I woke up this morning feeling unrested and anxious. That has been happening more often recently. I’m not sure which came first: a feeling of foreboding about what awaits in the future, or the natural aches and pains of aging: a sore neck that feels like bone-on-bone but probably isn’t, and since yesterday morning, a pain in the small of my back.
Of course, I feel embarrassed to be whining about my minor life problems when all around the world, people are homeless, stateless, hungry, suffering from heat and floods, or afflicted with mental and physical disabilities in a society that can be pretty uncaring. But isn’t anxiety like that: a collapse into the dismal isolation of a self that can’t stop obsessing about the future and its inability to control it?
Feeling how anxiety throws a suffocating blanket over my usually quite balanced state of mind, a phrase came to me this morning: “Anxiety takes no prisoners.” I hardly know what that is supposed to mean, but it fit my mood.
What does the phrase “takes no prisoners” even refer to? Is it a description of how invading armies shoot captured troops and leave their bodies where they fall? Is it a description of nomadic tribes bidding farewell to their seniors at the edge of a river when they have become too weak to reach the greener pastures that their herds need on the other side to survive? I think I’d rather spend my final days watching cattle disappear over a distant hill, and for whatever time remains looking at the water and the sky and reviewing my life; than as a patient in a nursing home pressing a button to which no one responds for hours.
Anyone who sometimes feel the damp embrace of anxiety knows that it doesn’t help to tell ourselves: “time heals all”. How could it, when time itself has been commandeered and we see standing in its place a sentinel who doesn’t much care for us?
These feelings are worse at night. If I can’t get to sleep– my mind churning with images that don’t settle down into a known world—I search in vain for a key to their secrets.
The past few nights I have been remembering a few simple practices from my past: “breathe in open spaciousness; breathe out acceptance and calm”. That must have helped, because this morning I awoke an hour later rested enough to get up for the day.
Once my feet are on the floor, it helps to have something to do: making coffee and drinking a few cups, reading a book that invokes images of a wider perspective than the personal worries that have caught my mind in their grip.
What really helped me this morning was talking with my wife about my feelings—which since we purchased our new townhouse last month have been the main source of my anxiety. Fifteen minutes later everything felt in divine order once more. She has been spending more time there working on improving things, and was able to give me a picture grounded in a living present. That felt so much better than being stuck in a mind bent on sacrificing itself on the altar of a fictional future that is really just the present dressing up in a time that never was. At most my imaginings are a shadow of one of an infinity of possibilities, each carried along on a stream of time as it cascades through open space; where there can be no real separation since that wholeness is at the heart of everything.