Monday, June 23, 2008

Worry, Epilogue

When I left for vacation, I thought I’d finished my exploration of worry and the anxiety that fuels it. I was wrong. At the very start of my journey, I realized I was merely takin’ it on the road...or to the airways, in this case.

The tiny prop plane I had boarded a few minutes earlier was now buffeted by strong winds zipping down the mountains to our west. There was to be no beverage service on this leg of the journey due to the turbulence. The flight attendant, strapped into her facing seat, sat with her eyes closed; I suspected she was praying. My fellow passengers were eerily quiet.

Although I no longer mind traveling by air, this flight was quite a challenge. I didn’t really believe we’d drop to the ground and burst into flames; other than the occasional stray thought, my attention wasn’t consumed by such pictures. My anxiety, however, was being tossed around with the rest of me.

I knew my emotions were responding to the signals of danger sent by a body and primitive brain structure that had no frame of reference for being bounced about like this a few thousand feet above the ground. I recognized I had a choice~~I could give my panic full sway, or I could opt for a more helpful focus. I chose the latter. I elected to trust in my safety and in the guidance available to me. I also chose to trust that there was a richness offered by this experience I was finding so unpleasant, if only I could meet it halfway. Meet it I did. I asked for help.

Immediately, my mind filled with an impression of a hurricane with its calm center. Not a particularly fresh metaphor, but exactly the one I needed at that moment. I got the message. This image was reminding me that my personal storm could best be dealt with by retreating into its eye.

So I withdrew into the undisturbed midpoint of this inner hurricane, and recognized it as the same spot I find in meditation and other such experiences. For a few seconds, I breathed within a place of stillness and watched the anxiety retreat. Very quickly, though, my balance wavered only slightly, centrifugal force kicked in, and I was thrown back into the tempest again.

But the metaphor continued to serve. I needed only to recall the image to know where I wanted to be. Imagery does that~~it communicates instantaneously, bypassing the slower, and often more entrenched and disagreeable, rational mind. I didn’t need to reason with myself or talk myself into anything. I just knew, and that knowledge seemed to shorten the path back to center. Once safely there again, the stage was set for the process to repeat, as it did many times~~calm, slip, zip, panic, imagine, traverse the path, calm.

Luckily, this was a short flight! Its lesson, however, remains with me. Not all my turbulence is so fierce; the challenge may be as innocuous as a busy brain or attention that meanders. But whether amid a taxing incident or within the quiet of my meditation, the image of the storm with its tranquil eye, continues to speak to me. While this metaphor has three components~~the storm, the eye, and the pathways that connect them~~ I am most cognizant these days of those connecting avenues.

Slipping back into the tempest is such an effortless thing~~that centrifugal force is mighty powerful! I know this is evidence that my balance is still quite precarious~~ one infinitesimal move away from absolute center, and I’m tossed out of Eden, swept into the winds once more.

Returning to the eye takes more finesse. First, I must see that I’ve again been pulled into the storm’s strong currents. This isn’t as easy as one might think~~ I am often zipping about in those blustery winds for quite awhile before I even notice my spinning! Once I’ve got that, I need to also recognize that an eye exists, as well as the pathway to get there. Then, I focus my eye on the eye, knit my intentions together, and choose to be there.

This metaphor both describes a familiar process and gives me a picture that helps me return to center when I’ve strayed. My consciousness relates holistically, and since this is the part of me that needs to catch what’s happening and decide a proper course of action, an image becomes effective shorthand. “Oh, it’s a hurricane! Get to the eye!”

Now, as is true of all things my mind can grasp, this metaphor is not perfect.  All is holy, whether it be the eye, the storm, or the paths between them.  And such divisions, too, are illusory.  However, this image does provide a shorthand clarification of my current task~~to choose to live in harmony rather than in discord.

So I wish you all smooth flying in the coming week. But if you do find yourself circling within your own storm, get ye to the eye!


Loanne Marie

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