Often, I dream. Sometimes, the result of these dreams is terror. Visceral, paralysing, overwhelming terror. Not for long. It fades in a matter of seconds. But anyone who has felt strong negative emotion (so, everybody) knows that one second is enough.
Last night, I had such dreams. Twice. It meant a somewhat sleepless night, and also a revelation. See, I realised what it is about terror that’s so scary: it’s the perceived absence of agency.
In a state of terror, nothing gets through. No word. No gesture. No reasoning. From what I’ve read, even pain is insufficient. The only thing that gets through is time. Specifically, its passage. As the time spent in a state of terror increases, so does the likelihood of escaping its embrace.
In the aftermath of last night’s episodes, however, I began to wonder about the opposite of terror. Which birthed a spectrum of perceived agency and the states associated with it.
Terror–the absolute absence of perceived agency–is contrasted with the feeling of divinity–agency of the omnipotent kind. In between, there are steps.
In a state of fear, perceived agency is significantly curtailed. In a state of caution, it is affected in a minor way. The state referred to as normalcy is where we are ninety percent of the time: we have agency but we are liable to be influenced, too. In a state of optimism, we feel ourselves to be the captain of our ship, albeit with a willful crew. In a state of audacity, we feel ourselves to be masters of our fate.
Naturally, occupying the respective ends of the spectrum isn’t pleasant. Terror is, well, terrifying. Divinity is intoxicating, but it never lasts for more than a moment. Two, if lucky. Its high is followed by a nonlinear low. A regression to the mean that is the feeling of mortality. Funnily enough, though, time is the device that takes us back to the middle, to normalcy. Mostly.
I say “mostly” because I am aware that, throughout history, there have been outliers, people who died a deity in their own universe. I’m also aware that, throughout history, many people’s last taste of life was terror.
About both of these things, I am unsure how to feel. Surprised? Disgusted? Horrified? Indifferent? I don’t know–I’m not fool enough to think I have complete control over my own thoughts.