring her the ultimate wisdom, she must be willing to discard her fears like a suit of outworn clothing. She cannot carry her fears and also complete this journey. The paradox, of course, is that she has undertaken to walk into a world from whence no human has ever returned, can ever return. She knows that when she passes through the final gate, she will confront Eriskegal, her dark sister, Queen of the Dead. The object of this journey is the embodiment of Fear Itself. And yet, she must lay aside everything she fears in order to confront that which she fears most of all.

And that which she loves most of all, because Eriskegal isn't just her dark sister, but the shadow side of herself. And while some look at this story as the story of a final showdown between Life and Death, between Lightness and Darkness, I tend to see it as Inanna's quest to reconcile the shadow side of her being with the face she shows the world. She seeks to reconcile the deep, cthonic power of her being with the earthly power she's been granted as Queen. And in the end she can only reconcile this by embracing Erishkegal -- not by slaying her, or meeting her in fair combat, or by trickery, but by embracing her and loving her, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the terrifying, horrifying face she presents.

At the hearf ot Inanna's fear of the unknown, of her journey to the last gate, is her love for her sister, even if she doesn't know it. And at the heart of that love is the fear. And they cannot exist without one another.

Indeed, I don't know that we can know profound love without a tinge of fear. And I'm not talking about the fear we feel of displeasing an abusive partner and becoming the target of their wrath. I'm not talking about the fear we feel that we will lose ourselves completely within a relationship, our being subsumed by the identity we take on as a unit. Those are gut-twisting, heartwrenching, avoid-anhilliation-at-all-costs fears. They are the fears that we experience as physical pain, as pounding heart and swirling brain, as sleepless nights. We experience them in the way we experience a real physical threat, and our only concern -- even if it lies in the subconscious and is manifested only through the body -- is to get away, to get to safety, to save ourselves. Those are fears that tell us that something is out of balance, that something is wrong, and we should pay attention to those signals.

No, the fear the heart of love is different. It's the fear we feel when we take a big risk, when we go over that first drop of a rollercoaster, when we feel our stomach drop into our shoes as the playground swing arcs ever higher. The fear at the heart of love is that this amazing feeling might end. It is the fear that we might, after having tasted love, have to then go through the rest of our lives without ever knowing its sweet honeyed notes again. It is the fear that comes with the vulnerability of giving our whole self to another person, the fear that they might somehow betray that trust, even when we know in the same instant (or at least hope) that they never will. It's the fear that perhaps our lives have been incomplete until this moment, and know that we've known that completeness, the idea of going back to our prior state fills us with dread. Our culture likes to tell us that it is the other person (or people) who complete us, but in fact it is the experience of love itself -- it opens us up, takes us to a place beyond our fears and into a new state of being that, once known, can never be unknown.

And that's scary.

The fear at the heart of love sometimes manifests in feelings that we are not who our beloved(s) think we are. That we are somehow not enough, that we have nothing to give that can measure up to what we've been given. It is the fear that somehow we will be unmasked, and that all the ugliest parts of ourselves, our inner Erishkegals, will be exposed. And that exposure will lead to the withdrawal of love.

But the fear at the heart of love also means that we are willing to not only face our own inner Erishkegals, but to love them and embrace them. And we are willing to help those we love face their Erishkegals, too. And we are willing to love the darkest and most hidden parts of those we love. Not to the detriment of self, no never -- because love that asks us to sacrifice ourselves is no love at all. But we are willing to go into the dark with our loved ones, to be their Ninshibur at the gate, ready to go and retrieve them when they go too deep. And we trust them to be the same for us, to be the one who will send the rescue squad in when we have been gone too long and risk getting lost in our own darkness.

We are willing, to borrow a phrase, to follow and be followed into the dark.


Jan. 18th, 2017 07:45 pm (UTC)

Amazing take. I really enjoyed reading this. Well done.


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