One Body

IMG_4976One of the most damaging spokes of the anxiety wheel is the belief that you’re the only one who struggles with the particular thoughts and feelings that dominate your inner world. In our “How are you? I’m fine” culture that worships the happy face and denies a truthful telling of what we’re really feeling beneath the surface, it’s easy to believe that you’re the only one who struggles. This is why when you do happen upon information or people who share the shadow, a significant portion of anxiety is lifted.

The truth is that we are all interconnected in ways that we don’t always consciously realize. The isolation that has overtaken modern life belies the reality of our interconnectedness and supports the ego’s mindset of separateness, which then causes us to tumble down the rabbit hole of shame. But when we have a veil-lifting experience – one that reminds us of our shared humanity – we know deep in our cells that everything we’ve ever thought or felt has been thought or felt by countless others. Then we can exhale. And riding on the exhale of support we can approach the thoughts and feelings without the film of shame in the way.

There are moments when an awareness of our shared humanity flows into me like a warm bath, moments like a few days ago when we arrived back in Denver airport after a week away and stepped off the train to curve with the group of people onto the escalator. Surrounded by my own family, I looked around to see the other people with whom we shared this moment  – singles, couples, families, elderly people, babies – all of us in one mass like a giant, multi-colored serpent dancing its way through life. I don’t know why it hit me in this moment, but for some reason the veil of separateness was lifted and I smiled from the body-awareness, beyond any mental construction, into the experience of our oneness.

In these moments, I think of my friend Carrie saying to her clients, “We’re all in this together.” Carrie and I met in graduate school twenty years ago and share as many mindsets and philosophies as two people could possibly share, one of which is the commitment NOT to support an illusion among our clients and readers that we, in the position of guide, have it all worked out. In other words, we both believe that it’s critically important for the people with whom we are privileged enough to interact know that we struggle, that we slip into anxiety from time to time, that we have arguments with our husbands and kids and friends and family members, that, in essence, we’re profoundly human and, thus, imperfect, which means we have blind spots and shadows just like everyone else.

I think also of one of my venerable, virtual teachers, the American-Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, who shares candidly in her books and lectures about her struggles with envy, anxiety, and panic. As she writes in “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change“:

“Our challenge is to train in smiling at groundlessness, smiling at fear. I’ve had years of training at this because I get panic attacks. As anyone who has experienced panic attack knows, that feeling of terror can arise out of nowhere. For me it often comes in the middle of the night, when I’m especially vulnerable. But over the years I’ve trained myself to relax into that heart-stopping, mind-stopping feeling. My first reaction is always to grasp with fright. But Chogyam Trungpa used to gasp like that when we was describing how to recognize awakened mind. So now, whenever a panic attack comes and I gasp, I picture Chogyam Trungpa’s face and think of him hasping as she talked about awakened mind. Then the energy of panic passes through me.” (p. 93)

It can happen anywhere, this awareness of oneness. Last week in a yoga class I was having a particularly hard time with my thoughts and my body. The mantras -“This is too hard. I’m too tired. Yoga is hard enough on a full night’s sleep but it’s impossible on broken sleep. I can’t do this. I should just leave” – pounded through my mind for the first half hour of the class. Then I opened my eyes and noticed a woman standing in the middle of the room. She had a beautiful practice, a beautiful bendy-yoga body, and seemed to be in complete flow with her body and mind. In times past I may have felt envious of her practice or her body, but on that day something inside of me opened and I only felt awe. And then something in me loosened. A tightness unhooked. And suddenly the class got a little bit easier. As I connected to her practice from a place of inspiration, I felt myself riding on the collective energy born of the multitude of bodies in the room, as if we were all particles of a single breath, spirals of light from a single center. The image of geese flying in formation came to mind, how the downdraft from the lead goose helps the ones in the back, and when the lead goose tires she trades positions with the others.

For this class, the woman in the center of the room was the lead goose. Each time I glanced over at her strong, bendy body, my awe and gratitude expanded and my own practice moved with greater flow. She was carrying the archetype of yogini for that particular class, and I silently thanked her for her devotion to her practice. I was also aware that, while for this class she was holding the role of guide, somewhere else she could be in the role of novice. We all carry different roles in different circumstances: sometimes teacher, sometimes student, sometimes we shine and sometimes we need to take a quieter role. We are all limbs of one tree trunk. We are one body.

