A coaching client recently said to me, “You talk a lot about doing “the work”, and I wondered for so long what “the work” was. I thought that if I understood anxiety intellectually I would feel better. And the first time I went through the course I did feel better for a while, which I know is very common for new course members. But then I felt anxious again, and I realized that I wasn’t doing the work.”
“How do you understand the work now?”
“For me it means going underneath the story. It means taking the information out of the realm of intellectual understanding and putting it into practice. It means dialoguing with these different parts of myself, which is about engaging with them instead of being fused with them. It’s so different to dialogue with the part of me that’s scared of intimacy as opposed to just thinking about it or talking about it. It also means going beyond the place of words.”
“Can you say more about the place without words?”
“It’s hard to explain. I think it’s what you talk about when you say the space between the thoughts and the place beneath the feelings. When I go underneath the story of “I’m not attracted” or “I’m in the wrong relationship” I arrive at this place of pain. Sometimes there’s no words in that pain. It’s an image or color. It’s a sensation in my body. When I can sit with that pain and witness it something opens up inside. I become more curious about the place of silence and I notice that it’s not anxiety anymore.”
This is what it looks like to go underneath the mass of anxiety. Anxiety isn’t a feeling as much as a panic. When you drop down and break open the anxiety you touch the raw feelings. This is the work. Hanging out in the realm of anxiety and its endless stories isn’t the work. Or as the moderator of the forum recently shared so beautifully:
Anxiety is a stuck energy. It’s like a wall, a solid mass inside that doesn’t know how to move.
Core feelings and emotions are made out of liquid. They move through your body and are then released.
Everyone arrives at their cracked-open place in different ways. For some, it’s through dialoguing. For others, it’s through mindful awareness. For everyone, it’s time. This isn’t a quick-fix approach to working with anxiety. It’s a slow burn commitment to shed light on the darkened places of psyche, to open up the shadow bag that we all carry and find the courage to peer inside. It begins with a willingness to make a shift and take responsibility and continues with a commitment to stay with the process even when it’s challenging. To this end, a member of the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety E-Course recently shared her approach to “the work” on the forum:
“I’m sure I’ve mentioned this in the past but probably the greatest thing I did for myself to break free from relationship anxiety was to create my own guide. I bought a nice set of lined paper of different colors, some good pencils, and a pretty binder. I printed out all of the course wheels and took notes on them about what came up for me while watching the course videos and reading the course articles. I wrote notes upon notes on the parts of the course I thought were important. Sometimes I even just copied word for word because writing it down helped me understand it. And I tried to read my own notes to myself as often as possible (it was hard because there was a lot of resistance). I think something different happened for me when I read it written in my own note-taking style.
“One line I wrote myself that I would read over and over was “The suffering is a gift! There will be a rebirth for sure!” I didn’t know if I could believe it but I had to believe it because the pain and feelings of distrust in everything were so great. I also kept a section in the back for general journalling, so if I ever felt very taken by an idea and wanted to do some long, rambly journalling, it wouldn’t clog up my notes. This is the way I began to truly understand the course material. I remember when I wrote it, it all felt so foreign, and if I read it now it seems so obvious.”
As this member so beautifully shares, reading alone is not the work; we have to engage with the material, exercises, and tools in a way that takes the information out of the realm of the head and helps it metabolize into the body. And the most important point of her post is in the first line: “the greatest thing I did for myself to break free from relationship anxiety was to create my own guide.” She took the material and made it personal so that she could take the reins from me and not only create her own guidebook but become her own guide. She engaged with the course in a way that helped it make sense for her and she took full responsibility for her learning process.
This is something that we don’t learn it school, which teaches one way of learning that often culminates in regurgitating information. One reason why I present the course material in so many ways – audio, visual, and written – is to honor the various ways that people learn. If you don’t engage with the material in a way that makes sense for you it will remain at the level of thought. We don’t heal in our heads. It’s a starting point, but healing happens when insights travel down from head to heart and body where they undergo an alchemical transformation that leads to a shift from anxiety to clarity, not in one magic moment but in slow-drip, organic time.
We engage by active note-taking.
We engage through dialoguing.
We engage by working through the blocks and beliefs that prevent us from feeling our feelings.
We engage by surrendering to the fear and being willing to jump off the cliff of knowing into the sea of not-knowing.
It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to become your own guide and trust that you have the skills and resources to take responsibility for your healing. It’s incredibly courageous to makes this leap off the cliff of everything your ego has held onto steadfastly in its attempt to create control and safety and jump into new and unfamiliar waters, which, in the case of relationship anxiety, means taking the focus off of your partner and their perceived flaws and onto what really needs attention, which are your stories of not-enough and the fear-walls that prevent you from loving. But if you want to be released from the prison of anxiety there is simply no other way.