Springing from anxiety to acceptance (takes practice and flexibility)

Olga Capdevila, artist. Her website and projects.
Via Hazel Terry's the art room plant. Find Olga on Facebook.

This is a post to share what I'm learning about myself in a new course called Brilliant Mindfulness LLC taught by Sarah Rudell Beach. Sarah is trained in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and in the Mindful Schools Curriculum for K-12 students. (She offers courses to teachers and students, individuals, families, and businesses.) A teacher with 17 years of classroom experience, she also writes about mindfulness, education, and healthy living for the Huffington Post. I use Sarah's teachings about meditation when I present the Wonder Anew project.

Today is Bob Dylan’s birthday. I read that he said, “People have a hard time accepting anything that overwhelms them.” 

Here’s my thinking: I define overwhelm as heightened anxiety. When I’m in that level of anxiety, I’m not able to do much. In an accepting frame? Um, no.

What I’m grateful for in reading Dylan's words is the reminder to have a formal meditation practice. To sit and be, and feel.

Therapy, going to self-reflection workshops or meetings, talking with friends—well, that’s to deal with the content of my upset—the stories.

Meditation is for working to still so I can be present for my feelings. To practice staying for feelings as they blow through. When they do, I practice letting them be neutral, you know, no “that’s good or that’s bad.” Neutral is the “it is.”

For me neutral is like acceptance.

So to get back to Dylan’s line, gosh yeah, it’s hard to be neutral in anxiety. 

Something that helps me explore my anxiety is sitting still. 

Sit still?

Yes. The business of stilling is about feeling. Feeling my anxiety is the path to the acceptance part. I’m grateful for this thought now because my past history says that awareness from this moment of clarity in sanity will support my less sane moments.

Like what insane moment?

Maybe this one. 

So it’s Memorial Day weekend. This is a weekend I have memories about my son Michael. He was visiting his aunt and uncle in Florida (how he managed to get leave from the Navy several weekends in a row before he graduated, I’ll never know). I was living in Ohio. I’m recalling how they all went boating and while out, come upon a school of sting rays. Uncle slows the boat in respect and observation and before you know it, Michael flings off his tee-shirt and dives in. He freestyles from a moving boat to swim with the rays.

I have mixed feelings remembering this story.

Like elation, even pride, that my son Michael is free of fear enough to be with wildlife in this way. Then I have some judgment, “You’re crazy, son!” Then comes guilt, “Did I not teach that child common sense?” My feelings are balling together into a full-blown anxiety party because as you know, a stingray's triangle-shaped, flattened body has an infamous tail trailing behind: stinger protection.  (And now we know that Steve Irwin died from a stingray barb piercing his chest.) 

Even this moment, my heart-rate is up.

So what is that anxiety? What is the story behind the anxiety? 

This swim-with-the-stingrays is one example of Michael’s risky choices. There are many others. (He loved taking risks, which is likely the reason he trained and graduated as a rescue swimmer, someone who would jump into heavy seas to save another.) This storyline holds hands with other fear-feelings in my experiences. I know this because on a scale of 1-10, this is more than a 2 in intensity, which means I'm having a motley crue of feelings. 

My son is no longer here, but I still have anxiety and fears around this weekend. (I wrote about his continuation here.)

What is important is to acknowledge my anxiety or heightened fear when it arrives. It doesn't matter that I've identified the story, or to debate whether this is a good day for the feeling. Or, hey, I've worked through this already. I've heard that it takes, oh, ten years to practice not getting all caught up in feelings. And then after that, I start practicing again another ten years. Get it? It's a lifelong practice.

I understand. When a feeling comes, all I need do is feel it. 

I feel using my breath. I breathe in the discomfort. (Heck, it’s more than that. It’s pain.) I breathe the pain into my heart. And I breathe out relief for myself, and here is a helpful part, I also breathe out relief to all others feeling anxious. I keep doing that, breath after breath.

When I do this, I gain ease. I feel lighter. Sometimes I cry.

Now. Here’s the trickiest part. 

When that anxious feeling arrives, I have this short window of opportunity to decide whether I’ll feel or not feel. To not feel means I’ll distract myself. (It’s busy-ness or cheese puffs for me. Really. The pull of anxiety is so strong I’ll want something to help me not feel. I think addiction is really a by-product of not being willing to feel.)

I no longer pretend I’m okay or that nothing is happening or that I should be over whatever feeling visits. When I'm my best self, I let go of the story and just notice the feeling. 

In the mindfulness course I'm taking, Sarah Rudell Beach talks about a choice to respond or react to emotions and that I can ("cheesy as it sounds") nicely say to myself, "Oh, hello frustration [or fear]. It's you again...." It's not so cheesy to me because Sarah's earlier lessons let me in on the neuroscience of all this. And the research showing the benefits of having a mindfulness practice.

I'm in.

And, I’m getting smarter about my choice to feel.

Smart = willing.

Willing = open.

Open = flexible.

Flexible = feeling.

Feeling = ease.

Ease = space.

Space = room for new.

Room for new = connection.

Connection = nirvana.

Yep, nirvana is not a place or mountain in Tibet. It’s freedom, available here, right now.

It helps to sort through this because holidays sometimes bring pain in the asses.

Or necks. 

The more I'm willing to feel, the less I get caught up or stuck in those pains. Instead, I gain acceptance and peace.