Retiring the Anxiety Suit

I’m in my living room, lying on the floor, speaking into a recorder.

My body is full of emotion. I feel like everything is going WRONG. Everything feels slightly off. Vaguely threatening. Even the usual everyday events like getting my son to his activity, or getting dressed — it all feels very stressful and overwhelming.

I can feel that familiar tension in my throat and solar plexus… My body is zipping on what I call the Anxiety Suit

Such a familiar, comfortable feel to it. It’s hard to resist. I know this feeling well. It’s an old friend, a pimp for bad choices.

I haven’t worn the Anxiety Suit in a long time, maybe a year now. So it feels extremely constricting. I feel a deep squeeze on my ribs and diaphragm, an extremely restless sensation in my legs and hips, pain in my shoulders and in my heart, and a headache — just at the center behind my eyes, knocking, but not fully there yet.

This is what’s true for me right NOW, in THIS moment; but INSTEAD of reacting to these sensations by drowning them out with the chaos of frenzied activity or the numbness of a martini…I’m just lying still, breathing slowly and deliberately. Noticing each sensation in my body as it arises.

It’s very challenging. Each time I feel that tightness, I take a long breath, let it out, and I allow myself to PAUSE for a REALLY LONG TIME. And then I describe, out loud to myself, what it is that I feel. Sometimes I say it to a silent friend, though this time I’m talking into a recorder, as a witness.

I don’t know WHY I feel this way. I sense that it’s many, many things. And it’s also nothing.

I respond by stretching my restless legs, breathing into them, rocking my head side to side, sensing the pain in my neck and chest. As I gently move my body and breathe, I begin to remember something I’ve learned

My body is telling me that it thinks I need protection from something. 

Something is happening in my life that my body feels it needs to PROTECT me from, by donning this familiar cloak of pain and urgency.

And that is a sure indicator that I’m trying to do something DIFFERENTLY in my life

Suddenly, I feel really aware of ALL the things I’m trying to CHANGE in my life right now, I’m actually sort of hyper-aware of them. The “temporary” apartment we’ve been living in for three years. The weight of my husband’s recent illness. Our unstable finances. The Trump administration.

I feel it all around me like clogged energy, and I find it hard to breathe.

So I take a long breath in, and out.

And during this one breath, this small moment of unexpected space, I experience a brief CLEARING, where I understand that I have a CHOICE.

My BODY is screaming, “Run away from this!! Stuff this down and keep going like you always do! Here, let me tighten the suit…”

But my SPIRIT is very loudly whispering, “This is the time. Now is the time, not to compromise. In this moment of space, MAKE A DIFFERENT CHOICE. Make the choice that will lead you toward your TRUE SELF.”

This dichotomy is very uncomfortable. For a moment I am confused, unsure how to reconcile my body’s warning with my spirit’s longing. So I choose simply to lie STILL and breathe and try to describe it out loud.

I understand, even if for a very brief moment, that this is CLARITY. This is VISION. This is my SOUL calling me from the dark shadows I have relegated it to, zipped tight into anxiety and protective fear. It wants out.

This is both EXCITING and frightening, but I lean into it.

I begin to THANK my body for its protection all these years. For its undying loyalty. And to remind it that we are safe here in my living room. There is no immediate threat. I take another breath.

The feelings don’t go away, but they begin to feel less threatening. I feel more solid. More ME.

By making a DIFFERENT choice in this small window of time; by choosing to STAY WITH my immediate experience rather than run away from it; by choosing to LISTEN to my body rather than battle it; by taking the action of SPEAKING my experience, I have shifted a lifetime of unhealthy ones.

Because now there is a BEACON for the next time. A memory that I can do this, that I didn’t run, and I didn’t die. I know there is another way.

And I am aware that my body is not my enemy after all, but my ALLY. Providing me with information in any given moment about who I truly am, and what I truly desire. My job now is to FEEL, and to LISTEN to this TRUTH.

This is the reward of NOT running away from the discomfort of what most frightens me…but in fact running TOWARD it. And then choosing NOT to wear the Suit. What comes next is only a matter of practice, and time.

Everyone — every single human being on this planet — has the power to do this. And the more we do it, the more personal POWER and COMPASSION for others we build. It’s like a muscle I’m toning, a new language I’m becoming fluent in.