When we remember our shared humanity we have more compassion for our daily experiences. Over and over again we learn that that work isn’t to be free of painful feelings and difficult thoughts but to learn to move toward them with compassion and curiosity. Enlightenment isn’t an unblemished state of happiness and peace but the ability to ride life’s currents with increasingly more levels of tolerance and less resistance. In this sense, enlightenment isn’t something “up there”, a goal at which we will arrive, but an ever-changing process of stepping into and out of the flow of life. When we understand this, we cease berating ourselves for struggling and start to make more peace with the struggles themselves. And when we make peace with the struggles, recognizing that embedded inside the anxiety and intrusive thoughts and obsessions live our golden treasures, we find freedom.

25 comments to One Body

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl, I hope all is well. I remember in the past when i was working in childcare. My colleagues seemed to me they had it all together, they didnt have problems like I did. I always felt its only me that feels lost, anxious, not comfortable in my own skin. Mainly i had these thoughts because they were married and i wasnt. I felt different and that there was something wrong with me and it troubled me. I now feel more comfortable in my own skin, still on the journey of anxiety. I still feel stuck and i look forward to when i feel the shackles on my feet come off and i feel free. Its an amazing feeling. I dont like feeling anxious its not fun. I always wanna have that sense of freedom. Every moment of life is precious to me.

  • Angela

    We are all one body, we have general issues. We come from the same place and go to the same place. I dont believe in heaven and i dont believe in hell. We just die thats it.

  • Angela

    But 100% believe in KARMA.

  • Laura

    Thank you for this beautiful article Sheryl, love it x

  • Gemma

    Wow, thank you Sheryl. Much love to you.((xx))

  • faith

    An amazing post as always

  • Tina

    Beautifully said. How often am I shocked to hear, “Me too!” and how relieved. Also, my fave part: “…we learn that the work isn’t to be free of painful feelings and difficult thoughts, but to learn to move toward them with compassion and curiosity.”

  • Zoe

    Hiya Sheryl,

    I have just started your conscious weddings course. After months and months of reading your blogs and endless comments of others I decided to take the leap.

    Anyway reading this makes me think of my past work and current degree (in mental health nursing) and how easy it is to get caught up in hurtful comments being thrown my way, however using mindfulness you can close that barrier by understanding how someone who is hurting themselves will lash out. Understanding that it is not one person that actually wants to harm another intentionally and instead of shouting back, taking on board that their possible pain (who shouts at someone if they are happy themselves). I feel that if we took a little more time with one another and had more patience, it would help us feel a little less isolated on a daily basis.

    I know you hear it so many times but your work is a life saver. Everything you say makes so much sense and connects with me on so many levels. With the throw away world we live in, people want quick fixes all the time and you always make me realise the importance of self-growth. You have seen me through so many dark days and I thank you.

    Zoe xx

    • There is deep wisdom in what you’re sharing, Zoe: that when we can remember that beneath every hurtful comment and action is pain, we can move toward compassion. That doesn’t mean we need to be a punching bag, but that we don’t have to react from a place of righteous defensiveness. I’m so glad my work has been helpful for you ;).

  • Kitty

    Such a beautiful post. I felt every word in my body. Thank you x

  • Anna

    Thank you Sheryl, your posts always come at the right time.

    I have a hard time connecting with my long-term boyfriend when I get hit with anxiety, feeling the distance come between us as my thoughts get more and more isolating and it’s a very hard feeling to deal with. I constantly wonder if it’ll ever go away and i’ll finally be able to enjoy my time with him without feeling like I’m the only person this has ever happened to.

    This post really helped me realize that many people go through the same thing and there can be hope to get through, because other people have traveled this road..

  • neha

    Thank you,
    Thank you,
    Thank you!

    Sheryl, could you recommend some more books where Pema Chodron talks about her anxiety?

    Thank you!
    You are an angel!

  • Mary Jo

    Great subject. If only others would let down there guard and be honest about life’s struggles, a lot of suffering in the world would be eased.

  • Jane

    Wow, this article had so much synchronicity for me and I needed to read this this week Sheryl, thank you! I’m going through THREE huge transitions in the space of a few months: marriage (in 26 days!!), a move cross country, and a job promotion. I’ve been feeling all the groundlessness very profoundly and am practicing breathing into it, but I needed the reminder that we all go through similar feelings and it’s all ok. Thank you! Your work, as always, helps me so much. 🙂 xo

  • Kim

    Neha, ‘When things fall apart’ is an amazing book by her!!! It helped me immensely through a breakup several years ago but is applicable to so many areas of life.

