When I was five years old, a neighborhood dog escaped his yard and chased me, jumping up on me, in what was probably a friendly attempt to play. I was traumatized and fearful of dogs for many years after this.
Today, during my early morning run, a dog out of his yard, barked at me and moved in my direction. I looked at him and said, “good morning!” At that moment, his owner called and the dog turned away from me. This incident reminded me of how far I’ve come in my reaction to unknown dogs (and unknown incidents).
Two thoughts came to mind about this. First, early childhood events profoundly affect how we make contact with the world in adulthood. These events are usually buried deep in our subconscious and often do not surface until we intentionally work on self-awareness. Second, that my fear of dogs was a metaphor for many fears. The root of my fear was not the dog itself, but what might happen with the dog.
In Gestalt therapy, we call that place of uncertainty, between the known and unknown, the fertile void. It is the chasm we cross when we leave behind what is certain and safe, but perhaps not always productive. The fertile void is the creative possibility for something different and potentially powerful.
It is the willingness not to know. The dog might bite me, yes. He might be friendly and lick my hand. Crossing the chasm is done with choicefulness and the understanding that risk is involved. I don’t want anyone to be stricken with rabies because they reached out to an unknown dog who bit them!
And, I am advocating a visit to the chasm. To entertain the possibilities of the unknown. To be okay with not knowing.