“I will panic when it’s time to panic… and not a moment before.”
I’m not sure who said that, it could have been my mother, but it is a quote that has stayed with me.
We spend so much of our lives panicking when there is no apparent threat in the moment. This is called anxiety.
Now, having suffered from anxiety myself I know how difficult it can be to turn off the panic button. There are bookshelves full of advice, medications prescribed at an all-time high, and numerous programs that promise the healing of anxiety.
I know how uncomfortable anxiety is and how it can rob you of your life, so it’s just plain common sense that anxiety is a problem.
I was on a walk out in the forest, much like the photo above, this morning. As usual, thinking about life, about my family and also the world. I thought about how so many of us are twisted up in knots about the world situation this year, about life and death, about pain and suffering. I looked around at the pure, pristine wilderness and out of nowhere a voice said “What if this is not a problem?”.
What if this is not a problem, just another step to take.
What if anxiety is actually not a problem in itself and we let the thoughts and emotions just be?
What if thoughts and emotions were not problems, it was only our reaction, the meaning we give to them, that is the problem?
What if pain is not a problem in itself, but our reaction to it?
Every day I teach people how to notice and relax their nervous system response in the face of pain: slow your breath, relax muscle tension and notice thought patterns.
What if anxiety was a gift pointing us in the direction of what we cared about, or conversely, was simply a sensation along with numerous other sensations.
We have made our humanness into a problem.
We have made ourselves into problems to be fixed.
Hence, a booming pharma industry, a self-help addicted world and a society that seems to be on a race… to where?
Our suffering is not pathology.
Our lives are not problems to be fixed.
What if they were an invitation to be kinder to yourself, to listen to your body and give it what it needs in this moment?
A walk in the sun, a rest, a slowing down to savour your food, a moment to allow your grief.
Your body knows.
Many clients have asked me: “When will I stop crying?”
You will stop when your body is ready to stop, after fully expressing the humanity of loss.
How did emotions become a problem?
How did we learn the “stiff upper lip” approach to life, as if we are robots and any display of emotion other than the small window of “acceptable” is, well… unacceptable.
Or rather, it is: too loud, too angry, too crazy, too emotional.
It is the suppression of emotion that causes the pain and gets stuck in our nervous system and our tissues.. if it doesn’t go out, it goes in. Blaming, acting out, road-raging, are all ways of bypassing the actual sensation of emotional energy in your body.
Start now, live a different way:
Notice what you are feeling and where it sits in your body
Name it if you can. Often it’s a combination of many emotions.
Don’t judge it. It is what it is… because it is.
Express it. To a friend, to yourself, in a journal.
Take full responsibility for what is inside your own body in this moment.
If this does not feel safe, remember that it is, in fact safe now. But as a child it may not have been, and your amazingly intelligent nervous system found ways to NOT express when it wasn’t safe. You don’t have to go this alone anymore.
Remember, there is a big difference between complaining and expressing your emotion.
You are not a problem to be fixed. You are a human to be held.
Let that sink in. Emotions are an opportunity to show yourself some compassion for being human.
Imagine if we all did this. There would be far less tantrums, finger-pointing, acting out on the world stage or in our communities and relationships.
I will panic the moment I need to and before that moment… maybe my pain is not a problem. Maybe it is the next wave of life, the next step to be taken.
I leave you with a poem from Rumi, The Guest House.