  • Becky

    Sheryl,
    I wanted to take a moment here to thank you. On the 20th of April, my boyfriend and I celebrated our two-year anniversary. You are largely a reason that I was able to celebrate this milestone, and I cannot thank you enough. By chance, I stumbled on to your website about a year and a half ago or so, when my anxiety over my relationship was particularly gripping. Since then, I’ve been captivated by your blogs every week, and have been able to “take a breath” amidst all my mental anguish, because you have shown me that I’m not and have never been alone. The work you do is wonderful. You are truly a lifesaver.

    My one question for you would be, are you familiar with relationship-OCD, or ROCD? It’s a facet of OCD that is particularly fixed on one’s relationship, i.e., constant feelings of doubt over the “rightness” one’s relationship or partner. I was wondering if in your experience you have ever heard of this.

    Thank you again

    • Thank you, Becky, for taking the time to express your gratitude. Yes, I talk about “R-OCD” quite often in my work, although I tend to steer away from diagnoses so I don’t often use that term. It’s basically what I refer to as relationship anxiety.

  • MissJane

    Hi Sheryl!

    I just wanted to say a huge thank you for all your wonderful articles. I’m in such a bad anxiety spike at the moment and I’ve been in tears for two weeks. I keep coming back to your website because it’s the only thing that seems to give me clarity right now.

    I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I’m a (very!) poor uni student at the moment- but I just wanted some quick advice or even just a simple yes or no answer to a question.

    I’ve been living with my partner J for almost a year now. We’re in our 20’s and both currently studying the same degree at university. We share all the same classes and do everything together, and this has never been an issue. Everything has been perfect for the most part up until recently.

    J is everything I ever could have hoped for and so much more. When I was younger I never pictured myself in a relationship because they all seemed so harmful. My mother cheated on my father and has been in a constant stream of relationships ever since (her current husband is an alcoholic who drove me out of home) and my brother and father are both serial daters. When I met J- everything changed though. I went from being so independant and used to having a ‘flight’ reaction to things when they got bad- to actively fighting for the relationship. I fell so deeply head over heels with him, and have been for almost 3 years now (we’ve been dating for almost two- started out as friends who weren’t sure they were right for a relationship and then threw caution to the wind and decided to take a chance).

    I honestly never thought I would find anything like this and have been so very thankful to have met someone so caring and kind. He’s my first love and my best friend. (I’ve had small flings here and there, but J was the first who I ever got the ‘this is it! feeling) J makes me feel beautiful and listens to my anxious thoughts and helps me with my low self esteem. (I have a very long history of emotional and domestic abuse). J is my rock and my support and he means the world to me.

    So far our only lows in the relationship have been when I’ve had small anxiety spikes and when J wasn’t sure whether we were both on the same track regarding the future. We had a big falling out about three months back because he felt anxious that we were taking the steps towards becoming engaged (we were out ring shopping), and this lead to him withdrawing from the relationship and saying that he felt confused about what he wanted. I told him that I would be happy to just stay in his life as whatever he wanted, and so we moved forward and he eventually opened up about the fact that he did want the future we had discussed and he was going to buy the ring.

    After the falling out, I felt a little hurt but still okay. Part of me was worried though that J felt obligated to propose to me, and so I pushed a little to find out whether he wanted this or not, and whether it was truly something he had come to terms with on his own. When we first started dating we both had very different life timelines that eventually slowly began to alter around each other, and I suppose part of me has always been worried that maybe I was the reason why he wanted to push it forward.

    After I brought this up with him he comforted me by telling me that yes, originally he wanted to wait longer- but that was when he first ever thought of it (a year or so a go). He said that even without us discussing the future, he would have come to this conclusion and been planning rings and proposals.

    The next morning after this talk I woke up in (what I think to be) an anxiety spiral. I keep asking myself what if I don’t love J enough, what if we’re only good as friends, why do I not feel like what I used to? What if I’ve fallen out of love with J? I’m worried that maybe only the chase was appealing to me, (something that my mother, father and brother are notorious for) and that these feelings for J have just faded.