IMAGINE, if every one of us treated our moments of fear with such tenderness — and held space for OTHERS as they experience theirs. Imagine the kind of world..!

This is the world I desire to live in. This is the world I work to create.

Fog Light

How will you FEEL when your future is revealed?

Every moment has a radius of awareness. What you are aware of is what you feel and know in your current radius – like your range of vision in a thick fog. If, in your radius of awareness, you star in the leading role of Loser Who Can’t Get Anything Right, you will no doubt expect the fog to lift on a scene that supports your loserdom.

What’s happening in your FUTURE is up to what you feel, think, say, and do RIGHT NOW.

And I don’t mean that you have to “get to work” doing all kinds of tasks to change who you are and how you think, in order to be who you want to be and get what you want to get in the future.

I mean you have to get really REAL and dig into what is happening INSIDE you. Really get familiar with how the people and things and situations around you make you FEEL in your physical body. Ask yourself the hard questions about what you want, what makes you feel good and not so good, what are your fundamental VALUES and TRUTHS, what is the ESSENCE of YOU?

I don’t usually take a “tough love” tack, but I can tell you that when I start feeling down about myself and my circumstances, it’s helpful to be assertive with my inner inquiry. To actively turn inward and NOTICE the choices I’m making that are leading me to NOT feel the way I DREAM of feeling.

This requires that I know two fundamental things:

  1. How I feel right now (really and honestly, and with full experience); and
  2. How I dream of feeling (again, really honestly, no holds barred. I have to let myself FEEL it.)

That’s the place to start. Be aggressive in understanding your SELF, inside and out. Then look around you and begin to identify what is NOT in ALIGNMENT with that self – one thing at a time.

Each time I do something that is in alignment with my dreams,
I FEEL it.
I desire for MORE.

Each time I do something that doesn’t quite feel right, or that feels obligatory, heavy, whatever, I FORGIVE it.
I let it go.

Forgive yourself any time you notice you’ve made choices that do not serve your highest self. After all, you are only human, and it will not stop happening. Forgiveness clears the way for POSSIBILITY and LOVE. There’s no sense in continuously lamenting over moments that have passed, because then you are taking the PAIN of that lament with you into the future. You’re shaping what is behind the fog.

We can’t truly see clearly what’s beyond us, or even behind us.
We can only see what’s RIGHT NOW.
Right now is when we have the CHOICE to come into alignment.
And again right now.
And right now.
And right now….

LISTEN. Listen for what is calling you.
RESPOND. Make a choice based on what is in line with what you hear.
LET GO. Release your judgment, release your need to clutch and grasp for the answers, and
TRUST in the power of your own intuitive intelligence.

These are the building blocks for what will be REVEALED to you as the fog lifts,
moment by moment,
on your life.


The Second Dart

Remember last week when I told you I’ve been practicing doing things that scare me? I’m coming to realize that what I’m really doing are things that EXCITE me!

Maybe it started as the feeling of FEAR, but it EVOLVED into anticipation, and then excitement.

This happened because as I began to EXPLORE my fears – the little, everyday ones especially, not just the big hairy ones – I began to overcome them. And as I overcome them, I’m enjoying the sense of VICTORY, of accomplishment, of SUCCESS. I allow myself to really FEEL the success and savor it, remember it in my BODY, before moving on to the next one.

Over time, I’ve come to feel excited to face my limitations, not so much afraid. I still feel the telltale agitation in my solar plexus and stomach, my breath comes higher in my lungs, and I feel less grounded – the sensations I’ve always associated with anxiety and fear – but that’s ALSO how I feel when I’m excited…

The experience of FEAR and the experience of EXCITEMENT in my body are so similar, in fact, that I am able to SHIFT MY PERSPECTIVE of my experience just by saying to myself, “I’m so excited!” any time I feel those particular sensations.

After doing this for several weeks, when I hear my head-talk turning angry or fearful or causing me to fret or lash out, I actually do get a little excited, because I KNOW that’s a place I can EXPLORE and SHIFT.

