I’d like to share some thoughts about anxiety. The connection to yoga might not seem apparent at first, but read on…you’re likely to draw a relevant connection to your practice.
I’m writing this post, in part, as a response to one of the DYY community members who recently contacted me for advice on this issue. I was touched by the gesture, and as it happens, I was in a good position to offer something worthwhile. I'm someone who has experienced anxiety repeatedly throughout my adult life.
A Common Yet Singular Experience
My hunch is that the woman who contacted me and those that experience anxiety (including myself) are not in the minority. A lot of people probably experience anxiety in some form and even more so than any statistics would reveal.
For those unaccustomed, let me say it: Anxiety is terrifying. The best way I can describe it is to compare it to your most nightmarish scenario of claustrophobia. Think of squeezing into a darkened cave with no way out or being buried under 20 feet of snow with no sense of up or down.
When a strong bout of anxiety is on, it feels as though none of your sense of the world, none of the ground you could assuredly stand upon in day-to-day life exists anymore. Relationships, jobs, home life—your whole world is up for grabs.
It is a physical response (increased heart rate, sweats, fuzzy vision in some instances), but more so, it’s a frightening mental, emotional, and spiritual experience.
Opportunity in Disguise
And yet, anxiety delivers something. It is one of those “unforeseen gifts” that people often cite in response to a traumatic instance. It is a fucking bomb; a drone delivered (no discernment) which explodes over all the attachments we “believed” in and all we thought we knew about how things are.
It can pull apart our lives. It disrupts our worldview, begs us to look at our thought patterns, and implores us to make change. Every time I’ve experienced a profound anxiety spell, it’s been intense, to be sure. In the end, it’s brought about a really significant change in my life.
The first of these episodes occurred after I finished university. I was staring at a future created for me. Not by my parents necessarily, but by the dominant narrative of my culture: Go get a good job (one you’re unlikely to be happy in), pay the bills, start acquiring things (debt), begin a family, and so on…Bam bam bam bam. Like rungs on a ladder.
None of these things are necessarily bad, but the way people were talking about it all (about the “real world”) was terrifying to a 22-year-old. Nearly everyone had a nostalgic tone as they referred to their “college days,” lamenting a time when life was sweet, simple, and fun.
I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t take the advertising job that my education demanded. I couldn’t just go out for drinks on the weekend as a source of satisfaction. But I also had no idea how to get out of it.
That claustrophobic feeling got under my skin and into my bones. It jolted me out of bed in the middle of the night and sent me gasping for air as I searched the night sky for answers. The houses around and the life I was being sold were closing in on me. No answer was apparent.
The anxiety took hold of me, grabbed me by the wrist, and pulled me out of that state and plopped me on a vicious search for something different. It wasn’t easy to push through the uncertainty or to change my circumstances, but it happened. Again and again, anxiety has been the introduction to something in my life that isn’t working.
I’d like to draw the comparison between personal and collective anxiety; to say that we experience a form of collective anxiety that is ripping apart our social world just as it does to our personal one. But I’ll save that for another time and another venue.
Instead I’ll offer this: Anxiety, like all of life’s experiences, derives from a world hidden to us. That world is part of a greater tapestry weaving throughout our lives, nearly all of which exists beyond the limited thoughts we have about ourselves and the world.
Non-judgment is the recognition of this quality existing within our lives. It all fits; the anxiety and the turmoil. The daughter who moves across the country, the son who moves across an ocean, the check that’s still in the mail, or the argument you had with your spouse.
It all fits. Be at peace.