Christmas Day jangled me into another dimension. I found myself on “the underside,” living in a parallel universe where survival meant the monsters (anything and everything that causes me stress) had to be contained. Not an easy few days for Fred.
If you’ve watched Stranger Things, you can picture my metaphor. In Season One of this Netflix series, a boy is lost in The Upside Down (or underside) and his friends are trying to find a portal into it. Eventually, the boy’s mother and the police chief don hazmat suits and, with flashlights and a gun, go through a portal looking for him. The Upside Down is predictably macabre.
My underside was not so cold and creepy, but it did make me tense and fearful. When my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw what was going on. I saw that being a good person doesn’t mean I make good choices, and I saw how easily I make bad ones. I saw how vexation was my monster, and also saw it’s not everyone’s. Some people can live quite easily with things askew. Topside I forget I’m not one of them, but on the underside, there’s no hiding from it. I see how it rattles me.
What brought me back to this universe were conversations with friends. In one conversation, we got talking about the Enneagram, and I was reminded that Ones like me can’t stand vexation. In another, three friends described their Christmas. They too found it chaotic and were almost pushed over the edge. Hearing this helped me normalize what I’d experienced without minimizing it.
Christmas Day taught me that I should carefully consider my level of responsibility in putting on events, knowing that things can and do go wrong. Although I have a better understanding of how stress affects me, vigilantly avoiding this monster will suck me underside again. Knowing how to handle stress is tricky, and I can’t do it alone. I need the guidance of the Spirit and the counsel of friends.
Once you’ve been on the underside, you don’t forget what you saw, and that makes topside living a lot more real. I begin this new year with greater self-awareness and a deeper appreciation for my Saviour and my friends.
A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.
–Proverbs 17:17 (NRSV)
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We all end up on the underside at different times of our lives. No matter where we are on the Enneagram, we are tempted to avoid, numb or amuse ourselves until we’re topside again and blissfully unaware of our shadows. Resisting temptation and facing our demons takes a lot of courage. We need the love mischief of friends who will walk with us through a dark valley. When we are loved “warts and all,” our way becomes lighter and our hearts more spacious. We find we have a little more compassion for ourselves. And when we are topside again, we discover we have a lot more compassion for others.