Anxiety is a Game of Whack-A-Mole

IMG_6188The anxious mind can latch onto almost any topic:

  • What if I don’t have enough money?
  • What if my kids aren’t okay?
  • What if I don’t get pregnant?
  • What if I have cancer?
  • What if I don’t love my partner enough and I’m making a terrible mistake?
  • What if I don’t have enough friends?
  • What if I’m gay?
  • What if I’m a pedophile?
  • What if I have an STD?
  • What if there’s a terrorist attack ?
  • What if I’m in the wrong career?
  • What if the plane crashes?

How many of these thoughts have you struggled with? And have you found that you can resolve one thought only to find that another pops up in its place? That’s why anxiety is a game of whack-a-mole: if you whack down one mole (thought) without addressing it from the root, another will quickly appear in its place.

We know now that some people’s minds are more prone to anxiety than others. There seems to be a sub-species of humans that easily allows the ups-and-downs of life to roll off their back. I rarely meet one of these people (in fact, I can’t think of a single one at the moment), but I do hear that they exist. They’re usually the partners of people who find their way to my work, the even-keel shore to the tumultuous ocean of the one suffering from relationship anxiety. But for the people who find me, anxiety – also known as worry – has been a thread in the fabric of their psyche for as far back as they can remember.

Before I go any further, I need to remind you that there is a positive side to anxiety. The anxious mind is also the sensitive mind. The anxious mind is often the highly creative mind. Anxiety gets a very bad rap in our culture, and there’s no question that living with high levels of anxiety creates a state of misery. But once we learn to work with anxiety, it transmutes into something quite beautiful. Remember, in other cultures and other times, the highly sensitives, the ones attuned to the nuances of life, were the scouts, the shamans, the gatekeepers to this and other worlds. We held a very honored place in the culture and were often responsible for the physical and spiritual well-being of the tribe. We still hold that place. Anxiety transmuted into awareness becomes our gift that we share with the world around us.

Now, back to the list. If you pare it down, you’ll see that all of these statements share a similar core: the fear of loss. We desperately fear loss because we don’t know how to manage loss. We’re not taught the tools and language of loss, so it always feels like a death. Loss is death, but again, since we’re not taught a framework for walking through death of any kind – literal and metaphoric – imagined loss/death feels like an annihilation of self. In this simplistic sense, anxiety is the fear of loss is the fear of death.

I teach many tools in all of my courses for working with anxiety, but the one that underlies them all is developing an inner anchor point that can help us cut through the fear-mind. The tendency of the fear-mind is to seek reassurance from others when anxiety takes over: to talk, to Google, to research. But we quickly find that reassurance-seeking, while possibly providing temporary relief, doesn’t allay the soul’s need for deep comfort. Only one thing can offer that: the resting place and the still point of our own Self. Some people call this God. Others call it Soul. Others call it guidance or stillness or wisdom. It doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is that you develop a practice – daily, if possible – for turning toward this place so that you can rely on it when you truly need it.

We all have access to this place. You have tasted it for moments here and there in your life. It lives in you as certain as your own breath. And it’s when we tap into this wellspring that the fear, the chatter, the worry, and the what-ifs fall away and we can exhale deep into the earth, lie our bodies down in the grass or dance them across the field of serenity. In this field, it’s all okay. In this field, we’re able to touch down into our true intuition, the place that holds are own wordless answers, the place beyond “yes” or “no”, the place of is. It just is. It’s just so. And it’s all okay.

Grief Neutralizes Thought

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We are addicted to our stories. The thoughts come in and take us away on their magic carpet promise of arriving in a land of certainty, where the vulnerability and pain of life can’t touch us. We learn early to climb aboard this carpet because, as young people, we usually don’t know how to manage the big feelings of life. Big feelings coursing through a little body are only manageable when that body is being held in the arms of a loving, solid caregiver who can transmit the message, “You’re okay. It’s okay. I’ve got you. It’s a big feeling but it won’t hurt you. Let it come. Be loud. I’m here.” Most of us, sadly, receive a vastly different message, often from day one.

We become so adept at climbing aboard the magic carpet of thoughts and stories that it becomes a habit, a neural-pattern in your brain that … Click here to continue reading...

A Tale of Two Moths, Dark Night of the Soul, and Sexuality

I met Andrea in my first round of Open Your Heart in May 2013. Every time she posted on the forum, I was moved and inspired by the depth and clarity of her writing, and her ability to transpose her inner world into words. When she shared this story with me over email, I immediately asked if she would be willing to share it on my site, as I knew it would provide light and inspiration for those struggling through dark night of the soul, especially when sexuality is effected. As Andrea so beautifully shares, it’s often when we can see our experience reflected through nature and metaphor that we find some solace, hope, and the energy to go on. 

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I’ve struggled with relationship anxiety, perfectionism, a highly sensitive nature, a declining libido and other changes associated with fluctuating hormones and mid-life, and a recently diagnosed autoimmune disease.  When the stress was too much for my body to take emotionally … Click here to continue reading...

How We Love Ourselves

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We hear a lot about the importance of loving ourselves these days, and how we can’t love someone else until we truly love ourselves. While I don’t entirely agree with that statement (adult attachment theory shows that it’s through secure attachment to loving others that we feel loved and, therefore, learn to love ourselves), I do know that loving ourselves is a key component to wellness.

Yet what does it mean to love ourselves?

One of the basic principles of my work is that love is action. I’m referring, of course, to the critical importance of recognizing that love toward a partner is not only a feeling – as the culture would have us believe – but is primarily an action. Words are cheap; feelings are fleeting and temperamental. It’s action that is the sustaining and unshakable foundation that supports a lifetime of love.

The same is true when it … Click here to continue reading...

Compassion or Comparison

My yoga teacher has said this phrase dozens of times, but one morning it went in differently and landed in the places where breath meets bone, where sinew aches with loss and the water in the pelvic bowl of my hips shimmered like a moonlit lake. The words traveled along ancient blood-lines to the place where ancestral memory digs a spade into foreign soil, where the grandmothers and great-grandmothers hummed the melodies of their lineage while baking the day’s bread and folded their pain in the flour.

Compassion rather than comparison. Connect to what’s needed in this moment instead of to what everyone else is doing or what you think you “should” be doing.

She cued a pose and I did something else. She cued another pose and I remained where I was, following my breath into the places that needed attention. The beginning of a poem filtered into consciousness, … Click here to continue reading...