Making Friends With What Scares Us

At the Open Way Mindfulness Center here in town, where we have our sangha meetings and a host of other community classes, there lives a creepy homemade mannequin in the basement.  I assume it was a creative project of some sort made by the previous owner of the building.  For all the years that I’ve been around the center (10 to be exact) she has kept two creepy iridescent eyes on the cluttered basement.  For the first few years I frequented Open Way she stood right at the bottom of the steps to greet any who traversed downstairs.  Often I would take someone down there with me if I had to go into the basement at night.  She’s quite creepy.  Wild animal like hair drapes around her golden plastic mask face in tufts, showcasing bald patches here and there.  Two large iridescent marbles sit just inside the eye sockets of the mask.  It’s a combination of the golden skin, marble eyes and wild woman of the woods hairdo that creates the perfect blend of creepiness to insinuate that at night she slowly comes to life in the dark of the basement and whispers terrible chants and spells.

It was only after I became more immersed in the center, taking on the role of manager, that I moved her from the bottom of the steps to way back in the furnace room, where I hardly ever went.  So while I still knew she was down there I rarely saw her and that was a good thing.  Whenever I did have to go into the dark corner room that she presides over and grope around to pull down the string that turns on the exposed lightbulb I would say hello to her, and silently send a fervent plea that she not attack me.

My step-son Jaden and I have often joked about how one day we would unearth her from her basement dungeon and place her on the doorstep of one of our un-suspecting friends on the their birthday so she could frightfully (and comically) greet them.  And then just last week inspiration struck when I was thinking about plans for Jaden’s upcoming birthday (he turned 13 today!).  So yesterday I went to the center while Jaden was at school and descended the stairs to the dark furnace room to fetch the creepy mannequin.  She is quite the hodgepodge of materials and I never before inspected how she was constructed.  Under her marigold dress and lumpy foam body sat a four legged stool.  A wooden rod ran through the stool up through the top of her head and kept her standing erect, which accounted for the strange multicolored crepe paper plumage that rose from the top of her head (to cover the rod).  Ribbed plastic tubing lied underneath her fabric covered arms.  One of her hands was missing, which left the tube exposed causing her to look part robot.  Peacock feathers stuck out of each sleeve.  She was…strange, to say the least.

Figuring she’d be a little less creepy in the daylight I took her out to my car and gave her a once over.  She and I are about the same size, hovering around 5′ 2″.  No such luck.  On the creep-o-meter I would say maybe she went from a 10 to a 9.8.  When I got home I carried her to the garage where she would be cleverly hidden from view.  After Jaden went to bed last night I retrieved her and brought her into the kitchen.  I made a glittery happy birthday sign and attached it to a stick, stapled up her shirt so her robot tube arm stuck up and placed the stick in the tube.  She was ready!

This morning as Jaden got ready for school I stood in the kitchen with the creepy statue strategizing about when I should place her outside of his door.  Should I place her outside of his bedroom door or wait until he went to the bathroom and place her outside of that door?  I decided to choose his bedroom door.  I picked her up, went to the hallway and set her down just in time for him to open his door and see her.  He stumbled back a  few steps in alarm and smiled.  The trap had been set and it worked!  After all those solitary years in the basement the creepy mannequin was of great use in a comedic family skit helping to mark a momentous coming of age, Jaden’s 13th birthday!

I tend to name things.  From cars to personable inanimate objects.  The names come easily to me.  As she stood in our living room I tried to think of a name for her but nothing came to mind.  Jaden said, “her name is creepy mannequin,” and he was right.  We had referenced her as creepy mannequin for so many years that it was now permanently imprinted on her.  Now to any fortunate house guests that happen to drop by in the next couple of days we can introduce her by name.  “Welcome to our home dear friend, I’d like you to meet our exotic visitor Creepy Mannequin.”

We all have things that we’re afraid of on varying levels, things we’re uncomfortable with, things that maybe even creep us out.  What then do we do?  How do we respond?  Do we recoil or evade something or someone or someplace?  Do we let it hold power over us unreasonably?  Our practice can embrace these scary, uncomfortable, creepy things right alongside everything else.  The things that scare us are not separate from life, as we oftentimes think they are.  Everything, everything, everything is part of life.  From gangly spiders to public speaking, from mysterious strangers to creepy basement mannequins.  Making friends, or acquaintances, with what makes us uncomfortable can be a very powerful practice.

(You can click on the picture to make it bigger)

So, while I’m not looking to keep Creepy Mannequin in my house, being able to heft her around, see how she’s made, and use her in a birthday prank went a long ways to lessening her creep value.  Don’t get me wrong, she’s still a whole lot of creepiness but I’m no longer creeped out by her.  There’s a difference.  We have full sway over how we see things.  The things that go bump in the night, chances are it’s not a ghost.  The spider in the corner, chances are it’s not out for blood.  Public speaking, chances are the audience won’t boo and throw tomatoes.  The Creepy Mannequin, chances are she’s not going to spring to life and gobble me up.  We are the only condition that can transform the scary into the not so scary.  So let’s shine some light into our shadows and see what’s behind our self-constructed pretenses, chances are they’re made up of nothing more than sentiment.

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

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