I finally ate bugs! Since discovering that bugs are a culinary specialty in Thailand, I’d been wanting to one day taste them. I had my first experience of eating an assortment of deep-fried bugs today. My verdict: they are quite chewy and well-seasoned, slightly buttery in taste. Not bad.
Several clients at our centre had been talking about trying bugs and I asked the kitchen staff to buy a variety of them from the market so we could all eat them together (it’s always easier to do something challenging in a group than alone). A few hours later, I was called to join the bug fest. On my way there, I felt a tinge of regret and fright – there was no getting out of it since it had been my idea! I had to just get on with it, with as little drama as possible.
The experience of just-doing-it-despite-fears-threatening-to-creep-in-and-making-a-big-mental-mess-that-stops-you-from-proceeding reminded me of a great lesson in managing our fears.
In another context, I could have easily made a big drama out of it. In this environment, where I am constantly helping people to manage their fears, there’s no room for copping out or indulging in silly dramas. This was my first reminder: it is within our power to decide the state we will be in. Different environments, and our response to a certain degree depends on what’s and who’s in the environment, but I am a constant in these environments.
I looked at the platter of bugs on the table. There was no way I was going to start with a big creature, so I chose, out of the smaller ones, the crispiest, most well-fried and least buggy-looking one. Once I started chewing, all the nasty associations were gone. I was just eating. I felt glad that I had gotten over the hurdle. I ate three other varieties of bugs. Second reminder about fear: once you’ve made the first jump, the rest is easy. You wonder why it took you so long to take that first step. Bug-eating is probably a once-off experience for me but so often in other instances our fears hold us back from advancing forward, from beginning a chain of actions that allow us to accomplish great things.
After munching on several of the smaller bugs, I found myself challenging the others to eat the big, more intimidating ones. I gulped inwardly as the others started to meet my challenge. It was my turn. I looked at a bug that looked like a cross between a big grasshopper and a fat cricket, and I recoiled. Actually, it looked like an alien in hibernation – a big head, eyes perfectly intact, legs like they were arms folded across the body. With a shudder, I put it back on the plate. My normally lovely clients turned to cruelty as they said, “If you don’t do it, we will lose all respect for you as a therapist.”
With that, I popped the big guy into my mouth. All my senses were screaming, “This is wrong,” as I fought where my mind was going. I had to stop my mind from going any further in making more and more associations to what I was eating. With a mouthful of insect, I oscillated between transcending my fears and moving towards a full-fledged terror. My third reminder on fear: the meanings we attach to things can make a huge difference in whether we move forward positively or stay stuck.
I was associating the bug in my mouth with a wriggly, dirty cockroach… or worse. A few days ago, I had watched ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ in which there was a scene where the girl picks up a spider from the floor and eats it. I have a fear of spiders. If I had allowed myself to make an association between the bug in my mouth and a spider, I might not have been able to finish eating it. In reality, the bug was a good protein source, probably packed with goodness and cleaner than other meats. I was disturbed by the fact that it had been a living creature with legs, but it’s not that different from eating say, a shrimp. In fact, I was just chewing a piece of cooked meat.
Halfway through chewing the thing, I blurted out, “The head is good.” It came out spontaneously and the others chuckled. From then on, all fears were gone. Fourth reminder about fear: humour is a good distraction. It interrupts the progression of fear and breaks up the tension of fear. It changes the energy or mood of the experiencer such that they are free from the grip of fear.
The next time I eat bugs, the occasion will be devoid of fanfare. I will simply pick one up and eat it, if I feel like it. If eating bugs does not appeal to me, I will simply walk away. There will be no issue and no drama. Fifth reminder: the action we take to confront a fear and get to the other side of it breaks up the tension we hold around it. The breaking-up of that tension frees us to get on with our lives and create many wonderful things.
But the absence of this tension may feel uncomfortable at first, and we may be tempted to hold on to it or to re-create that tension to give us a sense of false security. The greatest lesson about fear is that when we are free from it, it presents us with the freedom to create a life that gives us true joy. Most of the time, however, our tendency is to retreat into the chaos-filled world of fear and anguish. It takes courage to step into the joyful unknown and to stay there until a new reality takes form, reassuring our minds that what’s there is safe. It is a realm in which our spirits can flourish and grow.