Anxiety insists, “You don’t love your partner!”
Anxiety declares, “You have a terminal illness!”
Anxiety whispers, “You’re going to hurt your baby.” (Anxiety doesn’t always yell; sometimes it’s a quiet, convincing voice.)
Your job is to say, “Thank you, anxiety. You have my full attention. Now what is the need, feeling, metaphor, or growth opportunity that this alarming statement is pointing to?”
If that sounds new or bizarre to you, ask yourself, “How has it worked out when I take my anxiety at face value? What happens when I believe it as categorically true?”
Is there risk in loving? Yes, to love is a risk.
Is there risk in living? Yes, to live is a risk.
But there are more effective ways to manage the risk then becoming caught on the hamster wheel of intrusive thoughts.
Anxiety is the distress flare and we must listen to it; where we go awry is in the interpretation. We take the anxious thoughts/declarations/alarms at face value, which is understandable since, for most of history, anxiety has been a response to real-and-present physical danger; to ignore anxiety in the past was a matter of life-and-death. But that is usually no longer the case, meaning that anxiety’s presence does not mean that physical danger is imminent (other than the inherent risks of loving and living).
It’s as if anxiety is inviting us to evolve, to become more nuanced and less literal in our interpretation, to enter the language of the unconscious, which speaks in the language of metaphor and imagery. Anxiety is acting now as an emissary from the unconscious, a little boat sent out from the Mother Ship – as Gary Zukav refers to the guiding principle of the Self – to do her bidding, which is to bring us into wholeness.
One of dreamworker Jeremy Taylor’s trademark phrases is “the danger of mistaken literalism,” which means that when you hear, “I don’t love my partner” or “I have cancer”, the mistake is taking those statements literally instead of understanding that anxiety is accurate in its message of urgency but the source of the urgency is not what you think.
What is the danger, then, that anxiety is pointing to? To start, we need to change the word “danger” to “risk”, for danger implies imminent urgency and usually refers to physical safety whereas risk refers to inner realms.
The risk, then, is giving your heart to another human being when your heart has been hurt again and again.
The risk is trusting life and letting go of control when control has been the foothold that helped you survive your early years.
The risk is in “stepping into the arena”, as Brené Brown says: speaking your truth and exposing yourself to the inevitable criticism that occurs when you share who you truly are.
The risk is in allowing yourself to feel the squashed down, hidden emotions that you sequestered away long away.
The risk, in short, is in living your life fully.
Anxiety says, “Life isn’t safe,” and anxiety is right; life isn’t safe. Everywhere we turn, there is risk. Again, it’s not the physical danger of a lion prowling through the jungle. It’s not the danger of the plague sweeping through your town and wiping out 80% of its citizens. It’s more subtle than that. But the primitive part of our brain, the part responsible for sounding the anxiety alarm, doesn’t know that the risk isn’t a matter of life-and-death anymore. And on the emotional level, it all feels the same.
In other words, risking your bruised heart feels like life-and-death. Entering the arena feels like you’re about to be thrown to the lions. Loving your baby with a love that feels bigger than the universe and so is accompanied by the possibility of loss is a risk that seems insane to take. Feeling the long-sequestered feelings, the ones that made you feel like you were going to die when they tidal waved through you as a small, young child, feels like inviting in a tsunami.
The risks have changed. They’re not as obvious as they once were. Without the daily and blatant danger of death on our doorstep, we’re being invited to evolve our capacity to live with our full hearts, and anxiety is leading the way. It’s pointing us to the ways in which we’re off-kilter in our four realms of self and the growth opportunity to learn how to live in the present, with all of its uncertainty, with more equanimity.
Several of my other courses and my book address the first invitation – to realign and learn to attend to the four realms of self – in depth. In Grace Through Uncertainty, I address the second invitation: the growth opportunity to learn how to live in the present, with all of its uncertainty, with more equanimity. At the core of intrusive thoughts is the need for certainty. At the core of health anxiety is the need for comfort and safety. At the core of money anxiety is the need for security.
If you’re ready to receive the roadmap that will help you create a personal and meaningful practice that will allow you to surrender into a true pillow of comfort that can absorb the fears inherent to this risky endeavor of living and loving fully, please join me for this fifth round of Grace Through Uncertainty: A 30-Day Course to Heal Intrusive Thoughts, Address Health/Death/Money Anxiety from the Root, Feel More Comfortable with Change, and Become the Source of Your Own Aliveness. The course begins on Saturday, July 9, 2022, and I very much look forward to seeing you there.