Maybe I should plant more lettuce. Or some greens. What about fall kale? What about the weeds? What about my mother-in-law? What about my messy house? What about my messy life? What about the anxious knot in my belly?
I roll over again and try to shut the feelings down. I’ve had enough.
“What do you have to be anxious about,” a voice within scolds. “Fear makes everything worse. Let it go.”
I pull the covers close and search for calm beneath the agitation. I roll on my back and try a deep breath. Impossible. I wiggle my toes, curl and separate them. Toes relax. Then knees and thighs. Butt cooperates. Then I get to my diaphragm. It’s rigid and hard. My speedy heart beats time with my relentless mind.
I try what Pema Chodron teaches, to let discomfort in. Briefly. I can’t. I don’t want to feel this.
Hello, tight diaphragm that won’t allow a breath of life. I know you. Hello, shallow breath that stops half way down my throat. Hello, clenched jaws. Hello, restless mind, one thought smashing against another.
I want to welcome anxiety as though it’s a frightened child, but I’m a phony. I only want sleep. I don’t want to accept fear or hear its lament. I want it to go away.
“OK, I give up. I’ll try meditating a while,” I mutter to myself.
I pull on sweats, light a candle, and sit on my meditation cushions. Not for long. I’m tired and impatient. I want to sleep, not meditate on fear.
Once again, my body proves my will is useless when I’m scared. Exasperated, I grab a notebook and pen at the side of my bed and write whatever pops into my head. C.G. Jung called this practice Active Imagination, my reliable helper for many years.
First the scolding.
“I want to sleep. Leave me alone. Just leave me alone. I don’t want to hang out with you. I have enough on my plate without lack of sleep.”
“Why are you awake? Why? Why? Is it the barrage of alarming news from the orange-headed terror in the White House? Is it because your mother-in-law may run out of money before she runs out of life and, somehow or other, you have to figure out what’s next? Is it because a deer smacked into your car? Or because your glasses broke? Or because you seem to be moving toward total deafness? Or because this summer’s house maintenance costs too much and takes too long? Or because your family has struggles you can’t fix and barely understand?”
“I’m scared,” a little voice whispers. “Please, write that down, too. I’m scared and you don’t love me. Vic loved me when I was scared.”
The quiet voice stops my rant. Yes, my dead husband loved me when I was anxious, even if the issue wasn’t a big deal. I’m not facing a hurricane or a forest fire, but I’m stuck in scared anyway.
“This is the nature of Life,” Death says. “Events unfold. Cars and houses are fixable. Much is not. So sit with me, rest with me, watch butterflies, and let go of what you can’t control. Embrace your scared little self. Be kind. Her fear needs compassion, too.”
I sigh and pause. Can I do this? Can I comfort myself the way I listened to my sons and soothed them when they cried, the way I comforted my husband when he was dying, the way he comforted me? I’ve failed hundreds of times, but this one time, can I be that kind to me?
“I’m here for you, Little One,” I tell myself. “I’ll take care of you. We’ll get through this. I love you even when you’re afraid. Come to bed and lie against my belly. You’ll be OK. We’ll be OK. Come closer. Let me hold you.”
I put my notebook on the bedside table, pull a pillow to my tight belly, wrap my arms around it, and imagine it’s a frightened child. A frightened me. I hold her close and, together, we fall asleep.
What do you do when you feel afraid without a clear cause? I wasn’t in the path of Irma. There were no disasters here. Just ordinary life experiences piling it on. The car got fixed. My mother-in-law goes on. Craving joy and needing a project to soothe the child in me, I found and fed Monarch caterpillars which I’ll write about after butterflies emerge from their pupae. For another post about Carlos Castenada and his early influence on me, read Three Life-Affirming Lessons from Death. For another post about feeling overwhelmed, see I Thought I Could.