Saturday, June 22, 2013

Horror Writing, Buddhism, and Facing the Unknown

In Buddhism, they teach you to stay open to fear.

In order to practice what he preached, the Buddha sat under a Bodhi tree for forty nine days watching hour upon hour of horror movies, and reading classic horror stories, until finally he emerged from the darkness into enlightenment.

I wasn’t there, but I think that’s how it went.

Because Buddhism, like horror stories, is all about staying open to the unexpected.

Horror is a willing submission to the unknown. Buddhism tells you to approach life without any preconceptions.  Both are a seduction to which we surrender.  We go into them selflessly – without self – learning we do not survive this world by controlling it, but better by adapting to how we naturally ebb and flow with it.

Consider it like this.  In Buddhism we sit in meditation – our eyes open, our mind training to not label every little sound, smell or vision. In the next room we hear something bump, or some long-drawn creak. Do we listen to it, open to absorbing that sound without understanding it? Or in pursuit of mundane comfort do we label the sound – it’s the wood floor settling or a door closing. Do we name it in order not to hear it for what it is? Just an explained sound in the night.

With horror, we sit lonely in the dark – perhaps a candle lit, our minds empty (oh, so Buddhist) – as we wait for the unexpected to crawl up our skin. When we enjoy a good horror, we naturally surrender all reason and thought to our imaginations. That’s a Buddhist concept.

Because imagination is where we face the unspoken.  The hidden secrets and yearnings of our souls.

In his article “Saved from Freezing”, Norman Fischer writes it better.  And this is a lesson for all creators of horror to consider.  “Imagination confronts desire directly, in all its discomfort and intensity, deepening the world right where we are.  Fantasy and reality are opposing forces, but imagination and reality are not in opposition: Imagination goes toward reality, shapes and evokes it.”

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