    All my life I’ve been forced into scenarios where I’ve chosen the flight option and part of me is worried that maybe I’ve naturally come to that for the first time. I’m scared that maybe I’m staying with J because he’s my best friend and I’m comfortable with him and I don’t want to hurt him, but then the other part of me is screaming how much I love him and how unhappy I would be without him. I feel like I still love him, but there’s this voice telling me that I’m lying and that I just don’t want to lose what I have. I’ve always been a very anxious person (and I score a 25/27 on the HSP test) but I get scared that what if I’m using this anxiety as a shield? What if I’m really falling out of love with J? He’s been my whole world and lately I’ve tried to end it- and in those brief moments I feel relief until I picture what it would be like without him in my life and I just fall apart.

    I find it so hard because this all seems to have happened overnight. I went from my biggest fear being losing J to suddenly being scared that I just don’t love him enough to be with him for the rest of my life. I’ve spent two weeks falling apart and I just don’t know where to turn. Do you think I’m convincing myself Sheryl? I just need someone to help guide me in the right direction right now.

    I just celebrated my 20th birthday and am currently in my final year at university and therefore under a lot of stress- I’m partially convinced that maybe this is effecting me as well? I feel like I’m losing my childhood and unsure of where I’m going right now. Lately I just feel like there’s a film over my eyes and I’m on auto piolt. I’m just not getting joy from anything (uni, getting good marks, seeing friends), and I don’t know whether maybe this apathy is coming from my relationship anxiety or maybe this anxiety is causing apathy that is effecting my relationship.

    I just keep reading your articles and comments for any hope and guidence. I just don’t want to feel this way anymore. Two weeks ago I felt so in love and crazy about my partner. A few weeks back I was telling my father who thinks I’m settling down too young that J has saved me in every way possible, and that I’d rather spend a life time with him having ups and downs then try and find passion with strangers for a night or two. Yet here I am now questioning whether I should just pack my bags and leave.

    Our yearly lease is just about up and part of me is latching onto the idea that maybe this is perfect timing- maybe I should just pick up and go, but when I think about saying goodbye to J- I crumble and I cry and I just cannot go through with it. I keep telling myself that this happened overnight- I owe it to myself and to J to try and work through this, but these intrusive thoughts just will not cease. I try and try and try to rationalize and look at everything logically- I tell myself that love is a verb and not a feeling, and that I will find my way back to my love- but this voice continues to persist and tell me that I’m wrong and that I’m just trying to fool myself.

    Do you think I’ve fallen out of love with J, Sheryl? I’m dreadfully sorry to unload on you, but I’m at my wits end. This is the man that I’ve spent days dreaming about marrying and having a family with (something that up until I met him I had never even pictured), and that I’ve always been so loudly and proudly in love with- how could I possibly fall out of love with him overnight? Is it something that has just bubbled over? Have I been gradually falling out of love without realising it, or am I just anxious? I’m terrified that I’m using anxiety as an excuse, even though I’m so, so sure that it is what it is.

    My feelings for J have always been so, so big- I’m horrified to think they could just vanish. When I’m in his arms and when he kisses me, I feel at home- so why is there a voice telling me I need to run? I just can’t get it to go away no matter what I do. Is it my subconcious? To me- there’s no red flags in this relationship. We want the same things in life, yet when I think that now- the voice in my head pips up asking ‘do you really?’. I’ve never pictured being with another man while I’ve been with J- i’ve never had an interest in dating anyone else and can’t even stomach the idea, but lately my anxiety keeps raising the question.

    Am I just anxious because I no longer feel like I have to fight to keep J around? I felt like everything came crumbling down when he said he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to get married. Is it that now my emotions have no big outlet? I know you’ve talked about the chase and romantic love- could it be the loss of that? I’m under no illusions that our honeymoon period is over (it’s hard to keep it when you’re around each other 24/7- though this has never bugged us too much). I’d greatly appreciate any advice- even if just a yes/no.

    Do you think I should leave, Sheryl? I feel like I’d be walking away from the greatest thing I’ve ever stumbled into, but part of me is worried that I’m falling out of love with J and I just need to accept it. J has always told me that no matter what, two people can make it through anything as long as they have the same values and good communication (advice his childhood sweetheart parents have passed down)- but part of me cannot shake the idea that sometimes people do just fall out of love and that us saying that it’s my anxiety is us just trying to cover up a bigger issue. But if that was the case- why would I care so much? I’ve walked away from so much in my life without batting an eyelid. How have I gone from feeling such a warm overwhelming love to feeling nothing but apathy and panic?

