A recent episode of Doctor Who suggested that there’s a very real reason why we’re all afraid of the dark – that there might actually be something under our beds. This something has evolved to be the ideal “hider.” It exists alongside us, it affects our world. The Doctor suggests that this is the reason why we sometimes talk to ourselves when we’re alone – because on an instinctual level we know that there’s something there, something listening.
This is a perfect example of a myth that’s telling us the truth. There is a monster that’s under your bed. And it’s something hidden and scary and dangerous. But of course you know I’m not talking about your actual bed. I’m talking about your mind.
Underneath your thoughts and feelings and hopes and fears is something that lurks. If you’ve suffered from serious emotional trauma, or from addiction, or have spent some time investigating your own issues, you might have some idea of what I’m talking about. You might not think of it as a monster – it might be a place like a dark room or a black hole where you’ll lose yourself – either way, it’s something dark and scary and powerful.
If none of this makes sense to you, then you’re one of the lucky ones who has never had to face the pain that’s deep, deep down inside you. In some ways that’s a good thing, if pain is something you have to avoid, but in others it can be harmful because that monster might be controlling you without you knowing it.
This monster is the embodiment of your true fears. The ones that lie underneath those superficial ones you deal with regularly, like a fear of getting hurt or commitment or letting go or taking risks, or your propensity for violence. The actual monster sits deeper. It’s the devil, not the demons. It might be that you’re unlovable or not special or that you’ll be abandoned or that the black hole of insanity will consume you.
If you’ve spied the devil or sat in that black hole, I’m here to tell you: you’re not imagining it. This thing/place has been represented in stories since the beginning of story-telling, all over the world. It’s a dragon, it’s Medusa, it’s Dracula, it’s a werewolf or Satan or Hell or Cthulhu.
The bad news is, you’re not going to be able to defeat it or get rid of it – as the myths tell us, its power is too great for us mortals. That’s why we rejoice about stories where the hero beats the overwhelming bad guy – it gives us hope. It’s also why the stories are fictional.
The good news is, you don’t have to defeat this monster or collapse a black hole: though it seems the most alien, this is the part of you that’s most human. It’s as scary as hell, but without it, you simply wouldn’t be a person. This monster exists, I think, in virtue of the levels of consciousness we have evolved – a necessary consequence of our minds. In other words, it’s pointless to try and get rid of it, so you can save that energy.
The other good news is that your mind is designed specifically to make sure you never fully confront that monster in the open. To do this, your mind will convince you it doesn’t exist, it’ll make you have a drink to anesthetise your awareness of it – it’ll employ any number of things so that you avoid facing its terrible power.
Usually, those who are close to this darkness find more and more inventive ways to avoid it. This is denial. This is addiction. This is the parts of your life you feel like you can’t control or patterns you keep repeating and hate yourself for repeating. Why do you keep doing it and still hate yourself? Because there’s a part of you that knows this pattern is not a true part of you, it’s just the way you avoid confronting the darkness.
So then, if you have a part of you, a shadow that could consume you, a darkness whose power’s unfathomable, what can you do to make sure it doesn’t (continue to) take over your life without you realising?
Funnily enough, I heard the answer the other day on the radio. Rhianna sang, “I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed; get along with the voices inside of my head.” This is very basic way of saying that you’re willing to engage with the monster. So while we might understand this intellectually, actually sharing a space with this monster is necessarily scary. And not in a theoretical way. In an ‘I’m-losing-my-mind’ way where you will sweat or cry or panic or run away. Don’t be ashamed of these things; the monster is real.
And so we need to take it slowly; it’s a lifetime of discovery. In mythology when a person is facing a great enemy, what happens? They accept the challenge is real. They train. They find a guide/mentor. They suffer/sacrifice. They might fail at first. Andif the person wins, we discover the enemy is never a completely malicious being. Darth Vader. Agent Smith. Dracula. Voldemort. In fact, the reason monsters are scary is because they represent the parts of us we want to turn away from: the monsters under your bed.
So the next time you find yourself doing things you regret, you hate – recognize that a very personal fear is behind it. Even if you don’t know what you’re afraid of, acknowledge that the monster is real. Then keep at it. Find a guide. Explore middle earth or space or the ocean: the undiscovered wilderness of your thoughts and feelings. And if you ever spy that monster or feel it lurking close, remember that you can’t kill it, but maybe one day you might get to know it so well that fear of it doesn’t control your life.