Plagues and Power Plays: Fear of Being Like Them.
My mask fluttered and snapped against my mouth, each flicker of black fabric caught a breath and sent it back down my throat.
Like gasping at the sight of a pirate flag on the horizon, a scrap of black cloth could be a strangling harbinger of death on a clear day.
The barracks of The Presidio whipped past my sight, a streak of parchment and brick red uniformity in my vision before I could escape into the green.
Paradise was up winding slopes and treacherous blind spots, away from the panting throngs of runners.
They beat the air with bellicose signs of life, each sharp intake and exhalation a prayer and provocation caught on the balmy pacific breeze.
The final band of golden daylight was slowly succumbing to the lapis blue burgeoning from the rind of the ocean.
I knew I could make it to the top of the hills to catch the last sliver of day before it sank into aqueous darkness, I just had to get away from the crowd.
Runners around me were engaged in a kinetic frenzy, stricken with the shadow of mortality.
The sun beat down on a fierce dance of life and death.
Everywhere there was fear and its subversion, slick with sweat and ropy veins.
The shadow of disease dappled each runner differently, some in bold rebellion breathed out loud, bilious breath, some wore masks that caught each exhale like a wind-snagged sail.
I wore a simple black mask to navigate around people along the promenade.
I thought it might be sparse on a weekday, it was packed. Herds of runners bustled along the narrow strip of land bordering the ocean on a warm Wednesday.
My gesture of social conscience writ like a coal slash across my face, bound in constricting consideration.
I hadn’t expected to actually wear it, thinking this would be only a bit more crowded than usual, still a serene jaunt to the depths of The Presidio.
I was met with a teeming trail, young and old alike flecked the curving coastline.
I was struck by the older men.
Thin, petulant lips fixed in pinched puckers, the aged male faces were bared.
Many of them tottering into my space, expecting me to cede my boundaries and keep my droplets to myself.
The favor was unreturned.
I felt a rage ignite in me as I pulled air through my mask, a partition for patrician patriarchs, expecting all of nature to conform to their grimacing presumption.
“I’m doing this for you, old man,” I thought, unkindly.
I sped up, sweeping them into my periphery, their ruddy, huffing faces and weathered flesh exposed in ferocious fragility streaming into the blanched and reddish blur of the barracks.
Finally the remnants of the old guard receded from my sight.
I was released into the emerald embrace of The Presidio. Alone save for an occasional car swung around a slender loop of road, I ripped off my mask and drank the air in greedy gulps.
As nature overtook the symbols of contagion and the play of human reaction, my even breath once again returned to me.
Refreshed by my smooth breathing and the thought of the symbiotic cycle of oxygen and carbon dioxide that we share with trees, I was able to reflect.
My body was no longer seized by stress, restriction and resentment, shared air wasn’t an anathema anymore, I was able to consider my reactivity.
An outside observer would have simply seen a runner slip on a mask without breaking stride, but my mind was a roiling sea of rage, something about that patriarchal parade lit a searing heat that seethed beneath my stifled face.
I was able to follow my anger to its root of fear, as it ebbed from my body and dissolved like the wavering mirage of so many old, grimly enduring structures.
With my calming breath, I was able to acknowledge fear for what it was, to call it by its name.
I saw the way it manifested for me, a response to willful imposition, caging structures and asphyxiation, and the way it manifested in other ways in other people.
All of us, I thought, are vessels of expression responding in our own ways to a pivotal moment in the human story.
With the old men, I saw their mercenary expressions and frail bodies bending over the trail like crusaders, as stark as the lines of the path cut into nature. Shorts and shoes as white as the sails of the yachts in the harbor.
What a brittle mutiny, I thought.
In the face of chaos and oblivion, leaning into faint, dusty etchings of linearity, battered and bowed like so many squat military buildings hunched into the rugged earth. Staring resolutely into the ocean, a crusty ridge of defense abutting swelling infinity.
I realized that I’d been cruel, seeing their presumptuous aggression as more than a delicate veneer that staved off dread. I was able to feel some empathy then, for the fearful men behind worn faces staring with bleak, doomed hostility at the ocean, at death, at the earthly cycles of nature.
