My clients and e-course members are some of the wisest, most compassionate, creative, kind, and loving people with whom I’ve ever come into contact. They’re interesting, intelligent, introspective, and curious. Are there any adjectives I’ve left out?! Oh, just one: they’re also the most anxious.
It’s an interesting paradox of life that opposites are often paired together : We cannot have daytime without night or light without darkness. Spring and summer cannot exist without autumn and winter. We cannot feel true joy without opening our hearts to pain, grief, and loss. And the multi-dimensional richness of human beings generally includes straddling the apparent opposites of the positive characteristics I’ve listed above with the darker territories of the human psyche.
And now I’m about the contradict myself: anxiety, instead of being a permanent state of psyche, is a doorway into deeper growth and expanded consciousness. In my younger years I used to believe that the angst-filled artist was an inevitable and unchanging fact; in other words, that true creativity didn’t exist without suffering. I no longer ascribe to this limiting belief but instead see that creativity can be linked to emotional health and the ability to tap into a spiritual wellspring. Has beautiful art emerged from suffering? Yes. But perhaps those pieces of artwork were stepping stones along the route to health, necessary expressions of a stage of that artist’s emotional growth and that as the artist’s inner world evolved, the artwork would evolve as well.
Anxiety is not a fixed state but rather is closely linked to the creative and spiritual realms. Like two sides of the same coin, most anxious types learn, after uncovering self-limiting false beliefs and replacing them with the truth, that they can transpose their anxiety into creativity/spirituality. (I’m including creativity and spirituality as one unit as I believe they exist on a continuum as well.) Living with anxiety is like living in a hell-realm, but when you find the courage to discover the root causes of the anxiety, which are usually linked to false beliefs about self-worth, how safe it is to feel your feelings, and the truth about love, the anxiety’s gifts are revealed.
I’ve never met a highly anxious person that wasn’t also highly sensitive. It’s for this reason that the following quote often comes to mind, not only in working with my clients, but also in parenting my son and understanding myself and my closest loved ones:
“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.”
– Pearl S. Buck
What if, as a child, your intense sensitivity had been honored instead of squashed? What if you had had an emotional guide, someone to say, “It’s okay to feel,” and then taught you simple ways to manage the huge feelings that were coursing through your body? What if you had been taught to express yourself fully, through tears, through art, through woodworking, through whatever passion wanted to be unleashed?
And that’s one component of doing inner work: to becoming the loving mother and father that you never had. (And this isn’t about vilifying your parents; they did the best they could.) It’s about holding that young, exquisitely sensitive child in your arms and saying, “It’s okay to feel anything you need to feel.” It’s about being a loving guide and an emotional mentor to yourself, so that you teach your inner child that feelings are just feelings, they can’t swallow you up or kill you, and that the difficult ones will pass just as the pleasant ones do.
The more I work with my clients the more I’m convinced that the majority of anxiety is a young, terrified child screaming out for attention in the only way she or he knows how. Since she was never offered words to articulate her experience, her painful feelings mutate into a thought like, “What if I’m gay?” or “What if I abuse my child?” or “What if I don’t love my partner enough?” or into addictions to food, alcohol, media, or drugs. It’s often during transitions, when the defensive veils are softened to reveal the vulnerable and emotional places inside, that the latent anxiety rises to the surface. The scared child, feeling out of control, alone, and overwhelmed by the negative running commentary that you’ve been telling her/him for years, screams out through the body and stops eating, sleeping, and functioning.
And that’s when the real work begins. That’s when, in the darkest night you’ve ever known, you reach out for information, support, and guidance. That’s when you learn, for the first time in your life, that real change only happens once you take full responsibility for your emotional well-being, which requires nothing short of a fierce, daily commitment to exploring the false beliefs and negative thoughts that you’re telling yourself from morning until night. That’s when you peel back the layers of fantasy and realize that no one can save you, rescue you, or fix you; it’s up to you and you alone to do the work that must be done to heal and find wholeness, fulfillment, and joy, possibly for the first time in your life.
I also incorporate a strong creative element into my work with clients. As I said, most highly anxious types are also highly creative and, given the right tools and encouragement, can utilize their creativity to assist in their healing process as they cross the bridge from anxiety to creativity.
If you’re engaged in a creative project, remind yourself before you go to sleep and when you first wake up in the morning to focus on the project. You have more control over your thoughts than you think! You might not be able to control the first thought that enters you mind upon awakening (again, a time when the veils are lifted and a common time to experience anxiety), but you can control how you respond to the first thought and choose what your second thought will be. If you’re not engaged in a creative project, choose a spiritual mantra or comforting passage to memorize as your anti-anxiety spiritual medication. When you practice this enough, it will become second nature, much like finding that you have a song stuck in your mind.
When I’m writing a blog post or creating an e-course, I’ll fall asleep and wake up with ideas percolating up from my unconscious. It’s some of the most invigorating and fulfilling times of my life. When I don’t have an article or creative project on hand, I’ll learn a new Hebrew prayer or song and before I know it, I’m waking up with beautiful music and ancient words soothing my soul. When I forget to do my spiritual homework, I’m prone to anxious thoughts just like most of you. But, after years of hard work, I’m able to catch the first thought and change its course fairly quickly.
People who are prone to anxiety often stay busy as a way to distract themselves from the anxious thoughts. My clients will often say, “My anxiety is worse in the morning or on weekends when I don’t have much to do. An idle mind is the Devil’s playground.” Yes, busyness does keep the anxiety at bay, but it doesn’t address the problem by the root. You can only keep yourself busy for so long before the anxiety needs to be pulled out by the roots by noticing the fear-based thoughts and false beliefs that are creating the anxiety, then replacing them with the truth and the good medicine of creativity and spirituality. In other words, it’s not just about filling up your brain and time with trivial distractions but filling your soul with an antidote that will act as a balm to the anxious soul.
What would you be doing with your time and energy if you weren’t a victim to your anxiety? Anxiety is an energy drain and it zaps the soul of life-force, creativity, and a spiritual serenity. And yet (here’s the contradiction again!), when you dive into the dark forest of anxiety you discover that it can be a doorway into creativity and spirituality. The key is in unveiling your sources of a solace – a poem, a mantra, a spiritual text, a song – and remembering that you have the will power to transpose the negative frequency of anxiety into the high frequency of creativity and spirituality.
I’ll end with a poem I wrote in the height of my anxiety many years ago. Poetry, both writing and reading it, has been my solace since I first broke through to the dark layers of my unconscious as a teenager. This poem blew through me during an anxiety attack and helped me find peace each time I recited it in my mind:
Poetry dissolves anxiety–
it sets my mind adrift in formlessness and
reminds my soul of what is it meant to be.
Poetry lulls me in her sea crest and upon her wing,
this seamless world
this fluid world, where
phrases drop whole as if from
cloud or sky.
I do not ask why–
knowing that when I
slip under the surface of things
the blue scarved language blows away the peril,
like a wind it casts aside uncertainty and brings me
mouth to mouth with angels,
where I find that I can breathe.
What does your anxiety want to say? Imagine there’s a mouth on the tip of your anxiety and invite it to open, speak, pray, move. Let’s hear its song.