I know this may sound like goofy Jack Handy stuff, but I’m telling you, it’s really changing my life. And you can do it, too. I have no special skills or training, I just DECIDED to do it. That’s all. I made the CHOICE to change the words anxiety and fear in my mind to the word excitement. AND, I committed to paying close ATTENTION to the way my BODY feels when I use these words. That’s all. I committed, I observed, I felt, and I changed.

I’m bringing all this up, because last week I asked YOU to write to me with a roadblock of your own – a self-sabotaging way in which you make things harder with your beautiful, brilliant mind (who really just wants something to do, to protect and create, it’s genius really). THANK YOU for bravely sharing your own powerful examples of the genius that is the bodymind.

Let us appreciate, for a moment, the strength and intelligence of these behaviors, which were literally designed by your own body to keep you safe from dangers (perceived or real) at some point in your life. To keep your bright, curious, impulsive SOUL safe in its earthly body.

They are patterns that you taught yourself for a reason, probably a very good reason. So, you can say THANK YOU to your brain now, and really mean it, because you no longer need this pattern to keep you safe. In fact, it’s probably begun to keep you down. Which is why you are calling it “self-sabotage.” You KNOW. Your higher intelligence knows.

Here are some of the brilliant situations YOU offered in which you find yourselves in your own way:

“Endlessly bickering with my kids like I’m on auto-pilot.”
“Staying in a corporate job that sucks my soul, when I know I am called to [insert totally awesome skill here].”
“Losing myself in the name of intimate relationship.”
“Withholding myself inside my relationship.”
“My demons are in my (creative) work.”
“Addicted to my cell phone.”
“Skipping my workouts and telling myself it’s OK once, but then it snowballs into weeks.”

It’s not the situation or the behavior itself, really, that’s causing us suffering. It’s our JUDGMENT that the situation or behavior should somehow be DIFFERENT. This is where we cause ourselves the most PAIN. In Buddhism this is referred to as the second dart. The first dart is the pain of the situation itself; the second dart is the way we beat ourselves up for it and perpetuate our own suffering.

So, right there, that’s one thing you can do the next time this barrier rears its ugly head in your awareness – WATCH and LISTEN for the second dart. Then give yourself a little break. Maybe a kind word, a few breaths, a loving gesture.

Next, notice how it feels in your BODY when you’re inside one of these moments. Identify a SENSATION or two that always seems to accompany this behavior or situation. Give yourself some me-time to sit with that sensation and breathe into it. Put your hand on it, or move around with it. Thank it for protecting you.

Finally, find some way to FLIP the meaning you give this behavior. Instead of telling yourself what an awful beast you are, give yourself something nice to say. For me it’s “I’m excited! I wonder what’s gonna happen!” instead of “I’m anxious and I gotta fix this shit RIGHT NOW.” If you give yourself even a little time and space to think about this, the right phrase will come to you. You may not have to believe it right away, but it does have to resonate with you; it has to come from your own higher self.

Listen, you are NOT alone in the struggle. We ALL do this shit. Most of us accept and tolerate these irritations as the status quo, and we never move beyond them. I think this is mostly because we don’t really BELIEVE we CAN.

Well, you CAN.  If I can do it, anyone can do it.

All it takes is that one decision – the CHOICE to COMMIT to the SHIFT. Then you’re on the road to emotional FREEDOM and spiritual INTEGRITY.

Finding Dinner Peace

Lately I’ve been doing things that SCARE me, every day.

This might sound admirable, but really, it’s a drag. Creating your own reality is more about chipping away at the chronic, vaguely annoying decisions you make all the time that you can no longer see are hurting you in the long run.

This isn’t the glamorous sort of risk-taking.

Most recently, I’ve been exploring the ways in which I make life HARDER for myself than it actually is. Maybe this doesn’t sound like “doing something that scares me,” but it is. Because it requires calling myself on behavior PATTERNS I’ve been lounging in for years like a set of comfy pajamas. And once called out, they no longer feel SAFE.

For example, around 6pm, I don’t just make dinner. I THINK about dinner for an hour, open the fridge and cupboard doors repeatedly and declare there is nothing there, then OBSESS about what an inconvenience it is to have to MAKE dinner every night when I have to WORK all day…and before you know it, I’m ANGRY that I can’t afford a housekeeper, a cook, or a nanny and FRUSTRATED that I’m spending a fortune on ready-to-cook meals from Trader Joe’s. By 7pm, I’m eating a bowl of chips and waiting for the pizza guy, and no one gets a real meal.