There’s something one of my favorite writers Erich Neumann said of this kind of myopic defense against nature: “Devaluation of the Earth, hostility towards the Earth, fear of the Earth: these are all from the psychological point of view the expression of a weak patriarchal consciousness that knows no other way to help itself than to withdraw violently from the fascinating and overwhelming domain of the Earthly. For we know that the archetypal projection of the Masculine experiences, not without justice, the Earth as the unconscious-making, instinct-entangling, and therefore dangerous Feminine.”
As I ran through an area of land that has been a landfill, a military stronghold and a nature preserve, I could see the benefit of seeing layers.
In reflection, I could see that what appeared to be imperiousness, callousness and entitlement was perhaps a fear of natural cycles, of death and regeneration, of chaos and the mortal experience.
The naked faces they displayed were not, I thought, in acceptance of nature’s dominion, but in obtuse denial of her reign over their bodies.
The mask can be seen as a symbol both of chaos and vulnerability to it, an unwelcome reminder that The Great Mother consumes all she creates.
Just as I resisted the shadow of the Masculine, The Tyrannical Father, and was reminded of the ways I’ve been hurt and herded by its iterations, the mask could be an emblem of The Devouring Mother, the dark face of the Feminine.
A reminder of our interconnectivity and ultimate subordination to nature.
Upon deeper reflection, I realized that in addition to my anger at the imposition, it was also their mortality itself that upset me.
The very closeness of them, of their bodies, all liquid and leather, it reminded me of my mortality too.
Beyond the social overlay of Men Like That, they were human. Like me, they were mortal, not an abstract idea — aged anachronisms in some power play.
They were people sharing in the experience of drawing breath, of struggling, of panting, of dying.
The amorphous miasma of virulent air in my mind was my own terror of death.
The black shroud against my mouth my own apotropaion.
Running has always been my ritual of quicksilver immortality. Riding dawn or dusk or the yoke of golden midda,y I have always felt somehow immune to the claws of fate, of time, of death.
Seeing the aged male form, feeling my breath wither in my chest, I didn’t feel the way I usually do on a run, ageless and free.
I didn’t feel like Nature’s darling, and I didn’t like it.
More than feeling trapped by the nearness of these mottled bodies and ensnared in social edicts these men didn’t adhere to, the fear I felt most deeply, the fear my mind tried to conceal behind righteous indignation, was the fear of being like them.
The reflection of the impotence of man against the tidal pull of nature. As I struggled to breathe and looked at these men, their hollow boasts and rigidity, it wasn’t the differences that struck me, but the sameness.
This was a resonant reminder for me that so much of our intense oppositions are externalized crystallizations of our own inner conflict.
I was reminded of how layered those conflicts can be, how dynamic the relations of energy and archetypes can be in each of us.
This moment we are living in has brought many of our unconscious battles to the foreground, we each constellate our own unique matrixes of fears and blind spots.
As I ran down the hill under the darkening amethyst sky in a twisting, canopied green corridor, twin headlights whipped across my eyes, startling me. A horn blared as the car reeled away from me, swerving over lines as I veered into the brush.
The driver hadn’t seen me, and in my illusory world of woodland seclusion, I had forgotten about cars altogether. Both of us abruptly jarred by the physical reality of each other in the enveloping cathedral of The Presidio.
The car and its petulant horn seemed puny, a tinny protestation consumed by the quiet of deepening dusk.
I laughed, loud and exuberant, my unmasked mouth caught in a joyful rush of air as I flicked through the dangerously mutual blind spot. My eyes catching the last opalescent gleam of day over the wooded ridge, my mask billowing behind my neck like a gleeful scrap of night.
As I ran deeper into the woods I felt free, the dusky green world welcomed me and I had no one to face but myself.
Maren Zweifler enjoys teaching Yoga with a focus on free movement and intrinsic shapes, emphasizing spinal fluidity and innate, primal posture. Deeply inspired by movement systems that embrace nature like Sridaiva and Continuum Movement. He completed a 500-hour certification in SF and has taught both there and in Austin where he honed his skills teaching private classes tailored to the individual needs of his clients. He created a wellness/yoga program at a non-profit. These experiences allowed him to explore both the unique individuation of the physical experience in one-on-one sessions, and the commonalities of the human form that can be witnessed in large groups. You could connect with Maren on Instagram.