    Sending much love and thanks your way,
    T

    • MissJane

      I’m dreadfully sorry to add even more text to this, but I should add after his confusion about what he wanted- we were completely fine. I still felt incredibly in love, ignoring my worry that I may have been pushing him into something. It was a few weeks later when I brought those feelings up and subsequently triggered all of this. x

    • Dear MissJane: Thank you for your comment, but unfortunately I’m not able to thoroughly read and respond to comments of this length. I’m hoping one of my readers will respond. In the meantime, please read through as much of my site as possible and spend time turning inward. There are no quick answers but your guidance will come from within you. Sending blessings –

  • Kimberly

    Sheryl,
    Thank you so much for your work, your articles always inspire me. I’m so glad I found you while I was trying to find some answers about what was going on in my life.

    I’m 18, and it has been a very confusing time in my life as I’ve never been a relationship before. When I was getting into a relationship with someone that I trusted and was sure that he was “the one”, I started to panic and felt anxious every time I though about being with him. I couldn’t understand why that was happening, so I just assumed i didn’t like him enough to be in a relationship, so I gave up. I told him I wasn’t sure if I liked him anymore, so we stopped talking for a long time. During that time I missed him very much, so I started to search on the internet and found out it was anxiety, so I started to talk to him again. I explained to him what it was, he understood what was going on and now we are trying again. However, he moved to another country to work until the end of the year, so I don’t get very anxious, but sometimes when we talk on Skype I don’t feel attracted to him so I start to worry that when he comes back I won’t be able to be in a romantic relationship with him, because of anxiety. I don’t want to give on him because I know he is an amazing guy and that I would be very happy in this relationship.

    Your articles help me a lot, because I can see that there is hope for me and that I’m not alone, but sometimes I do feel alone, I feel that with me it may not work because most people here are already in a relationship and didn’t have problems in getting into that relationship, as for me it was at the start, which scares me the most. I’m scared to hurt him, and to feel the pain/anxiety that the relationship may give me. I start to question, is this relationship really worth of my time, freedom, space, and routine?

    I would be very grateful if you could give me any advice about this. And again, thank you so much! x

  • Anne

    I have been strongly dealing with similar stories for ten years now. Dating and now married to my high school sweet heart and children later. A man who has stood by me and my doubts. It is the worst feeling to over think and Dwell all the time. It’s seems to be an obsession of mine now and even worse what gets me spiralling is hearing of other break ups. If I hear someone is breaking up do to no feelings, not in love or not happy anymore sends me in a tail spin. It’s a fact of life it happens more often then not with people I know and I just wish I wAsnt so caught up in it. As soon as I hear it I get anxious, scared and depressed. Then I dwell on them and start to compare and question my feelings or no feelings. I have been with him for alittle over 20 years. I just want to be happy and content with myself and our marriage. It’s hard to feel love or happy when there is people all the time breaking up around you. I’m scared maybe I am one of those people to and just to scared to up lift our family, scared of hurting him actually the thoughts of hurting him kills me inside. I woke one day over ten years ago after a couple breaking up that I knew and they split due to not feeling in love anymore etc and then it began for me we were probably together by then 5 years started off as friends so it wasn’t the love at first sight deal. All of a sudden I would wake in the morning feel nothing aNd it went from there why aren’t i? When he comes home from work why aren’t I all happy and butterflies? Intimacy why don’t I feel over the top? And wanting it? On and on I would get so anxious is shut right down very depressed scared running to the bathroom.im not as bad as I was years ago but I still have it and wonder will I for life? How can I feel content? Certain? Love feelings again? They do come and go but not as strong. I would love your advice is this relationship anxiety? Why can’t I move on from it it has been so long that I think itight be the reason my moods are low a lot? How can I stop comparing to other relationship after the newness is way long and start to cherish the good life, husband I do have? I think these doubts fear have been quirpling my life for far to long. I don’t want to be another fily marriage split up over no feelings and thinking that if I leave the weight off my shoulder would be gone Nd where I start to finally be happy? This site has been the first of many I searched over the years that has given me some hope and without adding to my anxiety.