Some Alchemy I Could Get Behind

“Fear is excitement without breath.” Robert Heller

When I first heard the quote, I had to chew on it for a while. I wanted it to be true because it seems such a magical way to flip something awful into something much more desirable. If I’m fearful, all I have to do is breathe. Or remember that, with breath, this situation would be merely exciting. And exciting is good, right?

It has been several days now and I can say honestly that I see glimpses of it. Like lucid flashes of last night’s dream, I have moments where I feel like I can grasp the wisdom of Heller’s words, but as soon as I pursue the thought it vanishes.

After some frustration, I decided maybe it would help to come at it from a different angle. I love words and wordplay and I kicked butt on the portion of the SAT where you have to compare groups of words (bird is to nest as dog is to __________). I love analogies. So maybe if fear + breath = excitement, then anger + breath =
equals…sarcasm? Wry humor? Generally if I’m given time to take a breath when I’m royally pissed off I can come up with some witty remark that makes my point without screaming. Although, I’m not certain that sarcasm is all that much better than anger.

This led me to wonder just how much breath we’re talking about. Because I can see that (staying with the analogy) say, 15 minutes of slow, meditative breathing when I’m angry could lead to a much better assessment of the situation. In this case, anyway, it seems that more breath is better. So maybe it’s the same with fear.

I still wasn’t getting there. Not all the way, anyway.

My third try involved coming up with a scenario. So I conjured up something to be afraid of. And, because this was only an exercise and I tend to do things in a big way in my imagination, I went for one of the biggies. I hearkened back to the days when Bubba was sick with some mysterious illness that nearly killed him more than once. The days (three and a half years of which) before we had a diagnosis and I was never sure when he left on a business trip if he was going to be coming home again or not. That was pure, naked fear, that was. And even if I take out my mental measuring cup and add six cups of breath, I don’t see how that gets me to excitement. Granted, the dictionary definition of “excite” is “to arouse or stir up the emotions of,” but I generally think of excitement as a positive thing. By this definition, my emotions were certainly excited, but not in a good way – in a bleeding-ulcer-causing way.

After all of the logical labyrinths of the last week, I still can’t find my way around the sense of this quote. And it’s too damn bad because I really would have liked a simple recipe for turning fear to excitement.
5 replies
  1. Wanda
    Wanda says:

    I'm with you on this one. Fear + breath does not = excitement for me. The fear that becomes excitement is much different. When something has me caught in fear (like right now) breathing may help me get through it, but it doesn't turn it to excitement. Maybe part of the time it allows me to get to trust. That's about it.

    So regarding the quote…I call BS.

  2. Meryl
    Meryl says:

    Great post! So much to relate to. Analogies – SO much fun! But, I am not sure we should be turning fear into excitement. Fear is there for a reason – to protect us and maybe keep us away from -as opposed to excitement which draws us closer. The thing about the quote is that while fear is there to protect us and keep us from danger, there really is something enticing – maybe the excitement of CONQUERING that fear?

    Don't know but look how you've got me going! Thanks. I'll be back for more – and thanks for the GREAT comment you left on my blog. I love your daughter's school policy. It's empowering!

  3. Jen (
    Jen ( says:

    The fear of jumping out of the plane turned to excitement with a few deep gulps of I'm-high-in-the-sky air.

    The fear of drowning while under 50 feet of water turned to excitement with a few steady measures of canned-scuba-diving air.

    The fear of falling and skinning myself on the pavement turned to excitement with a few pants of country-highway-on-my-motorcycle air.

    The fear of being murdered turned to excitement with a few calm breathing exercises in basic training of rifle-range air.

    But, it doesn't always work and it takes a certain personality. An irreverent and determined to beat the fear personality. A "let's turn this into an adventure" personality and a "I'm not going to dwell on the horror that is stalking me" personality. Flip, irreverent, and often insensitive.

    It's not necessarily a good personality.

  4. Deb Shucka
    Deb Shucka says:

    Simple recipes tend to not have the oomph needed to carry deep truths, I'm afraid. Then again, maybe it will take days or years of breathing before you're enlightened about the true meaning of that quote. 🙂

  5. Unknown
    Unknown says:

    Fear = death
    Breath = life
    Excitement = to arouse or stir up the emotions
    Fear + no breath = death
    Fear + breath = a stirring of emotions into life


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