WAAAAYYY harder than just making dinner.

It’s OK, of course. We all do this, or variations of it. The human mind is built to do this – to question, analyze, catastrophize, PROTECT. To make sure we have considered ALL ANGLES of a dilemma, lest there be a hungry tiger just around the corner.

The problem, though, is two-fold. In modern life, the dangers MANIFEST differently than the ones our bodies were designed to protect us from. We often see THREAT where there is NONE, and we overlook threat when it is real. So the behavior patterns that result from our attempts to stay SAFE from IMAGINED dangers usually end up causing us more HARM, over time, than good.

In my example, my BODY believes it is protecting me from the “danger” of overwhelm by rationalizing that it’s better to take the “simple path” of ordering out. But in the long run, this is harming my own HEALTH and the health of my family – because we eat later, we eat more processed food, and we experience emotional STRESS around eating dinner together.

How to get out of this LOOP?

The FIRST STEP (and that’s all we’re focused on today)
is to allow myself to SEE these PATTERNS for what they are.
To stare them in the face WITHOUT JUDGING myself.

I can write them down, keep a LIST.
I can take a BREATH when I’m in the middle of it.
I can tell myself this is HUMAN.
We all do this shit.
It’s biological

And that means, to REVERSE it is human EVOLUTION.

To stare our patterns in the face, take a breath, have compassion for this very human condition, and MAKE A DIFFERENT CHOICE?
That’s disruptive.
That’s revolutionary.

So, this week, take a little JOY in noticing the automatic patterns that actually keep YOU down,
That make you feel a little crazy, or angry, or small, or RIGHT.
Write them down.
Make a LIST.
Explore them.
Notice how you FEEL in your body as you explore.

That’s Step One.

It will lead you to whatever Step Two is, for YOU…

Fall to Rise

Last week I had a dream.

I was in a lecture hall with a huge crowd of people. The venue was enormous, and packed full to the doors. The mood felt very excited, like this was a super big deal, although I can’t remember why now. I was in the front row with a bunch of people I seemed to know but who, as is the way of dreams, had no discernable faces.

For some unexpected reason, the speaker could not speak. The stage manager was in a quiet panic. One by one, he asked a handful of replacements if they might speak in his stead. And one by one, they each proclaimed some very good reason why they couldn’t possibly take on the responsibility.

He turned to me. “It has to be you,” he says urgently. “You have to do it… You’re our only hope.”

(OK… I don’t know if he actually said you’re our only hope, but go with me here. His struggle was real.)

It has to be you.

I woke up, snarkily thinking, “Of course it does, because I’m seasoned at taking responsibility for things that have nothing to do with me!” It’s a sorry M.O. I acquired as a child. A behavior I now recognize as a clever neuro-pathway designed specifically to protect me from feeling that things were broken and beyond my control.

I know there was a time in my early life where this helped me feel less helpless and afraid. But as I grew up, I began to feel that it made me a victim.

Why was I the one who had to say I’m sorry when she always starts the fights?
Why was I the one who got suspended when he’s the one who talked me into it?
Why was I the one who had to swallow my questions and act like I understood when I surely did not?

But, it also taught me something valuable – to stare FEAR in the face and find a way to SUCCEED, knees shaking, with whatever is handed to me.

In my dream, in the brief moment just before I boldly said YES to the speech, I also knew I could run away in fear and no one would’ve blamed me. It would be easy to do – everyone else had done it. THIS is the golden moment of OPPORTUNITY and CREATIVITY.

In that opening, how you decide to ACT matters. It determines the course of the next chapter. And if there are INFINITE moments like this in my LIFE, that means there is infinite POSSIBILITY to DESIGN my own life, chapter by chapter.

Why don’t we do this, though?

Fear of making mistakes,
Fear of looking bad or getting it wrong,
Fear of losing something or someone,
Fear of having too much to do,
Fear of failing
Fear of succeeding…

The list is as endless as the list of opportunities. So, which will you chose? FEAR or OPPORTUNITY?

Life constantly hands us opportunities to rise to a higher expectation. All we have to do is say YES.

Yes to the chance to FALL!

Because every fall is another opportunity to RISE.